Ho ho, hold the phones! As customer service leaders festoon and fortify their contact centers for the holiday surge, some (er, many!) retailers may be experiencing that “last-minute gift buyer” scramble. Don’t worry — it’s not too late! Here are three easy steps to ensure that your agents are set up for a successful season.

Step 1: Unwrapping Policy Changes

During the holidays, most retailers make policy adjustments such as turning off price-matching or extending return windows. Customer responses to these changes can vary, underscoring the need to prepare your agents to handle the full spectrum of reactions. Agents should know:

  • What’s changed. Your holiday team will include seasoned veterans and fresh faces. Make sure that everyone is well informed about your current holiday policies and policies of seasons past. Customers who are used to your usual policies may turn to your agents for clarity — you want your agents sounding confident and knowledgeable.
  • Where it’s published. If you haven’t already published your updated holiday policy on your consumer-facing digital properties, do that first! But once they’re posted, make sure that your agents can locate them when customers ask.
  • What language to use. Some customers may be a little frosty about policies that trim back their usual benefits. You should arm your agents with on-brand language that they can use to de-escalate challenging conversations and keep the holiday cheer rolling. If you are supporting customers on chat, create holiday variations of your agents’ standard “quick replies.”

Step 2: Staffing For The Season

You’ve likely already onboarded your extended team of holiday helpers. While it’s essential to ensure that all resources are readily available for your agents, there’s an extra layer of preparedness that can add to the holiday magic. Create enablement resources for:

  • Brand expertise. You will want even your newest agents to sound like they are experts in your brand. Consider developing enablement resources regarding specific branded language, like loyalty tiers or branded terminology that your customers might have adopted. Make sure that your agents are well versed in your in-store experience, creating a seamless connection that feels uniquely yours. Teach them the names of your hottest products, and for those handling voice interactions, provide a phonetic pronunciation guide aligned with their native language, especially if you’re tapping into offshore agents this season.
  • Product pseudonyms. Check your conversation analytics solution (or ask your tenured staff if you don’t have one) to see if there are common words that your customers are using to refer to popular products when they don’t know the name. This could even be a physical description of the product (e.g., “the moisturizer with the pink lid”) or a vague description of a popular product (e.g., “the new Nintendo party game”).
  • Holiday promotions. Equip your agents with information regarding any major holiday campaigns. For example, if you have done a big social media campaign recently, customers might reference products promoted by popular influencers. Ensure that your agents are in the loop, ready to respond to these references seamlessly.

We know that you’re likely only thinking about ramping up, but it’s just as important to think about how you’re going to prepare for ramping down once peak season is behind us. Now’s the time to review data from the last couple years — when do your volumes tend to taper off? Build a plan for how you will scale back so that you are maintaining service levels and also avoiding being way overstaffed.

Step 3: Guiding Gifters

While retailers receive questions about products all year, there are some subtle changes to how agents should handle them during the holidays. Agents should be prepared to solve:

  • Stocking worries. If you have inventory that turns over a lot or if there are some super sought-after products this season, your customers will want to know when they can get their hands on these coveted items. Do you have tools on your website for customers to add their name to a waitlist? Make sure that your agents can guide customers to these features — and decide if you want them to fill that information out on their behalf. If you don’t have customer-facing tools, determine how you’d like your agents to respond.
  • Shopping worries. More than any time of year, customers will be shopping for those special people in their lives. Shoppers may even be completely new to your brand and are picking gifts for someone they know is a fan. Do you publish gift guides? Make sure that your agents have these handy. You might want to create some backup suggestions for extra popular items that might’ve gone out of stock.
  • Shipping worries. As we get closer to the big day, customer anxiety will rise around product availability and on-time shipping. Of course, there is only so much a retailer can do to guarantee on-time shipping once it’s out of the warehouse, so ensure that you equip your agents with the proper protocol for responding to these issues. Customers might also reach out requesting guidance on in-store availability, especially if they’re unable to get through to their local store. If it’s feasible, consider treating this as a brand-building moment rather than redirecting them — customers don’t see brands’ channel segregation the same way we do.

With these tips under your belt, I’m confident that you’ll survive this season’s rush!

Once peak season ends, book a guidance session with me. There will be plenty that you can learn from this year’s rush to set yourself in the best position going forward.

Happy holidays!