The holidays are coming, and for many companies, that means a surge in sales. That means you need to grow your customer service team before the holidays hit in full force … but by how much? You don’t want your holiday customer service team to be under-staffed, but you also don’t want to over-spend on customer service agents you don’t need.
This is particularly challenging if your company is growing significantly year-over-year. How can you predict what your holiday sales will be? And what impact will that have on your volume of customer support tickets over the holiday season?
1. Start planning your holiday customer service staffing early.
Starting early is critical for two reasons. First, training: You need to build in time to make sure your new agents are fully trained by the time business gets busy. Second, you need to build in time to change your plan. If holiday customer service ticket volume seems to be growing by more or less than expected, you want to make sure you can adjust your plan accordingly.
At this client, we started planning in August, and hired our first round of agents in September.
2. Develop a holiday sales projection.
First, you need a sales projection for the holidays.
Here’s the key: Ideally, you won’t just have a dollar projection, but a projection for the number of units sold, number of orders, and the number of customers. Why? These sometimes grow in line with each other, and sometimes don’t.
Maybe your customers are buying more items and spending more money per purchase compared to last year. If that’s the case, the number of holiday customer service tickets may not rise in tandem with dollar sales, but with the total number of customers.
3. Find the right metric for predicting ticket volume.
For this client, we started with four simple calculations:
- Customer service tickets / unit sales
- Customer service tickets / dollar sales
- Customer service tickets / purchase
- Customer service tickets / customer
It turned out that customer service tickets per unit sales had the lowest variance over a 16-month period, so we decided to use that metric for predicting holiday volume.
4. Develop a hypothesis for your holiday customer service team size.
Based on those calculations, we came up with a prediction for holiday team size. The initial prediction showed that we needed to scale the team by 3x to meet holiday volume.
This seemed high. We didn’t want to end up under-staffed, but we didn’t want to spend more money than necessary. We also didn’t want to over-tax our trainers. So we decided to take it slow, hire a few people, and re-evaluate our hypothesis a month later when we had a little more data.
5. Test your hypothesis.
The model indicated that our initial hypothesis would be adequate to manage the holiday volume of customer support tickets.
Meanwhile, we looked at ways we could stretch the capacity of our existing team. We considered allowing a higher first response time, and reducing the availability of online chat.
Finally, we evaluated new data that came in during August, September, and early October. Were the initial sales projections accurate? Was the number of tickets rising in tandem with sales?
We ended up deciding to scale the team significantly, but slightly lower than the initial estimate.
Of course, the real test is only just beginning! But we hope we’ve laid a strong enough foundation to adjust our plan in November and December if need be. The bottom line: If you run a high-growth company and you’re scaling your customer service team for the holidays, you have to be flexible. And err on the side of over-staffing — having a few idle agents is better than providing sub-par support to your customers.