Believe it or not, it is already time to start thinking about the holiday rush!  Not the Valentine’s Day increase you might have seen this month, we’re talking about the really big rush that will come months from now.  That’s right, if you’re a retailer and haven’t started reviewing your ability to handle Black Friday through Cyber Monday call volumes, it is time to up your game.

How did your in-house team or outside call center perform last year?  Whether your call handling resources are in-house, outsourced, or a combination of the two, you may have struggled with those sudden – albeit much desired- spikes in volume.  If your call center couldn’t keep up, the price was high – poor customer experience, missed sales, and damage to your reputation can all impact the bottom line.

Quickly scaling up (and back down) during busy times takes more pre-planning than you might think, and is rarely something that can be accomplished effectively using only an in-house call center.

The problems with scaling an in-house call center include: cost and time associated with finding and hiring new employees, managing headcount for the long term (permanent vs temporary employees), and resources to train.  Especially in tight job markets, you simply can’t find and train people quickly enough to effectively prepare for the inevitable holiday spikes without sacrificing year-round revenue by hiring months ahead of the season.

If you need 1-3 weeks to on-board a new employee, plus another 4-8 weeks to get them to the point where they can reliably handle calls on their own – that is a 3 month training commitment.  During that time you are also losing call time from experienced agents who assist with training those new recruits. If the new agents are to be ready for peak season, all of this is happening in the low season, making the cost even harder to absorb.

A partially or fully outsourced call center model eases this pressure significantly if the center is well balanced (variety of client types) and managed to be responsive.  A well run outsourced call center will have strong cross-training and account balancing processes in place to manage through fluctuations in call volume. Working closely with clients on capacity estimates and planning enables outsourced call centers to more accurately forecast agent requirements.  Armed with this knowledge and a well balanced portfolio of accounts, cross training is easily handled throughout the year without additional cost and enables call center leaders to quickly reassign resources as needed.

Businesses that work all or in part with an outsourced call center will be much better prepared to weather seasonal, promotional, or unexpected ups and downs without negative impact on human capital budgets or morale issues that can result from high employee turnover.  The key is being partnered with the right call center, and that takes research and planning.

The most important things to address with an outsourced call center partner are centered on their ability to plan for the business flow expected by their entire portfolio of clients and provide responsive service.  At Outsource Consultants, we know the questions to ask that get real answers about handling your volume every day – even on the days that exceed your wildest expectations.

Start now so you have ample time to review last year’s results, prioritize improvements for the coming season, research new partner options, and make a selection that will turn this into the best year ever.  The process of completing these steps can take anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months depending on complexity and time available to complete the evaluations.

If you’ve already determined that change is necessary, there is no reason to delay the search.  Hastily made partner choices and rushed implementations rarely produce good results. Evaluating options early in the year leaves plenty of time for a smooth, well planned transition and ample time for training and testing ahead of the busy season.

The good news is that if you are time constrained or overwhelmed by the process, Outsource Consultants can do this for you.  Following a simple initial interview, we can facilitate the RFP, Search, and Evaluation process on your behalf, all at no charge.  So put down the candy hearts, and let’s start talking Cyber Monday in February!

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