tips and tutorials

How to plan your support team for the holidays

Photo of Zara Burke
by   Zara Burke

Holiday periods, like Christmas, New Years and Black Friday are a hotbed for marketing and sales activity. 

With festive cheer comes more website visitors, happy spenders and more — well, queries. A recent study by Live Chat revealed that eCommerce companies face a 67% rise in support tickets during the holidays. 

But planning your support team to cover holiday spikes can be a logistical nightmare. How many team members do you need? Do you need to hire support agents? How can you upkeep your high-quality support with less staff? How can you set customers’ expectations and ensure they get the help they need? 

We created this article to answer these exact questions. Below, Lexi Horn, Director of Customer Success at Blenders Eyewear and Leanne Harte, Customer Support Manager at Intercom share their tips on how to set your support team up for maximum success during the holidays. 

The past is the best blueprint for future success 

One of the most difficult things about planning an upcoming holiday is predicting what support coverage you’ll need. There’s a tricky balance to strike – you need enough agents to resolve your customers’ queries, but not too many that you risk becoming financially inefficient. 

eCommerce companies also run regular sales during holiday periods to drive purchases, so you’ll likely have more support queries to handle. eCommerce experts like Blenders Eyewear deal with this by looking at past customer behaviors to optimize for future success. Lexi Horn, Director of Customer Success at Blenders Eyewear says: 

“With a loyal customer base, behaviors are going to be the same for each sale you have. So we look at the spikes in the data and staff accordingly.” 

With a loyal customer base, behaviors are going to be the same for each sale you have. So we look at the spikes in the data and staff accordingly.

SaaS companies get plenty of technical queries over the holidays, like Christmas and New Years — even while the majority of their support team is away. To plan for this, Intercom’s support team identifies what their support volume was for each day of the previous Christmas break. Then, they ensure they have enough staff — but also that no-one needs to work unnecessarily. Leanne Harte, Customer Support Manager at Intercom says: 

“Armed with data, we’re able to establish shifts for each day over the break, and how many people we would need for each shift.” 

Let customers automatically help themselves 

When resources are tight and queries are high, empowering your customers to help themselves can save your support team a ton of valuable time. But it’s especially important during the holidays when you have less staff to manage your busy inbox. Here are some useful areas you can automate ahead of time: 

Update your help content 

The best defense is a good offense. So, update your help content to answer questions your customers typically ask over the holidays. Here’s a snapshot of Blenders Eyewear’s help content and the types of questions they typically answer:

Empower customers to check their order status 

If you work for an eCommerce company one of the main questions people will ask is where their order is and/or how long it will take to process. So, why not make your processing page accessible for people to check their order themselves? This will save your support team time and keep your customers happy. 

During large sales, like Black Friday, Blenders Eyewear automatically sends an email to customers 38 hours after they make a purchase linking them to a page that’s constantly updated with the processing time. And, if a customer reaches out, they send an automatic reply with the same link, so again — customers’ can check the processing time themselves. Lexi says, “We decreased case creation year over year by 27% for the 2 weeks following Black Friday.”

Automatically answer questions with chatbots 

Studies have shown that support responses are naturally slower during the holiday period. But 90% of customers rate a close-to-immediate response as important when they have a support query. 

That’s quite the dilemma. But don’t worry — you can keep customers happy by setting up a chatbot to automatically answer their most common questions. This is a win-win: 1. Customers will get the speedy answers they crave and 2. Your team will have more time to focus on tackling more complex queries in a more personal way. 

Here are a few ways you can keep your customers happy with chatbots:

  • Use chatbots to set customer expectations — like when your team is likely to reply. 
  • Look at the types of questions customers frequently ask over the holidays, then set your chatbot up to answer these questions. 
  • For more simple questions that require more detailed responses create FAQs, and/or canned responses and set your chatbot up to link to these.

Optimize from the inside out  

Optimizing your internal processes will save you just as much time as your external processes. 

For example, the best support teams — like Intercom’s — have a clearly defined escalation process for holiday periods. Leanne says, “We keep it super simple and have one escalation inbox for technical/difficult conversations, which is managed by our senior and more tenured members of the team. The rest of the team all work from the one separate inbox and escalate if necessary.” 

You should also look at any time-consuming processes you can automate and streamline. Answering these questions will help: 

  • Do you need a special holiday inbox or multiple inboxes? 
  • Will you automatically assign specific types of conversations to specific team members? 
  • Will you assign specific conversation types to seasonal staff? 

Your support team are your true VIPs

Spikes in support queries and less staff to handle them are a recipe for a frazzled support team. 

One of your most important KPIs over the holiday period should be looking after your team’s wellbeing and making sure they’re happy. Your team is your most valuable resource, so give them the appreciation, respect and resources they deserve. Here are some ideas: 

Cater to your team’s preferences.

During holidays, like Christmas, your support team will have personal plans they’re looking forward to. So, one of the best things you can do to boost morale is to simply ask your team, “When suits you to work?” Then, you can plan your holiday schedule accordingly. 

Show appreciation.

Think of how you can sweeten the deal for your staff. Lexi from Blenders Eyewear says, “We try to shake up schedules, offer overtime pay, and provide constant goodies for the team.” 

Provide training.

If you haven’t given your team the training they need they won’t be able to successfully execute on your plan. This is even more important if you hire seasonal staff who will need to be brought up to speed on your processes.

Personalize what matters, automate the rest 

The next time you have an upcoming holiday on the horizon there’s no need to panic. With a solid plan in place, your support team can tackle the holiday period with ease. 

Simply automate whatever processes you can and take advantage of data. This will free up your support team to be personal when and where it matters. 

And don’t forget — your employee satisfaction score is just as important as your customer satisfaction score. Focus on both for a successful holiday.

P.S. If you’d like 24/7 support over the holidays for your eCommerce or SaaS company we’ve got you covered. 

About the author

Photo of Zara Burke

Zara Burke

Freelance writer, who loves creating content that helps people. Fascinated by human minds. Into snacks, owls and has never seen Game of Thrones.