Four Ways to Keep Your Team From Melting Down Through the Holidays

The holiday season can be a particularly stressful time for customer support teams, as seasonal promotions bring an influx of new customers.

With the National Retail Federation estimating the increase in 2019 holiday sales to be as high as 4.2% over 2018, that means your team will be very busy indeed!

No worries – you’ve planned for this! Like most CS managers, you’ve started months ago, reviewing year-over-year trends and planning coverage schedules to make sure everything is lined up to work smoothly when the rush hits.

But what about the impact on team morale? Even the most irrepressibly cheerful support agents can be severely challenged as request volumes crank up by double-digits and the percentage of frantic or even downright rude messages spikes. Chat notifications ping constantly, the telephones never stop, and inbox zero has become a wistful, faded memory, much like the sunshine of summer. The pressure is intense, everyone feels it, and burnout is imminent. Yes – Winter is here.

Keep Team Spirits High With an Action Plan

Okay – yes, holiday support volumes are typically intense and do add stress to your team’s already busy workload but (deep breath) you’ve got this! Your team is well-trained, they love helping customers, and they know you’ve got their back with a plan to keep them on-track while managing stress and delivering the same great service every single day.

There’s no trick to it – just focus on four core elements to keep your team motivated and feeling supported during the holiday rush.

holiday season1. Feed the Team (And Not Just With Carbs)

When things get busy and stress piles up, eating and break schedules are typically the first things to go out the window.

It may not seem important to skip a snack break for a few days or gulp down a sandwich at your desk between emails. After all, everyone’s busy and it doesn’t seem responsible to send the team off on a leisurely lunch when there’s so much work to do.

But the truth is that skipping meals increases stress, which can actually lead to further appetite loss. And eating at their workstation is actually making your team less productive, not more. Ultimately, support agents who are stressed AND hungry aren’t going to be in the mood to deliver calm, impactful service in the face of equally stressed-out customers.

You can combat this issue by facilitating important meal and snack breaks (doubly important for any teams putting in overtime hours). Make sure team members take even just a few minutes to log out and eat their food in a separate space, away from their computers and tablets (bonus points if you can get them to ditch the phone for a book or even a little alone time).

And when you order snacks, balance out “comfort” foods like donuts and pizza with more nutritious options that will keep your team feeling energized and staying positive!

holiday season2. Rest the Team (No, Seriously)

So now your team is on a regular snack and meal break rotation, eating well and staying upbeat – great! Just in time, too – as the volumes build in the queues, it’s time for everyone to dig deep and go the extra mile. With everyone so busy, you’re likely going to feel grateful when team members volunteer for overtime or commit to a tightened deadline that will have them burning the midnight oil.

However, even the most dedicated agents will soon be at risk of burnout if they’re not getting enough sleep due to aggressive overtime schedules and tight deadlines. That problem may be even worse for remote team members – studies show that remote workers often put in even more hours, out of fear of being thought less-productive than their in-office peers.

You can help your team here by keeping a close watch on team schedules and gently but firmly insisting that high-achievers shut down for the day when they need to. This can be challenging – some team members may not want to log out while their teammates are still working for fear of “letting the team down.”

Your job here is to remind them that it’s exactly because they are so important that you need them to rest – the team will benefit overall if everyone starts their day well-rested and ready to tackle challenges, rather than tired and stressed.

holiday season3. Protect the Team From Customers (You Know the Ones)

No matter how hard you work to ensure your team is eating and resting properly, they’re still going to face increased stress from customer interactions. Tempers tend to run short as customers scramble to complete purchases and resolve concerns before the holidays arrive, and your team is going to catch the brunt of it.

While you can’t control how your customers will choose to react with your agents, you can help your team reduce customer frustration through a few simple tactics. Reviewing verbatim comments from CSAT or NPS surveys can highlight customer pain points on a broader scale.

Helping your team update knowledge base articles or prepare macros with detailed information can help solve customer questions much faster. Similarly, make sure your team is up-to-date with their training on policies and procedures for handling questions around shipping, refunds, and holiday promotions – getting accurate information to customers quickly is critical in keeping everyone happy.

Hopefully, all of your holiday customers will remain civil and courteous through the season. But stressed customers do sometimes cross a line in their frustration, and many don’t pause to consider the psychological impact their behavior has on a support agent.

That means it’s time to step in and wrap things up quickly. For starters, you may be surprised at how quickly a customer apologizes when confronted with their own behavior. But even more importantly, it shows your team that you don’t expect them to tolerate abuse at any cost and absolutely have their backs when a customer goes too far.

Last but not least, if a member of your team does end up dealing with a particularly unpleasant customer, make sure they have a moment to catch their breath after. Review the chat with them and highlight what they did well, then tell them to log out and take an extra break – walking around the office, getting a snack, or following a mindfulness routine can help them re-center, embrace the positive qualities of their work, and be ready to help the next (much nicer) customer.

holiday season4. Post-Holiday Care is Critical (Get Vacations on the Calendar)

Congrats – your team made it through the holidays! All of the hard work and support paid off, and your team (hopefully) has begun recharging their batteries as support volumes return to normal. But don’t put your feet up just yet – your team may not be out of the woods if you haven’t followed up to make sure they are fully rested and ready to dig in again.

The post-holiday slump is very real and can have a significant impact on support team burnout. Particularly if your team have a tight window for actual downtime, or even have to stay on-shift through one or more of the holidays, odds are high that they’re still going to feel fatigued even as workflows settle down.

Make sure your team books time off for rest and relaxation when the holiday stress is over. Book it for them, if necessary! Studies show that planning for vacation time may be even more beneficial for positive moods than the actual vacation time itself. So even if your team won’t get time off until after the new year has started, just knowing they have downtime scheduled will help them stay positive in the meantime.

Conclusion

As you coordinate your plan for keeping your team happy, healthy, and feeling well-supported through the holiday season, don’t forget to include yourself!

Far too often, managers are focused on keeping their teams moving forward through stressful periods and neglect their own well-being in the process. It’s no use for your team if you bring them through the holidays with smiles on their faces but collapse as they head off on their own vacations.

Instead, lead by example – join your team in healthy eating, setting demanding but reasonable hours, deal with rude customers strategically, and set a plan for vacation time as soon as it’s available. That way you’ll be ready to join your team in kicking off the new year feeling excited for the challenges ahead, not burned out from the holiday season!


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Josh Magsam Josh Magsam

Josh Magsam is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in customer experience, operations management, and team leadership. When he’s not building support teams or writing content, he enjoys hiking in the Cascades with his wife and young son.

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