12 days to Christmas: survive & thrive during peak season

Ah, December…

The month of ‚hygge‘: candle light, the scent of mulled wine and festive street decorations.

— Or the month of frantic shopping sprees, missed deliveries and unplanned overdrafts.

And for many customer care pros and business owners, a month of overflowing inboxes, overtime and overwhelm. Only to be continued in January, when the end-of-season sales kick off properly and the returns come in.

Having experienced a good number of customer care high seasons, Sabine has seen a lot of different approaches to coping with this busy time.

In this article, she shares her 12 favourite quick ideas (not to be confused with proper high season readiness planning). From fun costumes to daily huddles, these 12 tips can make peak season a better experience for you, your team and your customers.

Plus we’ve updated this popular article with the top 9 tips shared by fellow ethical business owners.

Read on to find something you can try out today — starting with what not to do:

1. DON’T cancel all meetings, coaching sessions and one-to-ones

Would you cut off life support for someone fighting a critical illness?

For the same reason, you should keep those regular meetings going. They’re not nice-to-haves — they keep your business alive.

  • Your team needs time to reflect on their work.
  • They need to share ideas and make plans together.
  • They need to learn, improve, practice, and sometimes vent.
  • And they need to know their manager is looking after them.

If they don’t feel supported, how will they muster the energy to support your customers?

2 men collecting ideas on a white board

2. Hold a daily huddle (or two)

A huddle is a very short meeting with a fixed agenda where a dedicated group address current performance and the pressing issues of the day. They’re so short that you don’t even sit down — usually 5–15 minutes. Going over is not permitted.

Crucially, issues aren’t fully resolved during the huddle.

Instead, one person takes responsibility for each item that needs work and reports back on their progress during the next meeting.

Why would you spend an extra 15–30 minutes each day in a huddle during peak season?

Two reasons:

  1. Transparent businesses are more nimble, respond better to stress and have happier employees and customers.
    • You’ll have less gossip and fewer rumours spreading
    • You’ll be able to fix customer issues to pre-empt complaints and waves of related queries
    • You’ll be able to use everybody’s knowledge and skills to sell more at this important time of the year.
  2. A daily focus on performance helps everyone keep the eye on the prize. Your team will be less distracted and you’ll find more quick wins that help you make progress immediately.

3. All-hands support

When the phone doesn’t stop ringing, chat wait times become endless and it all feels like an uphill battle, you might want to ask others in the business to help out.

From software engineers to project managers, from Senior Marketing Directors to the post room staff: let them handle some simple calls, tailor some template replies or chat to some fans.

It helps to clear your backlog, requires no new hires and broadcasts the voice of the customer throughout your company.

Many senior and technical folks appreciate the opportunity to engage with customers. Marketing will benefit from the additional exposure to your customers‘ voice. And if nothing else, your stressed-out support staff will appreciate the gesture.

Of course this only works if your systems, software and regulations are simple enough to learn them fast. You don’t want people to inadvertently break data protection laws, and it would be unfortunate if someone accidentally pressed the wrong button and cancelled an order.

That’s why in the Software as a Service (SaaS) industries, some companies have a regular rota for all hands support. When peak season hits, everyone’s trained up and ready to go.

4. Automate more

Are there queries to which you could respond automatically? Could you write a very nice template, have your email system auto-insert the person’s name and then just press a button to send it whenever you get that type of query?

Or perhaps you could add a SaaS integration to your website — such as Harmonizely (affiliate link) for scheduling or a delivery tracker supplied by your shipping partner.

Put it in a prominent place online and notify customers via a short email. People usually want to self-serve, so they go to your website first and only contact you if they need to.

5. Call them

„Always honour the customer’s channel choice.“

Many teams follow this rule and respond to email by email, to letters by letter. But you can make your customers happier, faster if you try the phone first.

You’ll be able to address all their points in one go and take action immediately — which could make the difference to their presents under the Christmas tree.

6. Tidy up the office

green Christmas baubles on a red background
Image source: Joanna Kosinski, Unsplash

Ever tidied up your desk and thought, „I should have done this way sooner“?

Working in visually quiet, serene, organised spaces calm people’s stress levels and makes them more productive.

Plus, all those beautiful holiday decorations will look so much better in a tidy office.

7. Dress up

If it fits with your company culture, inject a bit of fun into the everyday with some fun costumes — whether it’s an Operations Manager dressed up as Santa, a Marketing-Assistant-turned-Elf or a team of Reindeer Advisors.

Before going remote, Sabine used to have a banana costume in her desk drawer, ready for those moments when only a bit less seriousness would do… and now it takes a proud place in her wardrobe.

A man and a woman in a shopping street, dressed in Christmas onesies that read "free hugs" on their sleeves.
Image credit: Toa Heftiba on Unsplash. Free Hugs are taking a break until after the Covid pandemic.

8. Make the everyday more rewarding

Give everyone the opportunity to reward others who have done nice things.

This can take many forms:

  • Pressing a golden buzzer after overhearing a splendid phone call;
  • Thanking people in a weekly email that goes out to the whole team;
  • A submissions box for a daily award; or
  • Coupons that staff can collect and exchange for a free lunch, a day off or a coveted product sold by your company.

9. Stop multitasking

It’s a well researched fact that so-called multitasking makes us less productive. According to a study by Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, we take an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after we’ve been interrupted.

Yet, in many companies, teams juggle phone calls and emails (or chats and emails) at the same time.

Try setting things up in a way that doesn’t require them to handle all contact types at once, and you’ll probably see their productivity soar.

10. Create a central posting station in the office

Think about how far people need to walk from their desk in order to get everything they need.

Could they be helping the next customer faster if you moved envelopes, sticky tape, boxes and labels to another place in the office? Ideally, you’ll want to create several such stations to make sure people can keep their distance instead of potentially spreading catching Covid and other illnesses.

11. Serve the ones who serve your customers

A trolley service stocked with tea, coffee (or even hot chocolate?) is a nice touch that will boost morale by showing the team that you care.

Back office workers, managers and anyone else not handling customer contacts can take turns to provide that much-needed sustenance once per shift.

If you have the budget, you could even splurge on a few nice biscuits, mini chocolate bars, fruit, and cough drops, too.

12. Make overtime more fun

Finally, whether it’s your first or your last resort: overtime.

In Sabine’s experience, voluntary overtime becomes less and less popular as the month progresses, even if it’s paid at 1.5 the usual rate.

So why not turn it into a bit of an event?

Think about serving a free pizza lunch or dinner, showing live sports on ’silent‘ or posing a challenge.

For example: „Mention the following three words in a single customer interaction and make it sound completely natural: reindeer, cranberries, pigs-in-blankets“.

Call Centre Helper has a list of games that are sure to liven up your office too.

13. Remember to keep moving

“Making sure I have time to exercise helps give me clarity and an energy boost.”
Char, From Belo bags

We couldn’t agree more! Here are two movement forms that proved particularly popular with ethical entrepreneurs:

Yoga

(Annie Moon, Be the Difference Business Development)

Yoga perfects your posture, which can help you feel less tired.

It also improves circulation, boosts your immune system, helps you focus, reduces stress and increases serotonin levels — making you feel happier. (For 32 more benefits of yoga, click here.)

HIIT

(Tullika Bhalla, Boho Homes London)

High-Intensity Interval Training my not be for everybody, but once you get going, it’s loaded with benefits. One thing we all need during times of stress is endurance — and that’s where this kind of workout comes into its own.

Your body learns to use energy more efficiently, recover better from exertion, and you’ll breathe more effectively.

(This article has more info on HIIT if you’re interested.)

14. Turn off all notifications

“For productivity — I’ve turned notifications off for a few hours at a time. It’s difficult when running/juggling various aspects of a small business to not be distracted and flit between social media, messages, creating imagery, etc. I find this helps!”

Melissa Sophie Bowden, A Circle Back

Melissa’s certainly on to something… after all, even WIRED posted similar advice. If you’re struggling to stick to your resolutions, Forest App lets you stay focused and plant real trees on Earth.

15. Delete social media apps from your phone

Tullika has deleted Facebook from her smartphone. But she doesn’t stop there:

“I always switch off after 6pm and 8-10 is TV & me time.”

Tullika Bhalla, Boho Homes London

This may sound radical, but let’s give ourselves that all-important time to recharge our batteries for the next day.

16. Start and finish your day with ‘me’ time

Get up early

“It’s an absolute game changer. By getting up at 5:30, I get 15 minutes yoga and five minutes to ‚frame‘ my day with a cuppa. It makes ‚me‘ time the first part of the day and puts all the niggles in perspective. Then I get the dishwasher, washing, etc. done so I can spend the day focused on the important stuff — like three young children or my lovely ethical clients!”

— Jane Shaw

Enjoy a bedtime ritual

“This could include lighting a candle and reading before bed. I also do yoga whenever I can! It’s a mood shifter, adjuster and all round positive moment even for just 15 minutes.”

Melissa Sophie Bowden, A Circle Back

17. Keep chipping away at big tasks

“Do a bit every day. If you have a lot of wrapping to do, do a couple of bits each day so you’re not up until 3am on Christmas Eve (I learnt the hard way!)”

Holly Foat, No Serial Number Magazine

18. Use aromatherapy to focus and beat the winter blues

This one may be better used at home rather than at the office, as some people may be allergic to your favourite oils.

“If you need a quick fix, simply taking a pure essential oil and dripping a few drops into the hot spray on the shower floor is a brilliant way to experience the therapeutic effects. If I am feeling overwhelmed I use lavender to soothe my anxieties, if I am needing a bit of a revive or a speedy wake-up solution I grab my bottle of peppermint, and if I am feeling low I turn to orange or grapefruit to help uplift my spirits.

Essential oils are so versatile, and with a little careful experimentation you can help ease just about any struggle or ailment.”

Bryanna Skye, The Ecological blog

19. Prioritise your to-do list

“I recommend setting a prioritised to do list for the day… nothing feels more positive than crossing lots of things off my list to give me a sense of self achievement and make everything feel more manageable!”

Char, From Belo

Easier said than done? This Wikihow can help you determine the right priorities.

20. Take breaks!

You could set a reminder on your phone and choose tinkly, twinkly sounds that remind you of snowflakes and icicles… getting playful with things takes a bit of the pressure off.

“Setting an alarm for regular breaks is a must. Otherwise you suddenly get tired and shaky at 3PM and realise you haven’t eaten or drunk anything and you’ve been running on pure adrenaline (and making mistakes) for hours!”

Alice Holloway, Little Black Pants Club

21. Stay zen with breathing exercises

(Natalie Jameson, The Heroworx)

Looking back at this list, lots of the tips are really about giving yourself space to breathe, breathe more deeply or ‘taking a breather’.

To feel calmer during times of pressure, you could start with this simple breathing exercise on the NHS website.

Or you could download one of the many mindfulness apps — which also help you turn meditative breathing into a good habit.

And why wait till the new year if a new habit can help you better enjoy life right now?

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