By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
As a publisher, December is a slower time of the year for me. It’s not that I have less work to do, but I have fewer interruptions in the form of ancillary email messages and phone calls. Conversely, for most answering services, the winter holidays present the opposite scenario, with the days leading up to Christmas being busier – and for some services, significantly busier. The amount of increase in December call volume varies by region and client mix. While some answering services see little change in call volume during the winter months, most see an increase.
In cases where the increase is moderate, it is handled using existing staff, with operators working more hours and additional shifts or former operators being pulled in from other departments. The goal is to not increase the employee count if possible and to avoid having to let people go when the holiday rush is over.
For answering services with a greater influx of calls – such as those that also do some order taking – existing staff is often inadequate to cover the projected traffic. In these instances, temporary staff is needed. Although hiring temporary holiday staff – be it directly or indirectly through a staffing agency – is daunting and draining, there is an upside. These short-term workers give the answering service an opportunity to evaluate their skill and effectiveness, picking out the best for possible permanent status come January. This may be the ultimate agent-screening tool, one that produces the best possible evaluation.
Regardless of which category your answering services fits into – whether you see a slight increase, a moderate bump, or a big jump – one thing can be expected: January should be a slower month, requiring fewer hours on the schedule. Moreover, this year things are compounded by worries over the economy and wonderings of how much longer the recession will last.
With this as the backdrop, I offer the following considerations for January:
- Staff morale will become an even bigger issue. In December, the goal was to keep staff motivated amid an increase in calls, complaints, and fatigue, whereas in January, the need is to keep morale up in the face of reduced hours, fewer shifts, and possible terminations for temporary staff or even layoffs for permanent staff. Even though things have slowed down, morale is still an issue that can’t be overlooked.
- Slower times are a great opportunity to renew quality initiatives and provide additional training. Side-by-side coaching and silent monitoring can once again be given the attention and priority they deserve.
- When hours need to be cut, the weaker staff should bear the brunt of it. Some operators may not have what it takes to provide the quality service that you seek, while others might have given up trying and are merely coasting. Terminating the obviously weaker agents sends a powerful message to stronger agents that their good work is noticed and appreciated.
A slower January is not a time for either fear or relaxing but a time of opportunity; don’t miss it.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader, covering the telephone answering service industry. Check out his books How to Start a Telephone Answering Service and Sticky Customer Service.