Customer Service: Help Desk Stress Test

December 8, 2011

Today The Official Merchant Services Blog continues its special two-part series on Customer Service. We can’t stress enough how essential it is to focus on Customer Service –– especially now during the holiday shopping season when your business may be barraged with a lot more customers who have a lot more questions.

Yesterday, we shared with you a blog from Lauren Carlson at Software Advice. The blog gave detailed tips on how to prepare business and its customer support team for the holiday shopping season. Today we bring you the second half of Carlson’s customer service saga which focuses on utilizing the holiday season as a way to stress test your help desk.

Carlson suggests that “the holiday season represents a perfect laboratory for examining your business, as well as your performance at each point of customer contact.”

This is a compelling concept. As Carlson says, the holiday season gives you a chance to analyze your business –– especially the customer support side of it –– at super speed. Doing so lets merchants identify high performance areas that are effective under the added stress of the holiday season, as well as get some insight into areas that may need some improvement. To get merchants in the mindset of how the microcosm of the holiday season can fuel some quick on the spot analytics Carlson asks: “So you had 72 percent first-call resolution rates in August. Great. What about the day after Christmas?”

Carlson keys in on five areas of support that companies should examine during their holiday season to gauge their help desk.

Host Merchant Services blog image on customer service and help desk analysis.

How Effective is That Training?

Many merchants add seasonal help for the holiday shopping rush. It’s a tried and true method for the retail industry, for example, to take on some extra help at the end of the year to push through all that added hours and increase in customers. Carlson suggests this can be a catalyst for analyzing employee onboarding –– and get a good look at how effective your company’s system is for training and preparing new support staff.

She says “Companies should use this opportunity to examine the success of their training techniques, as well as the usability of their system.”

It’s really sound advice to keep track of your support staff’s effectiveness, and the holiday season definitely gives a merchant a focused period of time to quickly measure the staff’s performance.

How Well Do You Deal With Surprises?

The next area in help desk performance that Carlson says a company should measure during the holiday shopping season is something called The Collaboration Period. Carlson describes the first nine months of the year as a build-up or preparation period for a business. Mitch Lieberman, of Sword Ciboodle, calls that period the Coordination Period in Carlson’s blog. But, according to Lieberman, the holiday rush shifts into the Collaboration Period. Carlson quotes Lieberman as saying “Collaboration is when something is outside what could or should have been easily coordinated. Are you ready to collaborate on these emergency issues that you didn’t predict?”

Essentially, merchants can use this time to study how well support staff deals with surprises. How well can they go off script? How effectively can they cope with issues that crop up that weren’t prepared for and which aren’t on an FAQ or a PDF or a Guidelines e-mail.

Host Merchant Services blog image on customer service and help desk analysis.

Where Do the Problems Get Handled?

The next area of help desk effectiveness that Carlson suggests merchants should look at is peak load management. Businesses that bulk up with some seasonal help during the holiday rush tend to train those new employees on the basic level of support. They get training to help them stick to a script, deal with the first tier of issues in a protocol, or use the FAQ that was designed for the holiday season –– all really basic stuff. The intent being to keep the easy stuff out of the way of the veteran support team members, who are then expected to effectively handle the harder issues.

Carlson says some interesting statistics can be gathered through this dynamic: “Measuring the percentage of first-call resolutions compared to the percent of calls escalated will help to inform your peak load strategy. “

What’s Your Worst Case Scenario?

The next area Carlson says companies should analyze harkens back to the boy scouts mantra of “Be Prepared.” Carslon says “assume something bad is going to happen. It’s not pessimism. It’s good business. If you assume disaster will strike, you will have an emergency response system in place that’s ready to manage the disaster on all channels.”

It’s never good when disaster strikes. But it’s a much heavier burden on a merchant when disaster strikes during the high pressure holiday shopping period. So this is a good time period to gauge what a company’s emergency response process is. And, if things do go bad, get an up front look at how effective that protocol is. Being proactive, Carlson suggests, is the best approach. Use this time period to analyze your emergency procedures and tweak them to be the most effective they can be.  As Carlson puts it, “having proactive procedures mapped out for unforeseen emergencies will not prevent call spikes, but it can lower the spikes to a manageable amount.”

Host Merchant Services blog image on customer service and help desk analysis.

Are the Customers Satisfied?

The core element of your customer support team, and your help desk, is customer satisfaction. Is the customer happy? That’s what it all comes down to. Companies should be measuring customer satisfaction year-round. And Carlson’s blog concedes that point. But Carlson points out that the holiday shopping season heightens the importance of customer satisfaction. This is something The Official Merchant Services Blog has discussed during our series on holiday shopping as well. The stakes are higher during the focused frenzy that happens after Black Friday, so you need to make sure you’re keeping even the most basic tenets of customer service in mind at all times.

Carlson asks the question, “you might have great satisfaction rates during low-volume times of year, but is your support team still on par when things get hectic?”

She suggests something as simple as a survey of your customers asking how you did during the holidays –– basic feedback.

Host Merchant Services likes the idea of reaching out to the customers for feedback. It’s an effective way to continue to maintain the long-term relationship building goal of customer support. Or, simply put, it’s a nice way to let your customers know you value them and their input. HMS suggests utilizing your social media tools for a survey like this, as you can quickly interact with your customers through those tools and they can help you track and analyze the responses.

Conclusion

This is an effective checklist of ideas for merchants to monitor their customer support capabilities. There are some concrete suggestions here on ways to collect data that will help shape a company’s goals for delivering quality customer service. Carlson gives a lot of good tips in both parts of her series. The Official Merchant Services Blog is glad she shared these with us and hopes you find them useful too.

If anyone else has some tips or suggestions on how to improve customer service now in the holiday shopping season or any other time of the year, feel free to share in the comments section.

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