Tips for retail startups for juggling customer demand with staff vacations

By Oliver Griffin January 30, 2017

Keeping the customer happy is crucial to business success but, at times, it can be difficult for startup retailers to find a middle ground between keeping employees happy and clients satisfied.

Because even in high volume periods, people expect prompt delivery and attentive customer service, but there is no better way to destroy employee moral by practically chaining them to their desks.

At times – think holiday periods – tensions run particularly high for consumers and workers alike. If you play your cards right, you could see referrals shoot up and high rates of returning customers. However, if you struggle due to inadequate staffing or unexpected traffic then expect irate customers and poor satisfaction rating which could put your brand value and reputation at risk.

While more established companies tend to have temporary staff at hand to cover vacation times during the festive season, startups and SMBs with skeleton teams and limited resources don’t have the same luxury. So how can you plan your customer service on a budget to avoid it spiralling out of control?

Learn from previous mistakes

It is best to plan before the pressure hits, and make sure employees are well trained and comfortable with any new tactics, software or processes well before the peak season arrives. Customer expectations are higher around the holiday season, so it is important that your outward facing teams are running like clockwork well in advance.

Assuming your business is not brand new, you should lean heavily on last year’s data to improve your service, and highlight previous problem areas. Look at your previous accounts and harness tools like Google Analytics to see how much your volume of commerce increased last year, and then assume (fingers crossed) that it will be considerably higher this year.

Look at important factors like customer reviews and satisfaction ratings, response and product delivery times and them aim to improve on them. If something went wrong last year, you can assume the same problem will arise again, so be one step ahead of the issue this time round. Last year brands such as Eddie Bauer and Pacific Sunwear were forced to apologize to clients after problems with FedEx led to delivery delays, you can be sure they will not be taking any risks with their delivery contracts again.

StartUp Beat news

Ubiquity University partners with Debut Contemporary to provide entrepreneurship training and financial support to artists

Swyfft raises $7.5m to develop its AI-driven tool to demystify home insurance

Contactually prepares expansion to relationship platform offering to include predictive analytics

Communicate clearly with clients and wider community

If you are expecting a busy period, send out email to clients which lets them know set about office hours and changing time frames, but reassure them that services will continue to be available for urgent issues.

Send out a friendly message, but try not to sound too spammy. Remember to offer emergency contact details for clearly outlined situations deemed urgent and high priority when regular points of contact are on vacation. For all other requests include a clause such as, “please allow us 48 to 72 hours to get back to you.”

You can also take the opportunity to use the email as a marketing tool, including links to your social media pages and also information about company news and any special deals and offers available at the time. To organize newsletter lists, Mailchimp is great, but if you are on a tight budget tools like EasySendy or SendPulse allow you to contact 2000 users per month on a free plan.

In the days preceding vacation or holiday time, make sure your employees have set up out of office replies which include an emergency contact number for urgent requests. You should also set up automated responses on phone-lines which tell clients to call back at a later date if the matter is not urgent. Another option is the set up a ‘triage’ system which allows users to assess whether they need to speak to a representative, or whether they can find the information they need online. The easiest ways to do this are by updating your phone system’s interactive voice response (IVR) or adding new automation rules to your existing customer support software.

In a recent survey 91% of respondents said they would happily use a knowledge base if it met their needs, so make sure that your website is up to date, and offers ‘self service’ means of solving non-urgent problems.


Communicate within your team

Team members should be urged to make a dent on their inboxes as much as possible before holidays – public or otherwise – so as to reduce their workload trying to keep backlogs at a minimum throughout the year.

It is also important to set up a clear, visual and public system which when employees are on vacation, and who will be taking over their responsibilities. This could be in the form of a simple excel sheet, calendar, or google document, but it must be easily accessible by everyone.

You should have system in place to transfer tasks and responsibilities between team members. Make sure handovers are smooth and all client information is on file about any special notes which need to be considered. Normally it is the responsibility of the person who is taking holidays to ensure that all of their work has been re-assigned and that the replacement staff understand exactly what they need to do.

Use new channels

Recently we have witnessed a move towards more ‘conversational’ interactions using chat tools like Facebook messenger and live chat integrations. This type of communication appeals to Millennial users, with 56 percent of respondents aged 18 to 34 stating they prefer live chat to phone.

Bots have become widely used as ‘conversational commerce’ grows in popularity, but if you don’t already have them in place, you might be cutting it fine to install a bots based customer service system before this holiday season. As mentioned before, it is better than staff are well-versed and comfortable with any new systems before the high volume period begins.

Harness tools which allow representatives to communicate with more than one client at a time, like Facebook Messenger or live chat. While a few representatives could easily get overwhelmed if dealing with clients via phone, they can manage the flow a lot better using chat tools, and clients don’t get stuck listening to annoying elevator music while they wait.

Shalin Jain is the founder and CEO of HappyFox Inc, a help desk and live chat solution for thousands of businesses.