Shep Hyken\'s Customer Service Blog

Guest Blog: How to Get the Most from Seasonal Customer Service Employees

This week we feature an article by Joel Gottesman who shares tips to ensure that seasonal employees provide an excellent customer experience.

This past season, retailers hired more than 575,000 seasonal employees to help manage the holiday rush. Macy’s planned to hire 80,000 seasonal workers, while Target promised roughly 120,000 seasonal jobs. Many of these employees were tasked with challenging customer-facing positions. For example, Macy’s hired 1,500 employees at customer service call centers and countless more for sales floors across the country, while Target doubled its team dedicated to in-store pickups and curbside services. Yet, seasonal hiring is not unique to retail during the holidays. The financial services, insurance, tourism, education, and hospitality industries all rely heavily on seasonal staff to meet peak demand.

For many organizations, seasonal staff are vital to operations. However, these employees also present unique challenges to delivering exceptional customer experiences. If not properly trained and supported, the employees may fail to convert seasonal customers into year-round customers—or worse, turn off loyal customers.

The following are four quick tips for ensuring that, whether seasonal employees play a primary or complementary role in customer-facing operations, they are equipped to provide a heightened experience for all customers.

Set Realistic Expectations

Too often, seasonal employees leave jobs before the season’s end, leaving employers scrambling and operations unbalanced. Whether due to feeling overworked or underappreciated, setting realistic expectations upon hire and educating seasonal staff on their role and company mission is an effective way to control employee churn.

This may include addressing potential problem areas prior to hire, such as the need for long, sometimes unpredictable hours or overtime, a stressful and/or fast-paced environment, and the expectation to engage in tasks that they are not well-suited for or may feel is “not their job.” Light bulbs need changing, trucks need unloading, data needs inputting, bathrooms need cleaning, and customers may need help in a cold parking lot. If every team member has realistic expectations about their role, hours, pace, and job duties, it will streamline operations while cutting down on fatigue, dissatisfaction, and employee churn.

Hire for Attitude, Not Merely Competency

Even where seasonal help spends most of their time in non-customer facing positions, they will inevitably interact with customers. An employee with a negative attitude or one who is unwilling to assist is a surefire way to turn off a customer.

Look for people with positive, goal-centric attitudes whose values align with the organization and make it clear that the customer’s needs come first. A fork-lift operator can open a door for a customer and their three children, housekeeping staff can guide a guest to the pool, and a tax-preparer can answer a ringing phone politely when a receptionist is otherwise busy.

Provide FAQ Response Training and FAQ Crib Sheets

Unfortunately, it may not be cost-effective to train every seasonal employee on every facet of an organization’s business, but providing them with a handful of answers to common customer questions will limit the chance of a seasonal worker going rogue, being rude, or otherwise answering a customer with the dreaded “I don’t know.”

Every industry has different FAQs. One acceptable answer to a variety of common questions is “I’m unsure (how long your wait will be, where that product is, of the availability of that product, the difference between those two services, etc.) but I will get for you a specialist who is better equipped to assist you.” Though obvious in hindsight, politeness may not be intuitive to a seasonal employee who doesn’t appreciate an organization’s culture—especially those brought on for their technical skills. Providing training and a short FAQ Crib Sheet to an employee will reinforce the notion that assisting a customer is almost always more important than the task in front of them, and there is an answer to every customer inquiry.

Treat Them Like Royalty

Happy employees pay dividends. They are more willing to go the extra mile; be an advocate for an organization; develop business; work harder & more efficiently; and be more flexible than unhappy or disinterested employees. Further, seasonal employees are difficult and expensive to recruit. A happy seasonal employee may work with an organization for many seasons, saving time and money during the hiring process and training period. Additionally, strong seasonal employees may even become full-time employees (UPS and Target, for example, hire one-third of their seasonal employees for full-time work), giving an organization an extended probationary period and saving time and money in its talent search. Some common methods organizations use to maintain a satisfied workforce may be difficult to implement for seasonal employees. For example, it is challenging to provide autonomy and professional advancement to a seasonal employee, but there are many other ways to ensure a happy seasonal workforce including maintaining a spirit of respect, employee discounts, competitive wages, genuine appreciation for hard work, and an end of season bonus.

Whether big-box retail or a small services organization, even modest changes to seasonal hiring, onboarding, and training practices can yield large results felt by customers, and the best time to implement these practices is during the offseason.

Joel Gottesman is a practicing attorney, customer service enthusiast, husband, father, and admirer of customer-centric brands. He has written about various customer service issues, as well as pieces at the intersection of law and healthcare, financial services, and employment.

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  1. Natalie Tiernee says:

    Nice article! Customers are on the move and expect real-time and personalized responses and a relationship with the company. As 2019 is indeed the year of AI into various sectors starting from healthcare to many others, so the integration of AI in customer service can bring a revolution. What do you say?

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