How to manage Customer Service during the holidays

Today's blog post comes from Olark user who shares how businesses can prepare for balancing employee time off requests during the busy holiday shopping season...

Congratulations - Black Friday and Cyber Monday are over! But as you know, we're not finished with the holiday shopping season yet. As Jordan Vidra said in a recent Olark holiday ecommerce webinar:

"Customer interaction volume at Homage goes up starting with Black Friday and stays high through Christmas, and even after Christmas with returns and exchanges."

How to staff Customer Service during the holidays - it can be tricky when employees want to use vacation time.This sustained increase in customer interactions makes staffing customer service over the next month tricky. Many employees want to take vacation to spend the holidays with friends and family, leaving businesses with fewer staff than is ideal for helping holiday shoppers.

This is a challenge for brick-and-mortar and online stores alike - Customer Service is critical both in facilitating sales and managing technical problems. If no one is there to answer phones or respond to chats and emails, a company may lose new and existing customers.

The good news is businesses don't need to close down entirely. In fact, with some planning many can probably get by without maintaining a full staff schedule.

With a little planning and flexibility, arrangements can be made to make both customer and employee happy.

Make it easy for customers to self-serve

If you're switching to reduced support hours during the holidays, make sure it's easy for your customers to find the answers they need on their own.

First, check to ensure online knowledge base materials are up-to-date. Then identify the places where the majority of your customer interactions happen and insert:

1.) a reminder of the abbreviated support scheduled; and

2.) quick links to FAQs and often requested help docs.

Common places to include links to help center documentation include:

[READ MORE: How to insert clickable links in an Olark offline message.]

Let's pause real quick. Maybe you don't have a knowledge base or helpdesk that customers can use to self-serve. That's cool! These days there are plenty of tools you can use to create a self-serve platform that will reduce tickets and improve customer happiness.

Here at Olark, we use Help Scout helpdesk software. If you're looking for a knowledge base plugin for Wordpress, we recommend HeroThemes.

With the right level of communication, your customers will typically respond positively to the fact that your team is celebrating the holidays, and will do a little extra digging to find the information they need. While this might mean a little extra work on your customer's part, it holds an added benefit of familiarizing your visitors with your existing support documentation, making it easier for them to self-serve in the future - a 'win-win' for your customers and your Service/Support team.

Proactively inform customers

Business owners should reach out to customers proactively ahead of the holiday season to inform them of holiday hours.Shoppers know that support might be limited during the holidays, but could still have urgent questions they need answered.

To avoid the backlash from missed expectations, businesses should be proactive in letting their customers know what the support schedule will be during the holidays, and how to get questions answered. Doing so will eliminate confusion and lessen frustration, which in turn will also make the job of your Customer Service team easier (fewer angry customers is the best gift you can give them!)

Some ways to do this:

  • Add a customized offline message to your chat box
  • Add in-app notifications so every time a customer logs in they're reminded of holidays hours
  • Create a holiday specific phone message before customers get to your Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system
  • Use social media channels to remind customers on a daily basis
  • Add a holiday-themed badge to your contact page with a link to your help documentation
  • Email your customers weeks before you switch to a reduced holiday schedule so they are well aware of how to reach your team

Schedule your staff

Once you've notified your customers how they can reach your business during the holidays, or help themselves, you'll need to work on creating your modified schedule.

If your employees have been submitting their time off requests then you may already have a schedule in place. If so - good for you!

If not, it’s totally manageable to start creating your plan for the holidays even a week or two ahead of time. Start by reminding employees about the upcoming holidays and how they can check to see what remaining vacation time they have available.

Then outline what options they have for work over the holiday season, which might include:

  • Double time pay or overtime pay
  • Half day shifts
  • Work from home shifts
  • On-call shifts

Clear communication is vital for setting a holiday schedule, so ask everyone if they plan to take time off and be sure to get answers from everyone. You might be surprised by the number of people who offer to cover shifts! For some the idea of working on a holiday is actually pretty appealing.

If you are still short handed, you might also consider some temporary hires or outsourcing.

[READ MORE: Outsourcing customer service agents]

No matter what holiday you're preparing for, allow yourself ample time to enable your customers to self-serve, notify customers proactively, and set your schedule ahead of time. This will ensure that your customers, your employees, and your business all have a happy holiday season.

How does your team prepare for the holidays? I'd love to hear your best practices and share those with others!

Check out relevant topics on: Customer Support

Peggy Emch

Read more posts by Peggy Emch

Peggy Emch is the marketing director for, a company that provides time tracking and scheduling software for small business. Peggy enjoys writing about management, productivity, and other businesses topics.