For most of us, it’s hard to believe the holidays are already around the corner. But if you’re a retail business, you’ve likely been preparing your contact center for the holidays for months.

The holidays present retail businesses with a perennial challenge: just as your call volume surges and sales targets soar, customers are busier and less patient than ever. At other times of the year, they might forgive minor glitches, but during the holidays, everyone’s in a rush. According to consumer research by Vanson Bourne for Serenova, “77% of respondents have had a bad customer experience within the past year when interacting with a brand. And two-thirds of respondents said they would not purchase from a brand again following a bad experience.” If you can have the right contact center processes and strategies in place to stay productive and efficient during your busiest times of year, you’ll reap the benefits all year long. Here are the five tips to get you started.

Implement Omnichannel Capabilities

According to a Nemertes Research study of 700 IT and business leaders, less than half of the companies surveyed communicate with customers via web chat, mobile applications, social messaging or click-to-call options on the website. These technologies increase customer convenience and ease contact center volumes. However, offering new digital channels alone is not enough. Without integrating all communication channels into your entire system, convenience will be offset by increased customer frustration.

For example, if callers use chat to get an order status, they’ve likely entered the account and order information into the chat conversation. If the chat channel is not integrated with the customer’s complete interaction history, the information is lost once the chat is complete. If customers then need to follow up with a call, the agent has no context that this customer has already tried to contact them, causing the customer to repeat all the information.

Disparate communication channels make customers work harder, increase handle time in the contact center and lower satisfaction. Customers rightly feel that anyone in the company should know what they’ve already explained. With omnichannel capabilities, all channels share customer data. The contact center has access to email messages, text conversations, chat histories and web activity, so agents can pick up where a caller left off and quickly help them with any issues. They’re also well positioned to offer additional products and services callers would value.

Full insight into the customer journey gives agents the power to lower customer effort and increase the value your organization delivers. Omnichannel capabilities even allow agents to further increase customer convenience and lower call volumes with proactive support, such as how to sign up for automatic delivery notifications.

Make Agents’ Work Easier

When holiday calls flood in, cumbersome work processes drain productivity. That means callers have to wait while representatives click around for the information they need. Longer handle time increases queue times, which compounds the problem. Agents are under more stress trying to juggle systems and keep customer details straight in their heads. And distracted representatives don’t have the capacity—or inclination—to build rapport or give customers the attention they deserve.

You can free agents from the maze of software applications with a contact center solution that integrates disparate systems—such as your customer relationship management (CRM) and workforce optimization (WFO)— into a single application. With a unified solution, agents can see, on one screen, the customer’s entire interaction history and connect via chat, text, personal messaging or phone. They spend less time switching from one application to another, piecing together the customer journey, and can focus on the best way to serve callers.

Smarten Up Self-Service

Many companies look to self-service to handle overflow during peak seasons. For simple or routine transactions, people are happy—some even prefer—to use automation. However, if you want customers to trust automation, never trap them in it. Ensure that for each automated service, you offer a link to connect directly with a person in case users need help. And when they connect by chat, text or phone, make sure the agent can see the most recent online activities so they can quickly resolve the issue. Employing this kind of omnichannel strategy with automation encourages people to use self-service, which, in turn, reduces costs by lowering contact center volume and shortening handle time—all without tarnishing the customer experience.

Plan for the Seasonal Onslaught

Everyone knows call volumes will rise over the holidays, so it’s important to plan ahead. Use a sophisticated workforce management system that predicts volume based on past years and helps you determine the number of agents you’ll need. When you have the right number of staff available, people wait less in the queue, and agents are less stressed and more productive.

If you need to bulk up the workforce, one quick and easy way is to employ remote agents. With a remote workforce, you can hire people with the right experience even if they don’t live nearby. You can also find people from other time zones who more easily handle early and late shifts.

Sharpen Agents’ Skills

 As you onboard new agents and help current employees polish their skills, ensure you’re making the most of limited training and coaching time. Implement a WFO application that helps you audit call quality through recordings and live monitoring. WFO will also offer coaching recommendations based on an individual’s key performance indicator (KPI) scores and automatically set up coaching sessions so agents get timely feedback. Track and post agents’ results against KPIs on a scoreboard so everyone can benchmark themselves against the team. Communicating to agents how they’re doing increases engagement and motivates them to work toward meeting targets. You can even turn performance metrics into a game and celebrate individual and team achievements.

Turn the Holidays and Other Seasonal Volume Challenges into Advantages

Testy customers during the holiday rush will test your employees and your technology. But CX-savvy improvements like omnichannel and workforce optimization will prepare your organization to stand out with market-leading service. And the benefits from happy holiday customers will reverberate through the months ahead in repeat purchases and positive reviews, effectively turning the struggle against seasonal volumes into a springboard for year-long success.