You can see it just over the horizon: the storm of calls, messages and texts that come with the holiday season at your contact center. It’s inevitable, but it’s not unmanageable. In fact, companies that successfully prepare for the onslaught may even strengthen existing loyalties and win new fans.

Here’s how you can ensure your contact center’s systems and processes will weather the storm:

1. Consider the Cloud

If you’re not already using a cloud-based contact center, think about switching. Holiday demand (or increased seasonal volume any time of year) can easily exceed your on-premises capacity. And if it does, customers will endure interminable waits or even get turned away. As a result, they may take their business elsewhere.

Cloud solutions easily handle surges because they allow you to quickly expand capacity as volume increases. You don’t have to buy extra hardware and software that only gets used a few times a year or pay to install and maintain additional backup systems. With a cloud solution, ramping up is more affordable.

2. Align Performance Measurements with Good Customer Experience

Survive the busy season by managing volume without sacrificing customer experience. To ensure customer experience doesn’t suffer, track contact center key performance indicators (KPIs) that provide a complete picture that maps back to your business goals.

For example, if you target a low average handle time during the busy season, you’re hoping to move people through the contact center quickly, which lowers wait times and improves customer service. However, if calls are shorter because they’re getting transferred, first contact resolution drops and customers’ frustrations start to rise. So, you need to strive for handle times that drop while first contact resolution stays the same or increases. DMG Consulting recommends targeting KPIs that provide insight into customer effort, customer satisfaction, revenue from sales and billing, agent effectiveness, and agent productivity.

One way to accomplish this is to identify and track the right combination of metrics with a performance management solution like CxEngage Scoreboard. It posts current and trending data for individuals and the whole team on workstation desktops, so agents can measure their performance against others. Posted results motivate people to move the needle. And as long as you’re tracking indicators of good customer experience, agents’ efforts to improve will pay off during the holidays and throughout the year.

3. Streamline Procedures

Complicated, repetitive or slow business processes prevent agents from serving people quickly and completely. In preparation for the flood of holiday calls, look for ways to smooth out bumpy procedures and promote faster resolution. A good call recording and monitoring solution that lets managers see desktop screens while listening in will expose situations where agents have to switch between systems or dig through applications to find data. If leadership can remove the roadblocks, agents are better equipped to satisfy more customers in less time.

4. Predict Staffing Needs

Deploy a workforce management tool that uses data and algorithms to predict seasonal needs so you can hire accordingly. These systems automate scheduling, bidding for shifts and vacation requests. They reduce managers’ administrative tasks, even with a larger workforce, and let regular employees have some flexibility during the holidays. Managers are then able to focus on onboarding, training and monitoring the new agents rather than administrative tasks.

5. Cultivate and Support a Mobile Workforce

You’ll need more people to handle seasonal volumes, but it’s not easy to find them. In the 2017 holiday season, businesses brought on 525,000 temporary employees, and many companies struggled to attract good hires and to train them quickly.

If you’re going to staff up, consider including remote agents. With a distributed workforce, you can go anywhere to find people with the right experience. Remote workers don’t have a commute so they can flex their shifts or fill in part-time, further widening your prospect pool.

The option to work from home may tempt former or retired employees to bring their valuable experience back for a few weeks, or attract educated millennials drawn to the flexibility. And if you use a cloud-based contact center, it’s easy to hire, onboard, schedule and monitor remote employees.

6. Integrate Data Sources

The flood of customer requests during the holiday season at your contact center will come via chat, email, text and personal messaging, as well as the phone. Salesforce research found that for the 2018 holiday season, 66% of consumer traffic came from mobile devices, and social media contacts increased 34% over 2017.

In general, the many available communications options make it easier to serve people. For example, customers don’t expect immediate responses to emails, so agents can handle them when they have time. And when a customer uses chat, text or personal messaging, one representative can manage several conversations at a time. But if all customer-facing systems aren’t sharing data, people will come up against the frustration of having to start a transaction over or repeat themselves whenever they shift from one channel to the next.

It’s critical to capture all customer activities and information to share across systems. Then, if your customers choose to avoid the long phone queue and head to chat, email, text or personal messaging, they’ll have a consistent experience. And if they have to switch from a channel like text to the phone, agents can see past messages and pick up where the digital conversation left off.

If you have siloed channels, data integration may present a formidable challenge. But cloud-based omnichannel contact centers don’t require broad changes to your infrastructure.

7. Fine-tune Routing

Skills routing combined with customer information from integrated data will help send people to the right agent. Temporary employees can handle simpler requests and experienced, full- time people can work on complex issues. When customers reach the best person to handle their issue on the first try, the call handle time drops while satisfaction soars.

The Holiday Season at Your Contact Center: All Holiday Systems (and Processes) Ready

As with any challenge, you can approach the holiday season at your contact center just hoping to survive the storm or plan to outperform the competition and win over more loyal customers. With the help of cloud-based technologies, you’ll make agents’ jobs easier, allowing them to serve customers faster and more efficiently. You’ll have reliable workforce management that ensures the right staff in the right numbers are there to help customers. And with integrated data sources and smart routing, you’ll be able to get callers to the right agents with the relevant customer history.