How to let seasonal contact center agents down easy

6 minutes to read, posted on January 22, 2020, by Heidi Solomon-Orlick

Year after year, businesses around the world hire extra contact center staff for a holiday period that extends from roughly mid-October to February. Then, they have to let them go.

Yet, despite the rise of work-at-home agents and the gig economy, finding, managing and retaining seasonal contract workers remains a challenge. If anything, the more virtual options have made the situation more confusing when staffing for a short-lived influx of customers. One thing is clear, though; the on-demand economy means that we all have to become accustomed to working with temporary, freelance and contract workers.

Following are some of VXI’s tips for cultivating long-term relationships with more transient employees and letting seasonal contact center agents down easy so they return for the next peak or the next year.

Recruiting and onboarding short-term agents

Establishing a long-term relationship with on-demand resources starts at the recruiting phase.

Planning for the Christmas rush, or for any anticipated extreme increase in volumes, typically begins for VXI six months prior. At that point, managers are able to define clear job descriptions that attract temporary workers, leverage employee referral programs and configure the applicant tracking system to optimize results (VXI uses Talent Match Pro to automate recruitment).

Partnering with alternate organizations or departments with opposite resourcing needs or seasonality (e.g., schools, garden centers, tourist attractions or programs that are not busy at the same time) makes it easier to fill short-term work assignments. At VXI, we often target our recruitment marketing efforts at specific demographics that we know want part-time or short-term work (e.g., students, seniors, stay-at-home parents, military spouses, teachers, seasonal workers) to yield better results.

Seasonal job interviews are friendly and focus on meeting minimum requirements, understanding the motivations of the candidate, and setting expectations, particularly related to legal obligations (e.g., remuneration, shift/stat holiday requirements), the temporary nature of the work and timelines. At VXI, we strive to pay reasonably and promptly, to be very honest and transparent about the goals for recruitment and to maintain a positive reputation in the community; hiring to address extraordinary peaks in volume is not a time for tricking people (it never is!) or being focused entirely on cost-savings.

Working with stakeholders, occasionally businesses can identify less complex transaction types, target specific easier call types and assign short-term staff to those interactions. This may require rejigging the organizational structure for a short period, but scaling back job responsibilities and simplifying the workload can also reduce the length of training, which means that short-term staff can start to be productive, faster.

Managing seasonal customer service representatives

Trying to manage temporary employees with a view to the future at your busiest time of year is undoubtedly challenging. However, sowing the seeds for returning resources should not be limited to the last few days.

Embracing diversity, integrating contractors into the existing team, harnessing their strengths and providing context in the form of organization charts, workflows, meetings and goals is key to cultivating long-term relationships. Treating seasonal workers as integral, explaining how they support the goals of the company and encouraging them with praise and honest feedback conveys respect and appreciation. Making the experience memorable and fun, more so than just about deliverables, entices people to return year after year. At VXI, we strive to treat short-term resources just the same as the longer tenured staff – you never know who will take to the work and become a star performer!

Altering shift times to suit contractors and offering flexible and collaborative scheduling creates a positive, long-lasting impression of the company.

Staying mindful of and coaching team members through the forming, storming, norming, performing phases of team development when newcomers come on board will help to ensure balance and faster productivity.

Leveraging senior, high performing agents as short-term team leaders (i.e., team leaders in training) or support team members (e.g., trainers, quality assurance) during peaks provides continuity in quality, helps with training and nesting and demonstrates to all staff (short- and long-term) that there is career-pathing and opportunity for promotion.

Thinking long-term will minimize discernable differences in managing contractors versus permanent employees. While no annual performance reviews and merit increases may be required for short-term contractors, VXI suggests providing these resources with all the same attention, tools, training (VXI uses a training simulation tool), resources and incentives that permanent employees have access to.

Bidding contractors auf wiedersehen (until we meet again)

Seasonal employees know their contract is destined to end. However, if a manager has done a good job, contractors have developed friendships and working relationships that they will be reluctant to leave.

Sharing KPIs, metrics, volumes and forecasts with all staff not only allows them to collaborate to meet targets, it allows them to see that the busy season is winding down and to mentally prepare for departure.

At VXI, seasonal ramp downs occur slowly based on rolling forecasts and natural attrition. If we see volumes are trending higher than expected we will try to anticipate whether we need to extend their contract.

In the weeks leading up to their end dates, asking star contractors what their employment goals are, providing letters of reference, conducting exit interviews and offering to stay in touch with successful former agents to share open positions, upcoming peak periods, and re-application instructions is part of regular VXI operations.

As always, open communication and collaboration with stakeholders and staff are the keys to success. Tailoring end dates to individual situations and remaining flexible during the transition period may entice people to return. Giving short-term staff a small sendoff, which may include a pizza party, a few words of appreciation from a senior manager and a small token of appreciation for a job well done, may just save a few recruiting dollars down the road.

The flurry of the holidays is a time of opportunity for both employers and employees. The holidays offer the chance to earn extra revenue, develop new relationships, and determine a mutual good fit. Creating an environment where seasonal, temporary, and contract employees can thrive makes rehiring for subsequent peaks easier and possible.

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