Seasonal jobs for the Holidays: Hiring Seasonal Workers for Customer Support

If your business consistently gets busier at certain times of the year, congratulations, you have a seasonal business. Whether you’re an e-commerce business that deals with crazy Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals or an educational institution that handles an influx of admissions questions every school year – preparing for the demands of seasonal customer service come with its own unique challenges.

Because the increase in volume is often rapid and temporary, many businesses will hire additional temporary customer support staff to lend a hand while it’s busy. There are three things to think about when staffing up for seasonal support:

– Planning when and how many additional customer service staff you need

– Recruiting qualified candidates

– Training and Onboarding temporary workers quickly and effectively

Let’s walk through each of these challenges separately so that your team is prepared to bring on temporary workers for your busy season.

How to Decide if You Need Extra Hands

Hiring additional people is one of the biggest expenses of running a business. So when you start to think that you need extra help, you want to make sure before you pull the trigger.

The best way to forecast your future hiring needs is to look at past performance and estimate how many customer questions you’ll see this year. Look at past volume from last year to see how big of an increase your busy season brought with it. If, for example, you saw 30% more volume in December in sales and customer contacts, you can expect a similar bump this year and you’ll want to bring on enough people to handle the additional work. Also, consider:

– How has your business grown? If you’ve substantially changed your business model, you might see changes in your seasonal volume.

– What are your goals for response time? While it’s important to get back to customers quickly, is it necessary to get back to customers as quickly during the busy season? If so, you better staff up!

– What channels do you need to staff over the holidays? If you’re offering customer service over phone, chat and email channels, you’ll need more hands on deck to ensure good coverage across channels.

Using a hiring worksheet can help determine how many additional agents you might need as well as the cost of the additional labor. Bill Bounds has a great hiring worksheet1 that you can use as a starting point.

If you don’t have historical data, the best way to know when to hire is by gut feel. If incoming customer questions have taken over your entire day and you no longer have time to focus on other parts of the business (like documentation, performance management or processes) it’s time to bring in additional help.

Remember, hiring isn’t the only way to scale customer service, so try to decrease the volume by other methods as well.

Drafting a Job Description

Once you’ve decided how many people you need to hire, it’s time to go out and find them. The first task is writing up a job description that outlines the responsibilities of your seasonal employees.

Focus on the key skills you’ll really need in a temporary seasonal employee. They likely won’t be around for the long term, so it’s most important that they are efficient in handling day-to-day work and working with customers. You might even restrict the type of questions they work on to “tier 1” type questions that don’t require in-depth knowledge or technical skills.

Most temporary workers will only need to possess basic customer service skills:

– Communication – they should be able to communicate clearly and effectively, even when explaining complicated tasks.

– Emotional Quotient (EQ) – they should be empathetic and be able to detect customer feelings and emotions.

– Problem Solving – they should be creative in finding solutions, even to problems they haven’t seen before.

– Organization – they should be able to manage their time and work priorities effectively.

Be clear about what the job entails so applicants understand exactly what type of job they are applying for. For example, include the hours per week, the type of work and the duration of the contract. Don’t promise a full-time position if there isn’t one available.

Finding Seasonal Workers

Locating talented people who aren’t already full time employed can be difficult. You might have to hunt in some unexpected places. For example, look for hidden gems with students and parents re-entering the workforce. These skilled populations often have availability that matches a part-time, seasonal job.

If you have the option to hire remotely, you have a much bigger pool of applicants to choose from. Expanding your hiring search across the country can be daunting though, so make sure you have a good screening program in place.

Here are four great places to post your job description for seasonal workers:

Support Driven – while many of the people on this site are looking for full-time work, this highly specialized job board also attracts people just looking to get experience in customer support. Community members are also helpful in sharing postings with friends and family members.

WeWorkRemotely – for remote jobs, this is the best board going. There are consistently good quality applicants and a good number too.

University Job Boards – most universities will offer a job board for their students that local businesses can post on to attract student talent.

Your Own Social Media feed – because you need to train seasonal workers up fast, it’s helpful to find people that already know who you are. What better place to do that than on your own social media? Post your job descriptions on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to let your fans know that you’re looking for some extra help.

Onboarding Seasonal Workers

You don’t have a lot of time to train seasonal workers up and running – their time is very valuable when you’re in the busy season! Instead of winging it, create a streamlined training plan to get them answering questions from customers asap.

Set them up for success by creating a training program that’s focused on their day to day work. What’s the minimum they need to know to be successful in powering through holiday-related volume? Start with the basics and move to hands-on training as soon as possible.

Tami Titheridge, previously Head of Support at RateIt, says that videos are a great way to scale onboarding with new team members. “I recommend creating either one long video or a series of videos to help onboard them, set expectations & to share examples of how to best engage with customers.”

Instead of trying to train seasonal team members up to the level of permanent staff, focus on the most common questions they will see over the holiday season. This is where they will have the most impact. Create workflows that direct the easy questions to seasonal workers and allow them to escalate the sticky situations to full-time team members that have more training. For example:

– Build queues for specific questions – use automatic routing (like the Dispatch’r) to automatically assign specific questions such as shipping, returns or basic log-in questions to the seasonal staff.

– Triage incoming questions – have an experienced agent review all tickets coming in and assign low priority, simple questions to seasonal staff.

– Build escalation workflows –  make it easy for seasonal staff to hand off difficult questions to full-time team members, or automatically escalate tickets if they go past SLA or beyond a certain number of agent touches.

Finally, canned responses help speed up support by preventing the need to type out replies to frequently asked questions and they ensure consistency across the team. Even if the seasonal team member isn’t 100% sure on everything they need to include in the full response, they can use a canned response to make sure they don’t leave any details out.  

When you’re onboarding new seasonal agents, make sure to add them to your helpdesk as occasional agents to take advantage of Freshdesk’s Day Pass. This allows agents that are only occasionally active to log in for a day. Admins can add day passes on the fly when extra hands are needed to help deal with the volume.  

Don’t Wait to Start Hiring!

As you can see, there are a lot of challenges on the road to hiring and onboarding a great team of seasonal staff. Don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed to start hiring. You’ll need time to recruit the right people, and the team will need time to ramp up. Waiting until your busy period has already started will leave you struggling to catch up.

After the holidays, review how the season went and if you want to offer full-time employment to any seasonal workers. They are a great way to build your team up with tried and tested staff!

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