Dealing with an unexpected rush.

My post on Monday talked about dealing with the rush in general. This post was supposed to go up yesterday, but there was slight confusion. Today’s post talks about how to deal with the rush that is unexpected.

Have formal operating procedures.
The first step to being able to deal with that huge, unexpected rush is to have formal operating procedures in place about how to deal with the said rush. Like any other operating procedure, your procedure for dealing with a big rush should be thought out, written down, and employees should be aware of it (and know how to do it).

Get the staff in.
Get as many employees as you can to work. Call them at home and get them to come in. Explain things are really busy. If you need to, pay them more than usual – give them a bonus at the end of the day or pay them time and a half. Whatever you have to do, do it. You’ll need extra help.

Remove people from jobs that don’t have to be done right that second.
You probably have bookkeepers, designers, marketers, stock people, etc. around that work for longer term things. Or they work behind the scenes. When you are really busy and can’t get enough , you need to move them to the frontlines. What you do with them depends on their expertise and what is needed (see below).

Use people that aren’t as experienced as support, not leads.
You know the bookkeepers and accountants you just took from behind the scenes? Don’t make them your star employees from the day. Have them do support roles. That way the people who are more used to being on the frontlines can do other things. What exactly a support role is varies from business to business, but it can be anything from assigning ticket numbers routing phone calls to directing customers to the right line.

Delegate simple tasks that can be done right.
Every business has simple tasks that can be done right (like the ones discussed above). I would delegate all the simple tasks (like routing phone calls) that are easy to do and can be done right (easily). This will let your more experiences representatives concentrate on the more complicated things.

Apologize to customers.
Your customers can probably tell things are really busy. However, you should apologize to them. Apologize about the wait. Apologize about things being a bit hectic. Apologize about it taking four transfers to get them to the right extension. Just explain that things are busy, everyone is trying their best, and that you sincerely appreciate their patience and understanding. (Don’t make excuses if possible.)

Offer to follow up later.
For customers that you feel could use extra attention, but you lack the time to do it during the busy day, offer to follow up later. If they accept (which many will), actually follow up. Offer a private appointment. Offer for them to come in next week. Just offer to follow up and then actually do it.

4 Responses to “Dealing with an unexpected rush.”

  1. Ben Hubbard said:

    Aug 01, 07 at 5:15 pm

    This is a great post in my opinion, and of all the points, the most prudent I feel is #1, to have formal procedures. It may be common for many small companies to have a five-alarm type issue before they realize how important such procedures are.

    The normal Customer Service reps likely can handle the procedure changes fine, but if you use non-frontline employees like bookkeepers to help, doing things like sorting tickets (if you have a ticketing system that supports that) or helping to just let customers know that you are on it can make a HUGE difference. I am against putting them in the front line, as they are likely don’t know how to handle angry customers, but there are many other areas they can help.

    My suggestion is that people that will be called upon to lend such aid in a rush be exposed to the tool during quieter times. If you have a ticketing system, show them how to take and sort a ticket, so that when an issue does happen these team members won’t be seeing the ticketing system interface or using the tools for the very first time.

    As a support team or company manager, giving the team a pep talk during such issues is huge I think. Let them know it’s their time to shine. Like Doug mentioned, a bonus is helpful, but if it’s so busy that they can’t take a lunch break, spring for a pizza delivery for the guys and gals facing the front line. High moral is vital, and really not that hard to maintain.

    Also, especially if you are in the technical field, having a crisis manager is a good move I think. This person would be responsible for distributing information. Sometimes the technicians working to solve the problem are the best ones for information. The last thing they need is to be interrupted every 30 seconds by people asking the same question. In times of a major issue, the CEO could be clamoring for information, the sales reps getting calls from their customers, account managers, and support managers all ask the same questions. Having one person responsible for getting frequent updates and making sure they’re given to the right people could make sure the information is consistent, accurate, and that the issue gets resolved sooner.

    Great post Doug… and one that I think many readers may benefit from more discussions or posts on. After all, so many smaller companies use customer service and technical support as a key differentiator between themselves and their customers, and when there is a rush (or service outage) is when customers are most likely to get peeved and forget the previous fast response times and help you were able to offer. It’s a huge area I think can always be improved upon!

  2. Service Untitled said:

    Aug 01, 07 at 5:34 pm

    Ben,

    Thanks for your (detailed) comment! Great points.

    You only want to put inexperienced (in the customer service sense) on the frontlines when it is your last resort. If you do put them on the frontlines, then you want to have them do simple tasks or tasks that can be done with a process. That way, a lack of customer service experience won’t make as big as a difference .

    I like your idea of cross training employees during quieter times that way they can help out during the busier times if needed. This is a great idea and one that I generally suggest anyways. That way, a bookkeeper could answer a customer question about how to login or a technical support representative could answer the question about how much is due on their most recent invoice.

    I like the idea of a crisis manager. I have never heard of such a role. Do you know of any companies that have a person like that? It would be an interesting subject to talk about. I bet that must be a stressful job as well.

    Definitely! Basically every aspect can always be improved upon. It is just knowing how and then actually doing it. Thanks again for your comment.

  3. Ben Hubbard said:

    Aug 02, 07 at 4:18 pm

    Hello Doug,

    Webmail.us has one… it’s relatively new and evolved. We basically realized that a point of contact was the right way to go, but someone has to inform account managers, the technical support team, and of course others of interest in the company.

    Besides streamlining communication, another big reason was to help the engineers. No matter how understanding team members are, being asked once every ten minutes for an update by ten different people is basically an interruption every sixty seconds… and that adds negative pressure. During an issue, “I think I found the issue” can be misunderstood by someone and three generations down the line that message becomes “it’s fixed” even when it might not be. To prevent this, one contact who knows the vital information to get and what, if any, confirmation questions to ask.

    Ben

  4. Service Untitled said:

    Aug 02, 07 at 5:27 pm

    Ben,

    Well it is definitely a good idea. I can see how it would certainly increase efficiency.