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PHOTO: Rebecca Campbell | unsplash

The forecasts predicted the Great Resignation would abate this summer. It didn't. In August, 3% of working America threw in the towel. Burnout-vulnerable occupations saw even more departures, with seasoned employees leading the way. Some found other jobs, but many simply... quit. Customer-facing groups have been hit hard, and with very few hiring days left before the holidays, customer experience (CX) leaders are worried.

Before the pandemic, 74% of customer service workers were already at risk of burnout. Today, customer support is not only short-handed, but also competing with many other employers gearing up for the holidays. Two companies, Amazon and Target, have announced they’ll add 250,000 seasonal employees this year, for instance.

Most roles focused on customer experience, including sales and customer support, face the holidays with some empty seats. Ecommerce, retail, and leisure and hospitality support need to be staffed, with peak demand.

But it’s late in the game to crank up hiring campaigns. On average, it takes 34 days to fill a customer service position, according to a recent large-scale LinkedIn study. That means it’s paramount to keep your CX partners close, and your best reps even closer.

One thing is clear: it’s time for action. Here are a few things you can do to make sure you have the necessary CX resources in place for the holidays.

Fortify Your BPO - Outsourcing - Staffing Relationships

Make sure your needs are top-of-mind with all your suppliers of CX talent.

Whoever you turn to when you need more customer experience professionals, make it a priority to stay engaged with them. You might inquire how they ensure their employees stay engaged. Engagement with one’s job greatly reduces the probability an employee will quit. Make sure that whether it’s BPOs, recruiters, or other outsourcing specialists, that your needs are top-of-mind with them — and that you need them to keep their teams intact.

This year, given the surprises of August and September, you need to be ready for worst-case resignation scenarios. Your people are thinking of leaving and they are being recruited. Luckily, there is something you can do about it.

Related Article: Customers Are Factoring Employee Treatment Into Buying Decisions

Give Your CX Teams Real-Time Feedback

We know you know this, but it’s worth emphasizing. Engaging with your CX teams more frequently is really critical ahead of these 2021 holidays.

Let’s face it: there’s nothing like knowing where you stand as an employee. Give regular in-the-moment feedback when possible. Don’t wait days after an incident to share your thoughts. That will just come off as arbitrary criticism as opposed to constructive feedback.

If possible, leverage the most comprehensive data and analytics to arm yourself with the metrics to give that real-time feedback. Use that data to set goals and KPIs that you need your team to achieve. This degree of visibility should be a two-way street. Give your employees visibility into this data so they can take initiative on their and, in the best case scenario, self-manage.

Related Article: Why Feedback Is Key for Mental Health in the Workplace

Retain Talent, at All Costs

For the 2021 holiday season, there’s almost no time left to hire CX talent. Moreover, it’s expensive. Replacing workers can cost one-half to two times the employee's annual salary, according to a pre-pandemic Gallup survey.

Retaining and motivating your current CX workforce is worth a lot. Your budget is not unlimited, but make sure your teams have incentives to endure the holiday workloads, and that they clearly understand how to earn the rewards available.

One recommendation: keep a close pulse on employee satisfaction. Over half of departing workers report that their company could have kept them, but did nothing — and that in the three months prior, no manager or leader ever mentioned their future with the company. But you can be confident that recruiters from other businesses did so.

Accelerate Your Hiring and Onboarding

Retention alone may not meet your holiday workload, and time is against you, so streamline your hiring and onboarding processes now. If the hiring process takes an average of 34 days, you may need to halve that to get the people you need in place and prepared.

This would also be the time to check that the knowledge base and other training resources your new hires will need are in place, so they perform well with your customers from the start.

Related Article: 6 Ways to Improve Employee Recruiting and Retention

Conclusion

The acceleration of the Great Resignation caught many by surprise this fall, because pandemic benefits in the US (and elsewhere) ended and most expected the high quit rates of the spring and summer to subside.

Holding onto your people and trusted outsourcing is critical this holiday season, because hiring is slow, difficult, risky, and expensive.

The foundations of CX management — engagement, feedback with data on performance, visibility for your reps to self-manage and strive for rewards, clear incentives and recognition, and empowerment to solve problems — are more important in the coming weeks than ever. For both retention and new hires, schedule flexibility, choice of work location, and holiday period incentives could be compelling advantages as you compete to retain and attract CX talent.