5 tips for managing staffing during the Christmas rush

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The countdown is on to the hectic Christmas trading period – and while COVID-19 has introduced uncertainty to the holiday season, preparing staff will still be as crucial as ever. Here’s how to do it.


1. Look back to plan forward  


Look back at previous Christmas trading periods and use the past data and insights to predict sales volumes this season. 


This technique – known as demand forecasting –  will also help you to plan staff requirements and implement rosters. A range of critical business decisions like turnover, profit margins, cash flow, capital expenditure and staffing are all dependent on demand forecasting.


Australian trampoline retailer Vuly Play’s direct sales team doubles in size at Christmas. It conducts demand forecasting to ramp up distribution and warehouse staff to meet huge seasonal demand.


“Vuly Play has to remain consistently agile regarding staff requirements,” says communications manager Matt Bassos. “Leading into Christmas and the last days of November will pose the greatest challenge.” 


At Sydney e-tailer Gourmet Basket, Christmas is the busiest season, with planning beginning in July, and extra staff recruited in September and then again in December. “So, we need to increase our customer service team, our team processing our orders,” explains managing director Stuart Mills. “We also need more help in our corporate sales area and, last of all, in production. So, we have to scale up across the entire business.” 



2. Streamline induction processes 


When the holiday season is in full swing, it’s crucial for retailers to have processes that onboard new part-time, casual or full-time staff seamlessly so they can hit the ground running. 


Vuly works hard to make sure temporary staff brought on to meet seasonal demand don’t feel left out. “We have created training manuals specifically designed for temporary sales staff, and we do what we can to make them part of the team, including branded merchandise like our Vuly t-shirts,” says Bassos.


Part-timers get all the benefits of long-term staff, from free lunches to birthday celebrations with the team. “This often leads to casuals wanting to stay on and work with Vuly on a longer-term basis,” adds Bassos.


During the stressful sales season, regular check-ins with new staff members – encouraging them to be open about how they find the role and checking on their mental health – has also helped to build a strong team. 


“We ask what’s making them worried, anxious or simply isn’t enjoyable,” says Bassos. “You’d be surprised just how the act of showing some genuine concern can really help change their state of mind.” 


We have created training manuals specifically designed for temporary sales staff, and we do what we can to make them part of the team

- Matt Bassos, Vuly Play
3. Bolster training for online processes now 


One of the consequences of COVID-19 has been a shift toward online shopping – which has prompted a surge in internet enquiries for omnichannel retailers. Experts say that preparing for more online queries will be vital this Christmas.


When COVID-19 hit, lingerie and swimwear brand Big Girls Don’t Cry Anymore implemented an online booking system that enabled customers to schedule virtual fittings. Owner Karen Edbrooke has trained staff to use the technology to accept and handle these online bookings, which has lifted sales dramatically. 


Staff simply call the customer at the allotted time to help them find the right fit for their products. “Our fittings are done in a way that it’s literally like being in the shop, which is seamless for customers,” says Edbrooke. 


“To give you an idea, we had 20 staff before the pandemic hit in early 2020, and now we’ve got 52 staff on the books, with the fitting room bolstering sales dramatically. Christmas could be a strong trading period for a lot of businesses if they change the way they operate.”


Edbrooke recommends requesting staff to use any quiet periods to update customer databases, either via a form, online or by phone, in preparation for a Christmas marketing push.


4. Build a chatbot 


Adding a chatbot to your website is another way to meet the demand in online queries and also reduce the number of phone enquiries, which can be time-consuming for staff.


For example, one of Sephora’s chatbots helps customers book appointments with a beauty specialist, while another bot helps customers select products.


The savings can be huge. As recently as 2017, businesses were spending $USD 1.3 trillion on 265 billion customer service calls each year, and so adding chatbots can help free up response times. While not designed to completely replace humans, they offer customers a new way to interact with a brand, which helps retailers streamline their processes.


If you are considering a chatbot, ensure that it can be minimised easily for shoppers who prefer to purchase directly from your site.


5. Update your rostering process 


If your business still relies on a paper-based rostering system stuck on the wall, it’s time to move with the times and consider a digital model – especially if some of your teams are working remotely.


The right scheduling system will help ensure there’s no missed shifts or inaccuracy in the communication. 


Deputy is a popular choice among Australian retailers, and is used by IGA supermarkets and fashion retailer GlamCorner. It only costs a few dollars a month per user, and enables you to send rosters to the retail team with a few clicks. The tech includes a built-in awards interpretation function to ensure all employees are paid accurately for every hour they work, including penalty rates. 


Other popular models include ClockOn and Zenshifts. Whatever system you use, make sure that staff have their Christmas rosters by October so they can plan their own holidays.


Nina Hendy is a freelance journalist who has written about small business for Fairfax and a range of titles. 


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