It's the busiest season of the year — and the most stressful. If end-of-the-year sales activity can make or break your bottom line, success to a large extent depends on effective customer engagement by a motivated staff.
Too often, alas, frustrated and distracted employees deal poorly with the public. That can affect revenues. Customers are less likely to buy when the staff is clearly not having a good time. And profits can soften further when frazzled employees call in sick, leaving a skeleton crew to deal with customers frustrated by reduced service levels.
What causes holiday stress? For starters, employees are under pressure to keep up with the season’s requisite parties and shopping trips — events that need to be shoe horned into schedules already stretched by extended working hours. At the same time, a greater number of customers are clamoring for attention. Those customers, feeling pressure from their own holiday activities, tend to be less forgiving about employee errors and omissions. The result: Plenty of angst.
“Everything comes together during the holiday season to create a high level of stress in the workplace,” said Doug Fleener, president of Dynamic Experiences Group, a consultancy in Lexington, Massachusetts.
Calm Your TeamYou can take steps to reduce the level of stress in your own organization. Get started by seeking advice from the people on the front lines who often have the best sense of the bad things that can happen during the holiday season.
“Ask employees for recommendations on ways to reduce stress,” suggested Anne Obarski, a business consultant based in Dublin, Ohio.
Creating a fun shop environment means more than holding a party. Make it an ongoing effort. Maybe you award a weekly worst customer pin to the employee who deals with the most difficult client. Maintain interest by changing the activity in some way each week.
Practice Makes PerfectRehearse routines for dealing effectively with frazzled customers, Obarski suggested. Start by asking your employees to recall the most frustrating situations from last year’s holiday season. Perhaps a fellow threatened to post an online review slamming your organization?
“For each scenario discuss an appropriate employee response,” Obarski said. “Then rehearse it. Have one employee pretend to be the difficult customer and let another employee walk through the suggested sequence.”
This kind of advance preparation can smooth the way for customer engagements, defusing tensions and facilitating more sales.
Once the season is underway, follow through on your great preparations by reminding people of what they have learned.
“Get together each morning before you open,” suggested Tom Shay, a consultant based in St. Petersburg, Florida. “Discuss what is going to happen, and remind everyone that customers will be stressed.”
Top DownSuccess starts at the top. You can’t expect your employees to be stress-free if you are a nervous wreck. Take steps now to get yourself in a positive mindset.
“First and foremost, try to eliminate distractions before the holidays begin,” Fleener said. “Get as much of your business in shape as you can, and get your office cleaned up so you are in a position to focus on your customers and your employees.”
Be an early bird.
“Try getting to your desk a half hour early to knock out any work that needs to be done before the shop opens,” Fleener suggested. “When you plan for a good successful day, you are much more likely to have one. So outline your day in detail. A couple extra minutes in planning can make all the difference.”
Reduce your own stress by assigning some tasks to others. Delegation is critically important during the holiday season, Obarski said.
“Consider assigning good people to each critical business area. Start training your best people early,” he said. “Keep asking them ‘How can I help you get better at this?’”
Don’t neglect your personal life.
“Maintain your outside schedule, and keep doing whatever it is that keeps you grounded,” Fleener said. “Maybe it’s going to the gym or to church. Maybe it’s taking walks. Don’t let yourself get so busy that you are not doing those things, because they help you deal with stress.”<
Reducing holiday stress can improve profits by creating positive dynamics among managers, employees and the public.
“Customers do not patronize your business just to buy stuff,” Shay said. “They want the experience of engaging with employees in fun and rewarding ways.”
Creating a stress-free workplace will help them do just that.