Optimizing Year-Round and Seasonal Customer Care at Balsam Hill


Customer care departments are crucial to the success of any online business. For e-commerce companies, they are the eyes and ears of your operations and can give you unparalleled insights into your customers. For a seasonal business with a peak sales window of two or three weeks, customer care operations can make or break your year. At Balsam Brands, we know this all too well.

Our flagship brand is Balsam Hill, the world's leading supplier of artificial Christmas trees and related holiday décor products. We also manufacture spring florals, autumn wreaths, and Halloween and Thanksgiving décor. Our trees are so true to life that I thought I'd have sap dripping on my fingers the first time I touched one in person. We started in Redwood City, California, and expanded our operations to Boise, Idaho, Manila in the Philippines, and Dublin, Ireland.

Customer care departments are the eyes and ears of your e-commerce business. Equip them with the tools and training to be successful.

While Balsam Brands operates a year-round customer care team, we scale our staff to 15 times its usual size during our three-week Christmas sales peak. These temporary workers serve as brand ambassadors and frontline spokespeople during our busiest period. Training seasonal employees to handle the Christmas rush is a challenge, so we strive to give them the tools to successfully represent our company and provide a high-quality customer experience during this crucial window.

At the same time, we outsource our voice-support to multiple partners around the globe. A couple of years ago, our reliance on outsourced customer care led to an untenable situation. Balsam Brands' telephony system was owned and operated by an outsourcing partner. This limited our ability to adjust to changing conditions, and inhibited our access to necessary data.

Moving to an In-House Customer Care System

To bolster the customer care experience, we decided to search for an in-house tool and then roll it out to our subcontractors. One of our vendors, TaskUs, recommended Talkdesk and helped broker an introduction. We did our due diligence and decided to try the platform. 

Talkdesk is a cloud-based end-to-end customer care and workforce engagement platform. When we evaluated different options in the market, I was immediately impressed with Talkdesk's reliability and adaptability. But once we implemented Talkdesk, what really sold me was the support. 

Talkdesk assigned us a consultant who built our initial call flows and showed us how to tweak and maintain them as we rolled out the system in the U.S. We re-engaged that consultant as we implemented Talkdesk in Europe. As we rolled out the platform worldwide, we started to flex our muscles. We built multiple queues and designed a flexible routing system that allowed us to assign agents to a specific function while also sending overflow calls their way when they weren't busy.

Streamlined Overflow and Callback Features

The Talkdesk system allowed us to build an overflow function which simplifies customer care center management. I might have one set of agents who specialize in a particular customer issue. But if calls peak unexpectedly, I need some of that increased volume to automatically route to those agents. Instead of manually monitoring incoming calls every minute, which we used to do during the holiday season, we let the system handle the routing. Our customer care managers can now focus on coaching our agents and better serving our clients.

We have also started using Talkdesk's callback feature. Callers can leave their contact information instead of waiting on hold at exceptionally busy times, and one of our agents will get back to them. These two features help us manage unexpected upticks in calls. Over the years, we’ve learned to expect peaks and valleys for our inbound calls—but you can’t plan for everything. Overflow allows us to route calls without needing to constantly watch over everything, and the callback feature improves the customer experience during a potentially hectic time for everyone. 

Setting Appropriate KPIs

Another way we handle our seasonality is by focusing on metrics that are aligned to our strategic goals. Talkdesk provides analytics that help us set appropriate KPIs. A few seasons ago, we found out that one of our outsourcers was over emphasizing sales incentives. As a result, their agents were cutting support calls short to focus on selling. While this could work for other brands, it didn't align with our goals in customer care. We had to adjust the way we measured performance.

CSAT is a vital metric because word of mouth goes a long way in the retail industry. Customer care can make or break the customer buying experience.

Instead of focusing on the number of calls an agent answers, we now look at their customer satisfaction (CSAT) score. At the end of each call, the Talkdesk system sends out a quick survey asking our customers to rate their experience with our agents. CSAT is a vital metric because word of mouth goes a long way in our industry. There are countless ways we can improve the customer experience. We even work in tiny little surprises into the buying process. But customer care can make or break that customer’s buying experience with us, and when they come back a few years from now to buy another tree for their house, I want them to remember us well. We can now measure CSAT on an agent-by-agent, call-by-call basis. We couldn’t do that before Talkdesk. 

We also track metrics like average handle time, which helps us pinpoint issues with individual agents. Some customer care employees spend too much time on the phone and have to be coached on handling calls more efficiently. Others spend too little. If an agent has extremely short handle times, we can combine this metric with customer feedback to understand whether they're dropping calls and apply the needed corrective measures. Our previous solution didn’t offer actionable analytics like these. 

Understanding Customer Asks

While we do offer support through online chat and email, two-thirds of our customer interactions happen over the phone. Talkdesk has given us deeper insight into our CSAT scores and customer pain points than ever before. Talkdesk's callback and overflow management systems have significantly reduced our average speed of answer (ASA) and abandoned call rates. More customers are getting through and receiving replies, and that will further increase CSAT scores.

We also use Talkdesk to understand what our customers are asking. At the end of every customer interaction, we ask customer care employees to type in a quick summary of the call. We then use this data to better understand customer needs and funnel it to the appropriate people inside Balsam Brands, including our web, product, and marketing teams.

Representing Our Brand and Meeting Peak Demand

For other companies out there with seasonal businesses, my advice is to get ahead of the curve. To make the best of the system and our agents’ talents, we staff a week or two ahead of expected peaks. That way, our teams are fully trained and have enough experience taking calls when volumes start to surge. The extra expense of training and preparing our people ahead of peak periods pays off in increased sales and happier customers. 

Over the years, we’ve learned that we need enough knowledgeable people and an efficient system to handle the volume of orders and questions, or our customers will walk away. Talkdesk helped us optimize our customer care experience, but our people will make or break us when the holiday rush arrives and all year round. 

I said a customer care team is the eyes and ears of your company, but they’re also the voice. They’re that frontline touchpoint with your customers and can provide greater insights into your business than almost anyone else. To handle the seasonality of your business, it’s important to hire the right people and invest in them with the right training and tools to build their confidence. Only then can they create a truly exceptional customer experience.