Customers expect good deals during the holidays. They often go online in search of special bargains and deals they can’t find in brick and mortar stores. Customers are becoming increasingly uneasy about traditional savings marked in regular stores. The Washington Journal reports that many stores have been caught marking products down to the actual retail value in false sales bolstering. While some online stores also follow this practice, people are more inclined to trust bargains found on the Internet as they expect online stores to have lower overhead and better prices.
Reuter’s found that as of this year, online stores took the lead over traditional stores in overall sales and profits. While this is good for those of you who run an online store, it’s important you are up for the challenges of the holiday rush, and there’s no better place to start than preparing your virtual workforce.
Set Up Specific Goals for Employees
The holiday season can bring with it a myriad of tasks. Your virtual workforce will also have additional concerns competing for their attention. To avoid tasks sliding through the cracks, make sure that your virtual work force knows what needs to be done. You can use collaborative technology to provide access to worksheets and goal charts for all your employees, no matter where they are in the world.
In general, make sure that the goals themselves are manageable as well as measurable. Hard numbers can help bring the goals more into focus more than vague encouragements to “do better in increasing traffic.” It may also help to break down larger goals into smaller chunks. Instead of having a single weekly target, for instance, you might break it down by day so that your employees can see where they need to be at the end of each day.
Make Sure Your Employees Are Using the Latest Updates
A virtual workforce can save you time and money, but if there’s one thing you must keep up on, it’s the technology updates to your systems. If you’re using an eCommerce platform like Shopify, make sure that you have installed all the recent updates. The same goes for video conferencing systems, Flash, apps, and everything else that your virtual employees will use to work on your storefront, handle your marketing and promotions, and so on. If may help to make one of the specific goals for the start of each week to “update systems and check for bugs.”
Whenever you install new updates, take the time to evaluate their impact on the system. It’s important to avoid the “install and go” mindset, as it may be hours or days before you realize that your customers are getting bounced out of their shopping carts or are unable to see their products. Even if you’re only updating the flash player, run through the site from the customer’s perspective and make sure everything is still accessible.
Expect Productivity to Decline a Little
The Denver Business Journal reports that most employee productivity declines sharply the week before a major holiday. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, productivity suffers the worst. This doesn’t mean that your virtual employees won’t be able to handle your store’s needs during the season. It just means that you need to bear it in mind. Avoid any major overhauls to your online store unless they are absolutely necessary.
Avoid any large scale projects if at all possible. Be clear on what your expectations for work will be and how delays or no shows should be handled. Even virtual employees tend to expect their employers to be more understanding and flexible during the holidays.
Determine Your Priorities
If you’re using an online store platform like Shopify, most of the initial work in setup and maintenance will be done for you. But even so, your store will have certain tasks that must be prioritized. For many online stores, customer service is the big priority. Customers expect fast service and fast responses. List out the tasks that your virtual employees handle and then prioritize them in order of importance. Evaluate whether they will have the resources to complete the tasks in a timely manner. Remember that time and manpower are both essential. If you only have a single person handling customer service, you will need a backup plan, even if it just means you’re doing it all yourself.
The holiday rush will hopefully bring you a great deal of business. People want to find good deals, and you are in the perfect place to provide them. But don’t forget about checking on your own virtual work force. It will need to be in top shape to make the most out of this season. You can start by providing manageable and measurable goals for your employees so that they know what to expect. You should also make sure that all of your employees and your store itself are using the most updated software and that it hasn’t caused glitches within the system. Expect productivity to decline during this period and avoid any large scale changes or projects. But most importantly determine your priorities and make sure your employees can meet the priorities you have for your business.