How to Prepare Your Phone System for the Holidays

The countdown to the holidays has officially begun! Unlike me, assembling a checklist of seasonal changes to your business phone system is probably the last thing on your mind.

I don’t blame you. It’s a busy, and sometimes stressful time of year. But, take a moment to think about things from a customer’s perspective. You may know all your company’s holiday plans, but they certainly don’t.

  • Will your regular business hours change during the holidays?
  • Are they any days you’ll be closed?
  • Is their usual contact at your business going on vacation?
  • What seasonal sales and deals are you offering?

Regardless of if the holidays are the busiest or slowest season for your business, you should take the necessary steps to prepare your phone system.

Auto-attendant messages need to be updated with holiday cheer. New voicemail greetings must be strung up with care. If possible, try to leave out some plates of delicious deals for any customers who call down the chimney.

Even if it’s a slower season – or you’re lucky enough to take time off during the holidays – it’s important to make sure your customers are still taken care of and aware of when you’ll be closed.

Whatever the case, your phone system is the perfect tool to share some holiday cheer with your customers and make sure they’re as informed as possible about your holiday plans. To make things as easy as possible, I’ve already put together this checklist of all the changes and updates you need to make.

Give it a look, get it done, and then get back to truly making this the most wonderful time of year for your customers.

Promote Seasonal Specials

A big part of the holidays for most businesses is all the sweet deals, discounts, and promotions they offer their customers throughout the season. Sales are always a great idea to drive business, but they’re also only as effective as the audience you’re able to reach.

This is where your automated phone menu can become one of your best (and cheapest) marketing tools. A concise, jolly introduction at the beginning of your usual menu is a fantastic way to let every single one of your callers know about your current sales offers.

After all, what better time to make your seasonal pitch than with a captive audience?

Provide a Holiday Schedule Message

Speaking of your phone menu, don’t forget to add an option to hear about any changes to your usual business hours.

Offering extended hours during the holidays so customers can take advantage of all the deals you just told them about? Will your office be closed during December or on New Year’s Day? Your customers need to know!

Add an option to your main phone menu that lists any changes to your holiday hours in advance so customers can plan ahead. They’ll appreciate the information, and hopefully it’ll cut down on the number of angry voicemails you return to asking why you weren’t around.

Make sure all voicemail boxes are updated

On top of having all the best holidays (sorry St. Paddy’s Day), there’s something else November and December are known for: Vacation Season.

If you’re leaving to celebrate with family and friends, make sure to set a Temporary Voicemail Greeting to let your customers and coworkers know when you’re out of the office.

Even if you’re sticking around for the holidays, make sure to remind everyone else around the office they need to update their voicemail greeting. My personal preferred tactic is to post up by the coffee maker and ask every single person if they’ve updated their voicemail or not.

Do I ask some of them multiple times? Yes. Is it probably super annoying? Also yes. Do I get any of my own work done? No.

But holy moly do I get to drink too much coffee while giving my coworkers the gift of a stress-free vacation.

Put Your Call Forwarding Functionality to Use

This time of year, it feels like any chance you get to spread cheer — through lunches, gift shopping, at-home days to decorate, etc. — is also exactly when customers choose to give you a call.

Good thing any modern phone system allows you to forward work calls to your cell phone! Now you can live it up throughout the holiday season without missing a thing. Most systems will also give you ways to tell which calls are personal and which are from your extension, extra-ensuring that you can be there for your customers from anywhere.

Plus, if you do miss a call from a customer and need to get back to them right away, your phone system should have a mobile app you can use.

Why do I need to download an app to call them back?” I can already hear you thinking, dear reader.

It’s true, you’re already using a phone built specifically for that purpose. However, by using your system’s mobile app, you can call customers from your work number instead of your personal number. On top of that, your mobile app will give you access to all your work texts and contacts so you can handle pretty much anything on the go.

Play Some Holiday Hold Tunes

With all the increased business generated by your sales and promotions, chances are callers will be spending more time than usual on hold. Instead of the same old hold music, treat your customers to a boppin’ playlist of holiday greats to enjoy while they wait!

The change of pace will hopefully help keep spirits up even if callers are frustrated, and the additional wait time gives you extra opportunities to play messages about your holiday discounts.

Use Reporting to Get a Head Start

Every holiday season seems to be crazier than the last. Luckily, with some creative phone system analysis, you can use previous years to help you better prepare for this one.

Let’s look at an example to show what I’m talking about. Say I run a bakery called Brady’s Baby Cakes that specializes in custom desserts for important events. Every holiday season, my team is completely slammed with back to back orders.

Naturally, I want to bring in some extra help so we can meet demand without sacrificing our signature quality. I also have to factor in time-off requests from my staff and extra coverage in case anyone gets sick or has a family emergency.

Since I have a modern phone system, I have access to advanced reporting that lets me see how many calls we received last holiday season, what times of day were busiest, how many employees I had available on those days, etc.

Sure, it’s not an exact science and every holiday season is different. But having all that data at my fingertips allows Brady’s Baby Cakes can face the coming frosting storm with much more certainty.

Add Extra Extensions and Queues for Seasonal Hires

If you plan on bringing in extra help during the holidays, you most likely need to supply them with phones, their own extensions, and probably a call queue or two that can be deleted come January.

If you have an on-premises PBX system, everything I just listed will be a major headache each and every year. The extension lines have to be added manually. New phones have to be provisioned one at a time to your system. Who knows when an IT technician will even be able to come out to your office and get it all done.

However, if you have a cloud-hosted VoIP system, you can easily set up all those extensions, phones, and even the queues yourself in one afternoon. You read that right: in one afternoon.

With FluentStream, you can even just give our Support Team a call and ask us to do it for you. Then pour yourself some hot chocolate, eat a few frosted sugar cookies while you watch The Office holiday episodes, and tell your boss later that it was a real pain in the jingle bells… but you managed to get it done.

Don’t have extra phones for your seasonal hires just laying around? Many providers allow you to rent phones as long as you need and then either buy them out to use later, or send them back when things slow down.

Across the country, stay-at-home guidelines are being lifted and slowly, one by one, companies are starting to invite employees back to work. Things may not be back to normal, whatever that word even means anymore, but they’ll certainly be closer to the work environment we’re used to. 

Working from home posed numerous new challenges for businesses, but it also provided an opportunity to try out new ways of “working." 

Some of these, like taking a work call without wearing pants, are better left for when you are working from home. But there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are plenty of productivity ideas that you’ve been experimenting while at home that can enhance your ability to work when you are back in your office. 

1. Write Yourself Daily and Weekly Task Lists

In our 10 Trusty Tips for Working from Home, we discussed how setting agendas ahead of time leads to higher productivity. While your office has probably fewer distractions than your home, writing manageable task lists at the start of every week and every day is a great way to stay focused no matter what curveballs come your way.

It’s called hyperbolic discounting, and it works the same way that making a shopping list beforehand helps keep you from buying unhealthy or unnecessary food. Especially during the excitement of returning to the office, it’s equally important to stay on-task and not over-commit. Having concrete, achievable goals laid out for both your day and week is an easy way to accomplish both.

2. End Your Day by Starting a Fun Project

Whether you’re working from home or back at your desk, starting a new project can be daunting (especially first thing in the morning). If you’re like me, you tend to procrastinate by getting a cup of coffee, chatting with the receptionist, getting a second cup of coffee, checking ESPN, getting a third cup of… you get the idea.

Instead, try to plan out and even start new projects at the end of your day so you can dive right in the next morning. The fewer mental hurdles there are between you and productive work, the less likely you are to stumble over some distraction or another.

Plus, this strategy allows you to look at your projects with a fresh set of eyes before you get too far to change course if needed. Especially when it comes to editing or long-term planning, I find that looking over my afternoon ideas with a morning mindset saves me from a lot of headaches.

3. Schedule Shorter Meetings More Often

As everyone adapted to the disjointed pace of working from home, it became much more difficult to schedule meetings with multiple people.

Kids needed to be attended to. Lunch wasn’t going to make itself and. And naps, well, naps needed to be taken.

By necessity, team or department powwows were boiled down to the truly essential topics and questions.

Instead of going back to the way things used to be – with meetings so long you had to order food in the middle of them just to keep employees invested – continue keeping things short and to the point. If a question doesn’t involve everyone present, save it for a direct message. If you haven’t yet made progress on a project, don’t bother bringing it up. Questions like “How was everyone’s weekend?” may break the ice, but if your team is anything like ours, they always lead to lengthy tangents.

Much like we suggest setting task lists for yourself every day, always set agendas with your meeting invites and then stick to them.

4. Keep Forwarding Your Calls When You’re at the Office

While working remotely, making sure that your calls were being forwarded to your cell phone was a necessity. Now that you’re back in the office with your beloved desk phone, is it still?

Yes!

No matter how much of the day you spend at your desk, there are still opportunities for you to miss important calls. Maybe you got bamboozled into a string of meetings. Maybe you went out for lunch with a few coworkers you haven’t seen for a while. Maybe you just decided to stretch your legs and take a lap around the office. Whatever the case, having your extension forwarded to your cell phone makes sure you never miss a thing – just like it did at home.

5. Don’t be Afraid to Set Work Time Boundaries

At home, surrounded by partners, kids, and pets all clamoring for our attention, many of us were forced to set “Do Not Disturb” hours. These peaceful, critical time blocks allowed us to buckle down and focus on projects without fear of interruption.

Don’t be afraid to do the same at your office. Coworkers constantly stopping by your desk to chat or ask questions can derail your train of thought just as quickly as a hungry toddler.

For example, I block off the start and end of every week for the administrative tasks I tend to forget. On Monday morning, it helps me set priorities for the week. On Friday afternoons, it’s the time I take to send follow up/reminder emails and be sure we’re making good progress on long-term projects.

6. Work Out Before Work

Stuck at home for months, morning workouts became mandatory if you wanted to combat the lethargy and snack intake of quarantine. They also helped wake up your brain and start every day with a win.

Waking up early to work out before your morning commute may not sound like the most enjoyable thing in the world, but it will allow you to carry the benefits back into your normal work life. I can tell you from personal experience that I’ve only been drinking about half as much coffee since I started doing yoga instead of hitting snooze until right before my morning meeting.

7. Maintain Your New and Improved Work-Life Balance

I just have a grumpy cat to take care of during these uncertain times, so I turned to our very own Marketing Director Eli Gurock to explain how the extended period of working from home has affected his scheduling.

“My wife and I plan meals and child care responsibilities for the week on Sunday evenings. When we were both working from home, we talked about who had early morning or late afternoon meetings and calls so the other knew when they’d need to put their Primary Parent hat on. 

Now that we’re back in the office, those Sunday planning sessions are just as helpful to talk about daycare pick up duties and deadlines for when we each need to be home.” 

One of the most important lessons to take from this pandemic is that sometimes it’s okay to plan more around your family and less around your office. Keep doing what’s best for you and you’ll notice how much more productive you are at work without the added stresses you left behind.

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