07/18/2014 09:00 am ET Updated Jul 18, 2014

Christmas in July: It's Never Too Early to Prepare Your Customer Service Department

The holiday rush arrives earlier every year and while the calendar might read July, it's prime time for retailers to begin holiday season planning. According to the National Retail Federation, the holiday season can account for anywhere from 20-40 percent of a retailer's annual sales. Putting the customer first is the key to your success, as customer interactions can easily make or break a company's bottom line. No matter the quality of your product or service, your customer support team has to be just as good, or better. As you start looking ahead, how can your business stand out and what can you do to ensure customer service supports your sales goals?

Here are several considerations to help prepare your customer service team for the holidays:

Find a lasting solution: Outdated customer service technologies could end up hurting your business in the end. Start looking at new solutions now in order to ensure peak performance during the holiday season. Begin by taking a critical look at your existing systems, along with the expectations and habits of your customers. If they're not up to par now is the time to research the different tools available and realign your processes. Whether it's technology to streamline your workflow or a contact center solution, do your homework when analyzing providers. Will these solutions scale as your business grows -- especially as seasonality hits? Is it the right technology for your business? How often do system updates occur? Can you customize it to fit your company's distinct needs? Ask these questions before selecting a vendor so you won't have to make major changes to your systems or infrastructure in order to keep pace with customer needs.

Be convenient: Ensure your customer service team is ready for the increased demand of the holidays by utilizing the summer months to plan and prepare. Today's customer is on the go and wants answers or resolutions fast. What does this mean for your business? It means your service processes need to be structured to support the outlets your customers prefer and get customers to the right agents quickly and easily. Use this time to train your staff on channels and processes, plus to walk through your service flows from the customer's perspective. Convenience is key and your customers expect you to make it easy for them to do business with you.

Deliver proactive customer service: What's better than providing unparalleled customer support? Getting ahead of customer issues before they arise. Determine what your goals are for the upcoming holiday rush -- such as more repeat customers or fewer repeat service calls -- and analyze trends from past seasons that were inhibiting those objectives. Ask your current, and potential, vendors if they offer integration options to tie your call data to service ticketing or customer relationship management (CRM) systems so that you can gain a complete picture of overall performance. Then, utilize the metrics to guide adjustments to your service processes.

Create personalized touches:Take the steps now to set up your business for customer service success, as poor customer service can be a financial burden on a company. According to a study by Zogby Analytics, 16 percent of consumers share their poor customer service experiences with family and friends and another 13 percent say a poor experience would cause them to never shop with that company again. Equipping your customer service team with the right software can help ensure they deliver personalized responses to each customer, which improves customer satisfaction. Integrating systems like your CRM software, phone system or case management can make it easier to streamline workflow and create a single source for customer records. With customer information readily available, agents can view recent customer activities to solve problems quickly and provide personalized, relevant responses that strengthen customer relationships.

Following these tips can help prepare your service teams for the upcoming holiday surge. Stand apart from other companies this holiday season by empowering your customer service department to build brand loyalty, stay responsive and continue providing customers with positive experiences.