If you're already recruiting for temporary Holiday employees, you're in good company. Challenger, Gray & Christmas expects retailers to add nearly 1 million seasonal workers in 2014 for the first time since 1999. UPS, Walmart, Macy's and Amazon have all announced they will each add nearly 100,000 temporary employees during this short window. Ramping up hiring means that you're expecting more customers and sales--always a welcome forecast.

But rapid hiring also comes with challenges. You have a short window of time to train each new hire and they may approach the job with lower engagement, because it's temporary. And at the same time, store and website visitors are notoriously demanding and impatient during this hectic season. Given these challenges, how can you ensure that these short-term employees deliver an outstanding experience to harried Holiday shoppers?

The national art supply store chain Blick has successfully managed an annual, 10% increase in their workforce over the holidays for years now. And their success is especially impressive, given their brand's strong service promise and their store's huge product inventory. The company stands out in its industry through its commitments to provide 24/7 live customer service via highly-knowledgeable product information specialists--"Blick Art Material Experts"--and to getting their customers what they want, when they want it, as expressed in their "Blick Ships Quick" business motto. They are able to maintain their service levels and brand experience during the holidays by applying many of the best practices of our most successful customers learned over years of holiday hiring experience.

1.Use live and online training strategically. Chances are that a higher percentage of your holiday hires may have little or no prior experience in your industry, or even in their role, than your permanent hires. So, consider creating online training courses that cover the bare-bones basic information about your company, its products, new hire paperwork, shift planning and time tracking, etc. Ask your new recruits to complete these courses prior to attending any live training. That way, you can focus any expensive, in-classroom training on the more subtle points such as your company's culture and personality, and handling challenging customer interactions.

2.Focus your training content. Blick Art sells over 60,000 different products. Even if your business only sells dozens or hundreds of unique SKU's, you'll still want to prioritize both your online product training, and your traditional in store job instruction. Holiday merchandise, seasonal promotions and quick ship delivery options will likely be critical. Low frequency and long-lead time products may not be. An example? Front-line, temporary hires at Toys R Us, for example, should know exactly which Frozen merchandize is available and expected delivery dates. But probably need no information on popular pool toys beyond which aisle in the store they can be found.

3.Keep yourself and your seasonal workers informed. The best seasonal trainers view their role as an ongoing dialog. Beyond initial training in the basics, brand expectations and key products and promotions, they continue to reinforce key messages, and update new news as the season progresses. Short, stand-up meetings before the store opening can be a good approach for this ongoing training, but if you have multiple shifts, you may want to post short videos online to ensure that all employees get the same message in the same, short time frame. Some Mindflash customers add a training quiz or survey questions at the end of these "Daily Updates" videos, to collect real-time reactions, questions and feedback from seasonal employees. And they design the videos and questions to work well when viewed on phones, tablets and other mobile devices, as many will be. Management should review and respond to these insights quickly to support that dialog, and identify the need for any new training or practices in time to impact this seasons' sales.

4.Include your experienced employees. Your best, long-term employees are often your best resource for conveying your company's unique and compelling culture and history. Ask them to participate in training your temporary workers, maybe by role-playing common customer interactions and role-modeling the customer experience your company--and your loyal customers--expect. Identify your best on-camera talent, and ask them to record the Daily Update video, injecting their own enthusiasm and personal experiences to create engaging and motivating training experiences for temporary workers.

5.Seize opportunities. Speaking of your experienced employees, there are often good training opportunities in the Holiday Season for them, as well. Beyond making a few famous as celebrity trainers and reporters, you can provide mentoring opportunities more easily at this time of the year. You may identify your next management candidates as a result. Similarly, you might choose to train some of your warehouse employees to cover shifts in the store, leveraging their company and product expertise, but testing their interests and aptitudes in serving customers directly.

Taking these five steps to better prepare your temporary holiday workers for success can make the difference between a challenging and an outstanding holiday season for your business. And for companies that do a significant percentage of their annual revenue between Thanksgiving and the New Year, this can mean an outstanding year, as well. A thoughtful and strategic investment in seasonal workforce training should lead to happier holidays for all involved.

Published on: Nov 11, 2014
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