The icing on the peak

For many businesses this is the golden quarter of the year. Retailers and distributors plan for a dramatic increase in volumes, while still having to maintain service excellence, and the impact of outages and delays can be critical, leading to lost sales, dissatisfied customers and frustrated management.

A smooth Q4 comes from careful planning and preparation, usually commencing in January with a review of the peak just gone. Now, as we near the end of October, most businesses will already be several weeks into operating their peak plans, with extended working hours, change freezes and many other contingencies to ensure customer satisfaction at this critical time.

It might therefore seem like strange timing to be posting this blog but the fact is there are a few, often neglected, potentially peak saving measures that are still worthy of attention. Often because of their simplicity and mundaneness these items can slip through the net and although attending to them can seem like a chore when things are going smoothly, the rewards of a little time spent can be huge if problems occur.

When things go wrong there are three things we hope for:

  1. That the problem is spotted early
  2. That the right people are engaged, quickly
  3. That good procedures will speed resolution

Frequently though this is not the case. How often have you heard some or all of the following when carrying out a post-mortem on an issue?

“The problem occurred at midnight but wasn’t noticed until the early shift came in”

“Craig was off doing his Christmas shopping and we didn’t have the contact details for anyone else in his team”

“We called the maintenance company to send an engineer but our contract had been moved from them and we couldn’t find the details of the new contract”

“This site opened earlier this year and our service provider didn’t have it on their records. We lost an hour while the call was escalated to sort it out”.

“We don’t normally operate a night shift and this wasn’t included in our support contract”

In real life, problems like these have resulted in hours of delay and it can be embarrassing when down time is unduly extended through simple procedural failures. When you consider the thousands of pounds spent on resilient IT and networks to ensure websites and fulfilment systems don’t miss a beat, this can be galling.

But it’s not too late to make sure you’re completely prepared for peak trading.

Dust off the callout and escalation procedures, checking that they have up to date names and contact details, that the right companies are listed for external support and that contract numbers are current. Also check that hours of cover align with peak shift patterns.

If it’s relevant to your situation then arrange for checks to be run on fulfilment systems hours before the early shift arrive. Consider low cost external monitoring of your website as well to speed response to problems that will impact customers.

On a final note, keep a record all the problems that arise and review them in January. That way, if things don’t run as smoothly as you’d hoped during the peak this year, you can at least be assured of avoiding the same pitfalls next year.

Image courtesy of Cristiano Betta at