Successfully Coping with Peak Season: Seven Best Practices

Many companies have faced unparalleled peak seasons in the past year. Effectively handling your peak season—whether predictable or unforeseen—will set you apart. With these seven best practices, your company will be ready for the busiest time of the year.

Author: Matthias Vollmert

Published: Last updated:

Future of Operations, Management Consulting

parcel delivery man unloading post truck

In today’s rapidly changing world, many companies not only have to face their usual peak season but also unforeseen peak times. This is in addition to the boom in e-commerce overall caused by the corona pandemic—it is here to stay, and consumer expectations are higher than ever when it comes to service.

Regardless of when your company experiences a surge in business, being prepared and organized for your most testing time is the name of the game. Managing peak seasons is more challenging than ever before, but with the right planning in advance, you can truly benefit from the opportunities presented and ride out the peak smoothly.

Here are seven best practices to make sure your company is prepared for the peak season:

1. Start Planning Early and Involve Everyone

The importance of getting everyone on the same page early on can’t be stressed enough. Every company needs to align its commercial side and its operations side because, to be fully prepared for peak season, you need buy-in from everyone in your team, across all functions and departments.

What’s more, it pays to get employees’ input early on in the planning process. Alignment always takes a long time because everyone has an opinion and they’ll want their voice heard. So my advice is to start planning for the next peak season immediately after the last peak season.

Working as one team gets everyone pulling in one direction for the greater good. For example, the ops team will usually have a much deeper understanding of certain processes and know in advance which of these are likely to come under strain or even break. So involve them in planning from the beginning. Also, if you want to change a process down the line, it’s as well to have them on your side.

2. Focus on Personnel Planning for the Peak Season

Do you have enough staff across all of your locations to cope with high volumes? This is one of the most important points for any company to think about at this time of year. For example, in the logistics industry, where employee retention is low, you need to have plenty of ideas about how to get the right number of motivated workers across your different locations and, crucially, at the right times. This might include bringing in temporary staff from other countries.

3. Get Ahead With Good Data and Advanced Analytics

Data analysis can make the job you are about to do much easier—so if you don’t have your own in-house team of data analysts, it might be worth bringing in external experts to run the algorithms over your past peak season performances and crunch the numbers accordingly. It helps to base your forecasts on real numbers from real-life scenarios, rather than on random assumptions. It can also help you foresee any backlog you might experience and give you time to work out how to reduce it by, say, re-routing volumes to different locations.

There is a but: Always make sure the data you’re using is correct. Also, factor into your analysis any unprecedented situations, such as … well … the coronavirus pandemic. It’s extremely important to remember that you won’t have any comparable data for such a scenario. Therefore, holding onto insights based on previous data may send you down the wrong path when faced with such an out-of-the-ordinary situation.

4. Communicate in a Transparent Way

Honesty is always the best policy. It’s vital to be open about the service levels you can realistically achieve during peak times. If your peak season projections are accurate and show that you won’t be able to continuously meet the service levels you achieve throughout the rest of the year, you have two options: You can either stay silent, wait until trouble happens and then explain the problem to your angry customers, which I don’t recommend. Or you can talk to them early and proactively communicate what will be possible, making demand peaks visible, outlining mitigative actions and measures to help navigate the peak, such as ordering early.

The second way is always best. Yes, it might involve a hard conversation, but it puts you in the driver’s seat to manage stakeholder expectations. In this way, you and your customers can join efforts to master the peak season.

5. Show Appreciation

It should go without saying, but you can’t expect people to do their best for you if they feel underappreciated. So make sure they’re paid fairly and are working in an inviting environment. If you ensure comfortable and pleasant working conditions—also with a “thank you” for the work every now and then—you maintain a good relationship and establish loyalty. This especially goes for temporary staff, who will then be there for you when the next peak season rolls around.

6. Have a Plan B

Do you have a backup plan if resources suddenly prove scarce? Can you spring immediately into action if it turns out that you don’t have enough employees or equipment? If not … that can spell trouble. So think of the worst-case scenario—and plan for it.

Also, if you do need to implement your plan B, make sure you learn from it. That way, for the next peak season, you can adjust your plan A accordingly—to incorporate different tools, machines, people, and more—so you will not find yourself in a position where your plan B becomes necessary again.

7. Stay Pragmatic, Stay Agile

Let’s face it. You can plan everything down to the nth degree, but you can’t foresee every eventuality. There will always be surprises, which is why it’s extremely important for a business to be agile. So the maxim is “plan where possible, but stay flexible.” Don’t follow your plan blindly. Because something unexpected can happen—and then you may need to switch to an alternative idea that better matches your new reality.

In the middle of such a busy time, you have to accept that some decisions can’t always be made centrally. So empower your people across the operation and provide them with the necessary data to make their own decisions on a day-to-day basis.

The Next Peak Season Can Come!

The peak season is great for your sales numbers, but it also brings along with it all sorts of challenges to make sure that your profits go in a similar direction. These involve personnel planning, organizational procedures, and implementing learnings from the previous season, to name just a few. There is no perfect plan for the peak season, but with the best practices provided above, you can help to make sure that processes run as smoothly as possible and everyone—customers, your company and employees alike—are satisfied with a job well done.

E-commerce will continue to grow and consumer behaviors will always be changing, so being prepared is relevant throughout the year. So, for longer term and more sustainable planning, it might make sense to invest in automation and scalability, which support operational agility and efficiency, also in peak times. After all, having a hold on your operations is the trick to thriving in a competitive market.

What did you take away from your last peak season? I’m looking forward to hearing about your experiences in the comment section or on my LinkedIn channel.

Get in touch

Matthias Vollmert – Partner and Future of Operations Lead, DHL Consulting

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