Every call center manager faces the problem of unpredictable spikes in call volume. Sometimes the causes are understood – even anticipated, however in many cases these peak periods come as a shock to the system. For example, a marketing event promoting a product sale would be an easy indicator of an influx in calls, whereas an unexpected power outage or sudden bout of the flu in the call center isn’t something you can readily plan for. Or is it?
What happens when call volume gets out of control? What strategy do you have in place to ensure that the customer experience doesn’t suffer?
This guide will tackle those questions head on!
The Role of the Voice Channel
When it comes to customer service, there will always be a role for a live conversation with an agent. Perhaps call volume has gone down over the years due to the availability of multi-channel tools and self-service, however this just means that the live agent transactions will be more complicated and likely to involve an upset customer. As well, some customers may simply prefer to deal with a live agent and skip self-service tools altogether. For example, a study by Wells Fargo found that 60% of banking transactions are made by customers who still prefer to do business with a teller.
According to Parature, voice continues to take the lead amongst all channels, but it’s not the most pleasant experience. The biggest problem with the voice channel is long hold-times. Typically this is the result of volume spikes or contact centers simply being understaffed. Unfortunately, the effect is negative nonetheless – 60% of customers will abandon a call after just one minute of waiting on hold.
The consensus is the voice channel still plays a critical role, but the experience needs to be worked on.
Tracking Your Call Volume Data
Before we dive into this guide, we encourage you to take some time to analyze your data. Look at the previous two months and label the spikes as planned or unplanned. Note any patterns that are present within both sets of data. For instance, many organizations tend to have spikes on Mondays after being closed on Sunday. Most contact centers would take this data and use it for workforce optimization – in other words, staffing up for times when they know spikes will occur. The important thing to note with tracking is that it’s an ongoing process. Changes in the marketplace, or within your own organizations, may dictate alterations in the trends and this is something you have to feel out as it happens.
When a call center experiences peaks in call volume, hold-times inevitably go up and abandon rates become an issue. This is the reality for call centers, and it can have a significant impact on the bottom line. Faced with this problem, many call centers will aim to fix it one of two ways:
- Staff up for peak periods, or;
- Find a way to eliminate hold-time.
The first option is a great fix to the problem of spikes, but leaves your call center with excess agent capacity at other times when call volume is reduced, resulting in inefficiencies.
The second option can be achieved through the use of call-back technology. Call-backs help “smooth-out” spikes in call volume by deferring calls (in a customer-friendly manner) to a time when there’s additional agent availability. In a sense, call-backs let you do a better job matching the demand with the supply of agent time. This results in more efficient use of resources.
Watch this video to learn how Bright Horizons uses call-back technology to smooth out spikes:
Expectations are on the Rise
The relationship you have with your customers is the key to future success. Are you listening to them and effectively meeting their needs? According to a Parature report, customer expectations are on the rise. 68% of customers have stopped doing business with a brand due to a poor customer service experience (for example, long hold times) and 56% have higher expectations for customer service now then they had a year ago.
To keep consumers happy, customer expectations can either be met (what the customer would find acceptable) or exceeded (what most customers really want). However from the customer’s perspective, there is a world of difference between the two. Here’s how Richard Branson put it: