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Peaks in call volumes can happen out of the blue, but usually you can predict them. Retailers know they need to cope with the increase in activity that happens between Black Friday and the New Year Sales. Insurers deal with more claims during bad weather, accountants are busier during tax season, and car companies receive more enquiries when they launch a new model.

There are also peaks in call volumes you can’t predict, usually because they’re in response to some event outside your control. That could be a crisis like a product recall or data breach, or an unfortunate event like a flood.

While you can’t know exactly when one of these things will happen, you do know they will occur from time to time – your job is to be prepared.


Dangers of mishandling peaks

If you don’t have enough contact centre agents to answer all your calls, or your team is unable to respond as well as they usually do, then the customer experience you provide suffers. This has a knock-on effect in lost sales, lost customers, lower customer satisfaction, and lower NPS. Handling calls badly can be more detrimental to business than missing them entirely – but neither are good.

To prevent that from happening you can increase the resources available to your contact centre so your team can cope. The danger here is that, if you don’t get that just right and match resources closely to demand, you overspend and kill your margins on what otherwise would have been a profitable campaign. The board won’t be happy with that either.

In our experience of helping businesses and other organisations manage the fluctuating demand to their contact centres while maintaining the highest possible level of service, we’ve come up with several ways to manage your peaks and troughs.

Here are 6 methods you can use to handle peak periods in your contact centre

1. Deflect voice calls to self-service and other channels

Voice, as we all know, is the most time-consuming channel for your agents and your customers. If you can solve a customer’s problem without them having to call your contact centre it’s usually a win-win for everyone.

Self-service options are popular with customers because they feel empowered when they’re able to find their own answers, in their own time. They also feel more in control of the situation than if they leave it in the hands of a customer service agent.

There are many ways to direct customers to self-service options. Some are more subtle than others. The starting point is always to analyse your existing call volumes and understand the call patterns and reasons for those calls. Almost every call to a contact centre is an indicator that there is a broken or weak process somewhere in a customer journey. Spend some time hunting each one down and inserting appropriate self-service options into the journey and you will gradually cut down call volumes.

Where self-service is not an option, or you have exhausted how far you can push automation, your next recourse is to deflect voice calls to other, lower-cost channels. In this case a lower cost does not mean poorer service – you need to maintain those KPIs. It’s just that email, SMS, webchat, and social media interactions are less labour-intensive, less time-consuming, and less expensive to handle than voice calls.


2. Offer a callback

Rather than have customers waste their time clogging up your IVR queue, offer them a callback instead. The software to do this and even retain the customer’s spot in the virtual queue – so-called FIFO (First In First Out) technology – has been around for some time now, however not enough companies are using it.

Offering a callback achieves several things, all of them good for the customer experience. Firstly, you immediately demonstrate that you respect your customers and their time. Secondly, you take control of the situation by placing the burden for solving the customer’s problems on to your own shoulders. Thirdly, if you gather a little information about the customer’s reason for calling you can perform some sort of triage and prioritise your callbacks.


3. Reduce average handling time

If you have more calls coming in than usual, but you only have the same number of people as usual in your team then clearly something has to give. The only way to increase the number of calls you can get through is to make them all shorter.

First of all, do not push agents to keep calls short or push customers off the phone. That is likely to lead to another call from the same customer in the near future as you won’t have solved their problems to their satisfaction.

You definitely should, however, invest in agent assist tools that help agents find information and data, and perform necessary back-office tasks, more quickly. For example, scripting and workflow software can guide agents through calls more quickly. Giving them access to a knowledge base lets them finds answers more quickly.

If all else fails, your frontline agents can just take a note of each customer’s query when they call and promise to get back to them with the solution.

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4. Use your existing resources more intelligently

There are a number of things you do operationally to make spikes in call volumes more manageable. The first one is simple enough – ensure there are no spikes. If you plan across your whole business in a more co-ordinated way, ensuring the contact centre is included in the loop, it might be possible to eliminate many humps in the customer journey.

Internally you probably have a number of different customer-facing and back-office teams. During busy times you can co-opt these people to answer calls. If the calls are complex, they can at least take messages and offer a callback.

Finally, you can do more with what you already have. If you can make more accurate predictions about when call volumes are likely to peak, your resource planning people can ensure you have enough people at hand just at the right time. If your peak doesn’t last very long and you have a good relationship with your employees, you can sometimes lean on them a bit to work harder or longer hours for a brief time.


5. Get more people in-house

If you can’t massage your peaks away or flexibly manage your resources to cope with them, then you always have the option of throwing more people at the problem. The advantages of staffing up to cope with a temporary increase in call volumes are obvious – you give yourself sufficient resources to handle calls. There are, however, plenty of downsides.

First of all, it’s difficult to recruit in this current job market. The cost of recruitment is extremely high – potentially as much as $17,000 per agent – and you probably have to offer a relatively high pay rate to attract people to a temporary role. You have to train them to competence which can take a few months, meaning your peak period might be all-but-over by the time your new recruits get to the level of your full-time team.

Something it’s too easy to overlook is where exactly you’ll put all these new people. If they work from home, then you have IT costs – they’ll need a laptop each at least – and risks around security and compliance to deal with. Finally, there’s the not insignificant question of what to do with all these people once the peak period is over. You can let them go, sure, as you’ve recruited them on temporary contracts, but it seems a waste as you’ve just got them up to speed.


6. Find yourself a trusted outsourced partner

Partnering with a BPO (business process outsourcer) that specialises in customer experience and contact centres extends your in-house customer service teams with a permanent back-up team of on-demand agents waiting on stand-by to deliver support to your customers.

Whenever your contact centre is understaffed, over-pressured or drowning in a surge of inbound volumes, you simply ‘flick the switch’ and connect to your partner’s contact centre. Their agents become your agents, expanding your internal team precisely when you need them.

Our clients love this solution because it’s literally ‘Pay as You Go’. This makes it 30% cheaper than hiring in new full-time staff because you only pay for what you need, when you need it.


Further reading

CDM Direct helps organisations like HotDoc, GE Health, Nissan, Team Kids, Karcher, Mazda, Skills Consulting Group, Coco Republic, Mercedes Benz Australia, Sydney UltraSound for Women and 365 Roadside Assist manage their peak call volume periods.

Read more about CDM Direct’s Overflow services here.

Read an Overflow case study here.

We save overflow clients 30% versus the cost of hiring-in temporary staff, and ensure they never get caught out by call volume spikes. Whether their peaks are predicted and planned, or in response to a crisis, we have experienced, trained, and briefed staff on-hand who can step in and answer their customers immediately at service levels comparable to their in-house teams.

Get in touch to find out more or to arrange a free, no-obligation technical scoping session.

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