Whilst our marketing team spend many hours hunting for organisations that are struggling to handle their calls the most effective way to deal with inbound call traffic peaks can often be to treat the causes and not just the symptoms.
Here’s some solutions that may help you to take the “axe out of your head” and there’s also some ideas to dull the pain whilst the wound heals.
Why are people calling you?
When you map the reason that most people are calling you certain patterns appear. Callers always either ask to speak to somebody or they ask about “something”. What are the “somethings”? Can you group them as predictable “call types”?
Now you know why they’re calling can you help without talking to them?
If the caller can’t get an answer to their issue they’ll keep calling. And calling. And calling…….
Can you reduce the number of repeat callers by assisting them in ways other than a “one to one” telephone conversation?
Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
If you know the most common “call types” can you use Interactive Voice Response (IVR) before the call is presented to an agent to deal with the callers reason for calling? My bank, HSBC, do this very well. Call their customer service number and a number of options are offered to reduce the calls going to their call centres, press 1 to obtain your balance etc.
IVR can also be used to give callers updates about ongoing and known issues. A broken lift in a residential apartment block can be reported many times whilst an up to date announcement on an IVR about the incident’s status can be a sensible option.
Can you do anything to reduce the call volumes?
Look at ways to reduce the variability and unpredictability of the demands made on you to answer calls. Some of the solutions to this are not just to be found within the contact centre management team but will involve other departments.
Simple solutions like controlling how you do promotions and marketing for example. We helped a passenger transport authority to handle a tidal wave of calls that they created by sending out 2 million letters in one go about renewing bus passes. If only the letters has gone out in stages.
Mail order companies who’s customer service departments are being swamped with calls tend to look at customer self help options to reduce call volumes. Putting information inside orders about returns policies and how to deal with faulty products reduces calls? Another mail order client of ours reduced calls by spending money on upgrading the packaging the used. Less damaged products equaled less calls. And happier customers too.
Can you give more information via your website, via email or via text messages to mobile phones?
What days of the week are busiest?
If you deal with the public and choose to close your call centre on weekends then is Monday a particularly busy day? Or Friday?
Closing on Saturdays and Sundays can build up demand to deal with customer service issues leading to manic Mondays. Another shameless plug here but if you don’t have the call volumes to justify opening over the weekend an outsourcer could do it for you in a more cost effective way. You’d find that you’d get reduced call volumes during the work week which you may find easier to deal with.
Call Back “systems” to even the workload over the day.
Setting up some sort of call back system to allow callers to leave a message and to be called back later rather than sit in a queue or repeatedly call back can help you to even out your workflow. If you are overrun with calls early in the morning but have quiet periods after lunch then you can get back to people then.
Their are a number of automated call back systems on the market or you could send these calls to an outsourcer. If your outsourcer cannot fully deal with the caller’s issue then at the very least they can gather information to allow you to prioritise the calls you want to deal with first. There’s efficiencies to be had in prioritisation.
This spreads out the demand and it gives you some control over it too – so is a pretty good solution.
What times of the days are you struggling with calls?
We spend hours pouring over our call handling performance data looking at individual 15 minute slots. It’s very revealing and we’d advise anybody missing calls to do the same exercise.
Call centre managers don’t need to be mathematical geniuses to know that larger teams of agents are more efficient at call handling. 10 agents will handle many more than twice as many calls in the same period as 5 agents. What this means is that you are more likely to be missing a greater % of calls during your quieter times, when you have less staff in the office, than you are during the busiest periods. The evenings and early mornings are especially vulnerable. This is where outsourcing can give you extra call handling capacity in a more cost effective way than scheduling extra people to man your own centre.
Look at your call forecasts
The science of figuring out just the right number and mix of agents to provide adequate service levels without incurring unnecessary personnel costs is crucial yet complicated. It takes sophisticated forecasting tools even to begin to manage such uncertainty, but computer science and new workforce management tools are up to the challenge.
We have call data going back to 1999 to call on and we use Q-Max workforce management tools to assist with call forecasting and staff planning.
Can the calls be handled elsewhere?
Moving the calls elsewhere – whether that is an automated or human service, whether it is in-house/outsourced/hosted can handle immediate peaks without losing the call.
But you need to ask yourself some questions;
Does it actually deliver the service your require?
Does it result in the same level of first call resolution?
Does it essentially just postpone the problem? (by the caller calling back later..)
If you are considering the outsourced option we would suggest that you work with your outsourcer prior to going live to script as many call types as possible to offer first call resolution. The goal is to be more than a “talking answerphone” that will simply store up the problem for you to deal with later.
Web Chat offers you the ability to handle 3 customer enquiries via human resources in the same time it takes to get through one call. This might be a magic solution to handle more customer interactions without increasing your resources.
Can you change the way you work and answer more calls internally?
Can you train non call handling staff with the skills needed to answer calls and to step in when “all hands are needed on deck”?
This is particularly useful if your peaks are concentrated into short time slots.
Can you reduce you average call lengths to answer more calls per hour?
By introduced new skills to better engage the customer and control the call you could achieve reductions in handling time, faster response times and a reduction in repeat calls.
This type of investment in people can have other benefits in employee engagement and staff retention and get the gains you need right across the day not just at the peak.
After working through all of my suggestions (and I dare say some of your own that I’ve not mentioned) and you still got overflow calls then unfortunately there is no magic formula – if you have X of calls being presented then you have to have X of resources to handle it.