A call center managing telecommunication service for any major company has fairly accurate estimate of what sort of traffic to expect for most of the year.
However, there are times when the volume of this data increases drastically. This type of a spike in call volume is a situation most businesses face regularly.
This is especially tough to counter because the spikes are not just a 10% or a 20% rise in volume – sometimes they can rise to three or four times the previous volume.
To manage call volumes in times of such peaks, there exists certain call center software that can regulate and react to such spikes.
The science behind figuring out exactly how many personnel are required, without going overboard with the costs, is complicated.
This is especially when applied to such large volumes of data. Yet this remains one of the most crucial areas of a business in terms of providing customer service or receiving feedback.
The process of management of such fluctuating call volumes is centered around analysis and planning. With the data at hand, the first step is to analyze and identify patterns of demand.
Using these patterns of demand, companies can create reasonably accurate forecasts and schedule people accordingly. Even then, most such estimates fall below the actual volume experienced.
This is where more tactics come into play for businesses looking to provide the best customer services regardless of load.
Ofer Matin, chief technical officer, Blue Pumpkin Software, Sunnyvale, California has a very simple line to indicate the lengths you should go to.
“It really comes down to what’s the value of losing a call,” he says. “If you are selling high-priced items or you are dealing with human lives, there is a very high premium.” For managers, their jobs may be at stake. Hence, managing call volumes during peak times is crucial for the business to survive.
There are two main reasons for peaks in call volumes. Seasonal spikes occur when new products are launched prior to festivals or special occasions, leading to a rise in the number of queries, complaints and requests that customers make during those periods.
Additionally, event spikes can also occur just following a new product launch, an increase in advertising, a declaration of big discounts, etc. Such event spikes can also occur rapidly in case of a viral social media ad or new interest generation.
Now that you are clear about what a spike in call volumes is, how it may be caused and what problems arise with such fluctuations, let us take a look at some tips to manage call volumes as effectively as possible.
1. Data analysis – Companies must study relevant data to figure out patterns in customer behavior. This helps them understand the sort of trend that occurs over time.
2. Forecasting – Using the patterns that come out of the available data, companies must make projections or models of the expected results in the next day, next week, next month, next year and so on. These predictive models are data-driven and are found to be highly effective.
3. Optimal Staffing – It might be a good idea to temporarily increase the workforce during an expected spike to deal with the larger call volume.
Hiring personnel on a short-term contract, training them in the basic skills necessary to handle calls and using this increase in personnel to counter the increase in call volume is a method used extensively.
4. Collaborations – Two companies may not experience their spikes in call volumes at the same time. In such scenarios, companies agree to share their manpower for mutual benefit.
In this manner, both companies have adequate resources to deal with the larger call volume when it occurs for their respective organizations.
5. Manpower generation– To deal with the increase in the number of calls, call centers often take recourse to assigning duties to all those staff members who are on the roster, but were previously assigned off-phone duties.
Basic training is also provided to staff in other departments if necessary to produce the manpower required to deal with increased call volume.
6. Being well-versed – The team that is involved with managing the surge of calls must be well-versed in the common questions that will be asked. They must know of the features of the new product, relevant dates and hacks to performance issues.
7. Short and Crisp – An agent has to try and restrict his call to as short a time span as possible but still give all the details necessary.
Prompt handling of calls without bringing down the standard of customer service becomes the need of the hour in these situations.
8. Evaluation – Managers must spend their time constantly reviewing the average talking time of each agent, how many people are asking the same questions, whether the answers to those questions can be automated or not, etc.
The managerial members must be quick to implement changes and vigilant at all times to deal with spikes.
9. Working in sync – The marketing team must work closely with the customer service team while framing their policies.
This would help the customer service team know the exact and most prompt answers to most of the questions that the marketing team believes, could arise.
10. Preparation of standardized solutions – Once enough data is available, the company must check for similar queries being repeated.
In case there are one or two queries that are repeated by almost everybody who called, the answers to these queries could be standardized and sent by SMS or a bulletin, thus saving valuable time for the call center and managing the call volume.
11. Flexible Deployment Plan – The strategy to deal with a spike in call volumes could be dynamic. This would mean having different action plans for different loads experienced. If the load is only slightly higher than expected, close monitoring of calls is implemented.
In case the load is well above the expected marks, meetings and full time is devoted to handling calls. For call volumes with 300% spikes or thereabouts, extra personnel is involved, other departments are temporarily dissolved and all other emergency plans are utilized.
12. Use of Social Media– Updates on social media or broadcasts via emails or messages to customers citing the answers to the most common queries is often an effective way of managing the call volume.
Because company websites or social media platforms have such a large reach, the information provided there often answers customer’s queries without a call being placed.
13. Automatic replies – If the reason for the spike is well-known, it is effective to automate the reply to calls with a directive on how to go about solving the problem.
The problem in question must be anticipated correctly for this method to work. It could be a glitch in the software, a shortcoming in the product description of a new product, etc.
14. Create Online FAQ – In most cases of high call volume, there is a new product launched or a new service announced, and people simply want to know more about it before they make their decision of purchasing it.
For this, putting up a list of Frequently Asked Question along with their comprehensive answers online significantly reduces the call volume because customers can now directly get their queries resolved.
15. Call-back – If it is impossible to deal with the volume of calls, call centers and companies take recourse in call-back technologies.
This means that the call center would urge the customer to submit their query, and would answer it at a later time within a provided deadline.
This would temporarily help manage call volumes, but leave the task rolling on for longer than would otherwise have been the case.
The Case Study
In spite of challenges, call spikes are usually a good thing for the company concerned. I hope that reading through the description of call volumes and the tips for management of call volume have given you a fair idea of the topic.
I have also talked about why it is so important to implement call volume management practices, and how despite having to cut short on duration, the quality of customer service cannot be lowered at any cost.
However, if you are still unsure about the efficacy of such practices, let us analyze the effects of incorporating call volume management techniques in a real-life scenario.
Let us take the example of a company which we will call XYZ for the sake of anonymity. XYZ is a call center company hired to provide telemarketing services for an established company.
In this case study, we will take a look at the situation that the company was in, the challenges it faced and the solutions that its top leaders managed to incorporate to eradicate those challenges.
We will also devote some time in understanding the effects of the changes that were brought about and how the results showed a positive change.
The Problem Scenario
The company that hires XYZ for its call center solutions has just launched a flagship product following months of hype and anticipation.
The product has been generally well received in the market, but its setup procedure is a little complicated and users are having problems installing it in one go.
Because of this, a huge number of customers are calling the helpline numbers provided, asking for a fix to their problem.
Over 90% of the queries are about the installation procedure. However, despite using the best call center software, instead of the regular 60 calls a day for the 150 on-phone employees which compute to 9000 calls a day, the call center has 25,000 calls coming in daily.
The challenges that the company faced with respect to call volume are listed below.
1. With only 150 on-phone employees, it became nearly impossible for each employee to handle over 150 calls a day, simply because the logistics could not allow it.
2. Employees were cutting short their calls in a bid to attend more calls per day to deal with the queue. But this meant that the quality of customer service was being hampered and customers were beginning to feel less welcome.
3. The length of the queue kept increasing because of a lag in response. More and more calls were being left unanswered, some of which could be crucial for the business.
The managers decided to take drastic steps to ensure that the call volume could somehow be managed. They drew up the call center software solutions list to counter the problems faced.
1. All off-phone members were taken off their current roles and assigned on-phone duties. This helped significantly because it added another 50 members to the existing 150 who were operating the phones.
2. Calls were made more prompt so that the issue could be addressed using less time but not compromising on the service offered. Since most users were stuck at the same place, they did not require much explanation to figure it out.
3. A social media update was sent out explaining the procedure for setup. This update received very good traction because a lot of users faced the same problem and shared it to help their friends as well.
Calls fell from 25,000 a day to 18,000 a day for the weekend after the social media update was put out.
4. The call center took on 30 temporary personnel to man the phones for the extra callers. This meant that they now operated with 230 people taking 18,000 calls a day, which is slightly less than 80 calls per person per day.
The effect of the changes introduced was almost immediate. Each agent previously attended to 60 calls a day. Due to the instructions of the managers, they were able to cut short the time spent on each call and take 75 calls on a normal day.
Owing to the peak, they were asked to forego meetings and spent their entire working day attending calls. Due to this, the 150 trained professionals were able to attend to 90 calls every day.
On the other hand, the other 80 temporarily assigned on-phone duties had less training and experience but could still manage to take 65 calls each, which was enough to keep up with the influx of calls after the social media campaign went viral.
Thus we see that sudden peaks can occur for a myriad of reasons and there are ways to deal with these fluctuations. However, this requires good teamwork, managerial involvement and willingness of employees to cope with the added pressure.