How did seasonal demand affect your contact centre performance? It’s a common issue at this time of year, as companies launch new products or offer promotions in the run-up to Christmas. E-commerce firms and travel companies, for example, seek to take advantage of the public’s more generous attitudes to spending by throwing out incentives to purchase more.
Driven by the incentives, customers start calling to get more information about a product, explore price matching, or report a problem with something they bought. Consequently, this results in a spike in customer queries, complaints, order updates, order status and service requests. Hold times get pushed up, leading to an increase in call abandon rates. Fortunately, the factors behind seasonal fluctuations reasons are understood and steps can be taken to mitigate any problems in advance.
Many of our clients reported the usual spike in call volumes. While it’s a challenging time of year, many businesses were able to take a number of steps to allow their workforce to keep on top of the demand. While some contact centres prepare for the spikes by over-staffing, constant agent training or working overtime, this often adds to the stress and doesn’t make a difficult situation more bearable.
If your contact centre is still riding the Christmas tsunami, or you want to make sure you’re fully prepared for next year’s deluge, make sure you’re taking these steps.
Forecast Staff Levels
The most obvious answer and the one you first thought of. Forecasting is an inexact science that exerts a large influence on your operations. It’s difficult to be accurate when it comes to predicting the future, but clues such as previous trends and forewarning of promotions help to make your planning effective. It’s important to find an effective balance between staffing costs and quality of service delivery, and a little flexibility goes a long way. Some contact centres use flexible shift patterns in order to allow agents time off and also prepare to change schedules last minute if surprises crop up.
Attrition can play a significant part at this time of year, and to discourage absence over trivial matters, some centres run an incentive for agents who have perfect attendance. The incentive can take the form of extra time off, gift cards, cash or even appliances. The key to making the incentive work is that it needs to be meaningful to your teams: would you prefer a £10 WHSmith voucher over a day off at Christmas?
Commit to First Call Resolution
Adhering to a policy of first call resolution will reduce the number of redundant calls from customers. In order to achieve this effectively, your team needs to be well prepared. Customers must be routed to the right place via the IVR so their query can be resolved by the right person. Make sure the team is aware of any new launches, product updates or even downtime – anything customers are likely to require information about.
One trick to help you achieve first call resolution is again turning to incentives. Aligning fair rewards and recognitions with agent performance and contact centre goals boosts agent performance and employee morale. Remember that while staff need to be motivated to aim for this kind of SLA, it’s your responsibility to ensure they’re enabled. Two things you can do to enable your team to achieve first call resolution are providing training and creating the space for specialisation.
Specialist agents can be routed specific queries relating to their specialist subject or platform, allowing you to meet your customers where they are or provide specific information on certain subjects. Developing specialisations within the team can help with getting queries resolved quicker by people with specialist knowledge. Customers hate being passed around to find the correct person to speak to, so specialisation and call routing will help you reduce customers’ frustration with having to repeat themselves to different agents.
If your contact centre has intelligent call routing built-in, customers will be passed straight to the correct agent for their query. This cuts call length, removes the need for customers to repeat themselves to multiple agents, and increases the chances of delivering first call resolution. The process boosts your customer experience by building valuable relationships, and has a positive effect on your employee experience through empowerment and a sense of achievement, which directly improves your bottom line.
Training and Monitoring
Agents need to work with accuracy as well as speed in order to provide the level of service your customers expect of your business. Training and monitoring call centre agents allows you to make sure they’re able to deliver the knowledge needed to solve a customer’s problem as quickly as possible. Training on tools, procedures and product knowledge is critical in this regard. Forward-thinking businesses use a variety of media, such as video, workshops and observation, to conduct effective training.
To assess performance and identify training needs, call centre managers can monitor the time taken by an agent to resolve a customer issue and make notes of any customer feedback. Some contact centre solutions have interaction analysis tools to help record the sentiment of the call during interaction. An increased awareness of factors such as call time, nature of issue, nature of resolution, method of resolution and amount of time on hold provide the insight you need to take action either in real time or in the future.
RingCentral Contact Centre, for example, includes easy-to-manage analytics and reporting tools that give full views of current trends and activity, allowing customer service managers to react instantly to changes in behaviour. Using intelligent QoS reporting and analytics that are built into the system means you always have full insight into the current status of your call centre operations and are more empowered to take action when required.
Be Present across Multiple Channels
Providing information via other channels, such as social media updates, emails and chat support in which one agent can handle multiple chat windows, eliminates the need for customers to call in and tie up your phone lines. Promote your self-service channels, such as your ‘how-to’ website sections, to allow customers to find their own solutions and keep your agents free for other queries. At peak times like Christmas, when staff may be on holiday or off sick, overflowing calls to other locations can also help to ease the demand on an overloaded call centre.
In meeting customer expectations, it’s critical for agents to communicate with your customers over whichever channels they prefer. Ideally, this should be done in a unified tool that allows agents to efficiently manage customer communication by using a single interface. Ideally this should include team messaging that allows agents to share information and ask questions instantly, which helps knowledge to be shared effectively across the organisation and customers get the help they need.
Invest in a Unified Tool
Staff management, monitoring, omni-channel presence: it can all be done through a unified tool such as RingCentral Contact Centre. This software provides a unified agent desktop, which grants your agents easy access to process-critical tools and mission-critical applications to expedite the process of problem resolution. Providing agents with a single point of access to the necessary tools and information makes it easier for them to understand the customer context and address them about their specific needs.
With RingCentral Contact Centre, agents can see who is calling and will be able to provide a personalised service based on previous interactions, relative value and specific requirements. The automation provided by the software helps to increase efficiency in handling customer queries, so your agents can provide a personalised service as they will have access to CRM records with every call.
How many of these techniques are you already using to deliver the highest level of customer service possible? Improving the interaction between your staff and your customers is a challenging but essential component of fulfilling the increased demand you face during the Christmas period. Advanced call centre software such as RingCentral Contact Centre helps businesses handle higher call volumes without compromising their QoS, which pleases both staff and customers, and helps everyone have a happier Christmas.
Originally published Jan 09, 2020, updated Jan 16, 2023