How to manage peak volumes by deflecting calls to digital channels and self-service
Managing peak volumes is one of the biggest challenges any contact centre operator has to deal with. Whether your peaks are seasonal and predictable, or one-off, unexpected events you need to have a plan in place.
In this job market, hiring more people to cope with a spike in demand is difficult. If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have enough people to handle all your calls, another option is to reduce the number of calls you have to a level you can handle. There are several ways to do this:
Direct phone calls to digital channels
The phone is still by far the most popular channel for customer service and sales enquiries. It is also the channel that requires the most effort from the customer and takes the most time for the contact centre. Put it this way; if a customer can solve their problem without picking up the phone to speak to you, they are usually much happier. Most customers like being self-reliant, so if there is a way to help them find the information they need quickly they will thank you for it.
The truth is that a lot of the phone calls placed to a contact centre are the end-result of something having gone wrong. It could be that there is some broken or unclear step in the customer journey, or some crucial piece of information is missing. Whatever it is, it’s well worth your time tracking down all the root causes for customers to call you. Closing as many of these gaps as possible will result in dramatically reduced call volumes. This can be as simple as updating a FAQ or improving your signposting for customers on your website.
Those customers who do dial your contact centre number can also be diverted to other channels. You can have a self-service knowledge base on your IVR that callers can interrogate using normal language. You can also broadcast messages to customers while they are in a queue to direct them to a channel of your choice. Not only might this get them a faster answer – and corresponding satisfaction boost – it should also be less expensive for you.
Moving calls over to digital channels such as webchat, social media, messaging, SMS, or email can drive cost reductions and enable you to handle all your customer interactions with a reduced headcount. Most contact centre agents can manage 2 to 3 chat sessions at the same time, for example. Many of the other digital channels are asynchronous, meaning you do not have to reply to the customer as soon as you receive your query but can spread the work out over the day or across multiple shifts.
Encourage customers to use self-service
Most customers prefer to find answers on their own – if they can. It is your job to make sure they have a way to find information or complete transactions without getting in touch with the contact centre over any agent-assisted channel. Of course, there will always be problems and interactions that are complex or valuable enough to require agent assistance, and that’s fine; it’s just that you should be in control of which ones those are.
Self-service channels, when they work correctly, save both your contact centre and your customers a lot of time. Because the speed to finding an answer can be so fast – no waiting for someone to pick up the phone or chat, no having to explain the issue to an agent, no hold time while they look for an answer – satisfaction levels with self-service can be just as high, if not higher, than with agent-assisted channels. So, self-service really is a win for everyone.
The self-service channels we’re talking about include interactive IVR, FAQs, knowledge bases, apps, blogs and videos, customer forums, and chatbots. Call deflection starts by promoting these channels to customers on your website and in your communications with them. You don’t want to make your customer service phone number, or live chat button, so hard to find on your website that it looks like you don’t want customers to get in touch. But offering self-service channels first, with an easy-to-find option to bail out to a live agent, should be more convenient for most customers with relatively simple queries.
Once customers are in your live-agent queues, whether for voice, chat, or another type of interaction, you can always suggest self-service to them, particularly during peak times. Try to make this as specific as possible. If you do some filtering in your IVR system or webchat system by asking the customer what their query is about, direct them to the specific FAQ, blog, or video that will answer their query if you can. The more detailed and specific you can be the more likely they are to realise they can find their answer there rather than wait in the queue.
Proactively contact your customers
By the power of digital you can easily and inexpensively do one-to-one or one-to-many communications on a massive scale. For example, if your contact centre is inundated due to a seasonal peak, or because of an unanticipated spike in volumes due to some unforeseen event like a PR disaster or product recall, you can get ahead of your customers by sending them an SMS, email, WhatsApp message, or notification in your proprietary app.
If you have customers that you know contact you regularly to place repeat orders, shift them to digital channels. To be fair you should be doing this anyway, not just during peak periods, to reduce cost-to-serve. This can be as easy as texting them a link they can use to place their next order. Of course, you have to build the self-service ordering system, but you will very quickly recoup that investment by reducing calls to the contact centre.
If your spike in call volumes is due to a PR issue or some external event like a natural disaster, being proactive can often remove the need for customers to contact you or at least defer their call so they don’t all contact you at once. This is the case particularly if you know everyone is calling with you with the same question, which can happen if there has been an outage, a product recall, a data breach, or the company is in the news for some reason. Just SMS or email all your customers with the information they need to reassure them you have things in hand.
During the course of normal business, you can probably make a lot more use of outbound digital channels to keep customers informed about the progress of their order or query. Most contact centres deal with a high proportion of repeat or follow-up calls from customers who have not been kept up to date. A simple SMS, even to say there is no news yet, can cut a lot of these out.
Sometimes you can also push responsibility for sending such notifications to your suppliers and partners – for example the delivery company should be sending customers tracking notifications. If you do this, however, be sure you don’t abandon your customers; it is not their job to chase down your supply chain partners if things go wrong!
Balance cost and service
As always, it’s about finding the right balance between cost-to-serve and the quality of service you would like to provide. If your brand promise means that you need to offer a high-touch, hyper-personalised, luxury VIP service then you probably should handle most customer queries over live agent channels. That’s fine; this should already be priced into your business and commercial model. You might also have certain valuable customer segments that should receive a premium service.
If that describes your business, then during peak periods it’s even more crucial that you maintain enough capacity to keep up your service levels – either by hiring more people, deflecting as many lower-value interactions to digital and self-service as you can, or by partnering with an outsourcing provider to handle overflow calls.