These extraordinary times have impacted our lives in unimaginable ways. They have also impacted customer service in ways we might have never thought possible.
For those struggling to manage unexpected volumes of customer contacts, the following real-time management discussion from the latest edition of Contact Center Management on Fast Forward may be helpful.
Level 2 and Beyond
In omnichannel environments with well-integrated channels, it may make sense to parse out and prioritize channels—e.g., phone or chat over email. This typically happens through automated system changes, based on criteria that you determine and program ahead of time. A related tactic is to prioritize high-value or urgent contacts—though caution is in order to ensure other contacts don’t languish too long.
Another possible Level-2 activity is to change system announcements so that they offload what would otherwise be routine contacts. Utilities use messages such as, “We are aware of the power outage in the Bay Ridge area. We hope to have power restored by 11 a.m. We apologize for the inconvenience. If you need further assistance, please remain on the line and one of our representatives will be with you momentarily.”
More routinely, contacts can be directed elsewhere: “If you would like current arrival and departure information, press or say one …” Some centers also give customers the ability to check the status of an order, find specific product information, or hear answers to commonly asked questions while they wait, without losing their place in the queue. (And, increasingly, centers are encouraging customers to use self-service alternatives.)
Sometimes, you can foster understanding with system announcements: “Due to the snowstorm hitting the East Coast, we are operating with fewer of our associates than normal. We apologize for the delay and will be with you just as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.” This tactic will backfire if it’s overused or stretches the truth. (And yes, the message “we are experiencing unusually heavy call volumes …” has been abused and overused.)
You might also be able to improve circumstances by changing routing thresholds between groups or sites. Most of today’s routing systems use sophisticated programming logic, based on thresholds you determine in advance. But remember: those thresholds will need to be adjusted as circumstances dictate.
(As with any of these changes, be sure agents are reassigned back to the “default” structure. You’ll need to determine how agents are notified of changes. Those responsible for workforce management will also need to understand the impact so that they can adjust data used in forecasts.)
It also may make sense for supervisors to help handle contacts. This can be an effective tactic if used judiciously. But it must be well coordinated, because if no supervisors are available when agents need help, the situation could deteriorate further. (And in some cases, they may not be licensed or fully proficient in the work that is queued.) Additionally, some union agreements restrict supervisors and managers from handling contacts.
Some centers take messages for a later callback, a capability that is greatly facilitated by virtual queue technologies. However, this approach doesn’t work well in all cases. Potential challenges include: How do you ensure that the callbacks are timely if you’re busy now? What is your policy when you reach the customer’s voicemail? You may have to experiment to find out whether it’s effective in your environment.
Other Level-2 tactics include calling in a SWAT team or bringing in agents who are on reserve, routing some contacts to outsource partners, or adjusting the placement and timing of system announcements.