Hold Times in the Age of COVID-19

Managing high call volumes with fewer contact center agents is tough, but not impossible. Here are some strategies you can try.

Over the last week, many of us have moved into a work-from-home environment, which has forced many companies to rethink the customer care experience. On Twitter, brands are tweeting about higher than normal call volume, while customers report longer wait times. 

Let’s explore why this is happening.

Each year, companies who provide phone support to customers try to calculate their inbound volume forecasts within a 3 percent variance. When a customer calls and gets a pre-recorded message regarding “higher than usual call volume”, it’s usually because current call volume exceeds the forecast and trends, or because the call center is understaffed. In the case of COVID-19, we are faced with both of these scenarios. 

In the past, when the call volume increased due to an unforeseen issue (like severe weather, network issues, or tragedy), there was nothing that the company could do to reduce these calls. 

The traditional response to a lack of contact center staff was to require overtime. Companies would increase their hiring, but new agents usually took a minimum of two weeks of training to reach about 50 percent productivity.

At the moment, companies don’t have the option to hire new agents. Many contact centers are either closed or struggling to operate with remote agents. To prevent long hold times from alienating customers, companies must adapt to handle increased call volume with fewer agents.

Ways to Improve the Inbound Call Process

Managing high call volumes with fewer contact center agents is tough but not impossible. Here are some strategies worth trying.

1. Create an online hub for FAQs and important updates. To ensure customers see the new content, you can also add a banner or a web pop widget. This acts as a triage for customer issues and questions. Often, this content can address customer concerns, eliminating the need for a call to your agents. 

2. Create simple ways for customers to self-serve. Your team can put digital customer experiences in place to deflect common inbound calls. Consider these examples: 

  • Supposing a customer wants to cancel a subscription, you could provide a tailored contact form that would allow agents to respond via email. 
  • When a customer wants to reschedule an appointment, you could integrate a calendar into your website to allow for easy selection of a new date. 
  • If a customer needs to update their account contact information at a regular interval, you could schedule automatic text or email reminders.

3. Prioritize inbound customer contacts. It’s important to establish a clear and fair process for differentiating inbound customer requests. This ensures wait times don’t negatively impact the customer experience. No one wants to be on hold forever, especially without knowing their place in line. Within your help desk internally, make sure tickets are being updated and upgraded to ensure a smooth prioritization process.

4. Integrate technology into your customer experience. In times of increased call volumes, using efficient IVR or chatbot routing is essential in maintaining a positive customer experience. Technology gives the customer more power over the process:

  • A callback option gives the customer more flexibility.
  • Website chats allow users to find solutions online quickly.
  • Online contact forms allow the customer to get in touch anytime, anywhere.

By implementing any of the CX tech examples above, customers will have a clearer sense of when their need will be addressed, without waiting on hold.

To improve the inbound call process, you must also consider how your team will be impacted.

The Resources You Need

To help with the increase in demand on call center staff, you will need to equip your team with the right tools to work remotely. Things might get worse before they get better, especially if you’ve used an offshore team. Their offices are (most likely) now closed, and many offshore teams used desktop computers at work.  

If you have an in-house contact center, there might still be some limitations to what you can do. Companies who usually take credit card payments or sensitive information over the phone will need new, more secure solutions as they are now potentially more of a security risk. You should consider adding verification and e-signatures or direct-to-CRM secure links when handling sensitive customer information. Of course, new solutions require dedicated employee training in order to meet expectations.  

These changes can’t (and won’t) happen overnight. But if you start having these conversations within your team now, you can emerge from this crisis stronger.

To help boost contact center efficiency, learn how to build low-code customer experiences with Airkit here.

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