6 Tips for Managing High Call Volumes During the COVID-19 Crisis

Contact centers, like businesses in all industries, are making every effort to keep employees safe without disrupting customer care during the current Coronavirus outbreak. Many have already put their emergency remote worker plans into action. Others are working tirelessly to set up secure work at home environments, develop crisis communications protocols, and identify technologies that will help them continue to provide exceptional service to their customers during this unsettled time. These measures are vital, as high call volumes are a major challenge for contact centers during times of crisis.

Providing superior customer service, and in many instances, just providing average customer service, can be challenging – especially for companies experiencing skyrocketing call volumes during this crisis. In many cases, this exponential increase in call volume is causing a number of related issues, from excessive wait times and higher average hold times, to more disconnects than ever before and more frustrated customers, where patience may already be in short supply.

As contact center agents are considered by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to be essential critical infrastructure workers during COVID-19, it is imperative that contact centers are equipped to handle the escalating volume of calls that they are experiencing.

What can contact centers do to meet the needs of their customers during COVID-19? What technologies can help them address this and other business challenges as a result of the crisis and beyond?

6 suggestions to capitalize on all resources available for managing high call volumes.

In addition, enabling contact center technologies that can help will be discussed.

1. Optimize scheduling

Maximizing resources is critically important when call volumes are reaching new heights. During the COVID-19 crisis, accurate forecasts and flexible scheduling are vital. Integrated scheduling tools are tremendously valuable in helping companies optimize agent schedules. These tools can help match availability and skill sets so that contact centers can staff the right agents at the right time and in the right capacity. They also offer intra-day management that allows for real-time adjustments for unforeseen circumstances.

2. Analyze issues and trends

Contact center analytics that monitors 100% of interactions across channels can provide insight into present-day customer concerns. Companies need to gain an understanding of customer issues quickly, to handle a greater influx of calls and find additional ways to serve customers faster. Real-time analytics can provide additional support to agents with automated alerts sharing new information as it becomes available, while they are on calls with customers.

Analytics insights also enable businesses to develop new FAQs, so they can provide the right information. They may also reveal ideas for changes to IVR routing. Customers can be forwarded to specific messages that can address their immediate concerns as well as keep lines open for agents to answer more complex questions. It may be able to direct customers to access answers on their website. With advanced IVR systems, companies can quickly create new flows, define subscript routing, and define help tables to more effectively address customer issues and enrich the hold experience. Virtual assistants can provide new announcements and manage call back requests.

By monitoring and analyzing every interaction, companies can also uncover agent deficiencies so that they can develop new content for training and coaching. For example, agents may need additional instructions on showing empathy and allaying customer fears. They also may require training to keep up with new information and changing regulations.

3. Better train and coach agents

In times of uncertainty, customer and contact center agent stress levels are higher than usual. Many companies are now focused on providing consistent service, and retaining agents is paramount to their success. To keep agents focused on delivering top-notch customer care when high call volumes are occurring, companies are looking for ways to provide the daily training and coaching that agents need. They are also seeking new ways to make work more fun to relieve anxiety, keep agents engaged and motivated, and develop a strong sense of purpose and community, in order to reduce attrition – especially where agents are now working from home.

Gamification applies game elements and principles in non-game settings such as work environments. It effectively and efficiently builds knowledge and motivates employees to align their behaviors with customer needs and those of the company, and provides quick and continuous feedback to agents to keep them engaged.

4. Engage and motivate remote workers

COVID-19 has led to many offices closing for the safety of their staff. All employees, including contact center agents, are now working from home. This poses new continuity of service and employee engagement challenges, leaving many companies wondering how to motivate agents in a call center when they aren’t physically at the site. Analytics keeps agents on track with new KPIs. Gamification provides continual feedback, helps make learning new content more fun, and motivates agents to continually boost performance, stay engaged, and enhance the way they interact with customers to improve outcomes.

5. Augment agent resources with self-serve options

During a crisis, what is considered to be normal wait times, holds and transfers, are likely to go out the window until contact centers can get a handle on high call volumes. In times of uncertainty, customers get even more frustrated when they can’t resolve an issue quickly.

Augmenting agent resources with self-serve options can help considerably. Access to knowledge bases, FAQs and tutorials that have been updated to fill content gaps is essential. AI-powered chat bots and virtual assistants can address customer needs without ever escalating to a live agent. They are available 24/7 and can handle a large volume of interactions at once. This can significantly reduce the number of calls coming into the contact center. Posting important messages on social media to address common issues and waylay fears can also reduce calls to live agents.

6. Properly acknowledge and equip essential frontline workers

Humans have an amazing strength to deal with difficult times. During the current crisis, it is important to acknowledge the vital role that contact center agents play, as well as the value of their capacity to help others. Businesses must be aware of how to engage and motivate agents in a call center when working remotely, and must support these front-line workers with the knowledge and systems they need to continue to excel during this challenging time.