How to overcome unpredictable setbacks with flexible customer service
We learned very quickly that our current call center model wasn’t prepared for the impact of COVID-19. In hindsight, we would have been more successful if we were able to dynamically scale agent capacity quickly in a safe way. But instead, we had to shut down some call centers and as a result, need to figure out new ways to leverage our existing customer service capacity to maintain high levels of customer service.
So, going forward, what can call centers do to achieve greater flexibility during times of uncertainty?
- Invest in workforce management software and best practices: This may seem obvious, but your first line of defense is always implementing workforce management (WFM) software. WFM may not help with unplanned spikes but it can help create a solid baseline and prevent long hold times for customers. If you are understaffed due to a lack of detailed planning, your ability to deal with spikes is limited at best, which is why you need the right infrastructure in place.
- Implement a work from home contingency plan: The COVID-19 crisis is a perfect example; imagine you’re an airlines company – if there’s an increase in call volume from customers calling to cancel or reschedule their flights and your agents can’t come to work due to exposure risk, you now have more demand, less supply, and the result is tweets like this. So, before asking people to work from home, you should 1) know who can work from home and 2) set agents up for success when they do work from home by ensuring access to high-speed internet and quality hardware and software.
- Develop a Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for customer service: Just like emergency rooms triage and prioritize patients, you should plan in advance for the types of calls that are most important to your business and customers. This means preparing agents to receive the highest priority calls, and deflecting the less urgent ones. Conversational AI can help to fully resolve a variety of transactional calls so that your agents can focus on the most important issues.
- Use Conversational AI: Conversational AI on the phone is an efficient way to resolve repetitive calls which are usually the exact types of calls you get during call spikes. For example, a food delivery company may get hundreds of “where is my order?” calls during bad weather. Or in today’s case, airline companies were getting bombarded by calls from customers asking to rebook or cancel their flights with the outbreak of COVID-19. Similarly, a utility company may get calls about power outages following a major storm. These are precisely the types of calls that conversational AI can answer with zero wait time regardless of call volume, allowing human agents to focus on more complicated cases. Conversational AI can act as your first line of defense, offering elasticity, resolving cases faster, and sending the most complex issues to your less overwhelmed customer service agents to increase customer satisfaction.
- Prioritize self-service: Now is a great time to ask, “does this need to be a call?” In many cases, there is no symmetry between a revenue generating transaction like ordering an item or booking a flight and a cancellation like returning an item or canceling a reservation. For example, it takes one minute to set-up a password in a bank app, but it requires calling a bank to reset it. In this case, a small investment in self-service like increasing in-app functionality to handle password updates can pay off by eliminating unneeded calls for your agents.
There is no one strategy to deal with expected and unexpected call spikes, but deploying these strategies can help provide better customer service year round so that you can weather this storm and the ones to come. Learn more at replicant.ai.