People are the secret to the success of any great customer service and support operation.
Whether your team exclusively handles inbound calls or operates using Live Chat, the work and its challenges are the same all over the world. And the world over, call centers have busy periods. Staff get hammered with calls. Holiday and flu seasons are notorious for causing understaffing and a serious oversupply in call volumes.
Table of Contents:
- Why busy periods are high-risk for customer service teams
- Five steps managers need to take during busy periods:
- Motivate and reward
- Hands-on support
- KPI flexibility
- Cancel non-essential activities
- Plan ways to reduce the impact next time
A familiar challenge, for contact center managers, is how to support teams during busy periods. When inbound calls (and online chat messages) are flowing in at an expected and normal volume, everyone is quietly getting on with their work. Days and even weeks can flow by without too much stress.
Why busy periods are high-risk for customer service teams
But when it gets busy, when inbound contacts surge, customer service teams can be working flat out to keep going and keep delivering great service. Staying motivated and upbeat is difficult on days like that.
Not only does this have a short-term impact on morale and productivity, there is a long-term risk factor companies need to be aware of. Staff who don’t get supported during busy periods leave. Maybe not straight away, but too much stress and too little support directly impacts employee turnover rates.
Not only employees, but even worse: bad experiences drive customers away.
Customers who’ve waited to get through, want to feel like they matter, which isn’t easy on busy days. From a brand and customer experience perspective, lasting damage can be done when poor service is delivered following a long wait to get through to the team.
If a customer is already unhappy, one poor experience with an agent could be all they need to move to a competitor. An Oracle study found that 9 in 10 customers go elsewhere due to bad customer service.
When is bad customer service more likely to occur?
If you’re thinking the answer is, on days when everyone is flooded with calls and barely has time to breathe, then you’re right.
So, for managers, you need to keep your team motivated, focused and happy. Help them through the busy days, so they know you are going to support them consistently, especially when the going gets tough.
Taking positive and proactive measures will keep your team happy and reduce the risk factors associated with busier periods. Here are the five steps managers can take to support customer service teams more effectively.
Five steps managers need to take during busy periods
#1: Motivate and reward
Keeping spirits high when team energy is low can be challenging.
Employees are the face of the brand. And when they’re dealing with customers over the phone, all a customer has to go on is tone of voice, and their ability to solve the problem they called about.
Contact centers need agents who are calm and competent under pressure. On busy days, managers should pay special attention to those who go above and beyond.
Whether that is handling calls quickly and efficiently, reducing wait times, or helping colleagues. Agents who deal with difficult calls, or complaints and escalations, also deserve praise on hectic stressful days.
At the same time, be careful not to throw rewards around like confetti. Keep them as something to aspire to, while giving out more when the reward is earned and it’s a way of motivating the team. If you can’t get the team together to recognize hard work, send an email around so that everyone can see who’s being rewarded and why.
Rewards are more effective when they’re visible. This way, the value of a reward impacts everyone as it motivates others to want the same sort of public praise.
#2: Hands-on support
When the going gets tough, staff need to see a leader, not someone who’s hiding behind emails and spreadsheets.
Whenever possible, while ensuring staff have enough direct support, managers and product/support experts, should be proactive. Don’t be afraid to jump on the phone. Lead from the front.
Give outstanding customer service; not only is this practical, as every call churned through reduces volumes and wait times, it also shows staff that a manager will roll their sleeves up and do the same work. It helps everyone feel that the team is pulling together.
When team energy is flagging and everyone struggling, this is exactly the kind of tonic overworked team members need. Studies have found that call center agents with supportive managers are “1.3 times more likely to stay with the company and are 67% more engaged.”
Other ways managers can look after teams can include getting coffee, tea, energy drinks and snacks for a busy team. Shows of support like that go a long way, and are remembered long after the stress of a tiring day is over.
Give your team a morale boost, don’t hide behind emails and spreadsheets. Taking action on a busy day might impact manager workloads a little, but the impact on the team is priceless.
#3: KPI flexibility
Contact centers have a range of key performance indicators (KPIs).
Some are universal, and essential, such as call times and customer satisfaction. Whichever way its monitored, call quality is a key metric. This directly impacts customer retention, brand values, revenue and profit. Happy customers stay loyal and keep spending.
But what about all of the other metrics agents are judged by every day?
Are all of them mission-critical?
A skilled manager should be able to make judgement calls when the going gets tough. Not every metric can be adhered to when agents are inundated. Keeping to call workflows is important, to avoid making mistakes.
However, if agents have up-sell questions they need to ask, for example, are customers inclined to spend more time on the phone after waiting time and speaking with an agent? Probably not. Some KPIs, therefore, should be lower priority when call volumes are higher than normal.
Agents can then promote up-sell opportunities and follow every KPI more closely when call volumes are back to normal. When agents see managers using common sense judgement calls, they feel more supported. Micro-management, on the other hand, undermines support.
#4: Cancel non-essential activities
Got team meetings booked?
What about one-on-ones and performance reviews?
Have training already lined up?
Compared to looking after customers, none of that matters nearly as much. Especially if customers are waiting five, ten, fifteen minutes or more to get through to the team. When that happens, expect Live Chat/online agents to be dealing with just as many inbound contacts.
So, when everyone is slammed and customer agents are fielding one call after another, make sure there aren’t any other activities draining resources. Cancel meetings. Postpone training. If some staff are off sick and others have flex-days, see if some staff are willing to come in.
In more contact centers than ever, software is used to predict and analyze call volumes. In turn, that helps analysts and planners to schedule team workloads and staffing volumes. However, with the best will in the world, these predictions aren’t always accurate.
Contact centers can end up with the perfect storm through no fault of their own or the software that makes predictions. Too many calls and not enough staff. When that does happen, taking practical steps is essential.
Any non-essential activities can be canceled or postponed to ensure the maximum number of people are available to handle inbound calls.
#5: Plan ways to reduce the impact next time
It can be too easy, in the world of customer service, to dismiss a busy day as the nature of the industry. It is, but it doesn’t mean contact center managers can’t learn from them.
Managers can assess and analyze annual patterns. Was this an unusual busy day? Did external or company factors cause it?
If this was out of the control of management, then it can be accepted as an unusual day. If not, if a range of internal factors contributed to it, then plans should be made to reduce the impact.
For example, if employee absence always spikes before and during holiday periods, could temp staff be drafted in to provide more support next time around? If a change in company policy causes customers to call in about the same question, could information be provided via an automated telephony system to reduce calls agents take?
In most contact centers and customer-centric companies, there are ways to improve the experience without needing agents to field more calls. That way, customers with more complex queries can get through more easily and get the help they need.
Busy days have a long-term impact. Unhappy customers are more likely to leave, especially if problems aren’t resolved. Staff are equally likely to start looking for new jobs, unless they feel supported by managers during high call volume days.
To avoid these problems, managers need to do the following:
- Motivate and reward. Look after your team and praise those who are doing well. Make everyone aware, to spread the motivation around and encourage others to keep going.
- Hands-on support. Lead from the front, get on the phone, or support your team in other ways.
- KPI flexibility. A common sense approach is needed with KPIs on a busy day. Not everything is essential. Some KPIs can fall to the bottom of the pile to ensure agents can deliver on what matters and customers looked after.
- Cancel non-essential activities. Training and meetings can wait. Right now, it’s all hands on deck!
- Plan ways to reduce the impact next time. Look at what happened and why, then assess whether anything can be done to reduce the chances of a similar busy day happening again, whenever that is in the control of contact center managers.
This guest post was brought to you by Jói Sigurdsson of CrankWheel.