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25 March 2020 7 min read

Covid-19: Bringing down call centre demand when customers need you more than ever

Vanessa Clark

Vanessa Clark
Partner | Customer and digital | London

Carrie Hegan

Carrie Hegan
Director | Customer & Digital | London

Covid-19 is stretching call centres and customer service operations to their limits. While call volumes have shot up over the last week, call centres have had to react to the government’s requests across the globe to restrict all unnecessary travel and introduce remote working where possible. In parallel to setting up the technical requirements in record time, many call centres and customer service operations have had to get by with lower than expected staff levels due to illness and caring responsibilities.  

For the foreseeable future, maintaining operations will be a balancing act between managing demand and supply, while aiming to ensure good customer service for those who need it the most.  

We have collated recommendations and observations from the Baringa team and operational leaders across a variety of sectors on what actionable steps can be taken to alleviate some of the pressures:  

Bringing down the demand side for your agents:  

This is not news for anyone managing a call centre or customer service operations. Managing demand is as critical as managing supply, and more is likely to be achievable by managing demand than just focusing on supply side measures.  Our framework below has been tried and tested on numerous programmes and is very relevant right now.  As you think through what might be possible to apply within each lever, consider your actions through three lenses; customer segments, customer journeys and particular products / services. 

 

1. Eliminate calls and non-urgent interactions 

  • Check your ‘first line of defence’ is working how it should, update your website and reflect how you want customers to reach out to you and how they can self-serve,  
  • Expand, regularly update and order high volume FAQs 

  • Relax some of the identification and verification checks you would normally run but which are in excess of what is really required e.g. so many advisors over-engineer their checks, which take precious time 

  • Streamline communications and proactively reach out to customers, don’t wait for them to contact you. Customers will be understanding and open to your request to self-serve online to an extent they may not be used to 

  • Freeze some activity so customers can’t be disadvantaged and communicate this effectively to reduce related contacts 

  • Stop all low-value activities to free up time (e.g. nice to have data capture or some sales activity at the end of calls) 

2. Route and message effectively 

  • Focus on your most vulnerable customers, guide all trivial queries to other channels 

  • Be ruthless in your customer segmentation, and move segments to self-service where possible 

  • Switch interaction to webchat instead of calls; these are easier to handle in a remote working environment than voice calls, and agents can often handle a number of interactions in parallel 

  • Route calls away from agents to automated messages wherever possible 

  • Change call queue priorities as the situation unfolds 

  • Review priorities of agents throughout the day, shifting agents to priority-queues as required 

  • Dead-end appropriate IVR routes to a message that asks the customer to self-serve 

  • Send chat links to queueing calls from smart devices where you have chat availability   

3. Automate

  • Mine datasets and automate interactions for specific customer segments, e.g. banks are proactively messaging those customers they can identify as currently being abroad 

  • Train your chatbot to respond to Covid-19 related questions 

  • Create digital forms that customers can fill in themselves without the need to speak with a customer service agent 

  • Leverage links to external sources (WHO, gov.uk), don’t waste time recreating content and branding it when it is available elsewhere 

Managing with a remote, reduced workforce:

Increased remote working needs infrastructure, new processes, and a different management approach. A lot can be done to make this new reality work:  

  • Make remote working as easy as possible - technically and ergonomically. Invest in screens, headsets, and ergonomic chairs for employees where needed 

  • Leverage collaboration tools so agents can continue to work effectively as a team, albeit from different locations  

  • Communicate little and often, have daily calls with the whole team, be open to share feedback and respond to concerns 

  • Share team dashboards and performance updates, keep agents informed 

  • Use publicly available data as input factors to forecast your staffing-levels 

  • Redeploy resources, bring back retired agents, tap into skills of your entire workforce 

  • Share resources between organisations / industries, especially in sectors where the workforce can no longer perform their daily activities  

  • Change your operating hours to core-hours (e.g. 9-5) – we have seen teams that are much more effective when they are all online and able to complete a whole case without long handover / wait periods 

  • Deploy agents who have not been trained in ‘tone of voice’ to chatbots  

  • When working in one central location, stagger shift-patterns so the 2-metre social distancing measures can be adhered to 

None of the above-mentioned principles will be new to you, and clearly there is a limit to how many calls can be eliminated, re-routed and automated.  It will be important in the coming weeks to give your agents the best working conditions possible, and to identify the calls and interactions that matter. Many callers have very specific questions and concerns that no script can be written for, and that require attention from your agents.  It’s about identifying these callers for your agents to continue doing what they do best: providing excellent customer service, offering advice and being ambassadors for your business. 

Reach out to Vanessa Clark if you would like to explore any of these suggestions further or would like to discuss how to make them work in your organisation.