Scaling up contact centres for critical and seasonal events is a known necessity for contract centres, yet many still struggle to meet the demand.
In early March the so-called ‘beast from the east’ wreaked havoc on the UK, overwhelming transport and power networks, closing schools and disrupting work and leisure plans.
Contact centres were at the sharp end of the fall-out as flights were cancelled, insurance claims went up and boilers failed. It was the perfect storm – as contact centre volumes increased, the very staff that would normally handle these enquiries were struggling to get into work themselves.
To take just one example, reports indicate that customers to the British Gas Homecare line were on hold for three hours whilst seeking help for boiler failure.
Freak weather is obviously not the only time when contact centres will be overwhelmed. August will see ‘A’ Level results day, after which universities will be inundated with enquires from perspective students. Normally they might need a contact centre of 20 people yet, come clearing, they might need 500 seats.
This younger demographic is also likely to use a variety of different channels to reach an organisation, adding to this complexity. Similarly Volkswagen, Seat and BMW are all currently in the process of car recalls – another example of where existing contact centres, used to smaller volumes, need to scale-up quickly.
Scaling up (or down) means companies need to use their resources as effectively as possible. Naturally, most will already be automating queries as much as they can, but the issue is that in more acute situations, incoming enquires are rarely ‘routine’. Therefore, this becomes a people question - how to make sure staff are on hand to deal with more complex queries and frustrated customers when the pressure ramps up.
This becomes a people question - how to make sure staff are on hand to deal with more complex queries and frustrated customers when the pressure ramps up.
Part of the issue has been that, in the past, the cost of running a contact centre has traditionally been high. Despite remote working being possible for several years it’s still the norm for most agents to work from an office.
Naturally there is a significant overhead associated with this. Another has been the cost of IT, and in particular software licensing where firms have often paid on an ‘up to’ number of seats basis for a year in advance. This has tended to mean that firms have paid for more seats than they need and / or put a brake on extra recruitment so as not to go over a set limit –constraining them at times when peak capacity is needed.
There has also been a ‘conservative’ attitude from those running contact centres. There are certainly legitimate concerns around security of data and compliance when allowing staff to work remotely but many are unfounded with modern technology.
For example, devices can be remotely locked and wiped if needed and, in most cases, actual customer data doesn’t need to sit on an employee’s device at all and can be managed via secure browser-based access from central systems. It is therefore normally possible for the same security controls to be applied to data and agents whether they are at home or in the office.
Moving towards agility
Simply put, contact centres must become more agile. It makes sense from a business, customer, and employee perspective. Businesses increasingly do not want to carry the higher overheads associated with a physical contact centre and are increasingly taking the decision to close down customer service centres.
Automation, chatbots and other self-service mechanisms clearly have their place but human interaction is still vital; it’s no secret that companies like First Direct that consistently win ‘best customer service’ awards do so because they enable customer to speak to ‘real people on the phone 24/7’.
Employees want flexibility to be able to work around their lifestyle. Being able to work remotely means it’s easier for this to be done part-time and out of hours. It also lowers their overall cost to the business which means that it suits both employee and employer.
What needs to happen to get us to this stage? Firstly, culturally, contact centre managers need to think about all the options available to them. There will always be some industries, particularly in financial services, where it is more difficult or not legally compliant to allow remote working but for the vast majority of sectors there are few barriers.
Contact centres must become more agile.
Secondly technology is key. Cloud-based solutions make it possible for businesses to easily add new clients and bring on more agents, all while maintaining the highest level of support quality. It means that businesses can manage their own agent volumes geared around their work load not license purchases.
Moving to a single cloud-based system not only simplifies the technology but also provides an additional efficiency boost, by better matching the volume across one virtual pool of agents.
So much thought has already been given to how technology can be used to improve the way customers interact with us. It’s now time to think about the human aspect and empowering agents to serve customers better.
About Andy Leatherland
Successful account management is all about good communication. The ability to listen, understand and act in response to client needs and present creative solutions creates a partnership that benefits both parties.
I have over twenty five-years’ experience in the Information Technology industry, recently for a leading Skype for Business, Cloud Solutions, Office365, Contact Centre and Call Recording software solutions provider.
During in my career as a successful sales and business development/account manager, I have worked in a number of diverse industries enabling me to call upon a wide range of solutions built off experiences from these market areas, which include Government (central and local), Utilities, banking and insurance, as well as working for market leading, Microsoft Gold partners and geospatial solutions providers.