Around the globe, the coronavirus pandemic has left countries reeling… and businesses counting the costs. In the last six weeks, more than 30 million people have filed for unemployment benefits. And that number doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon. As many non-essential businesses endure another week of closing, experts warn that an economic recession is already underway.
Looking at all the chaos, fear and disconnect, is it any wonder that call centers in particular are reeling?
In order to be continuously effective, call centers must have strong, reliable crisis plans in place. In addition to global pandemics, there’s a whole list of things that can go wrong and must be prepared for:
- Network telecom failure
- Local telecom failure
- Data breaches
- Product recalls
- Anonymous threats
- Supporting systems outage
- High call volume
Few understand the critical role of a functioning call center until a disaster strikes. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommend the use of call centers during pandemic situations as a way to educate the community, help support agencies collaborate, and provide a sense of calmness.
We’ll underscore that. Education, collaboration, and support are three objectives every call center should aim for, both in and out of a crisis situation.
Still, knowing the potential disasters doesn’t automatically solve the difficult questions call center managers must consider in times of crisis, like:
- How do I keep my employees safe?
- How do I keep my center staffed?
- How do we deal with technological problems?
- How do we continue to meet business objectives?
- How do I prepare for a long-term crisis?
While every situation is unique and will require different resources or length of time to manage, there are always ways call centers can be prepared for a disaster. In this blog post, we’ll provide several tips for crisis-preparedness in contact centers, no matter the industry they serve.
Tip #1. De-Escalate Tension
Anyone who’s ever been left on hold knows how frustrating it can be to get an elevator music soundtrack instead of an answer to your question.
Dealing with angry callers is nothing new for call center agents. However, a crisis situation can magnify the incidence rate of these difficult interactions. Are your agents properly coached on how to de-escalate situations? After all, it’s the agent’s job to turn these high-tension interactions into an opportunity to win customer loyalty in a critical moment—and it’s the call center’s job to equip them with the tools they need to do so.
In many call centers, specific scripts are provided to guide the agent through handling these interactions in a professional and reassuring manner. In some, software solutions can ease the way toward finding a solution for the angry caller’s problem.
Whether or not the call center operates with a blend of technological solutions, training should instruct agents to follow these tried and true tips for de-escalating tension during a call with an unhappy customer:
- Stay calm
- Repeat the facts
- Don’t put on hold
- Offer solutions
Tip #2. Optimize Scheduling
High call volumes are a major challenge for call centers during times of crisis.
Usually, a spike in call volume causes a number of related issues, including excessive wait times, higher average hold times, more disconnects than ever before and more frustrated customers.
Maximizing resources is critically important when call volumes are reaching unexpected heights. In this case, accurate forecasts and flexible scheduling are vital to meet customer needs. Integrated scheduling tools can be tremendously valuable in helping companies optimize agent schedules. These tools 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 the capabilities of real-time adjustments for unforeseen circumstances.
Tip #3. Re-think your KPIs
Keeping contact center agents happy, engaged, and motivated is essential to maintaining high levels of productivity and customer satisfaction…especially during a crisis situation that requires a period of working remotely.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic perfectly represents this problem. With the sudden switch to working remotely, the challenge of keeping agents motivated and engaged has become an increasing problem for call center managers. For many agents, working from home is simply not an ideal situation. If they have family or pets, distractions are always present and demanding attention. Even less ideal, they might not have the same resources as they do in the office, like ergonomic office chairs or speedy computers.
As a result, working remotely presents call center managers with unique employee engagement challenges. Instead of pushing agents to achieve the same KPIs as expected in non-crisis times, it might be better to alter expectations to suit the situation at hand. Your agents should feel empowered and supported in a crisis situation—not afraid that upper management is looking for ways to punish them for not meeting quotas.
Tip #4. Automate What and Where You Can
Automation of a call center focuses on saving time and energy. These technologies are essential to boosting productivity in the workplace and can be tailored to meet the specific needs of any call center. In a crisis situation, productivity is likely to take a hit.
That’s where call center automation software comes in to take over most of the boring and repetitive tasks. When agents spend less time entering data into a CRM or switching between applications to find the right product number, they are empowered to focus more on the actual conversation with the caller, which will lead to more personalized interactions and favorable outcomes.
Nothing about a crisis situation is easy. However, by providing the right training for your agents, optimizing scheduling, temporarily adjusting your KPIs to suit the situation and automating repetitive and time-consuming tasks, you can lay down the necessary groundwork for leading your call center through a disaster.