Black Friday rush? Christmas traffic spikes? Mass media campaign? Your team may not be equipped to deal with a surge of unusual incoming traffic like this. Now obviously it wouldn’t make sense to maintain the required staff, office space, and equipment for the rest of the year outside of these independent scenarios. How, then, do you handle these precipitated yet temporary increases in call volumes, numbers of emails, and flooding chat requests? Do you have the capacity to train and coach temporary staff? And could you continue to deliver on your service level targets in an outstanding way?
None of these are easy questions to ask, but being able to answer them affirmatively and with confidence means that you trust that your customers are in good hands, that complaints won’t increase, and that you don’t lose business. So, what’s the best solution for successful handling of traffic spikes then?
If you’ve made it to this page, you probably are already in need of (or at least understand the importance of) being able to scale your customer service. There are many negative consequences of being unable to respond to all of your incoming service and support requests in a timely fashion. Because of this, it’s much better to think ahead and have a plan in place before the surge is already happening. Do you have an idea of how many extra agents you would need or whether additional office space and equipment would be necessary? Have you thought about using a staffing agency or a professional outsourcing provider?
Ways to prepare for traffic spikes
- An efficient way to deal with traffic spikes may seem to be by automating. There are a whole host of chatbot and AI empowered solutions which are available that can handle a variety of requests. This could be a smart investment, but is it wise?
- You have to ask yourself: will your customer be happy to speak to a bot? Can the bot tolerate an angry customer and escalate issues accordingly? Although a customer may be frustrated by having to wait in a phone queue or not getting their request sorted right away, they may be even more frustrated if the bot doesn’t understand their question. Customers can definitely feel unimportant to you with a chatbot, even if you have messaging which says that their call or message is a priority.
- Hiring temporary staff will get you real humans, which can be a massive benefit in terms of emotional intelligence, empathy, and customer relatability. Human attention shows your customers that you care.
- But where will your extra agents work, and using what tools? Is it a worthwhile investment to purchase additional space and supplies for a busy season that may be, at most, 10% of the year?
- Contact center outsourcing providers are in this game and they know how to staff quickly. That said, it’s not always easy to believe the promise of a potential vendor when your revenue and reputation depend on the quality of services that they provide. How can you reduce this risk then?
- A potential solution for this problem is to develop a tactical routing strategy and hire more than one vendor for a healthy competition. This still leaves you with the possibility of overpromising and underdelivering to a customer, but starting out with this system really allows you to evaluate the capabilities of an outsourcing provider, minimizing the long term risk of the engagement.
Why would an outsource provider underdeliver?
- The first variable that causes an under-deliverance of service is a lack of live data that is impossible to predict: the outsourcing provider doesn’t know your expected number of customer engagements, and you don’t either. Even if you have historic data from previous years, the current climate makes it a real challenge to anticipate the appropriate market growth or change in economic conditions. It’s likely that you will need either an overstaffing approach or an overflow approach; meaning that you will spend more than necessary or potentially miss calls. You may want to use penalty tactics for missing the SLA if your vendor is okay with that.
- Secondly, temporary staffing can be a problem for the outsourcing provider as well. Even if they have done it many times before, the provider may have difficulties finding top talent for temporary jobs. If you can have a transparent solution with an option to pre-select candidates before the rush, your odds are better that your SLA targets will still be met on a budget.
- Finally, training can be a challenge no matter your approach to scaling. Outsourcing only during traffic spikes is not the best idea from a knowledge transfer perspective; obviously whether an outsourced or temporary agent, the longer they work with you and your company, the more information they will have about your services and customers. If you can have a continuous relationship with a vendor and their supervisors become subject matter experts by the time the rush hits, the chances of success are much higher, and slowly you can extend your customer service department on scale.
Additional thoughts about training
It is not unusual for the decision makers of a company to think that outsourcing would be impossible due to the complexity and the required knowledge of agents who will be resolving customer requests. However, the statistics may be surprising: on average, 70-80% of customer requests can be resolved using relatively simple rules, scripts, and processes. Don’t waste the valuable time of your highly skilled staff to answer simple questions. Instead, think about using skill-based routing and escalation processes for complex questions, outsourcing the rest.
What staffing level do I need?
If you already know the expected volume of requests and you want to calculate the number of agents you will need to handle incoming requests in high service quality (aka reasonable service level – refer to standard SLA), you need to use the Erlang formula and the related inputs, such as opening hours, average handling time, and shrinkage. You can easily do this by using our free staffing calculator.
What is a reasonable Service Level Agreement?
A Service Level Agreement (SLA) of 80/20 for calls is suitable for most businesses, meaning that 80% of the calls will be answered in 20 seconds. This is a general guideline which can be adjusted based on the industry, client expectations, perceived importance of the call, and your available budget. Our experience has shown that customers are generally okay to wait 20 seconds after they have selected their choice in the IVR. Standard SLA will vary based on channel medium too: chats and texts are the same as calls, but via email you should aim for 100% within 24 hours.
- Use the smart way wise: automate your chat traffic and use a ticketing system for your emails. Find a well-known chat solution which has high levels of integration and export options which you can monitor closely and use to make data-driven decisions. On average 40% of traffic could be solved by bots.
- Then, maintain a highly knowledgeable second-level support staff in-house for 20% of the calls, creating an escalation process with the coordination and insight of your team.
- Outsource the remaining 40% to a professional outsourcing provider along with a well written service agreement that you monitor closely and provide frequent collaborative feedback on.