At the time of the Easter holiday, I happen to be working on forecasting and workforce planning and site planning for a new contact center operation and am reminded of a favorite quote from a former client. We were going through an exercise similar to my current project at the time and some of the client’s own staff felt that we were planning on building too small to accommodate their peak season, which is a very short annual window. “You don’t build a church for Easter Sunday,” she told them. While I had never heard that before, it fit the situation perfectly. Just because you have overflowing church parking lots and standing room only Easter services, you don’t overbuild the size of your church. Likewise, you don’t always build your contact center to accommodate your periods of peak volume over time. This is especially true if those peaks are for short periods of time or represent extreme spikes (double or more) relative to your normal volumes. While it is important remember peak period needs, it is equally important to consider the cost of space, equipment, and staff that will remain idle under normal operating conditions.
Spring and summer are the times when many customer contact operations experience peak volumes. The April tax filing deadline means many customers are receiving their refunds, often driving sales of big ticket items like automobiles and home electronics. The summer travel season typically drives peak volumes for many hospitality providers.
In order to provide good customer service, it is important for any business to be prepared to handle these peak periods. For a sales operation, it is even more critical because the competition is often just a quick phone call or click away. Below are nine tips to help you flex up your operation to effectively manage peak periods without wasting cost on over capacity year round:
- If your operation has work-at-home capabilities for your agents, consider increasing the number of work-at-home agents and/or expand work-at-home hours and rules during peak periods to provide more seat capacity in your facilities.
- Provided you can easily identify call type and route accordingly, hire and train temporary staff to handle the simplest calls.
- Offer overtime to your staff. While it can be costly, it generally costs less than overstaffing year round.
- Take advantage of spaces, such as your training rooms, conference rooms or any vacant offices/cubicles, in your site to add extra staff.
- Offer customers as many self-service channel options (website, interactive voice response, and any mobile applications) as possible for as many transaction/inquiry types as possible. Be sure to promote channel availability via on-hold message and web and application banners/pop-ups, etc.
- If you still have some potential slower or idle time during your peak periods within a given day, offer an automated call back option through your phone system for those customers who prefer the return call over waiting on hold.
- Configure your phone system to automatically communicate hold/queue times to your customers on hold, with regular status updates, allowing customers the convenience of planning other productive activities during the hold time.
- If your operation does not use assigned seating, consider implementing “hot-seating,” where available agents can take the seat of a agent who is at lunch or on break. Be sure to thoroughly communicate this arrangement to the staff so as to avoid confusion. Also, ensure there is a mechanism/process in place for returning agents to quickly locate the first available seat so you don’t lose as much capacity as you’re saving.
- Consider partnering with an outsource vendor to support overflow during your peak times/seasons. This is best accomplished by identifying specific contact types for which an agent can be easily trained and the call easily routed.