This is an exciting time for contact centers and the customers they serve. Modern technology, such as digital channels and chatbots, has empowered consumers with more control over how they interact with businesses. At the same time, businesses benefit by being able to deliver loyalty-enhancing CX that also increases their ability to effortlessly handle volume swings.
Contact centers are quickly adopting modern support options such as digital channels and AI-powered chatbots. As an example, the NICE inContact 2020 Customer Experience (CX) Transformation Benchmark revealed that 72% of businesses use social media for customer support, a substantial 13 point increase from the prior year. Additionally, 40% of businesses plan to invest in chatbots in the coming year.
The use of these newer capabilities is being fueled by a combination of consumer demand and a desire to be more efficient. For their part, consumers are increasingly adopting digital channels and chatbots, but our consumer research tells us that a large majority of them want businesses to guide them to the right channel for their particular issue.
Recent research by Salesforce found that the average customer service operation uses nine channels to support its customers, including a mix of self-service and agent-assisted options. They're using them in unique ways, even blending agents, chatbots and digital for efficient and satisfying experiences.
But with so many options comes the potential for them to be a tangled liability rather than a differentiating asset. In order to leverage agents, digital capabilities, and chatbots to deliver excellent CX and effortlessly handle volume swings, contact centers need:
- Technology that decreases the need for agent assistance
- A prepared workforce
- AI-infused capabilities
- Knowledge about what to use when
- An understanding of the customer journey
We'll look at these factors more in depth a little later, but first let's look at the dilemma so many channel options can create.
The potential dilemma
Contact centers have always had to respond to expected and unexpected volume swings - it comes with the territory. A successful marketing promotion, website issue, or natural disaster can all send volume through the roof. Contact center leaders have a well-used bag of tricks they can pull from in response, including adjusting schedules, calling in reserve agents, and having staff like supervisors and QA analysts log in and take calls. These measures can be effective with short-term volume spikes but often can't address sustained volume swings, leading to long queues and frustrated customers.
This is because there are limitations to agent capacity. If your solution to volume swings is agent-centric, you're going to come across situations where you simply do not have enough agents to handle the spike in volume. That's why contact centers need to use a combination of agents and technology to effectively handle volume swings.
But a combined approach adds complexity and the potential to damage the customer experience instead of helping it. Using agents, digital channels, and chatbots to address volume swings can be extremely effective, but contact centers need to use the right mix. And contact center leaders need to seek answers to some very challenging questions:
- How do you guide your customers to the right interaction channel based on issue complexity and other factors?
- If a customer is using automated support, such as a chatbot, how do you elevate them to agent assistance if they need a higher level of help?
- What is the right mix of capabilities to use to enable maximum agility?
- What is the impact to other contact center processes, like forecasting and scheduling, when you use a blended approach to handling volume swings?
- How do you deploy your support capabilities differently when you’re overwhelmed by volume?
- How do you protect CX?
And, ultimately, how do you use all of these capabilities so they're a valuable asset rather than a messy distraction?
5 keys to successfully using a blended approach for handling volume swings
There isn't one silver bullet for managing these capabilities for maximum agility. It takes a multi-faceted approach that involves people, process, and technology. Let's take a closer look at 5 keys to success.
1. Technology that enables you to decrease the need for agent assistance
As discussed, sometimes you just don't have enough agents to handle volume swings and even the most creative schedule adjustments won't save service levels. In these scenarios, you need solutions to reduce the demand for agent assistance, such as the following.
- Proactive notifications. A great way to handle volume spikes is to reduce inbound demand by pushing critical information out to customers. This is especially helpful when issues like power outages, software bugs, or product recalls are driving volume. Outbound dialers can send notifications via phone, email and text to a multitude of customers simultaneously, which should reduce their need to contact you for information. For maximum speed and effectiveness, your outbound dialer should be integrated with your CRM software so contact lists can be generated and loaded automatically.
- Self-service. Customers are glad to use self-service options to get the help they need. And diverting some inbound interactions to self-service channels can help ease the load on your agents. Contact centers that use IVRs with robust self-service capabilities that they can configure themselves are well-positioned to reduce the need for agent assistance.
- Blended interactions. A good middle ground between self-service and agent assistance is a blended interaction in which a portion of the agents’ tasks are automated. For example, IVRs can authenticate callers so agents don't have to. Blended interactions can significantly reduce agent handle times, which increases agent capacity.
2. A prepared workforce
Even perfect execution of the first key to success won't completely eliminate the need for agent support. The way you train, schedule, and “arm” your agents is critical to being agile when high volume hits. Below are some steps to take to ensure your workforce is prepared.
- Advanced workforce management software. Remember, this is a mixed approach to handling volume swings, which means agents still play a vital role. You need to have workforce management (WFM) software capable of very accurate forecasting and scheduling to maximize agent capacity. Your WFM application also needs to facilitate rapid intraday adjustments.
- Right agent skill mix. Are your agents specialists or are they cross-trained on multiple skills? Having multi-skilled agents provides more flexibility for handling volume disruptions. For example, multi-skilled outbound agents could help out with inbound service calls if service volume is high. For maximum flexibility, look at "multi-skilled" as the ability to handle multiple contact types in multiple channels.
- Well-tooled agents. When queues are full, handle times and first call resolution (FCR) rates become particularly important. You need your agents to provide fast, accurate issue resolution so handle times are low and customers don’t need to call you back. To do this, agents need the right tools, such as a unified agent desktop that supports all channels and is integrated with other commonly used applications like CRM, knowledge base, and order entry. Making these systems easy to access will streamline interactions and increase agent capacity.
3. AI-infused capabilities
Artificial intelligence can help supplement your agent capacity by taking on some of the simpler transactions, freeing up your agents for more complex tasks. Additionally, AI can lower handle times and improve FCR by guiding agents through issue resolution. Here's a closer look at leading edge contact center AI.
- Chabots use speech recognition to understand human language and respond to people. Chabots are commonly found on websites where they can help with sales or service. They're good for simpler transactions, like checking order status or scheduling appointments, and can also collect information from customers and then pass it to an agent for a blended interaction.
- Conversational AI. Imagine putting Siri in your IVR. This would allow customers to simply say what they need help with, get their questions answered, and receive intelligent guidance for completing transactions such as paying bills and ordering food. This is possible with conversational AI, which should be part of your toolkit for reacting to volume swings.
- Agent assistants. When volume is high, any tool that helps make agent interactions quicker and more accurate is welcome. AI-powered agent assistants can "listen in on" conversations, automatically retrieve information for agents, and suggest next steps. This can be particularly helpful if you need to put agents on queues they don't normally work.
4. Know when to use what
When volume starts to spike, you need to already have a good idea of how you’ll react. This includes the following.
- Have a plan. Ideally, you would be using a mix of these capabilities in your everyday operations. They can improve CX and efficiency all the time, not just during volume swings. However, there are some measures that may be specially deployed when demand spikes, such as outbound notifications and changes to IVR messaging, menus or self-service capabilities. Have a plan for when and how to implement these additional measures.
- Make sure you can configure everything. You can't be agile if you have to rely on your software vendor or IT team to make configuration changes. The best contact center software makes configuration changes easy for end-users to make. And if you don't make configuration changes often, ensure someone is keeping their skills up to speed so they can make fast, accurate changes.
5. Analyze the customer journey
Of course, you don't want your collection of agile solutions to damage CX or create a strange and confusing customer journey. If anything, these capabilities should enhance the customer journey by making it easier for customers to accomplish their goals, even when volume is well over forecast. Here are some steps you can take to ensure the customer journey is smooth sailing.
- Identify your blind spots. Sometimes you don't know what you don't know, and what you don't know could be causing friction in the customer journey. Customer interaction analytics can help identify blind spots by analyzing all interactions from all channels. By using auto-discovery capabilities, interaction analytics tools can identify trends and emerging problems.
- Assess self-service performance. Well-designed self-service can satisfy customers while poor execution can make customers angry and frustrated. To make sure your self-service capabilities are performing optimally, conduct regular assessments. This should include looking at success rates, drop out points, and customer feedback. Then use the assessment results to continuously refine your solutions. This will ensure your self-service channels are well-tuned when crises hit.
- Monitor agents. When a customer's journey takes them to an agent's desk, it's important to provide a good experience. Contact centers can use tools like quality management software and interaction analytics to ensure this stop on the customer journey is high quality. Additionally, organizations should understand where customers were before they came to the contact center and where they went afterwards. This information will help contact centers design optimized blended solutions.
Volume swings are inevitable but traditional agent-centric reactions have limitations and may not be enough to keep service levels at acceptable levels. Fortunately, modern technology enables contact centers to take a blended approach to demand management that includes a mix of agents, digital, and chatbots. Research shows consumers are increasingly willing to use the newer technology solutions, but contact centers need to be very deliberate about how they manage all these capabilities.
Organizations that get it right can expect the following benefits:
- Agility that allows them to handle volume swings capably and effectively without impacting the experience.
- More revenue due to fewer abandoned sales calls during peak times.
- Less customer churn due to better availability.
- Lower agent burnout.
- Higher customer loyalty due to improved customer journeys.
NICE inContact CXone has the technical capabilities to help contact centers realize all these benefits. Our cloud-based suite of contact center applications provides the agility organizations need to seamlessly absorb volume spikes.
Additionally, our resource center is full of useful information to help contact centers optimize CX and operations. For example, download In a World of Uncertainty, Agility is the Silver Bullet for more information about handling volume swings. And read 5 Ways to Manage Demand Swings in Your Contact Center for even more ideas about how to absorb volume spikes.