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How self-service and automation can support peak demand in your contact centre

Tue, February 07, 2023

Contact centres are constantly looking for ways to reduce the strain on their agents, all while ensuring the customer receives the best help they can. These two priorities often clash, but there are ways to incorporate both. At no time is this more true than during periods of peak demand.

Self-service and automation are two methods of alleviating the stress of seasonal spikes. They provide much-needed relief for contact centre advisors during peak times, while at the same time improving customer experience and satisfaction levels. It really is a win-win.

In the current climate, with high demand from customers and a job market where it’s difficult to hire even temporary staff, directing customers to more effective and efficient channels can make all the difference, particularly during peak periods.

Self-service methods

The first way of handling peak demand is by deflecting the customer to a self-service channel. This negates the need for a contact centre agent, instead directing a potential caller to a self-help site such as an FAQ where the customer can find answers without them ever needing to call.

Since live interactions are time-consuming (whether they are voice calls, live chats, or social media messages), contact centres can alleviate some of the pressure at peak time by directing customers to services that don’t require any input from their agents. In most cases, the customer is able to resolve their problem without the need for human interaction and comes away with a better experience.

Naturally, there is an appropriate way to divert customers to self-help services. Suggesting a particular web page or search query is the most productive, as this sounds less like you’re simply trying to get rid of the customer. The more specific your deflection, the better.

Utilising self-service methods effectively saves time and money, and makes seasonal peaks far more manageable. The majority of customers want quick resolutions and would rather not call a helpline. As such, it’s vital to ensure your self-service methods are obvious to the customer.

Divert customers to your preferred channels

Even if your contact centre doesn’t have self-service channels, or the ones you do have do not cover all interaction types, you can still control which channels customers go to. For instance, if your contact centres are overloaded (as is often the case during peak demand), you can divert your customers to your branches. Similarly, if you’re receiving too many calls, use your IVR queue messages to direct prospective callers to the live chat function.

In this way, seasonal spikes in demand become more manageable, as you can control what channels the customers go to. Synchronous channels, such as voice calls, are often the most time-consuming, so many contact centres prefer diverting potential callers to asynchronous channels like email and social media, where the contact centre is in control of when to respond and can prioritise between urgent and less-urgent cases.

AI can ease the load

While there has been a lot of hype around chatbots, most of the ones that have been deployed to contact centres to date have been pre-programmed with canned response to specific questions, rather than intelligent agents. They understand questions they have been taught to recognise, for sure, but if a customer asks them anything beyond their scope they have to escalate to an agent. Yet even that level of automation can remove a significant volume of simple, repetitive calls from the contact centre, freeing up agent time to handle more complex or high-value queries.

Genuine chatbots that use machine learning, natural language processing, text-to-speech and speech-to-text – they can even be multilingual – to understand a query and generate an accurate response on-the-fly are on the market but have been hit-and-miss until now. As we have seen with the global success of ChatGPT, however, the technology exists for an AI to be trained on a huge dataset so that it can accurately answer questions on a whole range of topics, not just pre-programmed ones. Expect these types of chatbots to be integrated into contact centre software suites, websites, and IVR systems in the coming years.

Offer a callback service

While all customers seek quick resolutions, it’s surprising how many of them are happy with a simple acknowledgement as long as they know you have taken their problem in hand. Offering your customers a callback service gives them the satisfaction of knowing their issue is being dealt with, while simultaneously providing your call centre agents with more time to respond and a more manageable workload.

A callback facility can be established in a number of different ways. In most cases, you can create an option on your interactive voice response (IVR) that asks customers for a few details, such as their name and number, before guaranteeing a callback as soon as possible. This reduces queue lengths and gives customers a fair degree of satisfaction.

Another option is to send customers to a form submission service where they can record their issue in detail by typing it out online and sending it across to you. The benefit of this is that you can start looking into their problem before you call them back. If used productively, your contact centre agents could potentially fix the issue and call the customer to inform them of the resolution. This is usually greeted with significant satisfaction and is likely to boost your company’s reputation.

Automation technology can also reduce queues and help to manage peak demand. The most common solution is to replace the phone queue with a virtual queue, which allows customers to stay on a web page rather than remain on the phone.

Be proactive with your strategies

Businesses have to be proactive and plan for peak demands. Understanding what causes seasonal spikes, when they typically are, and how high the increase is will ensure your team plans and reacts in the most effective way possible.

Being proactive can get you ahead at peak times. For instance, if you expect a spike in calls due to a seasonal event, you can send a blanket email or notification that informs your customers of your company’s response. As a result, you’ll receive fewer calls in relation to that event when it becomes public knowledge.

It’s never a good idea to wait for your customers to call you. Try to get ahead of this and give regular updates on the status of their order, delivery, or other service to ensure your contact centre isn’t flooded with calls from people wondering where their items are. You may even be able to divert your customers to suppliers and partners, citing the responsibility lies with them. However, never abandon your customers and always offer to resolve issues for them if they run into trouble.

Use technology to reduce your average handling time

Average handling time (AHT) - that is, the amount of time spent on the phone - is the most defining factor when it comes to how many interactions your agents can handle over a given period. As such, implementing strategies to reduce this should be a top priority in your contact centre.

That said, there are better ways to reduce AHT than others. Ultimately, you don’t want it to affect the quality of service you’re giving, as this will likely have a bigger negative impact on the customer than not answering at all. Never rush through calls and be inconsiderate to customers.

Reducing AHT starts with the onboarding process. Giving your agents the right tools and training they need to feel confident will ensure they handle interactions quickly and efficiently. This could involve scripts, support lines for employees, and access to customer data all via a single interface. This saves agents significant time and effort trying to find data.

Final thoughts

In the modern world, no contact centre can do without automation and self-service technologies. If utilised proactively and appropriately, waiting times can be reduced, issues can be resolved quicker, and peak demand can be made more manageable.

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