Are You Prepared for Call Center Spikes?

Service leaders must prepare customer service centers for call spikes, both the expected and the unexpected.

Many service leaders are gearing up for call volume spikes in the coming holiday season, but that’s not the only reason for spikes, and service leaders need to plan for them all — even when events can’t be anticipated.

Contact centers face expected, intense spikes of up to 10 times normal call volumes during periods such as holidays, promotional events and vacation seasons

“Service leaders must now plan for the known outcomes, such as a seasonal surge or product launches, as well as the unknown outcomes — those events completely out of leader control,” says Jeffrey Schott, Director, Team Manager at Gartner. “By planning for these unexpected times, call centers can maintain the desired standard of service.”

Prepare for expected call spikes

Contact centers face expected, intense spikes of up to 10 times normal call volumes during periods such as holidays, promotional events and vacation seasons. Spikes of this magnitude present clear challenges, such as accurately predicting call volume, increasing and decreasing staff capacity in a short time, training large groups of new agents and managing increased customer dissatisfaction.

  • Get ahead of the rush. Work with HR well before expected call spikes to hire and train new staff. Starting early ensures new hires are fully ramped up in time to manage the spikes.
  • Decide how to best manage staffing needs. Identify whether it’s more efficient to keep a high number of reps on staff throughout the year and outsource them during slow times or make part-time workers full-time during peak times.
  • Pull staff from other departments. Cross-train service reps so they can apply their skills across different products or lines of business depending on call volume.

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Prepare for unexpected call spikes

No one plans a recall or a natural disaster, but service leaders can still prepare for these occurrences. Potential strategies include:

  • Use remote agents. When call volume spikes, remote agents can be cost-effective and on call quickly, and can more easily prepare to respond during the influx of calls.
  • Create issue-specific hotlines. Designate a hotline to manage call volume during a specific spike. This tactic is commonly used for issues involving extreme weather.
  • Declare all hands on deck. Bring in other staff from the service center, such as those on quality assurance, to assist with call coverage.
  • Provide incident-related information through interactive voice response (IVR) systems. Leverage technology to provide customers with information without requiring direct contact with a service rep.
  • Outsource call overflow if necessary. If necessary, outsource to provide automated service or live agents to mitigate the call spike.

Service centers today must develop strategies and processes to handle call volume for both expected and unexpected call spikes. These strategies could mean the difference between maintaining a high standard of service or not.

Gartner for Customer Service & Support Leaders clients can read more in Expected Call Spike Forecasting and Handling Unexpected Call Spikes.