Too Many Calls? Here’s How to Stop Your Contact Center Collapsing

Call Volume Killing Your Contact Center? Here’s How to Save Your Services!

Getting too many calls is one of the biggest threats to the contact center. Very high call volume damages customer experience, puts strain on agents and drives up costs.

But hey, that’s life… right?

Well, no. There are a lot of ways you can make sure call volume stays at a manageable level.

Do that and you’ll have done more than improve contact center operations. You’ll have made a tangible difference to your business’s bottom line. 

96% of customers say that service plays a key role in their choice of (and loyalty to) brands.  

That makes your customer service team a key part of both marketing and retention efforts. So reducing your call volume means more customers staying longer and spending more!

In this post:

  • How to reduce your contact center’s call volume
  • How to spread out incoming calls
  • How to move queries away from phone calls

customer support objectives

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Part 1: How to reduce contact center call volume

Let’s start at the beginning.

The problem you want to solve is ‘too many calls’. So the most obvious solution is to take fewer calls.

Right… but how do you reduce call volume?

Easy! Here’s how.

Increase First Contact Resolution

Weak First Contact Resolution (FCR) probably has a bigger impact on call volume than you realize. Between 20-30% of all calls are thought to be about previously unresolved issues.

Why so high? Look to agent performance metrics for the answer. The more AHT is emphasized, the lower your FCR is going to be. 

It makes total sense; if you reward agents for keeping calls short rather than finding solutions, they will respond to that incentive.

It’s a vicious circle. A lot of calls means a lot of pressure to wrap up each call. That, in turn, means fewer good resolutions and even more calls!

What should you do?

First, make sure you’re tracking FCR – and tracking it properly. For example: five repeat calls from a single caller might represent bad FCR… or they might be five calls about five different issues.

So you need to guarantee that your agents can record the difference.

Second, it helps to follow up with customers to confirm that their issue was resolved (to their satisfaction, not yours.) 

You can make this part of a feedback request, so that’s two birds with one stone!

The simplest way to handle this is with automated outbound SMS messages.

(Want to learn more about automated SMS? Read ‘SMS is the unsung hero of call center technology!’)  

call reduction

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Roll out pre-emptive service

Good FCR takes your calls-per-issue from 2+ down to one.

But pre-emptive service takes your calls-per-issue from 1+ down to zero.

How does that work?

It’s actually simpler than it sounds. 

To start with, you already know about some of the topics that drive calls.

I’ll even bet that there are a handful of small issues which drive an outsized number of calls?

AT&T had exactly this problem. Customers were often confused by the first bill, and would call the contact center for clarification.

The contact center solved this problem by sending every new customer a link to a video that explained their first bill. In one swoop, almost 10% of their calls disappeared!

(As an extra bonus, good pre-emptive service increases customer retention by 3-5%.) 

What should you do?

To prevent calls, first take a very close look at what drives those calls.

You’re looking for issues you can solve, with minimal resources, before customers need to call.

Billing queries are a great example. (There will always be some customers with questions about their bill.) 

Video content, FAQ pages or even a UX-focused redesign are all cheaper than thousands of phone calls…

Order tracking is another good example. 

Ask yourself this: from a customer’s perspective, is a phone call currently the easiest way to access information about their delivery? 

If so, what alternative can you put in place?

With pre-emptive service, you will eventually cross into the territory of a different team or department. 

Look at the AT&T example again. Their contact team identified the issue; the billing team provided clarification; the brand and marketing made the video.

It’s absolutely vital that you talk to your colleagues to arrive at these creative solutions. 

avoidable contact center calls

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Part 2: How to spread out incoming calls

So, you’ve done part 1 and massively reduced your incoming call volume. Good work.

But you may still have more calls coming through to the contact center than you’d like. In particular, you may have too many calls at specific times.

The next step is to spread out those calls so your traffic is consistent – no peaks and troughs.

Set up virtual queuing

A customer calls but all your agents are busy. What do you do?

The standard option is to put them on hold. The bad muzak kicks in, and an automated message tells them how much you value their call. (Contrary to the evidence…)

They stay in that situation until an agent is ready for them. Hopefully it doesn’t take too long, but even one minute on hold does plenty of damage.

Around 70% of customers say that waiting on hold is ‘extremely frustrating’. So now you’ve got a customer, who didn’t want to call in the first place, getting increasingly annoyed on hold.


What should you do?

Virtual queuing is relatively simple to set up. It’s really just a remix of call techniques that you already use.

To start with, your IVR needs to offer the option: does the caller want to receive a call when an agent is busy, or wait on hold?

It helps if you can offer up this contextual information:

  • If they opt to wait on hold, how long is the current hold time?
  • If they want to receive a call, when will that happen? Is it first in, first out? Or will you schedule the call for a specific time, after your busy period.

Let’s assume the caller chooses virtual queuing. (About 75% of customers prefer this option.) 

Next, you place that caller in your virtual queue. (As we’ve already covered, this might be asap or a specific scheduled slot.)

The caller moves through the virtual queue until they reach the front. When it’s time to talk to that customer, your auto dialer places an outbound call. Your agent handles the call more or less the same as if it were an inbound call!

Let customers book their calls

Virtual queuing lets you move your incoming calls. But what if you could go back further, before the customer calls?

We’ve already established how much customers hate waiting on hold. So why not take another step into blended contact center service and offer a guaranteed, no waiting outbound call?

Ok, at this point you might be asking how that actually helps?

The trick is to offer bookable slots at times when you’re not usually busy. 

If your phones are usually silent between eleven am and three pm, those are the times you could be making pre-booked, outbound calls.

What should you do?

This is also pretty easy to set up. All you need is a simple scheduling tool that integrates with your outbound dialer.  

You can offer customers appropriate appointment times, through resources like your business chat bot or via SMS. (Either way, you should use outbound SMS to remind customers that their slot is approaching.)

At that defined time, a portion of your agents switch to blended/outbound service. The dialing process is automated; they just do the talking.

Part 3: How to move queries away from phone calls

Now you have fewer calls, and they’re spread more evenly over the day.

We’re almost there… The final step is to prevent those contacts from ever becoming phone calls.

Get more customers using self-service

Self-service can bring down your contact volume further still – and it’s easily the most affordable way to handle queries.

The good news is that customers want self-service too. Around three-quarters of customers believe they should be able to solve most problems on their own.   

self-service

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What should you do?

There are a lot of different ways to turn contact center services into self-service these days.

Let’s go through some of the most widely used.

IVR

IVR gets a bad rap – but that’s changing rapidly.

The change is due to the increased uptake of conversational IVR.  

Basically, a lot of the old problems with IVR – the endless option menus, the tricky navigation – are solved by an IVR which users can talk to.

Pros

  • You probably already have IVR
  • It’s easy to integrate with other systems
  • Practically anyone can use IVR (especially conversational IVR)

Cons

  • There are still some negative associations
  • Some businesses think of IVR as a routing tool, not a self-service tool
self-service

SMS

You might not find a lot of millennials or Gen X’s still using SMS to stay in touch, but – pretty much everyone has access to SMS. It would be crazy not to use it in your service.

SMS has a high open rate and has banked a lot of trust over the years.

Marketeers have been wise to the power of SMS for a while – and now service is starting to catch up.

Pros

  • SMS is available to everyone
  • It’s trustworthy
  • It’s easy to integrate with other systems

Cons

  • Reasonably high cost per message (although still cheaper than a phone call)
  • Limited to short messages

Social media automation

Of course, you might want to make sure that social media is an option too.

It’s a scary world where you can get blind-sided by a new platform. It’s an area where most of the expertise comes from your youngest colleagues.

But if that’s where you customers want you to be – and if it means offering a cheaper service – who’s complaining?

Pros

  • Everyone sees your ‘wins’
  • Can handle enormous volume

Cons

  • Diversity makes integration more challenging
  • Everyone can see your ‘failures’

Looking at every idea on this list, you see one word coming up over and over: Automation.

It goes without saying that automation will play an enormous role in taking the burden off the contact center.

In everything from handling calls, to pre-empting problems to moving contacts through self-service, automation is the key ingredient.

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