How to Save a Sinking Call Center


Do you have angry and frustrated customers who have been waiting impatiently on the phone for the last 20 minutes? Do 30-40 % of your customers hang up while waiting for an answer? Do you get to many emails to handle? In addition, are you in a downward spiral? A lot of call centers experience times of crash and burn, especially in a company with growth. So what do you do when your employees are drowning in labor and the customers are starting to flee the company? Is there hope? Of course, there is hope. Hope is also known as hard work by all.
Congested call center

Increasing efficiency and spending money!

Customer service is expensive. I say, customer service can be expensive; it can be as expensive as you want it to be, but it does not have to be. Try to avoid the panic button for a while…

Panic button nr 1: Hire more people!
200 missed calls pr day? Average 40 calls per customer service rep. Is the solution to hire 5 more people? No, what about the training time, the after call work, do you need more people solving the trouble too? Do you need 2-3 back office people as well? Sounds expensive? Well you do not necessary need to hire more people.

Panic button nr 2: Create or buy new support systems!
New systems might be more effective, it might save you time, but it takes time to implement, and it takes time to train, and it takes time before your employees get used to it = longer handling times = more angry customers in line. Do not change systems when under pressure.

Panic button nr 3: Fire the customer service manager!
Like a underperforming soccer team, replacing management can be a solution, but it might also not result in any change at all. And it will take time.

Panic button nr 4: Urge people to work massive overtime.
We need to clean up this mess, if everybody work 20 % extra for a couple of weeks then we will get the load away. This is like cleaning your car for bird droppings every morning, when the solution is to park somewhere else.

Panic button nr 5: Make it harder to contact your contact center.
To many people call us, let’s remove our phone number on our webpage. Try to get them to use a form. This is customer service backwards driving.

Here are some “facts” that might apply at your place too…

I write “facts” as they are self-experienced, and not a result of massive research. But there are a lot of things you can do before you start pressing the panic buttons.

  1. Use of overtime
    80 % of your traffic might be a result of 20 % of your mistakes or bugs, faults, depending on your kind of business. Identify your 20 % and fix them during overtime. If 50 people call each day to get information about opening hours, make sure your opening hours are easy to find on the website. If 8 % of your callers can’t find the “on-button” on your product – make sure to update the user manual and post a visible FAQ on your website or even use social media to inform your customers on this common question.
    Working on identifying the reasons WHY your customers contact you – will give you a focus on where to start.
  2. Be more effective on the phone.
    By checking on your routines you might be able to identify the calls that take 20 minutes or more. What kind of calls should be given to the back office or escalated? Is your staff performing as expected? WARNING: Pushing more calls to agents reduces the quality of service to each caller. Make sure that they get to spend the time necessary to help the customer. The formula we are looking for is: number of calls x avg. handling time = time spent helping customers. How much time should the employee spend on the phone? Expected time – Time spent helping = time wasted. I have experienced people being able to increase their capacity just by hanging up a “busy sign” preventing people to stop and chat. Social people can waste a lot of time by replying to people stopping by… Isolate your call center and call it a “war zone” – get those people from accounting to stop wasting your staff’s time. Do not try to put more water in the bucket if it is already full. And do not forget that your staff needs time to write and handle calls, and they need breaks. But if you analyze these numbers you might find gold.
  3. Call routing
    You should analyze the options your customers have when calling. Could you route some easy tasks to an expert group that is drilled and effective to solve those kinds of troubles? As an example: Have you not received your package? Press 3 for assistance – resulting on people highly skilled to trace goods.
  4. Self help
    Reduce the amount of people calling for obvious stuff… “I was browsing your website but could not find information about…” well, get the information out there. Give your customers a way to help themselves. Provide guides, make invoices available online.
  5. Pin the tail on the donkey
    Customers does not call your customer service center because the customer service department screws up. (Unless you are behind on your job…) But back to analyzing the customers: Got the wrong product? (Warehouse) – Got error on the bills? Billing, a failed marketing campaign getting customers calling you unprepared? Marketing. Make sure to collect the number of calls that origin from other departments screw ups. Then you can enter the leadership meetings with facts: “John, 20 % of our customers are calling because of delays in shipping, what are you doing to get back on track?” If you can pin exact numbers on the other department leaders you can hold them accountable and track improvements.

When you have made all the effort you can do to..

1. Reduce the amount of callers
2. Increase the efficiency

– then you are in a position to consider if your call center needs more employees or not. Imagine that you have a 10 % positive impact on these two: 10 % less callers, 10 % more effective staff?

50 people, on average handling 40 calls = 2000 – Number of callers a day 3000 = 66 % handled.

50 people on average handling 44 calls = 2200 – Number of callers a day 2700 = 81 % handled. – This is a good investment to get such results. Still not state of the art, but now you can consider if you want to hire to get 90 % or keep improving. You just saved your budget 10 new employees to get the same result.

If you already have a very effective call center, you might still find room to improve if you listen to your customers, analyze their needs and meet them before they need to contact you in the first place. Look behind the results. You might have a 98% calls answered, 10 sec maximum wait time. Your call center handles 5000 calls a day. Your boss is happy with your results. But what if you managed to reduce the pressure, reduce staff and save the company a lot of money, and even still get more happy customers? The great thing about working in a call center, there is always new challenges…

A final warning! When you manage to fight of the heat, or solve the problems causing your call center to collapse. Remember it is a thin line between disaster and success, as when you start to get congested – people will repeatedly call multiple times during the day –so never calculate your needs blinded by the total number of calls. – If you can identify unique callers, you have a better tool. – Don’t end up pressing panic button number one.

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Have a great day!

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