Queues are the bane of the contact centre industry and one of the most complained-about areas.
So what can the contact centre do to help deal with long queues?
We asked our readers for their suggestions.
Restrict holidays in the busy period
We don’t allow holidays in our busy period and agree a level of overtime with senior management in advance that we can use as necessary to save on delays. The overtime is agreed with the staff, who know it will only be used as needed.
We have also worked hard to proactively contact and inform customers ahead of year end to reduce incoming volumes.
Thanks to Victoria
Add key information to queue messages
When we know the reason for the spike in call volumes, e.g. during the tax season, we will add a message during the hold time that will most likely answer their question – such as the tax forms will be mailed on xx date.
Thanks to Donna
Use call-back technology
There is no secret that call queues are the most complained-about areas of contact centres, with more and more research showing their negative impact on both businesses and their customers.
One solution is the use of call-back technology. Callers can decide whether or not they want to spend their time in the queue or simply deal with their daily tasks while the system queues for them. It then calls back when their turn has come up or at the hour chosen by the customer.
Call-backs lead to a greater number of calls being answered as well as a lower abandonment rate. This means that fewer customers will consider reaching out to competitors or dropping their enquiry totally.
Call-backs significantly increase the productivity of the call centre by smoothing out peak periods. They also lower the frustration on both sides with customers being more relaxed, calm and pleasantly surprised at being called back and agents being able to assist and answer their questions without having to deal with countless apologies and explanations.
A Forrester survey of over 1,500 consumers showed that 75% would be likely to use on-hold call-back as it gives them a greater sense of importance and control.
The only issues with using call-backs are how fast they happen and what if they don’t happen at all? A failure to complete them in the designated time or at the required hour can lead to repeat calls from unhappy customers. Also, some solutions do not secure an agent before contacting the customer, with callers being put back into a queue if the prediction of agent availability is incorrect, making the process even more frustrating.
Richard Farrell: Chief Technical Officer, Netcall Telecom Ltd
Plan training on non-working days
Offer training on non-working days (e.g. Saturdays). You will be surprised how many staff members would be willing to do this if it means the day-to-day job is less stressful.
You can then plan overtime to your budget rather than to when spikes and seasonal high volumes happen, which, as we have discussed, can be unpredictable.
Thanks to Nathan
We allow agent ‘flexi-time’ so that they can come in later or leave earlier and sacrifice some break time for this. We benefit because we have more available agents at peak times, agents benefit from flexible working – dropping kids off at school, etc.
Thanks to Nicola
Bring in temps
To handle our peaks we have a complex IVR that drills down on options, and then we bring in temps during peak times to handle the calls on the easy-to-train lines (train within a few days). We also recruit these temps on flexible hours, so we can flex to meet needs. If the temps work well we can then train on more complex skills.
Lower priority for internal calls
We have calls from our reps or internal company mobiles on lower priority than sales customers’ calls to our non-geo number.
Thanks to Mick
Getting the right forecast
If your call forecast assumptions are too low and your staffing numbers too low, calls will queue. Conversely, if your assumptions are too high and the staffing levels are too high, calls won’t queue but the occupancy of your staff will be low with your operating costs high. Or, your forecast assumptions are spot-on but your staffing levels have been affected by sickness, attrition, team meetings, non-adherence, (shrinkages) etc…
How do you balance costs and efficiency to ensure that the customer doesn’t have to wait or your staff sit idle? To calculate staffing levels we require: calls, handle time and service level assumptions along with the Erlang C formula to consider the random arrival of the calls. The result will tell us how many staff we require for that interval after all shrinkages have been removed.
Calculating the staffing requirement
Understanding how we calculate staffing requirement helps us to understand what factors need to be considered to manage the queue.
Start with the shape of the day, or daily call flow by interval (15 minute, 30 minute or hourly) to clearly identify if there is a typical busiest and quietest time of the day. Compare daily actual volumes versus the forecast shape of the day to help make decisions, plan offline activity and identify unusual behaviour. This knowledge needs to be shared with the Planning team and the operation, including Marketing.
Build better links with Marketing
Does Marketing understand the impact of their campaigns, e.g. direct mail, television, newspaper, web activity and how this will affect call volumes and call lengths? It’s important that there are regular meetings between Planning, Operations and Marketing to discuss previous and future campaigns to understand the change in call volume and maybe distribution (arrival times) as well as call length. A complicated new sales process may increase call times by 30 seconds, which has a huge impact on staffing levels and ultimately customer queue times.
Flexing for changing demand
The ability to deal with changing call volumes/staffing levels is key, therefore having an operationally agreed set of “Triggers for Action” is critical. For instance, when 10 calls are queuing, all team meetings are postponed; when 20 calls are queuing, training is postponed and, likewise, when no calls are queuing there needs to be the opposite set of actions, e.g. additional training/communication sessions. These triggers may be different at different times of the year and must be reviewed regularly.
Close monitoring of shrinkage
Close monitoring and reporting of your shrinkages (sickness, training, holidays, etc…) are important, along with robust absence management processes. Education of the “Power of One” is really important for staff to understand their impact when they are not there.
Finally, working together with regular communication, daily reviews, formal handover meetings and formal review sessions is critical. If mistakes are made then learn from these to make sure they don’t happen again.
Phil Anderson, Contact Centre Specialist, Professional Planning Forum
Click here to download our Call Centre Erlang Staffing Calculator – including Shrinkage
Put in place a traffic management team
Install a traffic management team to have a good overview of the workflow.
Thanks to Richard
Play sales messages during queue time
Use queuing time to relay sales messages to the caller. This helps keep interest and informs and reinforces caller options.
Thanks to Linda
Don’t take breaks during the first 15 minutes of the hour
We stopped breaks being taken in the first 15 minutes of every hour as we found trends of calls tend to be in this period as people tend to plan calls, etc. on the hour.
Thanks to David
Replace AHT with first contact resolution
Contact centre queues have long been an annoyance to both the customer and the contact centre, but they should be a thing of the past. Average handling time is a very archaic concept for measuring success, yet is still widely used as a key performance indicator (KPI) in many contact centres. In its place should be first call resolution rates, and some organisations are leading this trend.
Queues can be minimised by improving these first call resolution rates through effective workforce planning and scheduling for capacity. Not to mention that if a customer reaches a satisfactory conclusion first time, they do not need to initiate a further interaction, again reducing contact volumes.
Call avoidance strategies
Similarly, an extremely effective tool for reducing queues is the implementation of call avoidance strategies. Call avoidance reduces the number of inbound interactions by putting processes in place that enable the customer to resolve a query for themselves in the first instance. This ensures the customer feels like they are important and is in control of a transaction, but in fact it is the organisation that is calling the shots.
By analysing common processes and scenarios, many calls, emails and other forms of contact can be prevented before the customer feels the need to use the contact centre, building a long queue. Contact centres should be pre-empting the customer query and ensuring that they have all of the information required. For example, if a customer is expecting an engineer/delivery, information can be offered in an SMS on the day confirming the time of arrival.
Optimising the workforce and call avoidance strategies are powerful tools for avoiding queues. Accurately predicting, planning and managing capacity, distributing the workforce and scheduling campaigns is a challenge for the contact centre, and optimisation technologies can solve this process.
Mark King, Senior VP, Europe & Africa, Aspect Software
Call and email blending
Is there not enough staff to deal with calls? Blending agents to deal with peaks in demand can be a cost-effective way to reduce queues and maximise resources. It’s not just about combining inbound and outbound telephone calls – blending can also be used for mixing calls with emails, web chat, Facebook and Twitter, for example.
Simplify the desktop
Agents need access to fast, relevant data and this can be gained from using the right knowledge-based systems on the desktop. Too many desktop programs will cause further confusion, however, so successful contact centres are now using products which streamline their business applications and rationalise disparate and messy desktop environments. This also reduces call times and queues.
Another way to avoid customers having to be passed across to colleagues is to install skills-based routing products. These use data such as called number (DNIS), calling number (CLI), email address, email subject, date & time, etc. to route calls to the most appropriate available contact, who may be in the back office.
Ken Reid, Rostrvm Solutions
Create an “I don’t mind” list
Within my department the Resource and Planning team have an “I don’t mind” list. This is a list of staff that can work short notice overtime/ half-hour lunches, and are happy for their schedules to change at short notice to fit in with business needs – for example, where incidents are impacting. This list has been invaluable to us of late.
Thanks to Alexandria
Queue busting is a great way of managing queues. Ramp up back office and bring team leaders in on phone calls as the volumes increase. This only works when used sparingly, in my experience; however, it can be very effective.
Thanks to Darren
Divert calls to the back office
During peak times calls are diverted to other teams who have different call answer priority and whose main task is back office.
Thanks to Romeu
Mobile self-service to reduce queues in the call centre
Mobile self-service customers can engage in a self-service session through an app that visually maps out the steps of your customer service process, reducing the numbers of calls that need to be made to the call centre.
Starting with the IVR, it allows customers to visually guide themselves through the self-serve interaction and interact directly with the system to solve their problem, without the annoyance and limitations of audio/voice IVR systems.
For calls that do require agent assistance, however, the goal is to provide a seamless transition to the voice channel from the self-service channel. Creating this seamless transition requires connecting the mobile session with the agent session. This begins by giving customers information about current hold times and offering the option of scheduling a call-back.
Once the call is connected to the agent, all of the steps traversed by the customer, as well as any data entered, are visible to the agent. That way, customers will not have to repeat information. Even better, the underlying systems can be pre-populated (or data can be retrieved) with the customer information, adding a further benefit of reduced handle times.
Thanks to Jacada
Remove underlying issues
In Customer Service environments, understand the root cause for calls coming in. Then, working from most frequent downwards, remove the underlying issue. It is by far the most effective way of shortening queues, rather than trying to manage them.
Thanks to Iain
We use in-queue messaging to update our callers of sold-out events. This causes our abandon rate to rise, but increases conversion.
Thanks to Marc
Use non-customer-facing staff
We use non-customer-facing staff to handle non-customer calls from dealers and agents to ease the pressure on the customer-facing multi-skilled staff in the contact centre.
Thanks to Sam
Alert everyone using wallboards
We use stats boards throughout the office to alert everyone to spikes. We then reward admin staff and those on breaks for helping out.
Thanks to Paul
Consolidate offices as virtual contact centres
If you have more than one site that takes calls then make sure they are connected. It’s painful to know that calls are queuing in one contact centre when advisors are available in another. The larger the number of advisors across your entire organisation, the easier it is to plan and handle fluctuating call volume.
Get callers to the right advisor first time
Instead of answering your callers and then finding out what they need, use the information you already hold on them to give them personalised options that get them to someone that can help them. By reducing transfers you free up advisors to deal with new callers.
Use other employees in emergencies
As Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. Despite your best workforce planning, an ash cloud or a flood can have calls piling up in the contact centre. Don’t accept this as ‘just a bad day’, but instead get calls routed to employees outside of your contact centre. Even if the person that answers is unable to fully resolve an issue, it is preferable to an abandoned caller going on to tweet about being #onhold.
Tim Pickard, NewVoiceMedia
Use WFM to predict surges
We use work force monitoring tools to ‘predict’ traffic surges and build our staff levels around those predications.
Keep staff keen and motivated by rotating them throughout the contact centre. This helps retain them as they learn more skills, and allows multi-skilling during peak times
Thanks to James
Team leaders jump on the phone
We try getting our team leaders to jump in when there are either many calls holding or they’ve been holding for a long time.
Thanks to Francois
Blending inbound and outbound calls
When outbound calls are high we would initiate predictive calling and a portion of the outbound queues blend with inbound calls. The reason for this is that we lose some sort of efficiency gains when we initiate blending in preview. This will allow us to concentrate on inbound and outbound calls effectively.
Train agents to become multi-skilled in high available times to ensure that these agents in other areas are able to catch the overflow of calls when call queues are high.
Advise callers of predicted wait time
During high call volume periods we redirect customers either to go to our website, send an email or wait for the next available agent. We also advise in the announcement that what the expected wait time could be.
Thanks to Neil
Use staff from other departments to take specific calls during peak periods. Also, roll out half-hour lunches and reschedule off-phone activity.
Thanks to Lynsey
Queues are not always bad things
Know your business and your customer; call queues are not necessarily a bad thing so don’t always assume they are. Think concerts, events or sales. The customer’s perception is that demand is huge, which is good.
Thanks to Penny