Surviving Call Center Peaks and Valleys, Part 2: Managing Call Volume Peaks

I previously discussed an article by Pete McGarahan,  “How to Survive Call Volume Spikes:  A Practical Guide to Successfully Handling Call Volume Peaks and Valleys.”  In my last post, I covered McGarahan’s recommendations for mapping both planned and unplanned peaks in call volumes at your contact center.  Identifying patterns is really only the first step; you also need to take steps to efficiently manage the peaks and valleys. McGarahan also offers several tips for managing service demands.

The help desk manager should … reward them for uncovering information regarding unplanned events. If all support members can maintain regular contact with the decision-makers affecting call volume, you’ll be surprised how easily unplanned events will turn into planned events and how quickly this will affect call volume and customer satisfaction.

Standardize.  “The fewer variances you have in desktops, operating systems, office suites, e-mail and printers, the better.”  Work with the various departments in your organization to do what you can to reduce variances that may cause problems with updates or releases, which could ultimately lead to call spikes.

Know Your Own Environment. Real-time performance management and keeping your agents informed to better self-manage themselves will free managers and supervisors to coach specific agents on specific skills. 

Call-to-Action Plan. “ An action plan for your emergency team includes training and preparing the support crew for any number of possible emergencies-invaluable in handling call volume spikes that are due to unplanned events.”  A key element of your action plan should be a trigger point that indicates when the plan should go into effect; for example,  digital displays from Inova Solutions offer advanced threshold alerts to let you know when you may be headed toward a critical call volume peak.

Awareness and preparation for the unplanned are key elements for successfully  managing the peaks and valleys in contact center call volume.  “Don’t let call volume manage your support organization! Get out in front of it, understand it, measure it, analyze it and pull together an action plan that puts you back in control.”

Starting with Simplicity to Manage Contact Center Performance Data

Justin Robbins recently published an article ICMI, “Fine Tuning Your Contact Center Through the Use of Innovative Metrics.”  In the article, Robbins first sums up what many of us already know:  “metrics are everywhere,” with “more data than we know what do with and the mounting desire to throw our hands up in defeat.”  This massive amount of data accumulates and overwhelms contact managers so quickly that it can be nearly impossible to find ways to effectively analyze any of the information, let alone capitalize on any actionable items from the results.

Robbins suggests that the best way to use data to drive improvement is to take a step back and start with simplicity.  As a first cut, managers must cull the “must measures” away from the “waste and excess.”  He suggests several specific metrics as absolute essentials; identifying what metrics are critical for your specific contact center is an important first step to managing data.

After you’ve identified your critical data, the next best step is to match each metric with the appropriate stakeholder.  “Not everything we measure matters to everyone and certain metrics matter in different ways to different individuals.”  When you communicate metrics to specific stakeholders, you will be most effective when you share why that data is important to them and how it impacts their role within your greater organization.  Robbins argues that there is really no point in sharing a metric with someone who can’t make an impact on that data point.

Robbins final step into managing data is to identify the specifics of success.  Unfortunately, this is not as simple as just identifying an acceptable percentage or quota; you must match the data with the larger organizational goal, the behaviors that help to achieve that goal, and the employee supports that encourage those behaviors. 

Ultimately, the key to successful data management is not only in identifying the appropriate metrics to measure for your contact center but also in finding actionable ways to utilize that data in support of overall organizational goals. 

Aimed at Improving the Customer Experience: Contact Center 2014 Trends

I previously posted about contract center trends that we might expect to see in 2014.  In the January 2014 issue of The Real-Time Contact Center Newsletter, Donna Fluss takes a slightly different approach to anticipated trends, stating them in terms of goals for the upcoming year.  In the article, “Enterprise Servicing Goals for 2014,” Fluss writes that “many of the goals are similar to those in prior years, however, the priorities have changed, and there are new ‘twists’ that are being enabled by a more open, creative and flexible view of the role of contact centers.”

Her eight goals provide a solid foundation for action in the contact center, both in customer-facing and internal decisions.  It is difficult to draw a solid line in the sand to differentiate between decisions that are customer-facing and those that are internal, since the two are so closely tied. 

Fluss’ Enterprise Servicing Goals


Customer-facing goals: 

1.   Improving customer service

2.   Improving the customer journey

3.   Resolving inquiries during initial contact

4.   Retaining customers

With the evolving technologies available both to contact centers and customers, the customer experience has become even more critical.  Customers now have tools that allow them to compare service and product offerings, and social media gives them leverage to make “a small issue can go viral.”  Contact centers can now leverage “tools to measure every touch and action taken by prospects and customers.”  Executives are now starting to follow through and deliver on promises to acquire and retain customers, through a real commitment to customer service and the overall customer journey. 

Internal goals:

1.   Reducing operating costs

2.   Complying with regulatory requirements

3.   Avoiding social media firestorms

4.   Increasing sales and collections


“Executives want their contact centers to pick up the slack and become major players in generating revenue.”  As part of that effort, there must be a focus on efforts that “improve service while reducing operating expenses.”  With customers who have social media tools at their fingertips, it is critical for companies to find ways to maintain positive customer relationships and to manage social media outlets.  And, of course, companies must always aim to remain in compliance with government regulations!

Fluss believes that this will be a year of technology investments aimed at improving the customer experience.  For more details, hop on over to Fluss’ article online!

Making Contact Center Data Fun

Can it be possible to make big data fun for both supervisors and front line agents?  Klie argues in the affirmative in his January 2014 article in Contact Center Pipeline, “Gamification Comes to the Contact Center.”  As is likely obvious to our readers, a singular intense focus on contact center metrics can lead to employee burnout and a lack of motivation; disengaged employees in a contact center can then develop into a multitude of additional challenges including reduced customer satisfaction.

Klie details a new trend in contact centers: gamification.  This trend allows for the application of principles from video games to the contact center itself.  Think “virtual challenges, contests, and quests for the purpose or racking up points, advancing to higher levels, or earning rewards.”  Adding an element of fun can re-engage your employees and create a new enthusiasm and excitement for their jobs.  Klie writes that the gamification trend is particularly relevant for a contact center; with contact center agents often acting as the voice of the company, it is particularly important to have “happy employees that have the right training and tools to help customers [which will] lead directly to a positive customer experience and improved financial performance.”  A key for integration of gamification in the contact center is the potential for integration with existing data.  Since contact centers already gather vast amounts of data, sometimes it can be as simple as correlating KPIs with game-like parameters. 

Even if you cannot fully implement a gamification platform at your contact center, consider ways that you can use the basic theory to make your effort to improve performance more fun.  Possibilities include a variety of “badges” for incremental improvements in your key metrics, rewards for completion of training “quests,” or opportunities to “level up” for a series of improvements in a specific focus area.   At the end of the day, if you can find a way to add an element of fun to your contact center data with some element of game play, you may find that you have more enthusiastic employees interacting with your customers. 

Controlling Your Technology Destiny in the Contact Center

In the August 2013 edition of Contact Center Pipeline, Brian Hinton writes, “while IT might hold the keys to technology delivery and support, the contact center must use technology wisely to achieve business goals.”  At first, this seems to be a simple enough statement; however, it is really quite loaded once you start to break it down.  First, you have the relationship between IT and the contact center itself.  As Hinton explains, it can be easy for IT and contact center managers to reach a stalemate when trying to manage technology.  IT employees are often the subject matter experts; however, it can be unfair for contact center employees to rely on IT to provide a full picture of what is possible.  Hinton offers some suggestions for contact center managers to take the first steps in ensuring optimal technology usage in the contact center.

Close the knowledge gapAs a contact center manager, you can empower yourself by understanding the industry and the technology available.  Attend conferences, network through associations or other groups, read trade-specific material, and talk to your technology vendor.  The more information you can gather about contact center technology, the better equipped you will be to target specific areas of improvement for your center.

Establish requirements for technology expansionConsider ways that you can use technology to enhance your current business goals.  Are there technology solutions that will help you better measure performance metrics and KPIs?  Is there a technology solution that will enhance your workforce management strategies?  Can you utilize technology platforms to improve your IVR or ACD systems?  Key components of this part of the process are to define metrics that align with your performance goals and to specify action-oriented response processes.

Prioritize As you broaden your knowledge of contact center technology options and begin to grasp requirements that fit your specific contact center, you will be able to prioritize the specific priorities.  You can identify which of targeted areas of contact center improvement align with technology solutions.

Once you have prioritized your requirements, you can then meet with IT.  Collaboration at this point allows you to share your exact technology needs with the technical expertise and insight from your IT partners.  As Hinton writes, “the contact center has to own the effective use of technology… but, successfully achieving goals depends on IT and the contact center working together collaboratively to implement technology together and to continue learning together.”

Thinking Outside the [Standard Metrics] Box

The June 2013 issue of Contact Center Pipeline included “Underutilized Metrics,” an article written by Jay Minnucci.  Minnucci highlights three metrics that could be used with more frequency and effectiveness to provide a more comprehensive understanding of contact center performance:

  • Contacts per customer – While the expectations for this metric will vary across industry, understanding the contacts per customer within your center and industry can help you answer questions about your customer base.  Do you have customers who contact you multiple times per year?  Minnucci gives the magic number of four contacts; these are the dedicated customers whose familiarity indicates that they may be devoted to your brand.  This metric can also help you pinpoint areas to target for improvement, as in the example the author sites: if a significant majority of your customers only contact you once a year, they will not be willing to invest their time in learning an IVR system.
  • Cost per second of AHT – This is my favorite underutilized metric that Minnucci covers, since it provides you with a concrete number to consider when considering the expectations placed on agents.  Minnucci cites the 5-20 seconds spent recording a customer’s email address, but also consider the time (and cost) devoted to multiple verification layers and other elements that add precious seconds to calls.
  • Percentage of calls held – Taking a closer look at the percentage of your calls that are put on hold can provide you with insight about the information that your agents have at their fingertips or stored in memory.  A high percentage of calls on hold could indicate a need to investigate training or job aids to determine if those solutions could help agents avoid hold time.  At an agent level, this percentage could highlight your high performers, allowing you to identify best practices and areas for potential improvement across the center.

As Jay points out, the best KPIs are those that are actionable, and many of these are not the most obvious or easiest to obtain.  Inova Solutions can work with you determine the best metrics for your environment and calculate them accordingly. Certainly these three metrics are a great start at obtaining useful and actionable insight about your contact center.  

Real-time Metrics Enable Consistent Contact Center Performance

Proper forecasting and accurate scheduling are critical to the success of your contact center.  But accurate scheduling, by design, doesn’t leave much room for error and puts most contact centers dangerously close to the edge in terms of being over-staffed or under-staffed.  Given the random nature of the arrival of contacts, being ‘right-staffed’ can be a fleeting concept.  More often than not, you will have too many or too little agents available to address current demand.  Add in the normal daily chaos and it’s easy to see why even the most accurate schedules can become misaligned pretty quickly.

Monitoring agent and overall contact center performance are equally important to success. Daily performance reports provide good historical analysis, and allow you to adjust your going-forward planning, but they do little in terms of addressing issues when they are most important – when a customer is engaged and the customer satisfaction meter is ticking.  In an environment where CSAT score goals are set high and speed of service is measure in seconds, it’s easy to see how success in achieving your objectives can be quickly jeopardized.

Addressing issues in workforce and performance are moment-to-moment requirements that can’t wait until the next day.  They require real-time information, analysis and action.  To ensure that consistent, satisfying experiences are delivered, processes must be in place to:

  • Allow agents, supervisors and managers to learn immediately when there is a problem
  • Understand what corrective actions must be taken & when

Having a lack of visibility into the right set of real-time metrics, however, limits those capabilities.  A new white paper from DMG consulting, Improve Contact Center Performance with Real-Time Metrics, details how monitoring the right metrics in real-time can help you improve your customer service scores and improve the overall performance of your contact center.  The paper includes a look at the top requested real-time metrics by supervisors and managers that, when monitored, result in specific benefits, including:

  • Reduced wait times and abandonment rates
  • More informed and efficient agents
  • Improved customer satisfaction
  • Improved adherence and occupancy rates
  • Reduced operating expenses
  • Avoidance of negative public relations

If you’re looking to improve the performance of your contact center or considering adding real-time metrics to your reporting processes, give the paper a read.

Download the White Paper

Resolve to be FAIR

The April 2013 edition of CRM Magazine includes an article by Brent Leary, “Cultivate a New Approach to Business and Customer Engagement”.  Leary offers FAIR as an acronym for a few “tenets that companies are taking…to create organizations that can keep up with customer behaviors and expectations:”

  • Fast and flexible – Seconds count in customer service, especially in today’s contact centers.  As Leary says, with web pages loading in a few seconds and book delivery reduced to less than a minute, “speed thrills and lack of it kills.”  Companies have to be able to react more quickly than ever in order to create a connection with a customer.
  • Agile and analytical – Not only does the world move more quickly now, but there is more data than ever to aggregate.  Companies must analyze data to identify key pieces, which then allow conversion “into appealing interaction opportunities.”
  • Interactive and integrated – Leary addresses the “social, mobile, and cloud technologies”; there is also increasing potential for integration of different contact streams and among corporate departments and stakeholders.
  • Responsive and reliable – Of the four tenets, this last one is an old standby.  Customers always have and always will want to do business with companies that are trustworthy.  Modern day customers, though, have technology that “raises expectations quicker, and disappoints faster;” companies must be able to function in this fast-paced world and still maintain credibility.

In your contact center, you can use the data available through your systems to better manage being FAIR to your customers.  Real-time performance reporting solutions, such as those built on LightLink, give you fast and flexible capability to capture performance information as it happens which allows you analyze data on the fly.   You can then use your analysis of your integrated data streams to interact with other key stakeholders at your contact center and in your organization.   Through your real-time data analysis and collaboration, you can enact any needed operational changes at the moment they are needed, which will ultimately make you more responsive and reliable for your customers.


Accessing your KPIs – anytime, anywhere

Certainly, nearly everyone around us is becoming more attached to the ever-present access to data and information through our smart devices.  Contact managers are no different, and your contact center performance metrics can be accessible anytime and anywhere through mobile dashboards presented on the devices that you carry with you!  Your day-to-day business as a contact center manager often likely takes you away from your desk, or even away from the office building or out of town.  Consider some of the ways that a mobile dashboard can really serve you as a contact center manager:

  • Remote Performance Management – If you are out of the office, you can still keep tabs on your contact center’s full performance metrics.  With this functionality, you can identify potential problems and to react appropriately when necessary.
  • Continuous access – With a mobile dashboard you don’t have to leave your metrics behind when you’re on the floor coaching agents.
  • Customization options – Your mobile dashboard can be customized to meet your exact needs and highlight the metrics most important to you.  Perhaps most helpful is the ability to set thresholds and receive alerts of situations that require immediate attention.

The odds are that you already carry a tablet or smartphone with you at nearly all times.  Having access to portable and remote dashboards via a tablet or smartphone helps you stay on top of critical issues at the call center at all times.

Real Time Performance Management: Coming of Age in 2013

Real-time analytics has been a keyword in the contact center for some time now, but Paul Stockford argues in a January 2013 Contact Center Pipeline article that everything we thought we knew about “real-time anything as it applies to the contact center is wrong.”  In “Real-Time is the Real Deal,” Stockford writes that real-time no longer means soon after, and that the definition can now fully align with the term; real-time analytics will now mean information measured the exact second that it occurs. 

I suppose that seems like a small difference, but it can have a major impact on how data is used in your contact center.  If you are constantly tracking data that has already happened, you are constantly reacting to situations that have already occurred.  Access to truly real-time data can allow both contact center managers and agents to be more proactive and to adapt to the situation currently at hand. 

In his research, Stockford found that 51% of respondents were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the time it was taking to share performance metrics with managers.

He also discovered that 90% of customer service executives found value in sharing real-time metrics with agents.  Using real-time performance reporting solutions, such as those built on LightLink, gives you the capability to capture performance information as it happens, allowing you to make adjustments to queues and schedules on the fly.  You can create custom queries to display the metrics that are critical for success in your contact center, and send the data instantly to a variety of display options.  A well-implemented real-time performance management system will allow you to effectively utilize real-time analytics, even as the term comes to achieve its true “right-now” meaning!