When the global pandemic was declared in March of 2020, companies all over the world were pressured to adapt to a new business environment. Marketing teams had to reach audiences in new ways, sales teams faced acquisition challenges, and service departments experienced a surge of customers demanding solutions in a time where most businesses had more questions than answers.
When a business experiences a customer service surge, call volume is one of the first metrics to soar through the roof. When call volume is high, wait times increase, and customer satisfaction drops. Add the stress of a global pandemic on top, and it's easy to understand the challenges that customer service teams are battling.
But, even when COVID-19 isn't changing the world, surges in customer service aren't anything new. In fact, many businesses experience these spikes annually during holidays or busy periods specific to their industry.
When you know a surge is coming, it's a little easier to prepare your business. But, when an unexpected one hits, you can quickly feel like you're struggling to meet customer demand. Having a proactive plan in place helps your team account for these instances and keeps them constantly prepared to handle an unanticipated surge.
In this post, we'll explain what you can do to manage high call volume at your business and what you should do if someone continuously calls your company for help.
High Call Volume
High call volume simply means that the call center is experiencing more calls than it's typically equipped to handle. The severity of high call volume varies depending on the situation as well as the business. Some surges will yield a higher volume of calls while others only create a small increase.
Similarly, the structure of the customer service team is important as well. If your team has a sound plan in place, then an unanticipated spike may not throw you too far off course. But, if you're unprepared to handle high call volume, then your reps may feel more effects of the surge.
Below are a few tips you can use to manage a sudden spike in call volume at your business.
Tips for Managing High Call Volume
1. Schedule Your Team Accordingly.
If you're expecting a surge, the first step you should take is to review your team's work schedule. Make sure you have enough people staffed to manage the change in call volume and take note of any vacations or sick leave that may affect your productivity. While you don't want to overwhelm your team, it's important to know how many active reps you need on the floor and how many cases each agent can handle within a given period.
2. Provide Self-Service Resources.
During a customer service surge, it's common for reps to receive the same questions over and over again. Whether it's due to a confusing promotional offer, a new product launch, or an update to your services, people will often have similar questions about your brand.
Rather than fielding each one, self-service resources — like a knowledge base — deflect common questions that only take a few minutes to answer. Adding a knowledge base to your website gives customers a support resource to review before they reach out to your team. The more extensive and informative this resource is, the fewer questions customers will have for your reps. This frees your team up to focus on complicated questions that take longer to answer.
3. Consider Additional Customer Service Channels.
The chart below shows HubSpot data for the increase of customer-initiated live chat conversations recorded in 2020.
When the pandemic hit, live chat became a very attractive channel for customer service teams. Unlike phones, agents could work on chats simultaneously and solve multiple problems at the same time. This helped ease the stress on the company's phone lines while also providing speedy solutions to customer inquiries.
But, live chat isn't the only alternative to phone support. Social media and email are also excellent mediums for working with customers. By providing more of these options to your customer base, you'll reduce the number of cases handled by your call center during a customer service surge.
4. Analyze Your Call Center Data.
While some spikes in call volume will always be unexpected, you can limit these surprises by keeping close tabs on your call center data. Start by looking at historical data over the past few years and look for any trends where call volume begins to spike.
Once you identify these outliers, ask some contextual questions. Were there any seasonal promotions going on during those times? Did a new product get released with a flaw or glitch? Did the company make a PR mistake and did customers voice their criticisms?
Having an idea for the causes of these increases can help you spot scenarios ahead of time that may lead to an eventual surge. The faster your response is, the better prepared your team will be.
5. Automate Your Team's Workflow.
There are plenty of automation tools that can save your team time throughout their day. For example, workflows can automate ticket routing and send pre-written follow-up emails if a customer doesn't respond to a case. This saves the rep a few minutes from having to type the email out and check it for typos, grammatical errors, etc. These minutes add up over time and can make a big difference in the overall efficiency and productivity of your team.
6. Offer a Call Back Service.
Nobody likes being stuck on hold. Customers rightfully get impatient waiting for a response and service reps feel pressured to find a speedy solution. This causes friction within the customer experience and potentially leads to an ineffective answer if the service agent works too quickly.
You can remove the hassle of wait times altogether by offering a call back service when call volume is high. A call back service lets customers schedule a time for your team to call them, rather than waiting on hold for the next available agent. Not only does this create a better customer experience, but it also reduces the number of calls coming into your business at one time.
7. Use Collaborative Customer Service Tools.
On a customer service call, a lot of time is lost when an agent needs to manually transfer a call to a colleague. Instead, if you're using collaborative customer service tools — like a shared inbox — agents can work together on the same case at the same time.
Here's an example of what this might look like.
With this tool, service agents can assign a ticket to a colleague who can start working on the case as soon as they're tagged. The tagged colleague then has access to all of the information that the original rep had, so the customer doesn't have to repeat themselves. Not only does this save time, but it also removes a recurring pain point from the customer experience.
8. Install an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) System.
When a customer calls your support line, they should receive an immediate response. While ideally this means they're connected to one of your agents, this doesn't mean it has to be a human rep that they're speaking to.
Interactive voice response systems, or IVR, can mimic human agents and automate the distribution of support cases to the rest of your team. Rather than being placed on hold immediately after dialing your support line, IVR's provide customers with a set of options to choose from and each one directs them to a resource or agent that can help. This reduces both the number of calls that agents have to answer and the number of transfers they'll have to initiate while on call.
9. Hire Customer Service Personnel.
Sometimes customer service is just a numbers game. If you only have one person fielding hundreds of calls every day, there's no amount of technology that can provide a long-term solution. At the end of the day, you'll need enough personnel to adequately handle customer demand and sometimes that just means hiring more reps.
10. Outsource Your Call Center.
If you're struggling to meet customer demand and you can't afford to hire new reps or adopt new technology, then you might want to consider outsourcing your call center. For many businesses, this is a logical option that helps them stay on track with their customer service goals.
Be careful, though, as external call centers will likely be managed by organizations with no affiliation to your product or brand. They may not have the same standards that your customers have come to expect and this can lead to potential churn if you don't maintain the same high level of customer service. So, be sure to vet the third-party call center thoroughly before you make any major changes to your customer service strategy.
High call volume can push your service team to its productivity limit, but high-volume callers are another challenge that your agents will likely encounter on a regular basis. While these customers won't cause a significant spike in call volume, they're constantly interacting with your team. Read on to the next section for more ways to manage these customers and keep them happy with your business.
What Is a High-Volume Caller?
A high-volume caller is anyone who calls your business significantly more than your average customer. The exact number of calls may vary by business, but these individuals are constantly reaching out to your team for assistance.
In some cases, this is a good thing. It may indicate that the customer trusts your support team and they prefer contacting you directly for help. When I worked for HubSpot Customer Support, we had plenty of customers who wanted to call in — rather than chat or email — because they enjoyed the conversations that they would have with our team. Some would even ask if they could contact us individually, so they could ping us directly whenever they had a question. This is a perfect example of a good high-volume caller because they're delighted and engaged with the brand.
That being said, it's typically more common that a high-volume caller isn't very happy with your product or service. After all, if they're calling your company multiple times a day, then there might be something wrong with their product or they might not understand how to use it. And, worst of all, rather than getting the answers they're looking for, they have to keep calling back until they find something that works. This makes for a pretty miserable customer experience where customers feel like they're going down a rabbit hole every time they need help.
If you have a few of these callers reaching out to your business, read on for some tips you can use to effectively support them.
Tips for Managing a High-Volume Caller
1. Alert Your Customer Success Team.
High-volume callers are ideal for your customer success team. After all, this is exactly why you have a customer success team in the first place.
If you notice that a customer is constantly calling for help, you should reach out to their customer success manager (CSM). It's this person's job to focus on long-term success and find solutions that remain effective over time.
Sometimes that doesn't mean answering support inquires, either. It may involve retraining the customer on how to use the product or explaining how to best leverage their support resources. For example, some customers may not be aware that you offer a knowledge base or chat support because they typically default to phone or emails. Making them aware of these additional channels can be all you need to reduce the number of calls they're making to your call center.
2. Create a Personalized Onboarding Plan.
New users are more likely to call your support team because they aren't as familiar with your product or services. If you don't have a customer success team to lean on, then you might want to consider a customized onboarding program that's specific to your high-volume callers. Onboarding programs teach new customers how to use your product or service, giving them guidance when they're first starting out. As a result, this reduces their calls to support because they have a front-and-center support resource that they can reference before reaching out to your team.
3. Prioritize Phone Etiquette.
If someone has been calling your team multiple times a day, then it's imperative that your agents have excellent phone etiquette. If you're randomly assigning cases, then the customer might not get the same agent the second or third time they call back. This is why it's important to follow up with customers and provide ways to reopen cases if a problem isn't fully resolved.
As my former coworker, Swetha, advises,
"Start and end each day by checking your voicemail. It takes just a few minutes and can avoid a lost customer support request. Your customers will appreciate your prompt response, and you can get on to doing what you do best — providing knowledgeable and friendly support."
4. Use Advocacy Language.
Some high-volume callers will get frustrated after calling your support team a few times. For these individuals, it's important to use advocacy language when addressing the support case or the customer's goals. Advocacy language puts your agent on the same side of the problem as the customer, so it feels like you're troubleshooting the issue as a team.
Here's an example. Instead of saying, "I'll see what I can find for you," try, "Let's see what we can do." It's subtle, but the "we" in the sentence in the key. It says that you're going to work on this together, rather than the agent taking full ownership of the outcome. That way, if the customer doesn't get the desired result, the blame falls on the problem and not the support agent. The customer and agent can continue working together because the relationship doesn't take as much damage.
Harvard Business Review recently published a study that showed advocacy language reduced customer effort by 77%. This means that customers felt less stress during the support process because the agent successfully aligned themselves with their short- and long-term goals.
5. Use a Screenshare Tool When Troubleshooting.
A common problem that high-volume callers can have is constantly experiencing the same issue with a product or service and not knowing how to fix it. Rather than solving it on their own, they call your support team because they know you can do it for them.
One technique that agents can use here is asking the customer to go on a screenshare with them while they troubleshoot the problem. But, instead of the agent taking control of the customer's screen, the customer follows the instructions laid out by the support rep. That way, it's like they have the service agent standing right next to them while they solve the problem on their own. This can really help customers remember tricky troubleshooting steps and feel more comfortable with your product or service.
For more tips for providing phone support, read this guide to managing a call center.