If you’ve worked in the travel industry, I’m sure you’ve experienced countless surprises, and weather is always one of them. From flight delays to power outages within your own center, weather can make agents’ lives messy and complicated. Unfortunately, no app or crystal ball exists where you can ask, “What will the weather be like in five months?” and receive a response of “It looks like there will be a snowstorm. You might want to ramp up your contact center and agents for that incident.”
Yes, studying historical weather events can help with forecasting, but even those predictions need to be taken lightly. Hiring too many temporary agents or scheduling too few can throw your entire day (and metrics) out of whack. So what approach should one take for a scenario that’s hard to predict?
Let’s walk through the challenges to overcome and how you can minimize the impact harsh weather presents to contact center teams.
Weather’s Domino Effect
Weather can be very challenging. From snowstorms to hurricanes to flooding, they all impose a domino effect at travel contact centers. First there are flight cancellations, then come a flurry of customer calls, and before you know it, your service level goes out the window. With each of these factors piling up, your travel contact center can spiral out of control in an instant. So it’s best to take a deep breath and put together a plan for your team, whether it’s days or hours ahead of weather’s customer service punch.
Limited Knowledge and Forecasting
Weather is something that you can’t 100 percent accurately forecast. Yes, you may have an idea the week of or the week before that a snowstorm is coming or a hurricane might hit land. And while it’s unfortunate contact center employees have limited weather knowledge, they have to work within the realm of what they have.
You have a certain number of heads or agents. It’s unlikely that you’ll have the time to hire new agents and bring them up to speed in time for the storm that brings an influx of callers. So you work with what you have. Say your team comprises of 100 agents and this snowstorm brings about a 50 percent increase in call volume. What would you and your agents do?
The Need For Agents’ Time
The first lever to pull is overtime. Getting people to opt for voluntary overtime not only benefits your need to handle calls but it also gives agents an incentive – more hours and more money. Once you have a certain number of agents agreeing to work overtime, the second thing to do is to cancel all non-phone activity. An “all hands on deck” mentality consumes the entire center, so everyone, and I mean everyone, gets on the phone. That means agents who typically handle chat will answer phones. Supervisors will also step in to lighten the load. It becomes a joint effort from the whole team at travel contact centers to address customers’ concerns, complaints, requests, and questions. And with more people handling phone calls, the less time customers are waiting on hold.
So why do most agents and contact center employees switch from their channel of expertise to the phone during these periods? Customers love to call during weather emergencies and talk to an agent directly. It’s more personal, but at the same time, more challenging for agents, especially when they have to handle frustrated customers back to back.
The Impact on Contact Center Metrics
Due to the overwhelming influx of weather-related calls, contact center performance indicators go out the window. With metrics used to identify how well or poor an agent, manager, or contact center as a whole is performing, it’s obvious that normal goals cannot be met during peak call volume. For example, a service level goal of 80/30 might need to be changed to 80/60 (80 percent of calls answered in 60 seconds or less) when call volume increases by 50 percent on a given day. Different goals also need to be adjusted based on factors such as how many calls we received, how many agents are on staff at any given moment, and what types of customers are calling in (highly valued/VIP callers or first time customers)?
In addition to changing goals based on these factors, one additional element to consider is to optimize agents’ work schedules based on call volume patterns. That means knowing when agents should be working or on breaks. During peak call volume, you don’t want half of your agents at lunch. By using workforce management tools such as Aspect and IEX, you can optimize your workforce based on call volume patterns and trends from previous weather-related incidents.
While weather can inflict severe damage to contact centers, there are many ways to minimize the impact weather has on the number of calls and requests in a given event. From assigning all your agents and employees to manage phone lines to using workforce management tools, you can help manage and control the uptick in demand while also reducing customer frustrations.