Weathering the Call Center Storm

As the saying goes: You can’t change the weather — but you can prepare for it.

Recent, highly-publicized airline and product call center overflow problems have highlighted the serious and potentially humiliating problems that can occur when a call center is not sufficiently staffed to handle a crisis.

Ice storms, product recalls and a sudden run on tickets for a hot Broadway show following the Tony awards, can all be considered “special occurrences.”

Any of these are potential causes for your call center to experience a sharp rise in calls past normal peak volumes. However, you can handle them all with relative ease — and retain some dignity — by following a few simple guidelines.

Prepare a Standard Response

Interactive voice response (IVR) is often your customer’s first point of contact. By taking time now to prepare a standard emergency recording — before you experience a special occurrence — you will have a response in place for customers who all may be calling with the same request, such as flight or weather information.

Use a standard script for the most common calls and have an arsenal of prerecorded responses at the ready.

For example, if you run an airline call center, extreme weather is your natural foe. You need a general statement saying:

“Due to the weather conditions, all flights from XYZ airport are canceled until further notice. If this is not an emergency, please call tomorrow. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

In addition, smart call distribution and routing technology can handle emergency calls if all your agents are busy. Overflow calls can be routed to a voice messaging system or an auto callback system.

This will allow customers to leave a message and automatically receive a call-back on a first-come, first-served basis.

Build a Special Occurrences History

Unless you’re running a new call center, you’ve probably experienced a number of scenarios that can help you predict your call volumes during a special occurrence, such as a pending Nor’easter.

You should capture this information so you can quickly refer to your history when a crisis is looming. This will allow you to review the data on the last storm and see what effect it had on your call center.

If you’re using a workforce management (WFM) software solution, you can easily capture this data. For example, ISC Consultants’ Irene lets you label and store specific call data in a special history file — for example, storms, power outages or special occurrences.

Your WFM system should allow you to take the historical special occurrence data and apply it to the “now” time frame. This will provide you with new call volumes and people requirements based on factual information.

If you haven’t had any special occurrences — and aren’t you lucky! — you should still create a file or folder of “what if?” situations. For example, if call volumes double, how many people would I need? If the call volumes triple, how many people would I need (and where can I get them)?

If you are fortunate enough to operate multiple call center locations, you can develop a “what if?” plan for unaffected call centers to staff up and help out those experiencing an overflow.

Maintain an ‘On-Call’ List

One thing you’ll need during any special occurrence is a list of potential agents, so you can quickly staff up your call center.

This list should contain contact information for active employees who always want overtime, as well as those employees who live close to the call center. An employee file within your WFM software can assign and identify those employees who historically have provided a quick response.

Outsourcers can provide you with the comfort that agents will be available to handle customer calls during special occurrences.

Outsourcers will develop a specific support plan to manage your call center’s overflow and after hours support and business requirements.

Go Virtual

By using a hosted or on-demand contact center system, such as CosmoCom’s CosmoCall Universe, you can quickly set up your own overflow call center — either at your current premises or offsite.

This scenario offers many benefits, including the ability to provide a disaster recovery plan should the special occurrence be a disaster that affects your call center.

As I said earlier, there’s no changing the weather — or the product recall — but with some smart contingency planning, either by hand or with the use of WFM software, you can be ready for whatever comes your way.


Nancy Miller is vice president of consulting services at ISC Consultants.


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