Managing Seasonal Call Volume
by Susan Hash
It's every contact center's mission: Making sure that the right resources are in the right place at the right time. Things get a little trickier, though, when your center deals with seasonal surges in call volume. Whether your peak volume period lasts a few weeks or several months, there are several options to help you smooth out the workload. The following are a few strategies that have worked successfully for many contact centers.

Use peak seasons to test
new-hires' performance.

Given the high cost to hire and train contact center staff and the relatively short "shelf-life" of the average agent, it makes sense to convert top-performing temporary staff to permanent positions once the peak season is over. Tour operator TravCorp USA finds that it is able to absorb about half of its seasonal agents within the call center each year as existing agents move into positions elsewhere in the company. The rest are temporarily reallocated to other departments in the company, such as accounting or the documents division, which have different peak workload cycles than the call center. Agents are then brought back to the center when the next peak season begins.

Part-timers offer many benefits.
If you find that it's difficult to find qualified staff for full-time seasonal work, consider changing your recruiting strategy. You may be able to attract more skilled candidates by seeking part-time staff instead. There are pros and cons to hiring part-time seasonal staff. The time and costs to recruit, hire and train part-time agents will be the same as with full-timers, yet they'll only be on the phones for a portion of the time. On the other hand, if you find individuals who only want to work a few months a year, they can become part of your returning seasonal team, which will save on future recruiting, hiring and training costs. Another considerable advantage is the scheduling flexibility that part-timers can offer.

Consider home agents.
Scheduling flexibility is also one reason why home-based agents are an effective strategy for handling peak volume periods. Using home-based agents is especially effective for handling short-term spikes in demand since home agents can jump on the phones for an hour or two, and can effectively handle split shifts without incurring commuting costs for the agent.

Tap into your latent workforce.
A tried-and-true strategy for taking care of short-term peaks is to tap into the latent contact center workforce that typically exists within large organizations. The majority of agents who leave the contact center but who stay in the company typically move into the back-office environment, which often has more flexibility with staffing. In addition to re-recruiting former agents back into the center, consider making arrangements with other departments that have staff with similar skills, for instance, those who handle email transactions. These individuals may be able to provide effective support during peak periods with minimal training.

Partner with another center to share staff.
Staff sharing is an innovative, yet less widely used approach for dealing with seasonal demand. In these arrangements, centers share their staff with another center—often one in a different industry that has a countercyclical peak season. There are various options for shared-staff arrangements: You can work with other companies to advertise your center's seasonal openings to their employees during the company's off-season or low-volume periods, or you can work directly with a staff-sharing partner to transfer calls between the centers.

Outsource the overflow.
Another option for getting up to speed quickly with qualified staff and the latest technology in a cost-effective manner is to partner with an outsourcer. The cost savings can make this an attractive option for handling seasonal volume. In addition to saving the cost of hiring and training new staff, there is the technology cost to get a new person on the phone (computers, licensing, etc.), plus additional physical space and internal management to oversee them.

Expand self-service and automated options.
Before your peak season begins, make sure that your self-service applications are ready for prime time. Self-service applications have been steadily gaining acceptance from customers—and when they're designed appropriately, they can greatly enhance customer satisfaction. The objective is to make self-service an attractive option that customers choose to use, rather than forcing them into it because they can't get through to the call center.

Inside View — Zurich in North America
by Susan Hash
Customer centricity is at the heart of the Zurich North America Care Center's service philosophy. The award-winning Care Center is staffed 24/7, year-round, and offers multiple contact channels for claims intake, including phone, email, fax, postal mail, FTP and web access. Within the Care Center, the focus on customers is constantly reinforced in weekly staff meetings and even the posters on the walls. Customer feedback—formal and informal—is continuously trended and analyzed for improvement opportunities. Sometimes that takes the form of a new training module for the center staff, or upgrading a particular practice or process. Care Center reps are actively involved in process improvement, and are kept aware of every stage of the improvement process through weekly updates on targets and results to date.
Read the full story here.

 

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