TMCnet Feature
February 09, 2021

COVID-19 pandemic changed how technology was used for customer support



2020 is hindsight. And how true! Last year was like none other since the Spanish flu a century ago. The novel coronavirus brought the world to its knees, throwing a curveball in almost every aspect of our day-to-day life - revised economic circumstances, remote work, remote school, and an almost overnight digital transformation, among others. Further, the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic presented individuals as well as industry verticals across, with some unprecedented challenges. The call center across all verticals were no exception.



Covid-19 related challenges for call centers           

According to a comprehensive study on Call center Metrics conducted by Ozonetel, in 2020 both inbound and outbound call volumes varied like never before. Fluctuations continued as countries moved in and out of lockdown, consequently impacting customer experience and agent work behaviors. We derived some interesting insights by rigorously analyzing key call center KPIs (2019 vs 2020) over 150 million calls across six industry verticals (from eCommerce and insurance to healthcare and education). 

Here is what we found.
 

  • During the pandemic, the call center industry has notably experienced extraordinary increase in overall call volumes. This indicates that every time a government announced a lockdown, a pandemonium ensued. Where pandemic-related customer inquiries went up two-fold. With understandably, a swell in frantic and worried customers.
  • Disrupted workflows. Call centers were forced to make agile operational shifts to meet and exceed the demands of a revised pandemic-infused reality. This included new work from home strategies.
  • High abandonment rates. Further, the study found that the average call abandonment rate (the % of callers hanging up usually because of longer wait times) increased to 15% in 2020 (vs 13% in 2019). You’d think that in a pandemic, when call volumes are notoriously high, a 37 second wait time should be reasonable. But no! Half a minute of waiting doesn’t cut it for harried pandemic customers.

So how did some call centers manage call queues more efficiently?

The simple answer is the optimal utilization of auto callbacks with power dialers. Call automation makes the overall call management operations efficient and streamlined.  

It appears that Covid has indeed revealed some important lessons to help improve call center ops now and in the future. The high influx of inbound calls is likely to carry forward well into 2021 – (foreseeably for the next 6 months or so) as Covid-19 vaccines roll out worldwide and WFH/ learning/ eCommerce continue. Turns out hindsight can be useful!

Call backs are more important now than before! When a customer calls and doesn’t complete a call cycle, it’s a missed call. A missed call equals a missed opportunity and a disgruntled customer, which in turn could lead to loss of business. So, it’s best not to miss any calls! With customers more impatient than ever before, and with far more to balance on their plate, a callback will be able to make all the difference between a lifetime of loyalty and customer turnover.

Callbacks also improve agent productivity. Inbound call centers face uneven call traffic. Some hours, agents face back-to-back calls, without a minute’s respite while other times, they may sit completely idle. By enabling callbacks, call centers reduce the traffic during peak hours, and distribute some of that work to a time when agents are more freely available.

Call queues can be vastly reduced by enabling customers to opt for voicemail and call backs. Deliver these voicemails to a priority inbox. Schedule a time and push all the missed calls into a dialer so that they are distributed amongst agents and attended to. So, whether it’s a holiday or after hours when a customer calls, agents stay on top of it and reach customers no matter what!

What are power dialers and how has their role changed during the pandemic?

Power dialers automate, organize, and expedite calls. They sequentially auto dial one phone number after another and skip busy lines and answering machines to directly connect agents to alive contact. This makes them nearly three times faster than manual dialling. As our study indicates, the utility of power dialers improved the number of calls dialed per agent from 90 in 2019 to 532 in 2020.  

With all this speed and efficiency, these dialers are traditionally associated with sales and telemarketing calls. Inbound call centers rarely consider this technology. Until now, when businesses discovered how it can be used for efficient callbacks. In fact, many COVID call centers we set up, exclusively used callbacks along with IVRs to manage the huge call volumes they faced.

Power dialers were also used for proactive outbound support. Pertinently in the case of Healthcare and Pharma, an average of 286 calls were made per agent to verify orders, remind customers to reorder medicines, etc. Think proactive support leading to sales!

Conclusion

High call volumes are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Also there is likely to be a fair amount of call unpredictability as Covid-related services and announcements roll out globally. The need of the hour is the use of agile, smart tech capabilities to improve overall productivity and CX.

The efficient management of queue times will likely become pivotal. As indicated, the call backs with power dialers combo appears to be a good way forward. But let’s not think it to be a panacea. It’s important to:  

  • Investigate when and why queue times are high. Hourly and weekly call queue reports can help identify logistics such as time and days of higher call volumes.
  • Increase staffing based on accurately these projected call volumes.
  • Train agents to resolve problems faster and wrap after call work (ACW) expediently.
  • Set call queue limits. When queues exceed limits, auto route them to other skills or agents.
  • Divert simple transactions to a self-service IVR. Transactions that are best suited to self-service IVR include location / booking confirmation, checking ticket/delivery status, and cancellations.
  • Use Dynamic Queue Reprioritization to ensure that high value customers are never made to wait in queue. Use CTI (News - Alert) integrations to recognize these callers and push them to the top of the call queue.

Now more than ever, be there for your customers, and let them know that you’re here for them. Especially in a pandemic, a sincere effort to make it known that you care will mean a lot to them. It’ll go a long way in reassuring your customer base. And reassurance is certainly the need of the hour!  



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