When it comes to customer service, time is of the essence—nearly 60% of customers said that long waits or hold times were the most frustrating part of customer service.
Unfortunately, there are many things that can spike wait times or queue lengths that aren’t in your control—peak periods and spiking customer demand can’t always be predicted or controlled. And yet, if you want to maintain high service quality levels and customer satisfaction, you need to be able to manage these spikes.
Doing so is often easier said than done. In this article, we’ll discuss call center overflow, what causes it, and the best methods for preventing and managing it to ensure customer success.
Understanding Call Center Overflow
What is call center overflow, and what causes it?
Call center overflow occurs when the number of inbound calls in the queue exceeds the number of calls available agents can reasonably handle. Since spikes in demand are common, each call center needs to have ongoing strategies to reliably manage call overflow. If they don’t, these excess calls will wait in the queue, driving up average wait times and reducing customer satisfaction.
Spikes in demand are the main cause of call center overflow, but those spikes can be caused by a number of things:
- severe weather and outages
- product or service failures or recalls
- new product launches
- big sales or holiday demand
- emergencies or general crises
- understaffing / inaccurate forecasting
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Besides the obvious impact of callers not getting their questions answered, mismanaged call overflow creates a number of negative repercussions, including:
- higher call abandonment rates and long queue times
- higher CES, leading to reduced CSAT
- increased backlogs, leading to reduced NPS and brand affinity
- more negative word-of-mouth
- lower service levels for customers due to staff shortages or overwhelm
Since call center overflow isn’t completely preventable, finding ways to manage it appropriately when it happens and mitigate the negative effects is essential. In the following sections, our team shares the strategies and tools that have worked best over the past 40 years in CX.
Strategies To Manage Call Center Overflow
When call center overflow occurs—and it will occur at some point—how do you manage it appropriately? Managing call center overflow comes down to three essential areas: preparation, mitigation, and real-time management.
Preparing: Improve Call Forecasting
Improving call forecasting and scheduling is one of the easiest and most effective ways to eliminate or prepare for call center overflow. Call centers who make use of workforce management (WFM) best practices can more accurately predict peak periods and potential spikes in demand, allowing them to schedule an appropriate number of agents.
In many cases, well-organized WFM practices are your best line of defense against call center overflow—and prevention is key. The less call overflow you have to manage, the easier it will be to mitigate the negative effects.
Mitigating: Leverage IVR
IVR technology is an essential way to mitigate call overflow occurrences as well as their negative effects.
Customers with simple questions often add to the backlog, even though their questions could easily be answered by self-service options. Presenting a self-service option through IVR within the phone queue can help reduce callers in queue while providing quick and efficient service for questions about store hours, account balances, payment due dates and more. An IVR system can also provide a recording that answers general FAQs or direct callers to use other channels (such as email or live chat) if call lines are full.
Not only does IVR allow customers to get help on their own, it can also ensure callers are routed to the most appropriate agent for faster and more effective service when they do reach a caller. This may seem like a small benefit. However, when you’re reaching peak periods of demand, being able to automatically match callers with agents who can quickly and effectively answer their questions will make a difference in your AHT and FCR. This in turn speeds up processes significantly, helping to manage and mitigate call overflow.
Real-Time Management: Implement Callback Options
Of course, even the best preparation and mitigation strategies can’t completely eliminate call center overflow. As such, finding real-time management solutions is essential.
One of the best—and easiest—tools to implement is automatic callbacks. If a caller is waiting in the queue, offering to call them back when an agent is available rather than forcing them to wait on hold indefinitely can greatly improve CSAT and customer experience, as long as you call back within a reasonable timeframe.
While callback options are an essential tool, they’re not the only tool in your stack that can help manage call center overflow. In the next section, we’ll look at some other key tools you’ll need to properly manage peak periods.
Tools to Manage Call Center Overflow
Many of the tools needed to manage call overflow you likely already have in your contact center stack. Consider how these essential tools can help you manage call center overflow:
Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) Systems:
Typically, ACD is integrated with IVR systems to route callers to the right department to reduce call transferring and improve FCR rates. However, ACD can also be used to route callers to alternate departments or teams when call overflow occurs.
The most effective way to do this is to have an outsourced call center team ready for call overflow during peak periods. With an outsourced team, your ACD system can begin routing calls to the overflow team as soon as queue capacity is reached.
Call Recording and Monitoring Software:
While not directly related to call overflow, effective call recording and monitoring can be key to implementing workflows and processes that eliminate queue backups before they begin.
Call backlogs and long queue times may be related to peak periods—or they may be a result of ineffective call handling processes. If the latter seems to be related, call monitoring software can help you evaluate current call handling and provide training for agents to provide quality service more quickly and efficiently.
As a bonus, you can also have agents review and listen to examples of both effective and ineffective call handling processes from their own calls, providing targeted feedback for more effective training.
If there’s one thing customers hate—especially when they’ve already waited in the queue for 30 minutes—is having to repeat themselves multiple times once they’re talking to an agent. Of course, transferring customers and making them repeat their problem each time is also bad for call handling times. With a good CRM software, you can collect customer data and history in one place to improve your customer experience while making support more efficient.
CRM software also allows you to integrate phone with other channels, allowing customers to move to another channel to get support if phone queues are full.
Real-Time Analytics & Reporting:
Real-time analytics help support accurate workforce management, allowing you to adjust and adapt in real-time to avoid call overflow and manage it effectively when it does occur.
Real-time analytics and reporting can help you understand trends, better predicting—with more accuracy—when peak periods will occur, and adjusting accordingly. In addition, the better real-time data you have, the more easily you can track and respond to changes as they occur, allowing you to manage call overflow before it becomes a major problem.
When To Outsource Your Call Center Overflow
Many times, even the right preparation and mitigation strategies aren’t enough to fully manage your call center overflow—after all, without the appropriate number of staff for peak periods and surges, you won’t be able to manage overflow even with the best of strategies.
As a result, many companies turn to outsourcing as an effective way to prepare for and manage call overflow. The easiest way to outsource this is to set up a queue limit and an ACD system that automatically reroutes calls to your outsourced team once the queue limit is reached. If you’re experiencing overflow frequently, outsourcing is a quick and affordable way to scale your service.
Outsourcing also allows you to scale “on demand,” with pay-for-what-you-use services and solutions that allow you to make use of blended call center models and pay only for the agents and minutes your team needs.
With ROI CX Solution’s high-quality answering services, you can make sure your customers are taken care of 24/7. Our teams work as an extension of your own brand, so customers never know they’ve reached an alternate team. When demand rises during peak periods, your customers’ calls are always answered, but you can ensure that internal agents have an appropriate workload, reducing stress and ensuring better service.
Ready to manage your call center overflow effectively? Connect with an agent from ROI CX Solutions today.