You might have been one of the 40 million Americans who were affected by the now infamous Target security breach that occurred during the 2013 holiday season. And if you were, then chances are you called them in a frenzy to find out what exactly happened to your personal information. With millions of debit and credit cards breached nationwide, it’s no wonder that Target’s call center was overwhelmed to the point of busy signals.
On their Facebook page, Target posted, “We are experiencing significantly higher volume than normal to our call centers, causing delays. We are working hard to resolve this issue by adding team member support and system capacity as quickly as possible. We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate our guests’ patience as we build capacity hour by hour until we meet all our guests’ needs.” The retailer even set up a special company hotline to manage the overflow, but that was bombarded, too. And you can bet that Target’s call center is a high volume call center. So what happened?
When you’re under-prepared for what Target’s CEO, Gregg Steinhafel, called an “unprecedented volume” of calls, great service will suffer, and your live receptionist staff will, too. But is there a solution? Though there is no telling when a bad PR event of this magnitude will occur, call center management can take proactive steps to prepare for high volumes of inbound calls. Consider the following:
Temporary employment agencies offer the convenience of last minute staffing with employees who have already been vetted by the agencies’ human resources personnel, and you can have a revolving partnership with them so that they will immediately know how to meet your needs. It’s a fast way to increase your staff, thus accommodating the influx of calls from security breaches, product or drug recalls, or even wide-reaching ad campaigns. They may even be able to locate workers with specific call center experience. You will still have to train the temps upon arrival, but in much less time than it would take you to personally post an ad for additional help, interview, hire and train each newbie.
If you find yourself in the middle of a days or weeks-long phone call frenzy, think about offering overtime or bonus time, like a free, floating holiday. Full or part-time workers may be more inclined to help you out if you make it worth their while, and since they’re already trained, it saves you time, too. This also applies to any employees who work from home. So, give them the option to pick up some extra cash or score a little more vacation time. Incentives make every employee’s job just a little more appealing.
It’s simple. Better training makes for stronger, smarter employees. And stronger, smarter employees work faster and more efficiently. When you spend time creating a comprehensive training model that includes scenarios such as the proper handling of call spikes, you’re investing in advanced preparation for the inevitable hair-pulling moments that every call center experiences. A detailed training plan also makes it much easier to show temporary hires the ropes, getting them up and running in no time flat.
Call centers manage more than phone calls. They can offer services such as email response, live chat, and social media monitoring. Don’t underestimate how significantly a strong online services solution can impact your clients. With e-commerce sales exceeding $200 billion, it’s clear that literally millions of shoppers prefer to conduct business via the Web. That being said, it’s a good idea to make these features part of your portfolio. Just think of how many people you can help in a short amount of time if you are using a multitude of communication channels! It will help you keep costs down, translating into savings for your ultimately very happy clients.
Interactive Voice Response, aka IVR, is of tremendous value when it comes to triaging panicked phone calls. Cost-effective automation gives callers the opportunity to channel their issues to the right department without being transferred a bunch of times. This makes swift support an attainable outcome for ordinary calls. And in times of crisis, it quickly separates standard inquiries from those requiring immediate attention. The call center may still receive a deluge of requests; but with IVR, callers can help themselves, and they’ll know how long their expected hold time is. In addition, most automated systems offer the option to receive a call back, putting callers in queue so their arms don’t fall asleep endlessly gripping the receiver.
Whether it’s at holiday time or from something as unfortunate as a security breach, following some of the guidelines above can help your live receptionist service be armed and ready when those phones start ringing off the hook. So, stay on target and be ready for anything. Working to address issues before they happen as opposed to scrambling for a solution after the fact makes things easier on your team and keeps customers chipper!