This article was originally published by ICMI, here.
By Liz Osborn
Imagine the chaos during peak times for customer service: florists on Valentine's Day, retailers during the holidays, tax planners around April 15th and the application period for online schooling. One of the biggest challenges contact centers face is being able to quickly address staffing surges and peaks in activities in a short amount of time. Today, cloud technology and at-home agents are helping mitigate some of that chaos.
Cloud technology gives contact centers a significant competitive advantage by enabling companies to add agents and sales representatives immediately, scaling phone lines and software licenses as the business requires., In addition to flexibility, cloud contact centers eliminate the need for expensive hardware and complex systems, putting control in the hands of the business owners. Previously, contact centers had to work with IT to plan in advance for capacity requirements for peak times by having to architect, buy, build, integrate, manage and upgrade a highly complex set of on-premise contact center hardware and software technologies. Now, contact centers can work with cloud software vendors that bundle up all of the necessary capabilities, including local and long distance telephone service, dialers, IVR's, CTI, ACD's, recording, multichannel applications, supervisor and agent desktops, and reporting. Agents and supervisors have the ability to work from anywhere with just a headset, computer and an internet connection.
In order for at-home agents to be successful and remain calm during peak times, they need to be trained in advance. This also translates to preparing the contact center as a whole. It's imperative to properly train agents and provide the right tools and software to enable at home agents to get the help and guidance they need to be productive. In addition, the right software tools will improve communication, agent productivity and the customer experience. Look for software that allows supervisors to live chat with agents, monitor their calls, barge in when needed, and "whisper coach" them, meaning the agents hear the live conversation and can give feedback or advice and customers are none the wiser.
To prepare for peak times, and improve the customer experience, contact center software should be integrated with your CRM. That way, customers don't have to spend time repeating information and agents can focus on responding to the customers' request quickly.
As additional channels for customer service continue to emerge, training agents on these channels is increasingly crucial. Contact centers need to prepare agents in advance if they want them to handle more than one channel at a time. In peak times, when agent bandwidth is limited, agents must prioritize real-time channels such as voice and chat. This is made much easier if supervisors have the tools at hand to quickly switch channel priorities and routing strategies. Effective scheduling with a workforce management (WFM) tool should be another priority in times of crisis as it helps control costs, boost performance and raise retention rates.
An example of planning ahead and utilizing cloud technology to achieve flexibility and agility is when a large nonprofit held its fourth annual telethon last year. With just a few hours' notice, the company needed more than 500 agents and the right technology to respond to incoming calls over a four-hour period. NexRep, a firm that operates virtual contact centers for business and non-profits, was able to ping its agents, manage their availability, establish call routing rules, manage seat licensing and test the system in advance of the telethon.
Seamless communication and flexibility during peak times in the contact center can be achieved if agents are prepared in advance. Equip your at-home agents with the capabilities of cloud technology and you'll be able to address the surge head-on.
Liz Osborn is the Vice President of Product and Solutions Marketing for Five9. With more than 20 years in the technology industry, Liz is an expert in enterprise software and networking. Liz has deep knowledge of the contact center market including expertise in contact center platforms, voice self-service, performance management, analytics and reporting, customer service, telemarketing, IP/SIP and the cloud.