How To Prevent News Of a Cold Snap Causing Call Centre Panic

How To Prevent News Of A Cold Snap Causing Call Centre Panic

14 February 2019

When temperatures plummet, companies face a double-pronged attack on call centre capacity: staff struggle to make it in, while customer calls rise due to bereavements. So how can companies not just cope but treat the situation as business-as-usual? Michael Kennelly, Business Development Director at Equiniti, explains.

As temperatures across the winter months plummet, customer contact centres can really feel the strain.

Inevitably and unfortunately there are more deaths during very hot and very cold periods. Organisations with a large customer base will experience an increase in bereavement updates. At the same time, if it is icy or snowy, staff can find it difficult to travel into the office. In the case of a heatwave, the workforce may be under capacity due to increased annual leave levels.

In short: fewer staff + more calls = capacity crunch.

This two-pronged attack on capacity levels is no excuse for organisations not to be ready and able to offer excellent service. It is like if Amazon failed to prepare to process more orders in the lead up to Christmas or Black Friday: customers would be up in arms.

How can you ensure your organisation has a contingency plan so you deliver against customer expectations, and don’t get caught short?

Make bereavement a business priority

The bereavement process isn’t a key strategic pillar in most call centres: commercial opportunities around customer retention and increasing cross sell opportunities take priority. While this is no surprise, it is both a missed opportunity and a risk.

Opportunity

  • People who call to report deaths are not customers but friends and relatives. Handled in the right way, this is a chance to build a relationship with a new set of potential customers.

Risk

  • Other callers include solicitors and care home staff – people who won’t have the time or commitment to stay on the line for 20 minutes to speak to a call handler when your capacity is at breaking point.
  • Any delay in notifications can have a significant knock-on impact. Imagine a tenant has died and a utility company is not made aware. The bank stops the direct debit and the utility business starts chasing for payment – sending letters, making calls and using a debt recovery agency. All this work and cost could have been prevented if there was an easy way for the company to have been made aware of the death.

For these two reasons alone, bereavement isn’t just another customer care issue and should be treated as a standalone priority by call centres.

Record the right data and review it often

If you understand your call mix and your historic volume of calls, you can look retrospectively and develop a plan of action that helps you prepare for bad weather.

Our own call handlers saw an enormous 20% uplift in death notification calls between March and April last year following a cold period. Because we know this, we know exactly what we need to do over the coming weeks to put in place the right people with the right skills.

Offer alternative ways to get in touch  

Not only will an effective digital portal ease the pressure on your staff, it can improve the overall customer experience.

On average, a person dealing with the administration around a death has to update 21 companies. It would be much simpler and quicker for them if they could do this at the touch of a button rather than through many phone conversations each covering the same questions.

Bring in the right people at the right time

When call volumes increase, the temptation is to take an all-hands-on-deck approach, getting other departments to help bring down waiting times. But what if a person coping with a bereavement gets through to an employee without the training or skills to deal with the emotional impact of grief?

Rather than risk this, busy call centres should look outside their own organisation to source people with the right experience to deal the most sensitive calls for the short term. Consider outsourcing to a specialist or partnering with other companies for extra capacity during periods of high demand. Today’s technology can make this seamless for customers.

Be winter weather-ready every day

The simple truth is that there is little you can do to instantly address a peak in calls. Companies need long-term strategies in their toolkit that can be implemented as and when required. In an ideal world, you, your customers and your staff would be unaffected by any cold snap. Even in a seasonal climate like ours, it’s business as usual every day. 

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