Operations Management

Pandemic, Inflation, War: Coping with High Contact Center Volumes

Chris Dealy 8 min read Download as PDF
Pandemic, Inflation, War: Coping with High Contact Center Volumes

We're living through what some commentators are calling a permacrisis. No sooner does the world come to terms with one catastrophe, another one emerges. Whether it's a global pandemic, commodity shortages, spiraling energy prices, war, or even Brexit, the only constant seems to be instability.

Contact centers have an important role to play in keeping people informed and calm during crises. When customers panic, they usually get in touch. But what do you do when your demand spikes? What if your wait times increase due to lack of front-line staff? How do you focus on your customers' experience during this crisis?

Your business may be facing its own issues— reduced staff, delays, outages and more. Creating a crisis plan will help you reduce bad customer experiences and increase confidence among your employees. It will also allow you to manage the high call volumes associated with the various crises. To create a quick plan that’s right for you, here are some tactics for dealing with a spike in contact volume.

Set up interdepartmental crisis meetings

During a crisis, it’s "all hands on deck.” To be able to provide helpful messages to customers, you’ll need all internal departments working together. Your interdepartmental teams and co-workers will naturally come together during hard times. But you may still need to facilitate communication and coordinate a unified approach to help your customers.

Start by setting up interdepartmental meetings with leaders and key staff. This will be your crisis team. In these meetings, create an open forum to discuss the ideas and plans to help people during this crisis. First, address your employees’ needs, concerns and issues. Then, have stakeholders address how their department will assist customers. Make sure to prioritize external communications to customers.

Create mass customer communications

At your interdepartmental meetings, coordinate and create mass communications. Make sure to address all of your customer audiences. Focus on making them helpful and relevant. Write down the types of external messages you wish to distribute and what their content will be. Allow everyone to collaborate on these messages to ensure you include key information. After creating and finalizing your messages, make them available for the crisis team to review.

Collaboration on customer communications will ensure internal alignment and coordination on messages being sent out. When you include other departments, you also include other channels of communication. For example, your marketing department will be able to send mass emails, SMS, and social media messages to customers. Similarly, your sales or accounts team may choose to check up on key customers by calling them.

This concerted approach will enable you to reach more customers. It ensures that they’ll have access to the resources they need before they reach for the phone. By executing mass customer communications, you’ll relieve your contact center. This will take stress off of your agents and help your customers in a proactive way.

Document and anticipate your customers’ concerns

When your call volumes spike, you will notice a pattern in the questions that are being asked of agents. Here are the steps to take:

  1. Document these questions and create clear, thoughtful responses.
  2. When crafting your answers, make sure that your responses are complete. You can do this by anticipating any questions that may arise from your answers. You can also address other questions you can foresee.
  3. After creating a Q&A document, ask for interdepartmental feedback. Have your team assess any legal or business implications of your responses.

Educate your staff about how to answer crisis questions

Once you have a document created and reviewed, create a script. Distribute the draft internally to your customer service team. Educating your staff quickly is an important tactic to improving your customer experience. Go over the questions and answers with your agents and team leads. Do this so they learn the intent or legal reasons behind the answers.

Understanding this document will make your team feel confident when interacting with customers. It will give them the opportunity to have more dynamic, empathic interactions. Customers won’t be put on hold as often while your agents research answers. This will decrease your average handle time (AHT). Your agents will be able to listen attentively for new or unexpected concerns, as well.

Give your team the opportunity to have more dynamic, empathic interactions.

Create a crisis FAQ

Once you have a final version, use this document to create a special FAQ section for your website. Make this FAQ easy to find. Make it prominent on your website. Work with your marketing or technology department to distribute your FAQ. You may even choose to add it as a sticky header to all your webpages.

Having this FAQ, where your customers will see it, enables them to get the answers they need without picking up the phone. This will also take stress off of your contact center.

Evaluate your call escalation process

Under normal conditions, your contact center will have an escalation process in place to pacify angry customers. During a crisis, you may need to reevaluate your process. You may need to account for

  • missing personnel (managers and supervisors who usually handle these calls)
  • a large uptick in callers who wish to escalate
  • concessions your business can give away.

If you have many customers who want to escalate at once, you may want to offer them a call back from your manager. In this situation, you want to set your customers expectations. Here’s how:

  • Let them know about your unusual circumstances. For example, say “I am so sorry. We are experiencing high call volume about this issue. My manager is unavailable right now.”
  • Tell them when they will receive a call from your manager i.e. “Will you be available to receive my manager’s phone call in 20 minutes?

When the volume of callers who wish to escalate is too high, you may escalate the issue to your crisis team. Your interdepartmental team may need to send a mass customer communication.

Inform customers when not to call

If your call volume is hindering important callers from getting through, you may want to tell customers when not to call. Connect with your crisis team to issue this notice to your customers. This will ensure your resources are focused on people who need the support most.

Similarly, you can issue a notice telling customers when to call. You can let your customers know the hours when your agents are less busy. If you have a group of callers that need special attention, you may want to block out a time frame for them, as well. For example, you can inform higher risk customers of special hours to call in.

Offer training & one-on-one coaching

To keep your quality of service high during this crisis, your agents will need the support of new training material.

You may have limited resources to create these training materials yourself so quickly. Consider relying on external training programs like The Call Center School to help you.

Training material to help your agents deal with the virus pandemics may include:

  • Safety & hygiene for a clean workplace
  • Working remotely and setting up a remote workplace
  • Managing challenging callers
  • Changes to call scripts

Offering one-on-one coaching will also help your agents manage their stress. They can get questions answered. They’ll also learn more about ad hoc organizational changes that will affect customers.

Coaching will also help you build a customer feedback loop. You will be able to understand your customers’ latest concerns. Your whole crisis team can then address these concerns in a timely way. This feedback will help improve and change your crisis initiatives. These initiatives will align better with your customers.

One problem with one-on-one coaching sessions is that it takes your agent away from the phones. Yet agents are vital to a good customer interaction. Agent well-being ensures a happier customer experience. Their confidence and ability to engage with customers in an educated way will build trust for your company.

Scheduling one-on-one coaching sessions with a WFM software

If you have a WFM software, like injixo, you can use break optimization to find the right time to schedule one-on-one sessions. By using optimizations, you can set how much time your coaching session will be (15-45 minutes). Your software will then assign the best start time per agent. This optimization will help you manage high volume by staggering these sessions in the most efficient way.

Reconfigure your technology setup

When customers are experiencing longer wait times, you may want to set up a call-back. You can do this in your interactive voice response (IVR) system. This will ease the strain on your phone lines. It will also allow your contact center to help customers with more critical needs.

Another approach is to change your IVR system. Change your IVR to address the crisis and route callers to the right agents. You can also provide callers with directions to self-service. For example, you can direct your customers to a specific webpage or an email address.

Customers hate being in a phone tree, so keep your user experience in mind when changing your IVR. Make sure that your changes do not impact the quality of your customer experience.

Reforecast based on your new data

During a crisis, you will have a “new normal.” Your current data will be very different from other data you’ve forecasted on in the past. You may want to identify a benchmark that is like your current situation (such as your busy holiday season). Use it to create better schedules.

If you have a workforce management software, you can create a new forecast. Reforecasting allows you to react to current events quickly. You can reforecast your day to manage your workload. This allows you to set schedules to manage unforeseeable events.


While there are many more ways to manage high call volumes, the ones in this article are:

  • Set up crisis team meetings with interdepartmental leaders and key staff.
  • Create and distribute mass customer communications on various channels to reach customers before they reach you.
  • Document questions and draft answers to educate your agents quickly; the less time they spend researching an answer, the better your customers' experience will be.
  • Prepare a crisis FAQ and make it prominent for everyone to see on your website.
  • Reevaluate your call escalation process and change it for managing this crisis.
  • Institute manager call-backs instead of putting callers on hold.
  • Escalate big issues to your crisis team, so that a mass communication can be prepared.
  • Inform customers of when NOT to call.
  • Offer training to help your agents manage the crisis better.
  • Offer one-on-one coaching to help your agents manage their stress. It also helps you get real-time feedback about customers.
  • Setup call-backs and change your IVR to direct customers better.
  • Reforecast your workloads based on the “new normal” and set schedules based on your new forecast.

You can also manage high volumes by offering remote work to your agents. This allows your agents to be flexible and available when you need them. Stay tuned for a blog post on how to set up a remote agent environment for your contact center.

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