The key to managing surges in customer contact: Rapid Deployment
Calls are going through the roof, your social media assets are on fire, and you’re in panic mode…sound familiar? Every day, this scenario plays out somewhere around the country – after all, no organisation is immune to surges in customer contact, whether planned or unplanned. The good news is that through Rapid Deployment and planning, avalanches can be managed smoothly and efficiently.
First up, it’s important to distinguish between a Disaster Recovery (DR) Plan – which most large organisations have – and a Rapid Deployment Plan, which is rare to find. DR plans generally address the IT, infrastructure and people strategy to recover from major unplanned incidents, such as a fire, earthquake, strike or pandemic (although it’s a stretch to say any of us were truly prepared for the impacts of Coronavirus). DR plans generally do not deal with positive or planned scenarios – such as how to deal with a product being so successful that you only have a fraction of the capacity needed to manage customer demand; or a popular new government initiative which is rushed out the door before an election. Nor do most DR Plans touch on the all-important dimensions of customer experience, brand and PR impacts. Rapid Deployments, on the other hand, are predicated on minimising the risk of customer dissatisfaction and defection, by responding in the fastest, most user-friendly and cost-effective manner possible.
Technology as a key enabler in Rapid Deployment
There are many technology elements which can be drawn upon to create the right Rapid Deployment solution for your organisation. Here are some of the key ones:
- Scalable telephony. If you don’t have a cloud contact centre solution, it may be problematic to add and configure licences on the fly to give you the extra telephony capacity you need to handle a surge in calls. You need a platform that can be expanded in a few hours, not a few days.
- Chatbot. Do you have a way of answering simple inquiries through a chatbot, or at least triaging requests to route to a human agent with the right skills to help?
- Web chat. Do you have the ability to instantly “turn on” an inactive channel, such as web chat, to offer your customers another way to contact you in an overflow or emergency situation? Web chat customers are more forgiving about response times, and chat is the channel of choice for a significant number of consumers.
- CRM. Do you have the ability to spin up a simple system or forms to enter customer details for follow-up?
- Knowledge management. Can you quickly stand up a knowledge management system to present contact centre agents with answers to FAQ, empowering them to manage the majority of calls?
- Do you have data visualisation tools so you can easily track trends in customer contact in real-time, and make informed decisions about staffing, operational hours and escalation processes? Are these tools available on mobile devices so you can monitor a developing situation from anywhere, at any time? And are you able to receive alerts when various thresholds are hit?
If you answered “no” to some of these questions, you may want to go straight to the section below, “Outsourcing to a Rapid Deployment specialist”.
The increasing role of Social Media
Social media posts may provide the earliest indicators of a looming avalanche in customer interaction demand. Therefore monitoring your social media assets and brand mentions online is a best practice more and more organisations are following. It’s indeed a cornerstone of the Victorian government’s digital strategy to manage summer bushfires – the biggest recurring disaster event in Australia. Capturing, cleansing, and enriching data from a highly unstructured and noisy source of information such as social media is no easy task, but it’s critical in not only identifying risk quickly, but also making sure an issue holds validity and is worth addressing.
Managing an on-demand workforce
Being able to quickly deploy people who have the right skills and attributes is key to rapid deployment. For example, an emergency may require call takers who are emotionally resilient and able to cope under high pressure with customers in panic mode. This typically involves the maintenance of a pre-qualified casual staff pool, who can be called upon via SMS, email or phone message broadcast. Strong partnerships with recruitment agencies, for the specific purpose of on-demand staffing, are also important to establish well in advance of the surge event occurring. Not to be forgotten is that the existing workforce can be screened – preferably during the recruitment or onboarding process – to determine appetite to work extra hours or extended shifts in the event of an emergency. Another option is to redeploy staff on non-urgent outbound campaigns (such as a database clean-up) to urgent inbound campaign management.
There’s no denying the complexity of effectively integrating recruitment with training and workforce management practices at short notice. This is just one reason many companies and government agencies turn to outsource partners who specialise in rapid deployment.
Outsourcing to a Rapid Deployment specialist
Apart from the people aspect, a glaring advantage of working with an outsource partner is that they have a separate physical site (and often many sites), which means space and infrastructure is available if your own becomes unusable or is simply too small to accommodate the required capacity.
An outsource specialist can offer all the above technology solutions relevant to a rapid deployment, as a service. This means no quick purchasing of hardware or software licences, and the flexibility to plug into an existing environment. Solutions can of course be customised for each client, and the outsourcer is a trusted advisor and expert in such solution design.
In addition to having the multi-channel technology, lean analytics and reporting, outsourcers often bring deep expertise in social media management, at both the strategy and execution level. And it’s precisely in this “total package” offering that a good rapid deployment outsourcer offers real business value – integrating the people, process, technology, facility and customer experience facets to deliver a one-stop, seamless, scalable solution.
Many large, risk-averse organisations opt for an outsource partner to manage a small business-as-usual team to build knowledge of their business and processes, so that when a big peak in volume occurs, the team can rapidly be expanded based on existing foundations.
There are various commercial models that can be applied to rapid deployment situations, and these should match the risk profile of an organisation. For instance, a large volume retailer may benefit from an ongoing retainer-based rapid deployment arrangement, in anticipation of high-risk product recalls. Outsourcing companies bring agility and scale, preventing or arresting issues before they unravel into longer-term problems and brand damage. The internal business strain of managing recalls or other emergencies cannot be underestimated, and outsourcing the customer contact piece to specialists reduces this organisational strain, providing bandwidth for management of other core functions.
For government agencies, particularly those with highly publicised or changing programs, external support for rapid deployment can be a good safety net.