Holidays on the Horizon: Is Your Contact Center Prepared for the Chaotic Months Ahead?

Though the holidays bring a surge in sales for many businesses, that usually translates to an increased volume of customer support requests. Even the most prepared service groups can experience chaos in the contact center during these months.

I experienced this firsthand during my time as Director of Global Workforce Optimization at a Fortune 25 investment banking and financial services corporation. The event caused the Workforce Management (WFM) team to take a hard look at the organization’s WFM processes.

One stressful Thanksgiving morning fueled the transformation of the bank’s entire service delivery strategy and elevated WFM’s function within the organization from tactical to strategic.

Black Friday Wakeup Call
Before mobile and ecommerce reached their peak, Black Friday was a holiday in itself. In recent years though, door buster deals have gradually encroached on Thanksgiving. Anyone who has had to work in retail or a call center on Thanksgiving Day can attest to how very little time has passed since the line began to blur.

One year, most stores announced they would be releasing deals at 5:00 pm on Thanksgiving to give shoppers early access to Black Friday door busters. The bank had anticipated the change far in advance, and thoroughly prepared customers to take full advantage of the Thursday sales. Through the mobile app, customers could apply for credit or loans so those funds would be available when they were ready to shop.

Early Thanksgiving morning, one large retailer sent a surprise email blast announcing their Black Friday deals would take effect at 9:00 am—well before their previously published 5:00 pm start time. This retail giant likely kept the early release under wraps to gain a competitive advantage, but by not informing credit card companies they inadvertently flooded creditor contact centers across the country.

The bank’s contact centers had scheduled agents to support the 5:00 pm door busters, but had not forecasted a surge in volume prior to 9:00 am. Unsurprisingly, it was a quite a challenge to pull in agents who were not scheduled until the afternoon or had been given the holiday off on such short notice.

Keeping Pace with the Modern Contact Center Environment
The reality is that the contact center landscape is advancing at a pace too rapid for traditional systems to support. As smartphones, social media, and online shopping have become ubiquitous, customers have constant access to any product or service at their fingertips. Thus, we have all come to expect immediate service as consumers.

The technology fast-track has weighed heavy on contact centers. As customer and employee expectations have exploded in recent years, operating budgets have continued to shrink. ‘Reducing operating costs’ continues to rank as the highest organizational initiative reported by WFM professionals, according to ICMI’s 2017 State of Workforce Management Report. The number of channels that contact centers manage has simultaneously skyrocketed. According to Aberdeen, the number of channels that the average center is responsible for managing has more than doubled in the past five years. In other words, complexity in the contact center is accelerating on par with expectations.

Enterprise centers like the financial services corporation in this story are not alone. As employee, customer, and business demands gain velocity, resources supporting the modern contact center must evolve. Unfortunately, most WFM teams simply rely on too many manual processes to keep pace with these changes. ICMI’s 2017 State of Workforce Management Report found that 70.8 percent of all intraday adjustments are handled manually. Meaning the majority of contact centers are still facing the challenges that my team strategized to overcome.

Despite careful planning and forecasting, unexpected circumstances are bound to happen. Workforce Management, Operations, and IT leaders in any competitive industry must start to think differently when it comes to contact center strategy, or fall behind. Only tech-enabled centers that have innovated to do more with less will survive in a tech-enabled world, managing twice the number of channels and trying to appease customers better, faster and more cost effectively than ever before.

Intraday Automation: The Foundation of the Modern Contact Center
Following this Black Friday experience, we set out to do just that. Fortunately, we found a low-risk solution that not only equipped the real-time team to handle unexpected fluctuations in demand, but also saved millions of dollars in operating costs. Intradiem’s Intraday Automation platform was instrumental in optimizing the organization’s contact center operations. The project achieved exponential investment return, improved employee training and satisfaction, and equipped WFM with real-time capability. Centers running on intraday automation are more nimble, which translates to a competitive advantage for any team battling intraday challenges.

By having an omni-channel focus we could meet our customers when and where was most convenient, creating effortless interactions with our people, systems, services, and products.

Agile Advantage
Thanks to Intraday Automation, we could weather-the-storm through similar unexpected events down the line—without taking a hard hit to the budget or service delivery. In a recent webinar, I over-viewed how automation helped the center operate smoothly during Hurricane Matthew and the London Bombing terrorist attack, and the varying impact those events had on centers across other industries.

Workforce Management Win
By recognizing the need for a new approach to real-time challenges, we effectively prepared for the inevitable trials that ensued. The implementation of an advanced automation platform freed WFM from manual processes and transformed the department’s role from tactical to strategic. Following the implementation, we began looking for more strategic and analytical qualities when bringing on new talent.

Identifying the Need for Automation
Do you think your organization could benefit from Intraday Automation? Attend an upcoming Forefront event, or find out how to bring the Forefront experience on-site to your team.

About the author

Dave Thrailkill

With over 20 years of Operations and Financial Management leadership, Dave's repertoire includes strategic planning, business process improvement and technology. He has benchmarked operational standards and metrics, then applied them to other businesses to create a common and consistent language across the contact centers. He's led his team in optimizing staff, processes, and technology to promote an environment which maximizes the customer experience while increasing sales and efficiency.

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