What’s causing the long wait times?
Currently, contact centers are telling customers they have very long wait times if you’d like to talk to someone. Airlines are encouraging calls only within a few days of travel. If you were to log into your bank account online right now, you may see a message that says, “extremely long hold times if you call us.”
So, in this article, I’d like to explore why this may be happening. To do this, we first need to discuss “queuing theory”, which is basically the study of waiting in line.
Queuing theory can be traced back to the early 1900s when banks started to study the wait time in the teller line. Contact centers now use more sophisticated tools, often based upon a formula called Erlang-C. Regardless, contact center wait times are primarily a function of three variables:
- Volume: How many calls are we going to get?
- Handle Time: How long will those calls take?
- Staffing: How many agents are available to answer the calls?
We’ve heard numerous stories of people calling their banks, utility providers and airlines right and hearing an automated voice say “your current wait time is over 2 hours”. So, why do we have long wait times? Because all three of those variables have gone awry.
- Calls are up. Calls have spiked as health and financial challenges require coordination with banks, insurers, utilities and other providers.
- Call length is up. Calls are likely longer – every call includes a new discussion topic –COVID-19. This extra 30-60 seconds creates ripple effects compounding wait times.
- Staffing is down. Contact centers are operating with less staff than usual due to sickness, safety and caring for children in the midst of school closures.
How can this challenge be addressed?
All of the above factors have created a perfect storm, resulting in extremely long wait times for customers whether they are calling airlines to rebook flights or banks to inquire on loan applications.
So, how do we address this? Resolving long contact center wait times is a multi-faceted dilemma. Here are just a few ideas to consider:
- Communication. Using systems of record, identify call types and communicate to customers via email, social media and within company apps and websites on common topics.
- IVR Updates. Update phone menus to push answers to regularly asked questions, create automated workflows when possible.
- Automation. Identify contact center and back office practices that can be wholly or partially automated using bots. Provide tips to help customer service representatives to quickly address common issues.
- Speech Analytics. Leverage or invest in technology to transcribe voice interactions. Use the technology to uncover and train to call insights.
- Training. Increase training frequency, providing specific FAQs, talking points and scripting
- Outsourcing and temporary staffing. Temporarily restructure call flows to move simple calls to separate queues, then increase staff with temps or utilize outsourcers.
Even though companies are faced with the unprecedented challenge of managing the spike in call volume resulting from the current coronavirus crisis, there are a number of actions leadership can take to maintain their standards of customer service in an uncertain environment.