All Local Authority (LA) contact centres struggle with a surge in demand at some time or another. But it’s simply not cost-effective to staff contact centres to handle high demand if those employees aren’t required for most of the rest of the year.

Consequently, it’s necessary to consider other ways to ease the pain of peak contact times. Here, we take a look at eight top tips for ensuring your LA contact centre is able to cope with high customer demand.

1. Understand the causes of peak contact times

If you’re to manage peak contact times in an efficient manner, you need to understand what causes them. Generally, peaks in contact centre demand fall into one of two categories.

Planned peaks – periods of high demand that you can plan for because they can be predicted. For instance, holiday periods and instances in which core services face changes both fall into this category.

Unplanned peaks – periods of high demand that occur without warning due to an unforeseeable event. This includes technical faults, local or national crisis, sudden service failure, or negative media exposure.

Recognising that peaks occur for these two very different reasons ensures that you develop appropriate responses.

In the case of planned peaks, careful planning and preparation are required. With unplanned peaks, it’s all about exhaustive contingency planning and rigorous testing.

In both cases, implementing automating technologies and encouraging channel shift have an enormous effect.

2. Test to ensure systems can handle peak demand

In order to ensure that your telephony is able to handle the demand expected during peak periods, it’s necessary to run a number of tests. This is particularly true for complex telephony systems, such as IVR.

There are at least five main types of test that can be applied to your telephony system.

  1. Load testing – tests a system by gradually increasing the volume of calls processed by your telephony, plateauing at intervals as you do so
  2. Stress testing – tests the system by pushing it to its limits and putting through the maximum number of concurrent calls possible
  3. Soak testing – tests a system over an extended period of time
  4. Feature testing – tests the telephony operates as it should by running through all possible input scenarios
  5. Spike testing – tests how the system responds to large spikes in caller traffic.

3. Maximise self-service opportunities

One of the most efficient ways to ease the pain of peak contact times is to maximise the number of customers self-serving over the phone.

With telephony and IVR, LAs need to identify high-volume enquiries and establish whether they can be automated. Enquires that can be solved with basic information provision (such as identifying bin collection times or payment of Penalty Charge Notices) are ideally suited to this type of automation.

With intelligent technology, it’s possible to automate more than 50% of all inbound calls, freeing your human agents to tackle more complex problems.

Other channels also present plenty of opportunities for self-service.

In regards to messenger services, chatbots are becoming the automation technology of choice. Online, FAQs still play an important role and interactive forms reduce the burden on human agents.

In all cases, the more high-quality self-service opportunities available, the less peak contact times will trouble your agents and service users.

4. Automate data capture

One of the most efficient things your customer service technology can do is to automate the capture of customers’ personal information.

Both chatbots and telephony systems are capable of identifying customers and asking them to input personal data that will help your human agents complete the enquiry further down the line. This is beneficial for two reasons.

  1. It results in faster agent handling times as your employees no longer have to dedicate large amounts of their time to basic data capture.
  2. It distracts customers from the longer wait that often occurs during periods of high demand. If a customer feels as though they’re progressing, they’ll be satisfied with waiting longer to speak to a human agent.

However, contact centres need to ensure that automated data collection operates as it should. If data capture takes too long or callers have to re-enter the information more than once, you run the risk of frustrating and alienating them.

5. Focus on promoting channel shift

A functional contact centre funnels customers towards the most efficient channel. Though many customers will naturally reach for the phone whenever they have an enquiry or need a problem solved, efforts need to be made to encourage channel shift.

This is generally achieved by implementing a number of channel shift policies. They include:

  • Use of SMS services to deliver URLs that link to online forms, FAQs, or chatbot services
  • Adding a Chatbot to the website to intercept customers looking for information online
  • Adding a Chatbot to your social media profiles

The key here is to connect services and provide customers with a seamless transfer to digital channels. These channels allow for greater automation and limit dependence on human agents, making them far more cost-effective, efficient and convenient for the customer.

6. Allowing for omnichannel – ensuring the free movement of information

Accurate customer identification can help reduce the amount of time agents have to spend capturing personal data and makes for a more personal and satisfactory customer experience.

As more than 60% of LA customer service calls are made from a mobile phone, Local Authorities can use customers’ telephone numbers to identify the caller.

This gives your human agents a head start on the enquiry by allowing them to see the customer’s history.

However, this depends on the free flow of information across channels. If a customer has previously interacted with your chatbot, the information from that interaction needs to be available to your contact centre agent.

7. Provide 24/7 services

If your contact centre only offers telephony services during office hours, you’re condensing demand into a small period and potentially frustrating customers.

Of course, staffing your contact centre overnight and at weekends is too expensive a solution. Instead, LAs should provide customer solutions 24/7 by making the most of automated technologies.

A comprehensive telephony system allows you to offer information and basic self-serve options, no matter the time or day. Similarly, chatbots are operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This ensures your customers aren’t trying to contact you at the same time during peak periods and can spread contact volume out more evenly.

8. Understand enquiry types

LAs handle a diverse array of enquiries. However, they can all be broken into two main types:

  1. Informational – involve the communication of simple information. The customer does not need to input any of their data or be connected to another channel to provide further information. A good example of informational enquiry is a customer phoning to find out times for bin collection.
  2. Transactional – enquiries that require the customer to provide information so further action to be taken. An example is a customer paying a penalty notice.

Different departments within LAs will see different volumes of each enquiry type. For instance, Environmental is likely to see a 50/50 split between the informational and transactional. However, 80% of all Revenue and Benefits enquiries are typically informational, with only 20% being transactional.

Preparing for peak times means understanding the distribution of informational and transactional calls during busy period and taking appropriate measures. LAs must use this information to develop self-serve systems that automate the maximum number of enquiries possible.

Similarly, LAs need to adjust their customer service to take both proactive and reactive interactions into account. Customers with proactive enquiries must be empowered to self-serve, while the reactive can also be automated by providing customers with a variety of self-serve channels on outbound communications.

What next?

The key to meeting demand during peak periods is reducing the strain on human agents and encouraging customers to opt for self-serve channels.

This means investing in automation technologies and working hard to move customers away from their dependence on expensive telephony agents.

It also means facilitating 24/7 customer service, distributing customer enquiries more evenly across a longer time period.

Used in combination, the tips listed above will go a long way to ensuring your contact centre is ready for anything and capable of providing excellent customer service throughout peak periods.

Have a question or want further information on handling peak contact times? Our expert team have been providing customer contact solutions for over 25 years. Call us on 01344 595800 or drop us a line.