The 5 Rules for Scaling Call Center Operations Without Hiring More Agents
It's never too early for a quiz, right? What do these things have in common? Perfume, website design, hair gel, snaps from your latest holiday, speeches, movie trailers, and negative numbers.
Go on, take a minute.
Okay, time is up. They all fall into the category of "less is more." Sixty photos from your trip to Mexico make for a great album, but 600 snaps? Not even you are going to want to look through that many. Likewise, a little bit of perfume can excite your senses and even spark some memories, but it offends us when someone is drowning in perfume. And let's not even get started on movie trailers that spell out the whole movie in 2 minutes.
In essence, the less is more philosophy is about favoring the simple and elegant solutions rather than going bigger. This philosophy applies to call centers too. Call centers are a critical part of many thriving businesses, but they are often challenging to manage. How do you effectively scale a call center when your customer base grows dramatically? And how do you maintain efficiency at scale? In the digital age, the answer isn't more bodies in seats but rather a systematic and intelligent approach based on science.
The True Cost of Hiring More Agents
Hiring more agents often seems like the intuitive answer to scaling call center operations. However, beyond the benefits of taking other approaches, there are distinct negatives to simply hiring more agents.
The most prominent drawback is cost. Salary is one cost, of course, but the costs go far beyond this. For example, companies with fewer than 500 employees spend an average of $7,645 on a new hire and take around 52 days to find the right person. In addition, according to Investopedia, even small companies spend an average of $1,500 per employee on training. When you factor in that call centers have higher employee turnover rates than most industries, at around 30-45%, it's easy to see how costs can get out of hand. In fact, one study by The Center for American Progress estimated that the cost of placing a new agent is around 20% of a total annual salary.
The Other Costs of Hiring New Agents
- Brain drain: When you lose experienced agents, you lose their expertise.
- Adapting quickly: If you experience a hectic period or sudden growth, you often can't hire and train agents quickly enough. Unfortunately, this leads to a situation where call wait times skyrocket and customer satisfaction plummets.
- Getting left behind: Investing in nascent technology today makes it easier to invest in the next generation of tech in the future. If you stick with simply hiring new agents, the gap between you and your competitors can grow significantly over time.
With the negatives out of the way, let's look at some exciting ways to scale your call center operation in the digital age.
Make no mistake; automation will be the future of customer service, and in many cases, that future is already here. With AI-based solutions, companies can streamline the customer service operation and improve customer experiences without human intervention.
Let's look at one of the most significant leaps in call center automation, adaptive communications.
Adaptive communications, sometimes called conversational AI, is the next generation of AI-based communication tools. Adaptive communications platforms like Hyro are fast replacing the clunky and antiquated chatbots of old and ushering in a new seamless way of communicating with customers.
Adaptive communications platforms can replace the role of agents in solving even the most complex customer queries. The technology is backed by machine learning, knowledge graphs, and natural language processing and can effectively imitate human interactions, even understanding context and accommodating dialects.
While these tools can replace agents, they also work great alongside them. For example, suppose there's an unforeseen fault with the latest software patch you rolled out. This might result in a high volume of calls coming into the call center but not enough agents to respond in a timely fashion. The longer customers wait, the more anxious and frustrated they become. However, with highly advanced AI call center agents, many of these queries can be handled without an agent at all. In other situations, the AI can reduce the pressure on agents by handling the bulk of other issues.
Additionally, as we discussed in the last section, employee churn is high in call centers. Getting into the specifics of why this is would be an entire article in itself, but a few of the stand out reasons are:
- Agents are often under extreme pressure. They are constantly moving from one customer to another and are always mindful of KPIs.
- Agents have to retain a high volume of working knowledge of the brand, products, customers, and customer service best practices.
Working under these conditions often causes burnout which eventually leads to agents not being able to sustain their performance. When this happens, agents quit. However, when AI supports agents, they don't reach that critical point. Instead, they are less stressed and stay in the company for longer. Businesses benefit from having competent and experienced employees on their roster.
Here are some of the other ways automation promotes call center scaling:
It allows for 24/7 support: It should come as no surprise that if customers only have a short window of time to contact customer service, agents can quickly become overwhelmed. Additionally, human agents can only work so many hours in a day and need breaks for food and rest, while their robot counterparts do not.
Tone of voice: Establishing a consistent voice is essential to building brand loyalty. Companies can easily manage the style and vocabulary of their brand with AI.
Minimizing human error: Employees make mistakes, and they make more mistakes when companies go through many changes in a short time.
II. Adopting an Omnichannel Communications Strategy
Customers are people, and as such, they have individual preferences. Not everyone enjoys talking on the phone, and not everyone can work their way around a mobile app. The best companies understand they need to offer communication options that serve their entire customer base, and that's where an omnichannel communications strategy comes in.
Rather than relying on just your call center to handle all incoming inquiries, adopt an omnichannel approach to communications that can consist of an AI virtual assistant on your homepage, email, a mobile app, SMS communications, and more.
Omnichannel communications strategies promote scaling because, at their core, they're invested in creating an integrated and cohesive customer experience. In other words, it doesn't matter how a customer reaches out; they should experience the same level of service. They also allow for a level of flexibility in communication vital in today's world (it's what customers want). If you still have doubts, consider this: customer retention rates are 90% higher for companies with an omnichannel strategy than a single channel strategy. Ensuring that customers aren't left behind as you scale up should be a top priority for any business.
However, cultivating a tight and effective omnichannel strategy isn't always easy. Implementing omnichannel comes with a set of challenges that can fluster even the most confident companies, and that's why we created this helpful guide.
III. Onboarding and Training
Never underestimate the power of robust onboarding and training. Training isn't just a tick in the box or a crash course to bring employees up to speed. When done well, it promotes happy and engaged employees who enjoy their work. This effect i s also infectious - happy employees bring up morale for everyone.
If you already have talented, happy employees who feel like they belong, you won't need to hire more staff as you scale up. These employees play a crucial role in maintaining the company culture, and as long as they have all the tools they need, feel valued, and are empowered, they can handle the growth.
Communicating strong employee experience
People are in the office for 8 hours a day and working alongside the same faces. They want to know where they fit in and what they can expect, both in the near and long-term future. Therefore, onboarding programs that focus on employee development, company culture, and an "every voice matters" mindset are the most effective.
You need dedicated hard workers to scale up your call center operation, but this isn't something you can force (not effectively anyway). The simple fact is that people are more productive when they feel happy and appreciated. In fact, companies with happy employees outperform their competitors by 20%. You can potentially boost your growth even further by focusing on improving the happiness of employees within your organization rather than hiring new agents.
IV. Invest in the Best Call Center Technology
Investing in the best technology has numerous benefits when it comes to scaling your call center.
Moving on nicely from the last section, do you know one thing that makes employees happy? Not having to battle with systems to get them to work. If employees have to switch between multiple apps, all with different UIs, wait patiently for pages to load, and input the same details across various systems, they become frustrated. It shouldn't be difficult for agents to do their job.
By contrast, technologically empowered employees are more productive and find it easier to collaborate with their team. One study found people working for companies where necessary business apps were readily available spent 17% less time on manual processes and saw a 16% increase in faster decision making. Faster decision-making is vital for a scaling call center.
More broadly, the better your call center tools and tech stack is, the less workforce you need to operate them. Never has this notion been more critical than in the post-pandemic world, where more than half of companies are planning to reduce the size of their teams due to the economic downturn. With budgets looking tighter but customer expectations on the rise, companies are now looking to technology rather than headcount to scale their operations.
V. Invest in Strong Onsite FAQ and Resources
Self-service is very hot right now and showing no signs of going away. Customers want the option of solving problems on their own, rather than waiting in a queue to talk to an agent. Not only does self-service give customers a greater feeling of agency over their problem, but it also guarantees they can get results fast and in their own time. Surveys find that fast response times consistently rank as one of the most important attributes of good customer service. What's faster than instantly finding the answer yourself?
Of course, not all self-service systems are instant. The key to having an effective self-service system is good organization and a wealth of resources. This means comprehensive FAQs that reflect customers' needs rather than the information the company wants to highlight. For example, you might be proud of a recent award your company has won, but the top question on your FAQ page probably shouldn't be "Has [X company] been recognized by any reward bodies recently?".
Detailed resource pages are also extremely useful to customers and can eliminate the need for customers to contact the customer service team if done well. Typically, the best strategy is to provide a short answer in the FAQs with a link to a more comprehensive description for customers who want to get to grips with the topic. Resource pages should also be structured, so they are easy to find rather than being dumped in a sea of other links. Apple does this effectively with its self-service knowledge tree.
When scaling your call center operation, you can do it much more effectively by harnessing technology and intelligent strategies than throwing more people at the problem. Automation, omnichannel communication strategies, groundbreaking technology, and a robust self-service function promote scaling while reducing costs and risks.