The U.S. has been through plenty of recessions in the 70ish years since contact centers were institutionalized. Often occupying one of the largest operational budgets, contact centers tend to attract the butcher’s spotlight in dire times like a recession.
But with today’s software and tooling, there are ways to navigate recessions that allow your contact center to keep your staff, lower costs, and even improve experiences along the way.
Our goal of this post is to look at tools and solutions to do more with less. In a recession, you’re definitely not going to be able to hire more agents—and we all have our fingers crossed that you won’t have to let folks go, either.
So whether your contact center was forced to cut staff or you’re trying to find efficiencies to trim budget, these tools will help you navigate either end of that spectrum in a recession.
But first: the case for cutting tools
Didn’t see this one coming, did ya?
When a recession looms, the fluff goes first. For many brands, that means T&E, parties, and the “fun-but-not-essential” items.
In a contact center, the first thing to go is usually software. (Or maybe all those string cheeses in the break room fridge).
Now is the time to take a hard, objective look at your tech stack and ask:
- Where am I seeing ROI? (More importantly, where am I not seeing ROI?)
- Am I getting the correct level of value from each solution?
- Does the provider treat me like a partner? Am I getting more from them than just software? (I.e. expertise, coaching, strategy.)
If the answers to any of these questions shine a light on a lackluster provider, then it’s time for a change. And good news: recessions can actually be a great time for rapid and meaningful change! If you can make a good case to switch things up to trim budget costs, you’ll likely face less red tape..
What to do when considering saying “bye” to a software solution:
- Look to expand an existing solution.
- Find a less expensive alternative. (Caution! If the replacement is harder to manage or has a negative impact on customer or employee experience, it may not be worth the cost savings when you lose customers and employees.)
- Analyze ways you could streamline or improve processes in your customer or employee experience.
- Ask a trusted provider for advice! They may have ideas about where to consolidate, streamline, or replace.
I know, you’re thinking, “Jared, you’re writing for a software company. It’s weird you’re suggesting we cut software.” I agree with you. It is weird. But I would much rather you cut non-vital tech costs than have to cut employees. I’m also very confident in my Mindful crew to be one of those trusted partners, so no sweating over here.
1. Callback is your lifeline when forced to reduce staff.
Let’s face it: you might have to reduce your staff. Or, at minimum, you’re not going to be able to backfill or scale up to meet demand. And meanwhile, you’re being required by your manager to meet your numbers with fewer agents.
No problem, right?
A virtual queue is one tool you won’t be able to survive without. By removing people from your traditional hold queue, you’ll be able to meet all your SLAs:
- Average seconds to answer is at its best since they’re not in a traditional queue (and, based on how quickly your callback is offered, maybe reduced to just a few seconds).
- Abandonment goes way down (we see a 28% reduction on average).
- You’ll even get a clearer picture of your call volume because you’ll lose all your repeat callers who hope to get popped into the queue at a better time.
The best part? Intelligent callbacks keep NPS high, even if virtual queueing time increases (as it will with a reduced staff). Based on a client study, callers are willing to wait 300% longer in a virtual queue without any impact on NPS.
But won’t this mess up my call flows and routing? Not with the right solution! The right callback solution should be able to pace calls out appropriately and match whatever workforce you have, putting just the right amount of callers into a priority queue to match their estimated wait time and still keep traditional queue callers waiting the right time.
And wait, if they’re not in the traditional hold queue…then yep, you save on toll fees, too. Which could mean tens of thousands of vital dollars that return to your extremely tight recession budget.
In a recession, a callback tool:
- Makes SLAs like ASA and abandonment possible to hit with reduced staff.
- Removes telephony overhead (toll fees).
- Keeps customer perception high to great CSAT and NPS.
- Gives a clearer view of call volume for better workforce optimization.
Choose the right callback tool:
When it comes to cutting costs, it’s tempting to want to use callback solutions that may have come built-in to your CCaaS. But the reality is, “free” solutions can sometimes cause more trouble than they’re worth. With 30 years in the biz, we’re a bit biased towards our tried-and-true Mindful Callback solution. And so are these Fortune clients.
2. Use a chatbot to deflect calls and support agents.
Chatbots are one of the quickest ways for customers to get answers to their questions. And quick, easy answers aren’t just a pillar of good CX—Gartner asserts that customer effort (or lack thereof) is the best indicator of customer loyalty.
Baseline: Identify low-value or simple intents and service those online. If your customer’s needs vary between simple and complex issues, and those simple needs can be self-serviced, then a chatbot is a no-brainer. Invest and refine here to get customers answers quickly—and without a phone call.
But what happens when customers reach dead ends with chatbots? This is where the experience so often breaks down and customers prepare to repeat themselves to an agent—which is a top frustration for most customers. (PS: Medallia study found that 30% of customers expect call center agents to be familiar with their history as soon as the conversation starts, so they don’t have to repeat themselves…)
This is where a lot of brands get stuck. There are a bunch of different tools at play here, and getting a customer’s session details over to a voice agent might seem impossible. But, as the stat above shows, connecting your chat and voice channel is vital to meeting customer expectations!.
Acknowledging that a chatbot won’t solve everything, you have to plan for a bridge from the chat experience to voice. Inserting a click-to-call solution here is key.
Some considerations for a click-to-call solution to bridge chat and voice experiences:
- The solution must deliver the chat transcript and context to the agent desktop before the call connects.
- It has to allow the customer to flow seamlessly into a virtual hold queue—without bypassing or messing up current queue conditions.
- It should have APIs so you can design the offer to look branded.
- Bonus: The solution should connect to an experience ID (like Adobe Experience Cloud or Google Analytics) so their entire journey can be analyzed and measured.
Don’t customers hate chatbots, though? Customers love a quick answer to their question. They hate being forced to repeat themselves, starting over, and waiting on hold. By pairing an intelligent click-to-call solution with your chatbot, you’re getting the best of both deflection and personalization.
In a recession, a chatbot and click-to-call combo:
- Answers simple and low-value questions (and keeps these calls out of the contact center, lowering call volume).
- Lowers average handle time by providing chat and digital context to an agent.
- Reduces repeat calls and improves first contact resolution by giving the agent a fuller picture of the problem.
Choose the right chatbot and click-to-call tool:
We’re not partial to any particular chatbot, so here are few top choices from Gartner:
- Kore.AI XO Platform
- IBM Watson
For click-to-call, I know there are lots of vendors out there that will connect digital to voice. But only Mindful Scheduler can handle these calls in a way that will improve your call flows (and not blow them up altogether). The key here is the ease of a click, context connect between channels, and seamless queue pacing to make every call flow easily to your agents without adjusting traditional or virtual hold times.
3. Make the most of your people with workforce optimization tools.
Staffing with precision is critical to navigating a recession. Headcount is obviously the highest cost associated with customer experience, so perfecting your workforce is key.
There are plenty of ways to do this, but I have two thoughts for you to lean in to.
The first is to make the most of the workforce optimization feature within your chosen CCaaS. Now is the time to request training and read up on advanced techniques, because predicting who you’ll need and when is the most effective way to reduce your headcount spend.
But humans can be unpredictable. Call volume can have peaks and valleys, and agents call out (or worse: quit), quickly turning your most solid WFM factors into shifting liabilities.
So the second thought is to have a backup plan: use a virtual queue so that if everything goes wrong you can still pace out calls without dissolving CSAT or piling on agent stress. Customer perception won’t be affected by a longer wait in a virtual queue, and that will allow you to pace out your return calls to match whatever staff you have.
We’ve even had clients go to a 100% callback strategy—meaning that every call coming into their contact center gets serviced by a callback, either from the next available agent or at a scheduled time. It allows brands that are extremely fluid with their staff to still provide a winning experience.
In a recession, workforce optimization will help you:
- Maximize your operational budget.
- Lower average handle time and improve customer perception if you combine its use with a strong virtual queue (callers with a callback cut out 1-2 minutes of vent time off every call).
Choose the right workforce optimization tool:
Your CCaaS provider is the first place to look. If you need more, consult integrations available to your CCaaS provider so that everyone works in harmony. (P.S. if you haven’t adopted a cloud CCaaS platform yet, that should be your top priority so you can adjust to any change).
4. Rely on voice of customer tools to hone efficiency.
The most glaring solution to budget cuts is to help customers online, before they have to call. Success with digital containment means fewer calls—in an ideal world, you can solve every problem online.
And the true guide to improving digital containment is found within customer feedback.
Asking strategic questions will reveal the areas ripe for improvement. You can use this feedback to identify where experiences break down, and then take fast action to improve those processes, pages, or products.
First, if you don’t have a voice of customer program in place, get that up and running—stat. Hearing from customers is the only way to know for sure where and how to invest in experience improvements.
Next, it’s time to refine your survey questions to find out what people tried to do before taking your rep’s time (i.e. through calling or chatting). It could be as simple as adding a line to your chat your voice scripts:
- “Did you try to find an answer before you contact us today?”
- If yes: “Where did you look for that answer? On our site? On the phone? Tell me more.”
It might even just be as easy as adding a text entry to your agent desktop for them to fill in where the customer tried looking first, because odds are good that they’re going to tell you without asking.
And consider asking these questions in your follow-up surveys:
- “Where did you first try to answer your question today? Press 1 for phone call, 2 for our help site, or 3 for web chat.”
- “Were we able to resolve your question the first time you contacted us?”
Answers to these questions help you identify why the customers that shouldn’t be on the phone ended up on the phone. And, armed with those answers, you can approach your digital, product, and marketing teams to fill these gaps as quickly as possible to lower call volume.
One more thing: survey both customers and agents! Your agents likely hold the keys to your greatest efficiency improvements. It’s also a great chance to monitor employee NPS and make sure you’re giving them what they need to be engaged. Consider asking some of these questions after they wrap up an interaction:
- How could the website have helped your customer more?
- Are there process changes needed to help your customer better?
- Do you have any feedback for the product team?
- Any easy steps we could take to help this customer next time?
- Any steps we could take to help improve your experience next time?
Your agents are strapped. Agent burnout continues to be extremely high, engagement is low, and they have their hands full—especially with the stress of a potential lay off. The last thing your contact center needs is to recruit and train new agents that are less effective and exacerbate stress on KPIs. So listen to their feedback and identify quick ways to improve experiences.
Odds are good that the improvements will impact both customer and agent experiences.
In a recession, a voice of customer tool will help you:
- Identify areas to improve digital containment.
- Act quickly on most problematic areas.
- Improve first contact resolution. Once you find out why a customer abandoned a chat to call you, you can improve that chat experience to resolve in the first conversation.
Choose the right voice of customer solution:
For quick deployment and real-time answers, we think you can’t really find anything better than Mindful Feedback. Our post-call surveys have a more than 35% take rate, and, when combined with keyword flagging and real-time notifications, you’ll be able to identify and improve problem areas with incredible speed.
And, for agent surveys, Mindful Feedback can be built into just about any workflow or agent desktop—making surveys quick, easy, and automated.
You’ll also need a best-in-class call analysis tool like Medallia Speech. Using machine learning and intelligence, your voice calls can be parsed through and trends can be identified without input from anyone. This can open your eyes to nuanced areas of improvement that come in the very words of your customers.
Recessions are difficult for everyone. When you’re trying to do more with less and cut costs to keep your budget afloat, you need to be really, really smart about your investments.
While I hope these suggestions were helpful to you, you might find more benefit out of a real conversation. We’ve been partnering with our enterprise clients for nearly three decades to weather recessions, and we’d love to lend our learned expertise to you. If you’d like to chat about any of these tools and tactics listed above, head to our contact page and get in touch with us! No demo or selling required—we just want to offer any expertise we can!