Workforce Optimization Featured Article

Don't Be Left in the Cold: Preparing for Winter Weather is Critical for Customer Service Success

February 07, 2014

The Northeast has certainly seen its fair share of snow this winter.  This week alone may have given residents their fill for the year. Wisely, many employees choose to stay home during such winter events, or are simply unable to make it due to road and rail conditions. Moreover, winter storms can often bring about power outages, which can hinder even a fully-staffed office. Organizations in the area no doubt found themselves in something of a precarious situation, as falling snow also means rising call center volume.

According to Matthew Storm, innovations and solutions director at NICE Systems (News - Alert), being able to plan ahead for such contingencies and make staffing adjustments on the fly is critical for success during these types of winter events. 

“These are the times when the customer service infrastructure of an organization is put to test,” he told TMCnet in an interview.

Image via Shutterstock

Indeed, capacity planning is already a complicated process, with volume varying dynamically from hour to hour, let alone day to day.  Add in vacation days, sick leave, and absenteeism, and workforce management becomes a very specialized, and ever critical, aspect of contact center operations.

Weather simply adds yet another variable into the mix, which can be accounted for.  When it comes to winter weather events, a contact center can be affected in one or both of the following ways:

The contact center itself is being impacted by the storm, keeping agents out of the office or damaging communications infrastructure.

The contact center’s customer base is being impacted by the storm, meaning a large influx of customer inquiries and service requests.

A good example of the latter scenario took place just a few days ago: over 80,000 fans gathered in MetLife Stadium to watch the Super Bowl on a seasonably warm 45-degree day. Twelve hours later, these fans and their guests found themselves trying to travel home from one of the largest transportation hubs in the world during a major winter storm.  You can imagine the resulting burden placed on the airlines’ call centers.

Fortunately, these companies likely have their call centers geographically dispersed throughout the country.  According to Storm, these companies can simply use social, mobile, other alerting mechanisms like SMS to alert potential worker in areas that aren’t impacted.

For example, a company can send a message to its Phoenix contact center informing them that they may be down a certain number of people in the NJ contact center today and to bring extra agents online to cover the demand. 

If none of their contact centers are affected at all, even better.  Technology is there to help these companies prepare for such unexpected scenarios and make adjustments as needed.  This is exactly what workforce optimization solutions are designed to do.

“Organizations lean on technology, not just in the alerting, but in the ad hoc calculations of ‘what if’ scenarios,” Storm explained. “Most organizations have weather-based contingency plans ready to go into action, and leading workforce management administrators and staffing professionals use tools like this every day to make sure that just the right amount of people are available to handle such events. Whether the event is happening to the call center or to the customer, they both can be accommodated at exactly the same time.”

Of course, not every company is able to house more than one contact center, and should their facility be impacted by a winter storm, other measures must be taken.

 In these situations, Storm said it’s common for smaller organizations like these to change their mix of agents from on-premises to work-at-home.  With a simple text, extra agents can be informed of a open shift and be online and logged-in in a matter of minutes.   Moreover, these at-home agents can be recorded, coached, and offered the same type of analysis and guidance that on-premises agents receive.  Other solutions include designated off-site meeting points and temporary contact centers in unaffected buildings.

Thus, it is important that contact centers not only look at the at-home model as simply an incentive for their agents, but rather as a strategic resource for weather-related contingencies.

Of course, all of this comes down to good workforce optimization technology.

“Being able to have solutions in place that support the right type of forecasting, take those forecasts and put them into models, and quickly put appropriate contingency plans into action is widely important,” Storm said. “Beyond everyday capacity management, having to leverage these solutions for weather-based contingencies is almost inevitable.”

Edited by Alisen Downey
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