Every contact centre experiences query spikes from time to time. For the most part, however, those spikes can be planned for.

By Ryan Falkenberg, co-CEO of Clevva

In the retail space, for example, contact centres can expect massive spikes around big shopping periods such as Black Friday or the festive season.

Insurance companies are likewise able to predict with reasonable accuracy which seasons will bring the biggest spikes in claims and queries (although the climate crisis is making that more difficult).

The travel industry might also anticipate increased contact centre traffic around peak periods, school holidays, or a major event like a World Cup.

Those seasonal spikes are relatively easy to plan for. By and large, it’s about ensuring that the contact centre has hired enough contractual workers to deal with the influx of queries. Less easy to deal with are unforeseen spikes in query volumes.

Whether as the result of an unexpected natural disaster, a product recall, or a massive technical glitch, these spikes can leave contact centres blindsided. You can’t manufacture the staff to deal with the increased queries. Even if you could, you’d never be able to train them quickly enough to make a difference.

The net result is harried, overstretched contact centre workers (in what can already be a stressful field) and customers who are increasingly frustrated because their queries aren’t being addressed quickly enough.

That, in turn, can do massive damage to whichever brand the contact centre looks after. Let’s take an airline as an example. During a strike or major weather event, there could be many delayed or cancelled flights that result in an influx of calls as customers try to get on another flight or a refund.

If they have to stay on the line for hours at a time, they’re going to be left feeling like they were given the worst experience when they were most vulnerable and most needed good service.

Play the tape forward. How likely is it that those customers will fly with that airline again? Would they recommend it to their friends and family? It’s the kind of brand damage that can be incredibly difficult to overcome.

For contact centres that take a reactive approach to unplanned spikes in query volumes, those kinds of scenarios are a very real risk. The ones which are well-placed to deal with unexpected spikes, on the other hand, take a proactive approach.

But what does that proactive approach look like? After all, no contact centre can afford to keep an army of trained agents on standby in case something happens.

A good place for a contact centre to start is to ensure that it has the technology necessary to proactively deal with unforeseen spikes. A virtual agent, for example, can deal with more than a thousand concurrent calls, effectively nullifying the spike.

While human agents may still be required to deal with some queries, they wouldn’t be under anything like the pressure they would be without the assistance of the virtual agent.

Ensuring that the contact centre works with the organisation’s communications department to proactively issue clear messages, demonstrating that it is aware of the problem and is finding ways to solve it, can go a long way to easing customer frustrations too.

Finally, it’s worth noting that this approach can also help with anticipated spikes. An organisation might, for example, see an increase in queries around payday. But it doesn’t make sense to staff up for just a few days a month. A virtual agent and other tools could make dealing with the spike feel seamless.

Unforeseen spikes are a reality for all contact centres. With the right tools and processes in place, they do not have to become liabilities.