How to overcome call center staffing challenges

Call center staffing is a major task to contend with when it comes to hiring agents. See how call routing can help you manage call volumes so you can hit that right number.

We all are familiar with the feeling of listening to the voice, “Please hold the line. Your call is important to us” over and over again. We are also familiar with the kind of reaction it usually evokes and having to wait on the line until we get attended. It’s not a pleasant experience, and it’s something that every one of us would go out of our way to avoid.

When agents are forced to deal with a massive volume of calls, the only option for them is to put the customer in the hold queue. And having to attend to (sometimes irate and abusive) customers day in and day out without much recognition wears them out. This leads to agent attrition.

Agent attrition is a major call-center issue that managers have to deal with. It is one of the highest costs that call centers have to face, and it is a difficult metric to improve. For growing companies with limited resources, call center staffing can be a little tricky to tackle. The factors that contribute to it are versatile, the most significant being lack of recognition. Most call center employees tend to be younger in age, as the stress associated drives older people away.  

So what are the techniques you can use to overcome staffing issues in your call center? This post will dive into the most common call center staffing problems and give you insights on how to tackle them.

How to staff your call center

Staffing a call center, though tricky, can be tackled easily if you take the following metrics into account before hiring agents:

  • Average call time
  • Call volume(per minute/per hour)
  • Number of calls answered in a minute/hour
  • Time taken for After Call Work

Knowing these metrics beforehand can help you save time that is generally wasted on trial and error. The most commonly used method to calculate the number of agents, also called the staffing calculator, is the Erlang calculator. Modern call centers use software that can calculate it for them based on changing call center dynamics. 

Staffing your call center requires meticulous planning and execution. You don’t want to have too many agents without anything to do, nor too little agents having a burnout. Calculating staffing levels is a process of its own, so you can either choose to do it in-house or outsource it to a vendor.

Challenges in call center staffing

The biggest problem that you may face as a call center manager is recruiting agents. Given the highly stressful nature of the job, finding the right agent for the job is the most undertaking task. Here are a few issues that usually plague managers’ minds when it comes to call center staffing:  

Agent attrition

Agent attrition in a call center is one of the most challenging issues. You invest a lot of time and money in screening, hiring, and training candidates, only to have them leave after a brief stint. This happens due to many reasons:

Lack of recognition 

Being cramped in a cubicle for 9-10 hours a day with low compensation is not something anyone aspires to do. Benefits remain one of the biggest challenges in staff retention. Call centers, in general, lack a rewards and recognition program, and getting abused by irate customers without proper recognition drives most employees to quit soon. 

“Train people well enough so they can leave.

Treat them well enough, so they don’t have to.”

– Sir Richard Branson

Solution:
  • Improve employee compensation
  • Institute a rewards and recognition program
  • Incentivize staff by proving options like remote working

Lack of staff motivation

Talking to customers day in and day out, solving the same type of problems over and over again tends to get monotonous, and agents quickly get bored. After a few months, agents do not have any motivation to come into work, and this could result in more absenteeism. Another problem to be factored in is having to deal with abusive customers, which brings down staff morale.

Solution:
  • Gamification of call centers
  • Options like work from home

Overstaffing and understaffing

Call volume isn’t always constant when it comes to a call center. For example, there might be a spike in calls when you run a marketing campaign providing discounts. More customers would phone in asking for details, looking to purchase. Under such conditions, you need to make sure that you have the right number of agents to handle the scenario. This is where making use of software to compute the number of agents dynamically could help you out.  

Over staffing

When you have more staff than required, you will have more unengaged employees taking longer breaks and lunches. This eventually leads to agent attrition. It’s essential to hit that right number when it comes to call center staffing so that you don’t have surplus resources.

Understaffing

Again considering call spikes, when there are fewer employees, they’ll be swamped with one call after the other that they cannot get a minute to themselves. This again leads to employee attrition. It will also affect your service levels, meaning that agents may not be able to pick some calls, leading to a loss in revenue. 

Solution
  • Workforce management tools
  • Making use of software that could compute the required number of agents dynamically

Hiring the right staff

The number one reason an employee doesn’t work out is that they aren’t meant to fit that role. Clear and effective communication is the critical skill to look out for when you’re picking out staff for your call center. Simply scanning resumes to find the right candidate won’t cut. You need to employ different screening methods to find the right agent. Considering that people are resorting more and more to social media to find a solution to their problems, you need to look for someone who’s not only good at talking but also has excellent writing skills. 

Solution
  • Audio screening
  • Personality tests

Tips to overcome call center staffing challenges

Let’s rewind a bit to the introduction part of this post. We spoke about how much people hate being put on hold. What if there’s a way for you to minimize/altogether avoid putting customers on hold? 

Modern cloud-based call center solutions offer many features that can help you overcome the challenges mentioned above, and also help you with your call center staffing problems. Let’s look at a few scenarios, for example.

Minimize workload on agents

If you only have a limited number of agents, the best way to handle calls would be to route them to relevant staff depending on which function they handle. For instance, a customer may call in asking for a refund on a product. This type of query is dealt with by support. So how do you ensure that the call is routed directly to Support without putting the customer through multiple agents?

You can use call routing to transfer the call to the right department. You can also make use of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to automate a part of the routing process. IVR does the job of a receptionist.

Call handling during festivals

Holidays are the time when all of us get together with our family and spend some quality time. As a call center manager, how can you ensure that the calls you receive during that time are not missed? You can incentivize your staff to work during festival times by providing Work From Home or remote working options so that you don’t miss out on business during that time. Using Holiday Routing, you can divert all the calls to the available agents. This helps you ensure that you don’t have to force your agents to come in on holidays, while also enabling you to attend to customers.

How not to staff your call center

Staffing a call center does not merely end with manning each phone with an agent. Call centers are a dynamic environment, and the number of calls varies from day-to-day or even hour-to-hour. Managers need to take into account factors like agents calling in sick, staff being tied up in a call for a long time, after-call work time, agent attrition, etc., before deciding on the number of agents required. In addition to agent-specific variables, you also need to consider the call volume, call handle time, and other such call metrics to know how many agents you would need to run your operations smoothly. As a manager, you need to ensure that you have contingencies in place to handle any fallbacks to meet your call center SLAs.


About  Freshcaller

Freshcaller is a modern-day reimagining of our everyday phone system for customer support, sales, IT, and HR teams. With Freshcaller’s cloud-based architecture, it brings together the best of legacy features like IVR and advanced capabilities like Smart Escalations, Call Routing, Custom Call Center Analytics to help you set up a state-of-the-art business call center. Freshcaller offers phone numbers in 90+ countries, requires zero phone hardware, and is extremely easy to use.

If you want to find out more about what we do, check out www.freshcaller.com.

Illustrations by Mahalakshmi Anantharaman.