How to improve call center performance when there is a staff shortage

From this blog, you can find out actionable workarounds for staff shortage to improve call center performance.

Forecasting staff requirements in a call center can be a tedious process as there are multiple factors to be taken into account – seasonal demand, crisis situations, and special offers, to name a few. While large businesses may have sufficient agents or the option of outsourcing support to take care of sudden call surges, the same does not usually hold true for call centers that prefer and can afford only a compact workforce.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, chances are you’re also faced with the challenge of managing call center staffing but also predicting call demand through fluctuating volumes, types of issues raised by customers in calls, and other intricate trends.

If forecasting isn’t a pressing issue by itself, there’s also the ongoing problem of staff shortage in call centers. Being the frontline of customer service, call center agents are exposed to disgruntled customers–causing poor performance, absenteeism, and high turnover rates. Among call center agents in the US, the attrition rate is 30-45% varying based on streams of business.

Workarounds for call center staff shortage

Staff shortage badly affects call center efficiency metrics such as service level agreements (SLAs), resolution time, and first response time. Keeping your staffing costs down by will is one thing, but the perennial problem of staff shortage can really hinder your plans to improve call center performance.

But don’t break a sweat! We have your staff shortage problems covered with a call center performance improvement plan. Following the tips presented in this plan can help you keep your call center productivity at its best amidst staff shortage.

Use self-service portals

According to a survey report called The New Rules of Customer Engagement (2019), 76% of consumers globally prefer to first try to solve issues on their own before contacting support. This is why self-service is fast becoming a permanent fixture in customer service.

Customers feel empowered when they’re able to solve issues on their own without depending on a call center agent. Self-service also deflects basic customer queries from agents, so that they can handle more important and high-value calls.

How an IVR system can enable self-service

Many customers find online FAQs very tedious as they have to manually search for the solution they are looking for. Through an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, you can help customers navigate to the right team by setting up pre-recorded or text-to-speech voice prompts with your call center software.

An IVR system enables call center agents to automate answers for basic and repetitive questions that customers ask–at the touch of a dialpad–without any human presence. In doing so, you’re not only deflecting low-value calls but also saving your agents from a potential workload burnout.

Here is how a typical IVR system would help a customer help themselves:

IVR system in action
An IVR system in action

The ideal call center software would let you configure all these workflows in a hassle-free manner. If customers still don’t get their issue resolved, you can always include an IVR option that nudges them to transfer the call to a live agent.

Press 1 for call center productivity

  • Agents can save valuable time in setting up context about the issue at hand, as your IVR prompts would have already narrowed down the customer query to a specific problem.
  • You can automate repetitive tasks by creating condition-based responses for calls. For instance, banks or telecom services can instantly provide text-to-speech responses such as account information, credit balance, and recent transactions.
  • By configuring smart IVR rules, you can keep pushing your call center efficiency metrics even through high-volume seasons by maintaining KPIs such as call handling time, abandonment rate, and resolution rate.

Route calls based on time zones

The uncertainty in staff shortage has set in motion the demand for call centers to be prepared for better call routing mechanisms to reduce the burden on available agents. Because it’s important to maintain operational efficiency even with a smaller team of call center agents.

Analyze which time zone has maximum call density

If your call center software has a comprehensive dashboard, it must be really simple to find out which time zones have maximum call density. You can plan then your agent distribution to high-volume time zones that receive the highest concentration of calls.

But it just doesn’t end with distributing your agents to these time zones. Your call center performance can further be optimized by taking into account business hours, peak call times within time zones, and call volume after business hours.

How time-based routing can ease your staff shortage

Time-based routing is a novel workaround that overshadows the problem of staff shortage by assigning teams to specific business hours.

You can assign custom working hours for teams every day of the week, to adjust to fluctuating call volume trends and call center efficiency metrics. This also makes it easier for you to manage teams across multiple time zones and get insights into their performance. If calls come in outside business hours, you can also set up rules for a fall back–such as assigning the call to a different queue where agents are available.

Apply filters to time zones through your call center software’s reporting modules to capture information that could help you finesse your time-based routing. This way, your operational efficiency can be kept intact and your call support can scale globally, even through staff shortage.

Implement holiday-specific call center routing

Call centers can’t afford to confine themselves to set business hours during holidays. Businesses receive a generous uptick in call volume during holidays, and they miss a trick by not regulating them properly. This is where holiday-based call routing mechanisms add immediate value.

Reduce call volume by adding IVR workflows tailored for holidays

We’ve seen how IVR solves for staff shortage by automating responses to customer queries. With the right set of rules, calls from customers during holidays can also be configured readily.

  1. Change the business hours of phone numbers that you wish to keep active.
  2. Create a workflow that allows customers to select from a range of options or issues.
  3. Based on the customers’ input, determine the magnitude of their priority (automation rules) and decide whether to enable voicemail, add the call to a queue, or respond immediately.

Use voicemail when agents are not available

When you’re sending customers to voicemail (or they choose to), make sure you use a reassuring and “human” sounding welcome message before taking their voicemail. Voicemail may not be a customer’s most favorite way to connect to a business. But it does save their valuable time from waiting and gives them some sort of assurance he/she that the call center has taken in their request or grievance.

Give complete control of the voicemail duration to customers as they shouldn’t feel stifled by the time limit. This would give them enough time to go over their issue so that you can understand the importance of the voicemail when you play their message.

Use holiday-based routing that can alert the agent/manager of priority calls

Most companies that prioritize customer service will look to be always available for their customers, irrespective of the global calendar. This is where holiday-based call routing can add immense value.

Imagine your sales team has nurtured promising prospects into the purchase stage. At this point, holidays shouldn’t be allowed to be a deterrent to signing them, especially when you receive inbound calls that could add value and nudge them to seal the deal.

Ideas to implement holiday-based routing effectively

  1. Keep a particular phone line active with a few agents or have agents on rotation for the entire day, where they need to be available for shorter periods of time. All you have to do is add a new working group specifically for holidays and create routing rules.
  2. As a call center manager or agent with admin access, you can set up notifications for high-value accounts or priority issues. Additionally, you can divert the call to a more accessible phone number (say, personal) that you or your agents would prefer to use on a holiday.
  3. Holidays may possibly not be on for every country that your call center handles. In which case, you can route seasonal calls to available teams that are working in other time zones.

All these call center routing tips can also be applied for festivals, special offers, and other peak seasons that see a spike in customer engagement.

The sweet science to improving call center performance

Sweet science is a pseudonym given to boxing by the British sports journalist, Pierce Egan. He called boxing sweet science as the sport requires the winner to be vigilant, use innovative tactics, predict the next move, rethink strategies on the fly, and swiftly recover from setbacks.

In short, the term sweet science portrays how boxing is much more than just about brute force and two pugilists throwing punches at each other.

If you think about it, call centers could also use some sweet science to rethink their strategy while handling staff shortage in today’s tumultuous times. It cannot always be about hiring and offloading agents when needs fluctuate. You need to learn how to leverage call center technology to the fullest to maintain optimal levels of operational efficiency.

The uncertainty has set in motion the demand for businesses to future-proof themselves to improve call center performance with a scientific approach. Combat staff shortage from the takeaways listed in this blog and cement a strategy that ensures call center productivity in the long-run.

Illustrations by Mahalakshmi Anantharaman


About Freshcaller

Freshcaller is a modern-day reimagining of a call center software for customer support, sales, IT, and HR teams. With its cloud-based architecture, Freshcaller brings together the best of legacy features like IVR and advanced call routing capabilities like Smart Escalations, Customizable Performance Reporting to help you set up state-of-the-art phone operations. Freshcaller offers phone numbers in 90+ countries, requires zero phone hardware, and is extremely easy to use.

Visit the Freshcaller web page for more information.