3 Tactics to keep customers happy when volumes spike in your contact center

Allison Fasching, Customer Solutions Director

Let’s talk about customer service — but a little differently than we usually do.

Usually when we take this topic on, we’re focusing on things going well — maintaining SLAs, boosting CSAT and NPS, keeping customers happy. But what about the other side? What about when things don’t go as planned and teams have to adapt to keep up? Volume spikes, service outages, staffing shortages, product issues, and so many other unpredictable events can affect a contact center’s performance, and different teams adopt different strategies to mitigate this issue. Some try to increase staff as quickly as possible; most simply let customers know that wait times are going to be longer than usual.

One strategy that many digital-first organizations can turn to when volumes spike is throttling — and that’s the topic we’re talking about here. We’re going to cover why it can be effective and how your brand can implement it to keep customers as happy as possible at times when they typically aren’t. But first, what is throttling?

What is throttling in customer service?

Simply put, throttling occurs when a contact center limits, or throttles, inquiries on a specific channel, in a specific geographic area, or of a specific type. It’s a way to reduce incoming volume to give agents a chance to catch up when volumes spike or labor shortages occur. These things can happen for any of a huge number of reasons, and when they do, they can affect SLAs, resolution rate, response time, handle time, CSAT, NPS, and other KPIs. But with a digital-first, omnichannel solution, brands can turn volumes up or down in particular situations.

Instagram DMs coming in too fast to handle? You can limit the number of inquiries customers can make via that Instagram, diverting some of that traffic to a more efficient channel. Service outage in a particular area? It may be a good idea to briefly turn off chat support in other areas, to focus on the customers who most need help.

One of the main benefits of this strategy is that throttling is nuanced and agile — it can be turned up or down, on or off, based on the needs of the contact center. It makes it easier for brands to make critical adjustments in the middle of a crisis situation, rather than simply reflecting after the fact and implementing changes later on.

Now, to be clear, throttling should not be your first resort when volumes spike in your contact center. As effective as it can be in improving SLAs and reducing volume (more on this later), it usually doesn’t make for a great customer experience.

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Tactics and best practices for throttling customer support volume

Brands can use throttling to solve a wide variety of problems, but there isn’t just one way to do it. Here are a few of the most effective practices — and remember, these aren’t mutually exclusive! Some of these tactics are best applied together; it’s always best to test continually and analyze your data to see what works best for your brand.

1. Entry point modification

An entry point is anywhere a customer can initiate an interaction with your brand. Placing them strategically — that is, moving them or even hiding them — can have an enormous impact on incoming volume. But be careful here. Many brands hide their 1-800 service number, and this often destroys NPS and CSAT scores while also increasing customer effort.

The good news is that there are other options to modify entry points. Consider proactive chat — many brands strategically place entry points on their ecommerce and product pages, in an effort to take advantage of the power of conversational commerce. Turning these off won’t hurt customer experience as much as hiding your phone number because most customers don’t go to ecommerce or product pages to find help.

Another great option is to turn off your location on Google or Apple Maps. This limits the number of incoming messages you’re likely to receive on Google’s Business Messages or Apple Business Chat.

2. Dynamic expectation management

Any time you’re experiencing high volumes or labor shortages, it’s always a best practice to set expectations with your customers. Any care solution that provides agile throttling options should also be agile with welcome messages and auto responses. If your wait times are increasing, let customers know beforehand. Nudge them toward asynchronous messaging options (which can actually increase KPIs) instead of having them wait for a synchronous response.

Likewise, if your throttling solution is to shut down or limit inquiries in a specific location or on a specific channel, make sure to let your customers on that channel know — and give them another option! Even if you are throttling, it’s important that your customers know you will still get to them.

Be specific, be transparent, and above all, be agile.

3. Channel switching

One of the most effective ways to throttle isn’t to simply shut off certain channels, but to redirect customers to more efficient ones. Synchronous channels like phone and legacy web chat tend to be far less efficient than asynchronous channels like email, SMS, and social media direct messages. Asynchronous channels allow agents to handle multiple conversations at once and reduce the pressure to respond immediately. To learn more about the difference between synchronous and asynchronous channels, check out our blog on the topic.

This means that one of the most effective ways to throttle without reducing CSAT or increasing customer effort is to deflect volume from a low-efficiency to a high-efficiency channel. IVR (interactive voice response) deflection is one great way to do this when customers call on the phone. Another excellent option is social transfer. For instance, taking a customer from public Twitter to a DM, and then from a DM to an in-app authenticated chat, can make a huge difference in efficiency without adding much effort for the customer.

Most efficient of all are self-service channels like your online community. Plugging these channels with your welcome messages (the same ones that warn customers about potentially long wait times) is another great way to deflect volume.

The bottom line: Your solution is your savior

You may have gotten to this point in the article and thought, my brand would never do this! You may be thinking, we already do it, and it’s an effective strategy, or even, wow, that sounds like a great way to handle volume spikes! These are all completely valid responses — and believe it or not, they share a common theme: they all depend upon a highly agile, digital-first customer care solution. Let’s break it down by situation.

Situation 1: We’ll never throttle! Very admirable! You’re focused on providing the best possible customer experience even when volumes go up or labor shortages occur. But to do this without completely blowing your customer support budget every quarter, you’ll need to give your agents all the support you can. This means asynchronous chat, a single conversation management platform, omnichannel analytics and optimization, and AI. Without these features, your solution isn’t giving you the power and efficiency you need to give an excellent customer experience within a reasonable budget.

Situations 2 and 3: We might throttle. Another great option. You have to prioritize your budget and SLAs without sacrificing your main KPIs, and throttling is one way to do this. But to do so, you’ll need a platform that can do it for you, without you having to do it manually. You’ll need to turn volume up or down at the click of a button, within the same platform you use to communicate with customers.

Khoros can give you all the functionality, power, and efficiency you need, regardless of how you choose to handle volume spikes and labor shortages. To learn more about how our platform can help, request a demo today.

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