Shep Hyken's Customer Service Blog

Guest Blog: Is Your Contact Center Prepared to Handle Breaking News?

This week on our Friends on Friday guest blog post my colleague, Kathleen Hettinger, discusses the importance of handling breaking news and how your organization should be prepared. In this age of 24/7 news, I find this a pertinent subject for all of us. – Shep Hyken

In this age of 24/7 news channels and social media, we’ve all come accustomed to breaking news stories about celebrities and politicians. Yet there are times when businesses themselves become “trending” news stories and special reports. Whether it’s negative news of a natural disaster, a C-level scandal, a product recall, or a workplace tragedy, or a positive event like a product innovation, an upbeat earnings report, or an IPO, your contact center must be prepared for when there are dramatic increases in interactions across all communication channels.
Nearly every business has the potential of having some type of breaking news. This is why it’s essential to be prepared for an unexpected spike in interactions. Certainly, the alternative of having customers on hold for hours during a critical time is not a wise strategy. So how can your contact center best prepare for breaking news? The following are key areas to consider.
Team Coordination
How will agents get the news they need to share with customers? This may require input from your public relations team as well as legal, marketing, and other departments. The time to determine how news is gathered and disseminated is long before news hits. By having a plan in place, you can go a long way to prevent agents from saying something incorrect or even potentially damaging to a customer.
Agent Training
Just as agents should receive ongoing training in their daily tasks, they also need to be prepared for managing the unexpected, such as a newsworthy event that can cause a significant jump in calls. Preparation should include coaching in how to address customer concerns as well as training in backup and emergency systems that are brought online to manage call spikes.
Scripts
Asking agents to address customer concerns following breaking news without guidelines on what they should say is a recipe for disaster with potential legal implications. Although it’s impossible to predict every potential issue that can generate news and high call volumes, there are obvious possibilities that can be predicted. It’s wise to develop some basic scripts or outlines that can guide agents through customer conversations if and when a breaking news event occurs.
Desktop Integration
With the average contact center now managing more than five communication channels, the need for desktop integration is a must on a slow day. On a busy day, having agents shift between systems, databases, and screens due to a lack of integration is a recipe for long hold times and angry customers. A newsworthy event requires agents to increase their efficiency, and this can only happen if they have the tools necessary for doing their jobs effectively. With a unified desktop, news can also be deployed to agents from back offices, and real-time updates can flow quickly to those on the frontlines with customers.
Routing
Routing calls can be a big challenge during peak times caused by breaking news. The majority of contact centers use queue-based routing, which can be particularly inflexible. With an overload of calls, there may be the need to onboard additional contact centers or to shift some agents from one channel to another. This is when an orchestrated routing solution can be a much better choice.
Call Back
In some cases, there may simply be too many calls for your contact center to manage. Rather than having an extended queue of customers waiting on hold, a callback solution can enable you to offer a return call to them at a more convenient time. Callback can be offered to those using voice channels, as well as digital channels like web chat, IVR, and mobile apps.
IVR
A well-designed IVR system can be a big benefit during a news event. Callers can be given details in a greeting or an on-hold message to minimize the number of calls reaching agents. As well, options can be set up for customers to be connected directly to specialized agents who have been designated to manage customer inquiries about the news. It’s also important to remember that an IVR system is only as good as the recording that it plays for callers. During a news event, it’s likely that you will have to update recordings, so it’s a good idea to have prerecorded messages that can be played and a readily available voice talent who can quickly create recordings to address customer questions.
Social Media Management
During a news event, customers are likely to turn to social media to get information and to provide feedback for others. A single customer with a large online community can cause a tremendous amount of damage to your brand if they are sharing negative comments with hundreds, if not thousands of others. Having a social media plan in place specifically for these times is a must for containing irate customers and keeping your customers up-to-date.

Unexpected news can happen to even the best run businesses. How it’s shared can make all the difference. With a little preparation and a good plan in place, you’ll be positioned for dealing with it in the most seamless way possible.

Kathleen Hettinger works at Virtual Hold Technology as customer experience and technology expert helping companies achieve omni-channel success

For more articles from Shep Hyken and his guest contributors go to customerserviceblog.com.

Read Shep’s latest Forbes Article: Every Employee Needs Customer Service Training — Here’s Why

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