5 Success Strategies for Handling Unplanned Call Surges

Peaks and dips in call volume are a reality for every call center operation.

Most volume cycles are easily anticipated, driven by the seasonality of your business or predictable market shifts. But how ready are you for the unanticipated?

Extreme weather, natural disasters, system outages, product recalls, or other unexpected events can flood your platform without warning. When those call tsunamis hit, queues pile up, wait times swell, and average handling times inevitably grow longer as your customers and agents tackle topics out of the ordinary.

Understandably, call center leaders place urgent focus on managing those call wait times. That’s a good thing. After all, waiting on hold forever is a painfully negative customer experience.

But too often, in the rush to move through calls quickly, it’s easy to lose focus on an even greater driver of customer experience: the interaction during their call with your agent.

Here are 5 Critical Steps to help ensure that customer experience doesn’t suffer during unplanned call peaks.

1.     Have a Surge Plan Ready

If you don’t yet have a surge plan, don’t beat yourself up. You’d be surprised by how many call centers don’t have a plan developed and practiced. But without thoughtful, tested plan in place, you’re vulnerable to staff panic when they’re slammed with calls.

If you’re running your own, in-house call center, reach out to your tech vendors to learn about system flexibility and whether they offer additional crisis support. If you’re already outsourcing, ask your call center to walk you through their Surge Plan. Ask these questions:

  • How experienced are they with handling unplanned call spikes?
  • How – and how quickly – do they ramp up during such times?
  • Do they multiple centers available for call redistribution?
  • How do they use IVR and AI-assisted technology to support agents during spikes?

Your plan must include achievable rapid staffing tactics, steps for tapping into contingent call centers, as well as training and coaching strategies to help agents meet your customers’ anticipated needs during unanticipated spikes. In crafting that plan, you need to decide which KPI’s (not just average handling time) are your highest priority and determine the steps necessary to keep them in balance.

2.     Test, Practice and Communicate Your Plan

I’m making this a separate action item because a “Plan” that is thoughtfully conceived and well written is useless during moments of crisis if your agents, supervisors and managers aren’t familiar with the basic steps. Create a simple, helpful visual guide for each role (agent, supervisor, management team) that outlines each critical step. Keep that one-pager visible and accessible to everyone. And keep those steps top of mind during team meetings and other communications.

3.     Inspect What You Expect

It’s not a cliché; it’s a powerful rule for running a tight ship. While wait times and AHT serve as screaming alarm bells, your agents also need reminders that other metrics, including first call resolution and call satisfaction are the measures that determine long term customer loyalty. Consider this roadside assistance example: when a blizzard strikes unexpectedly, stranded customers may not be happy about a slight increase in hold time. Still, they accept the realities of call volumes in a weather event. But once their call is picked up, here’s what they won’t accept: being greeted and treated like they’re just another call to rush through. In an emergency, they’ll remember how you treated them. A warm greeting and expression of concern won’t tip over your AHT. A robotic response will sink your customer satisfaction scores.

4.     Hire for Empathy and Unflappability

Yes, the soft skills are tougher to find but they’re vital to call centers that are committed to superior customer experience. Focus your recruiting efforts on individuals whose resumes and interviews reveal a strong orientation toward helping people, problem solving, and the ability to remain calm and focused during rush periods or unexpected developments.

5.     Train for the Surge

You probably have solid, thorough new hire training, onboarding, and coaching practices in place. But how often are you training your team on the fundamentals of surge management? The key word here is fundamentals. Every agent needs to know how to navigate your systems most efficiently. But above all else, be sure you’ve trained your agents – and their supervisors – to deliver empathy and accurate problem resolution on each call. Create separate, spike-focused, scenario-based training that allows everyone on your customer facing team to practice these skills.

Learn more!

Handling any shifts in call volume is a balancing act. It demands skill, experience, and strategic planning. Successfully navigating unplanned spikes is an altogether different challenge. At Skybridge Americas, this is what we do, every day. We bring more than decades of experience. We have invested in the technology, people, and long term vision to deliver superior customer care. If you’d like to know more about how we can manage your call volumes, please reach out. We’d love to show you how we ensure that every customer call is handled effectively, efficiently, and empathetically.

by Bobby Matthews
Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing
Skybridge Americas


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