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Latest 25 Mar 2020 | Best Practices

Break Glass in Case of Emergency

How does customer service volume shift following a global crisis? How can different industries be proactive instead of reactive when the floor is lava and why is it so important to act quickly?

The last 30 days have been form-defining for every consumer-facing business that is driven by a high volume of transactions. But some industries seem to be more affected than others. Being in charge of data strategy for a Customer Experience and Service company meant that I had a direct line and front row seat with a view of how the market is reacting in these uncertain times.

The bottom line? Businesses have to act quickly, utilizing simple, yet powerful, automation in order to reduce workload, increase efficiency, and, in some cases, build conversational flows that are fully contained by bots (yet basic enough to build and deploy quickly). The objective is to not only reduce friction and frustration across their extremely concerned customer base but also around the contact center.

So how do you make decisions when the floor is lava? The simple answer is: You let data pave the way. 

As a company, we work with a lot of retail and travel industry leaders. Both industries have suffered severe blows with the news of travel bans, lockdowns and general public concern. The result has been a massive increase in inbound customer service related volume. However, each of these industries can alleviate the friction by focusing on what we call “The Commons.”

What are these commons? Simply put, most customer service cases revolve around the same issues. To put it even more simply, everyone is worried about the same thing - but that one thing is different depending on your industry. 

How do we let data lead the way? We start with the top-level aggregated data, in this case: the number of daily conversations being picked up by agents. 

Here’s a visualization for a specific airline: 

Volume Increase v2

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When we started seeing these numbers coming in, our first response was: “How can we help our business partners make the right decisions in times of zero certainty?” The answer was, of course, data. This small example simply shows what exponential growth looks like (though I imagine we’ve all seen one too many of these in the last month). But in reality, this shows how inbound traffic for a specific airline grew by 2600% in just ten days (March 11th - March 21st).

We then zeroed in on the channel, basically asking: where is this volume coming from and why?

Facebook Messenger was the answer:

Channel Volumes v2

This would be a good point in time to compare the difference between traditional channels and messaging channels. The biggest difference is: messaging channels have been built to handle this amount of traffic by design! They were built for billions to communicate daily, this means they do not crash! Live chat crashes once the website crashes with traffic overload, and telephony doesn't stand a chance with this amount of traffic.

We then went into understanding how this volume affects the contact center's ability to reply:

Screenshot 2020-03-25 at 17.19.22Two important things to note here:

  1. Once volume peaked, response rates dropped all the way to 30% (they had previously kept an average of 100% constantly)

  2. Every conversation left un-replied to had to be replied to the next day.

What does it mean? It means that first of all, the cycle of increased volume remains as customers who have not been replied to either go on a different channel, or message again the next day, keeping more cases coming in. This created a situation where at this point, they need to answer 7X the volume coming in, in order to handle all of the backlogged volume.

"The biggest difference is: messaging channels have been built to handle this amount of traffic by design. They were built for billions to communicate daily, this means they do not crash!"

So what was driving these conversations?

We started investigating the tags and the queues conversations were going to. Here's a graph showing the volume of the most common customers intents.

Intent Tags v2

As you can see from the light blue and the grey line, commonality is what drives volume. Everyone is interested in the same thing! In this case as you can probably imagine, all conversations were focused around: cancelations, refunds and rebooking. 

So, if everyone is interested in the same thing, how can we help them solve this problem at scale? The answer is automation. 

What type of automation? 

It had to be something that was easy to build, easy to deploy, can be consistent across this industry and solves the biggest pain point, which was to increase the ability to handle volume with the same capacity. The same problem health services are trying to solve with the current pandemic. 

The answer was divided into two stages:

  1. Let’s try and lower the curve. A simple automated message saying, “If your flight is not in the next 7 days...” 
  2. Let’s make agents more effective by lowering the workload and improving efficiency. For the cases that cannot be contained by a bot, a simple action like collecting required information such as booking reference and last name for the agents.

What we loved most about this solution, is that while we're looking at a specific company, the data looks the same across this industry, meaning we can solve a major pain point to a lot of people. 

But, the truly amazing thing was that retail behaves exactly the same. For example, if you have a delivery service, everyone is interested in slot availability. If you're a brick and mortar retailer, everyone wants to know what stores are open, and when. 

Leveraging our cross-company industry data has helped us to not only be proactive in finding the right solutions that scale, to be quick and effective, but more importantly, be a trusted consultant for our partners in times of crisis. 

Sudden spikes in volume are just one of the challenges our clients are currently facing. How has your contact center been affected? If you have any questions or just want a conversation with people who are in the same boat, send us a message.

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