Handling Call Center Spikes (932 words)
The word "spike" makes most people think of high-heeled shoes, bulldog collars or railroad ties, but call center managers tend to think of DRTV. Direct response television is the "spikiest" of the direct response media, where thousands of phone calls can flood a call center with no warning whenever a spot runs. The challenges of staffing and running a DRTV call center are extreme, and only the biggest service bureaus with thousands of reps can handle them.
However, spikes aren't the exclusive province of DRTV.
Says call center consultant Liz Kislik, "You get spikes even in a normal in-house environment. Maybe Oprah does a feature on your product and all of a sudden, you're swamped."
A plug on Oprah may be most marketers' dream, but it can turn into a fulfillment nightmare if the call center isn't prepared. What works? Interactive voice response and smart staffing can help blunt the spikes a bit and keep the call center running.
Causes of Spikes
Spikes can come from predictable or unpredictable causes. Predictable causes include the appearance of traditional print, radio or television ads, mention of a product in mass media with advance warning, or simply normal usage patterns (e.g., the holiday rush).
Unpredictable causes may be an unexpected plug by a talk show host, a DRTV spot running on remaindered time or a service outage.
Martin Cohn, vice president of sales at Miami-based Precision Response Corp., relates a time that a newspaper ran a story about the environmentally conscious practices of Pizza Hut, a Precision Response client. A wire service picked up the story and it ran in several papers across the country. Calls to the customer line spiked as pizza lovers took the opportunity to commend Pizza Hut for its policies (and presumably, pizza orders picked up at restaurants across the country).