As Black Friday nears and people prepare for the holiday shopping season, companies need to consider how they will manage the increased call volume from higher sales and consumer questions. During the 2019 buying frenzy, 14.6% of total retail purchases took place online, an 18.8% jump from the previous year.

For 2020, businesses should expect even more online purchases. Even as families question whether they want to celebrate in person, they still plan to show their love by exchanging gifts.

Online Sales Have Skyrocketed During 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has already affected the ways that people shop. Even after shops begin to reopen to the public, many consumers still prefer to shop from home.

Knowing the risks of contracting and spreading the virus will encourage more people to buy holiday gifts online so they can avoid public shopping centers and stores.

In fact, the pandemic has already had a dramatic influence on America’s shopping behavior. In September 2020, online sales rose 43%. Retail sales reached a total of $60.4 billion during the month. Only the pandemic can account for such a dramatic change in shopping behavior.

The trend continued well into October. On Prime Day (October 13 and 14 for 2020), Amazon sold $10.4 billion in products, a 45.2% increase from 2019 when the company sold $7.16 billion in goods. Again, researchers believe that COVID-19 drove the increased sales more than any other factor.

The trend has become clear: consumers do not feel safe shopping in stores, where they could get exposed to the virus and bring the disease home to their families. They have turned to online shopping as a safer alternative.

More Online Sales Means Higher Call Volume

Online sales may help businesses stay profitable as people stay away from stores. Increase online shopping creates a side effect that retailers must meet, though. Since shoppers don’t interact with sales personnel in stores, they use their phones for sales, support, questions, and follow-ups. Call centers already handle more calls than usual. The holiday shopping season will make it even more challenging for centers to handle consumer demand.

Optimize Your Call Center for High Call Volume

Retail stores will need to alter their approach to handling phone calls this holiday season. Without the right plan, they will find it difficult to keep customers happy.

When your call center experiences a higher call volume, you will probably experience problems like:

  • Longer wait times that upset customers.
  • Longer call handling times that make your employees look inefficient.
  • Increased after-call work that makes it harder for representatives to answer the next call quickly.
  • Tied up phone lines that frustrate customers and prevent your employees from doing their jobs well.

Following a few tips can help optimize your call center for the 2020 holidays. Try the following options to handle higher call volumes without making customers angry or burning out your employees.

Dedicate Teams for Inbound and Outbound Calls

During most of the year, your sales team may receive incoming calls from existing customers who need help with troubleshooting or want to learn about other products and services. Outside of the holiday season, it makes sense to direct some calls to members of your sales team. The higher call volume expected during the 2020 holidays, though, could make that strategy ineffective.

Instead, consider dedicating your top sellers to outbound calls. They can focus on pursuing leads by placing outbound calls while a separate team focuses on handing incoming calls from customers.

Separating your employees into inbound and outbound teams can help your agents work more efficiently. As a result, your sales team can increase talk to potential clients while your inbound team helps existing customers.

Use an IVR for Skill-Based Routing

An interactive voice response (IVR) tool can reduce wait times for callers. You probably already know that most people call to ask the same handful of questions. Some of them may sit on hold for half an hour just to confirm a shipping number or update an order.

With an IVR tool, callers get routed to someone who can help them quickly. Without an IVR, your system might send calls to the next agent available. If that agent doesn’t have the information the caller needs, then the call gets transferred and the customer has to wait even longer.

By adopting an IVR tool, customers can ask to speak with agents who have the right skills to help. It’s an easy way to handle requests faster and reduce frustration for callers and employees.

Encourage Online Chat and Email Contacts

Unless you can add seasonal workers to your call center, increased call volume inevitably means that customers will spend time on hold. Perhaps you can’t eliminate wait times, but you can make them shorter by encouraging consumers to use online chat and email contacts.

Each employee can only handle one call at a time. Moving some people to computers dedicated to chats and emails, though, can free up phone lines. One of your employees can answer several chats and emails at the same time. Many of the questions that they get don’t need personalized replies. You can just copy the appropriate response to help customers.

Even when people need more personal assistance, your agents can process more than one request at a time. Agents can answer one person’s question while other customers type. Ideally, you can automate much of the process to make the work easy and fast for your employees.

Allow Call Back Options

Long wait times can anger customers. Giving them call back options means that they can go about their days without sitting on the phone.

Depending on the call back tool you choose, you can give your customers options like:

  • Getting a call back when the next agent is free.
  • Requesting a time for an agent to return calls.
  • Providing an estimated wait time so callers can decide to stay on the line or get a call back.

Don’t force people to sit on hold. Give your customers options so they can choose the best way to communicate with your agents and get the solutions they need.

Make It Easier for Your Call Center to Reach Customers

Whether your agents place outbound calls to increase sales or they need to return calls to answer customer questions, your call center needs an easy way to reach people. Unfortunately, many call centers find it nearly impossible to connect to customers because people don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. The situation becomes even more difficult when a number gets flagged as potential spam.

Use the following tips to make it easier for your call center to reach people during this season of high call volumes.

Monitor Your Outbound Campaigns

You need your outbound campaigns to work efficiently, no matter how high your call volume gets during the 2020 holidays. You can help ensure that your outbound campaigns run smoothly by paying close attention to your call analytics. You may discover that your agents don’t get the desired results because you:

  • Focus on demographics that don’t want to buy your products or services.
  • Use an outdated or incorrect contact list.
  • Call areas outside of your service area.

If your analytics reveal problems, change your outbound campaign for better results.

Swap Numbers Frequently

Using the same outbound numbers too often can attract unwanted attention. Smartphone apps make it easy for people to flag or block numbers that they don’t trust. Service providers may also flag your outbound numbers when you place too many calls per hour.

Sway numbers frequently to avoid getting flagged by carriers and consumers. You will need to buy more phone numbers for your call center, but doing so will make it easier for your agents to reach people.

Monitor Your Outbound Numbers for Red Flags

If your numbers get flagged, then very few people will answer your calls. That makes it next to impossible for your sales team to increase revenues or your support team to help customers. Agents using flagged numbers are just wasting their time and your money.

Before you assign numbers to an agent, use Caller ID Reputation to scan the number for flags across all major call-blocking apps and service providers. If the number has been flagged, replace it with a new option that will let you connect with customers.

Caller ID Reputation makes it easy to manage all of your numbers. You can check them individually for flags, check long lists to see which numbers are flagged, and receive real-time notifications when your numbers get flagged.

Your call center may experience the heaviest call volume ever during the 2020 shopping season. Prepare now so you don’t lose the sales that your business needs to stay profitable during the pandemic.