Scaling for 2020 Demand Spikes with Sharper Self-Service

Guest Blog by Mark Kowal, Product Marketing Director, Inference Solutions

Scaling for 2020 Demand Spikes with Sharper Self-Service

From the Black Friday doorbusters to the New Year’s Eve exclusives, retailers can expect a huge surge in service demand this holiday season. The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects holiday retail sales during November and December to increase between 3.8 percent and 4.2 percent over 2018. NRF also estimates that retailers will hire between 530,000 and 590,000 temporary workers to meet the excess demand.

However, demand spikes can occur at any time throughout the year−mostly when you least expect it−and preparing your service organisation to accommodate these variations without crushing the budget can be one of your toughest challenges. Without a nimble and cost-effective strategy to scale up, you risk frustrating your customers and agents, potentially losing business and damaging your brand reputation.

Fortunately, advances in conversational AI are enabling businesses to create advanced, voice and text-based self-service applications that automate more of the customer inquiries that tie up live agents during peaks in demand. Read on to see how these solutions can make spikes in service less painful.

In Demand and on Demand

A major driver of spikes in volume is multi-channel communication. As service organisations support and manage more channels, such as web chat and social media, agents are expected to balance multiple forms of communication to meet customers where they are. Customers may attempt to solve the same issue using multiple channels, hoping to find the quickest path to resolution. But this only exacerbates the problem.

Business changes are another major driver. The following are examples:

  • Holidays
  • New market expansion/new product introduction
  • Open enrolment season for the insurance industry
  • Changes to the marketplace, i.e. a competitor going out of business
  • New legislation and compliance regulations
  • Population and demographic changes
  • Marketing campaigns and promotions

Many of these business changes can be planned for, but the costs of hiring temporary staff or outsourcing can be backbreaking. A recent LOMA study found that the average cost of training a single call centre employee averaged $7,500, and lost productivity due to new hire learning curves can drain as much as 2.5 percent from your total business revenue. Additionally, DMG estimates that call centre outsourcing actually increases call volume by 15 percent due to customers hanging up and calling back in search of a more helpful answer.

Finally, a third major demand driver is unexpected disaster planning. We know that unexpected events can occur, but there’s no way to know exactly when they will hit – or how hard. Examples Include:

  • Natural disasters, such as blizzards, hurricanes or earthquakes
  • Data breaches
  • Product recalls
  • Power or service outages

If you can’t rapidly scale your workforce to provide support during emergencies, your reputation and bottom line could suffer major damage.

Scaling Smoothly with Next-Gen Self-Service Solutions

Advanced self-service solutions allow customers to quickly access what they need at any time they wish, enabling service organisations to better manage staffing and keep control of costs. Plus, recent surveys have shown that customers often prefer self-service options and would rather help themselves for simple issues.

Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs) are advanced self-service applications that use Natural Language Processing (NLP) to automate simple−and increasingly complex−voice or text interactions with ease. They can handle many of the tasks traditionally performed by live agents—and they’re substantially cheaper. You can quickly deploy them for as long as you need them and then “turn them off” when their work is done. IVAs have also become increasingly conversational, capable of understanding human speech in more than 100 languages and responding via text-to-speech that is almost indistinguishable from a human agent.

Instead of onboarding additional or temporary live agents for peaks in demand, you can use IVAs to serve as smart attendants, or intelligently route calls, or fulfil customer requests such as password reset, order lookup, address change, and much, much more. IVAs also allow you to proactively manage demand by quickly deploying outbound calls and SMS messages for your customers, such as schedule changes, service outages or a product recall alert.

The trend toward low-code, no-code platforms means businesses can now access IVA solutions that offer pre-built self-service applications that can be immediately deployed and/or quickly modified. Look for cloud-based solutions with flexible pricing and licensing models to ensure you never run out of IVAs to assist customers during an emergency.

Using IVAs for the more routine and repetitive tasks will allow your live agents to spend more time solving more complex customer issues. They can also focus their skills on higher value conversations that can generate loyalty and revenue for your business.

Waiters at your Service

If a caller needs to speak to a live agent during a period of high demand, adopting a queue callback solution keeps them from waiting on hold. Queue callback gives the customer an option to wait on hold or to receive a callback when the next agent is available. This allows for more continuous and steady management of calls.

Look for solutions that allow customers to leave a recorded message for the agent. A more prepared agent can resolve the caller’s issue more quickly. Or, if the recording indicates that the call needs to be transferred to another agent, the agent can do that seamlessly before the customer is on the line.

Queue callback gives both customers and agents the feeling of control. It’s a simple solution that has a huge impact on overall satisfaction.

Bottom Line

Having a strategy to help you scale effortlessly through the peaks and valleys of 2020 will help you stay on track during any service demand scenario. You can use Intelligent Virtual Agents to help you manage increased volume without hiring more people. Utilise those IVAs in multiple ways, from handling voice calls to messaging to queue callback solutions. Be certain the entire solution is designed in a way to serve your needs and remove the risk of being caught with an inferior solution. This way, peaks in demand can become opportunities to delight your customers (and agents), deliver loyalty-building experiences and drive additional revenue.


Mark Kowal

Mark Kowal

Guest Blog by Mark Kowal, Product Marketing Director, Inference Solutions
Inference provides virtual agents that automate and facilitate interactions between organizations and their customers. Blend our automation and AI with your people for a better customer experience. Inference Solutions is a global leader in customer engagement and self-service solutions. Our cloud service is available in North America, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Used by small businesses through to Tier 1 Carriers and Government organizations. Our DNA is in applied research in artificial intelligence systems for natural language processing.


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