No one likes being left on hold, but the decision by more than 20,000 Qantas customers to petition the business to hire more call centre staff shows the risk to airlines and travel companies of long delays and calls going unanswered. It comes after customers complained to the media of up to six hours on hold — longer than most Australian flights.
For every minute a caller is on hold, their perception of your business declines.
It’s a finding that appears repeatedly in research, and cannot be completely wiped out by hold music, informative updates, or a cheery disposition.
So how much worse is the perception of your business if that call never gets answered at all?
In recent months, Australian news bulletins have been dominated by horror stories from travellers being left hanging after flight cancellations left their holiday plans in disarray.
Travellers say in many cases, customer service has been non-existent. Some extreme cases have seen call wait times more than six hours — longer than most domestic flights.
Even worse, many customers claimed they were not able to get through at all, whether they were trying to rebook a cancelled flight or attempting to locate lost luggage.
And while it is not unique to the travel industry, long on-hold times and a lack of response can significantly dent the reputation of any business.
Georgina Mauger, Group Manager of Operations, Sales and Service at TSA Group, says from a customer’s perspective, the bad experiences tend to resonate more strongly than the good.
“When you create a terrible experience for a customer, it can take years for them to forgive you – we are extremely demanding of what we expect from companies now,” Ms Mauger says.
“And because there is so much choice, if they don’t get what they need from the company in question, they’ll go elsewhere, and they won’t look back for a significant amount of time.”
Ms Mauger says the prevalence of social media, which has given every individual a platform to publish, has amplified the issue.
Bad reviews can go viral, she says, and if a considerable number of people have experienced the same issue, companies can become better known for dropping the ball on service than their core business.
To avoid this reputational damage, Ms Mauger says there are several strategies organisations can put in place to deal with the sudden onset of calls for customer service help.
“The first thing is to ensure that you’ve got a really robust forecasting model,” Ms Mauger said.
“What that means is you need to have the right technology that will ingest all the data from the call volumes that you receive, and it will convert the data into short-term, medium-term, and long-term forecasts for call volume.
“As long as you have adequate support through your workforce planning team, 80 per cent of the task can be met by generating these forecasts.
“The remaining 20 per cent lies in accounting for ad-hoc events, such as a spike in absenteeism in your staffing, so you need a casual workforce that you can call on.”
The need for a flexible workforce has never been so prevalent as it is in 2022, with COVID-19 a disruptive challenge that has permeated all sectors of the business world.
As with other businesses, many call centres have found themselves short staffed as employees call in sick or are forced into isolation.
Ms Mauger says addressing that challenge head-on has allowed TSA to balance its mix of employees to ensure it can activate a greater pool of workers if absent numbers spike.
By using forecasting models, TSA Group is also able to shift its staff to where they are most needed, especially for operations with seasonal demand.
“Typically, we will hire about 50 per cent full-time staff, 30 per cent part-time staff and 20 per cent casual workers,” she says.
“By using reporting technology and people together, you make sure you not only have the know-how to deal with these fluctuations, but the flexibility as well.”
Since the onset of COVID, TSA Group has also made a significant investment in technology to allow its workforce to operate remotely.
Prior to the pandemic, call centre operations were centralised, with a hybrid working model seldom thought of in the industry.
Ms Mauger says the shift was not simply a reaction to the pandemic, however, with TSA Group’s employee engagement surveys unearthing a desire for a more flexible working environment.
“The data tells us that retaining workers is less about money and it’s more about flexibility and the way you treat your staff,” she says.
“If we can give our staff work from home flexibility and roster flexibility, it goes much further than salary.
Another strategy to alleviate the pressure on call centres is to provide customers with the autonomy to solve simple problems themselves.
TSA Group has worked with its clients to identify a range of simple queries that can be solved using self-serve technology, empowering customers to fix their problems themselves.
Holding it all together, Ms Mauger says, is a robust Customer Relationship Management system, ideally tailored to each industry sector.
For businesses that have suffered reputational damage, Ms Mauger says repairing the trust with customers starts by acknowledging that things could have been better.
“If you acknowledge your fault and vulnerability, it helps the customer base to be more motivated to take another chance on your business,” Ms Mauger says.
“If companies lean into their failings, they can then implement a strategy to fix them, whether that strategy is improving staffing in the inbound world or opening digital platforms of communication that are far more efficient, effective, or accessible.
“Marketing strategies where companies are really open about how they’ve previously fallen short of providing good customer experiences, and they are now looking to fix those issues, are the best way to repair that damaged reputation.”
TSA are Australia’s market leading specialists in CX Consultancy and Contact Centre Services. We are passionate about revolutionising the way brands connect with Australians. How? By combining our local expertise with the most sophisticated customer experience technology on earth, and delivering with an expert team of customer service consultants who know exactly how to help brands care for their customers.