By Ryan Falkenberg, 04 July 2023 – Originally published by TechFinancials.
When you think about the businesses most affected by load shedding, chances are contact centres don’t immediately leap to mind. But, as with so many other companies across the country, it has played havoc with contact centres.
The problem doesn’t lie so much with the contact centres themselves, which use generators and other tools to stay online, but with being able to contact potential and existing customers.
The contactability conundrum
Already an industry–wide problem (one survey found that 87% of US adults mostly ignore calls from numbers they don’t know), contactability is massively exacerbated in South Africa by load shedding.
That’s because, despite the country’s mobile networks spending billions of rands on backup batteries and generators to keep cell phone towers running, it’s often not enough. During higher stages of load shedding (like those experienced in May 2023), things can be particularly bad — as anyone who’s sat staring at a cellphone with no signal can attest.
Contactability is also an issue for remote and hybrid workers who spend large portions of their days in meetings and aren’t always able to take calls or complete them when they do pick up. The same is true for people who are travelling and prefer not to take calls while driving or who are going through an area with patchy mobile signal – again, exacerbated by load shedding.
For contact centres, that creates two problems: the first is that people simply can’t be contacted (if they’ve got no signal, they can’t receive calls). That puts massive pressure on companies’ sales teams who rely on calling to meet their targets. The second is that, even when there is signal, load shedding makes it so patchy that calls keep dropping. That hardly makes for a good sales experience. In fact, if a contact centre keeps trying to call a customer through all those dropped calls, they might get turned off the business entirely.
While repeated calls can be an important part of the sales process (80% of sales take five to 12 calls to complete), those aren’t the circumstances under which you want to be making them.
On the face of it, there’s not much that contact centres can do about extensive load shedding, especially given the mobile networks’ own struggles. But they’re not entirely helpless. Many of the existing strategies used to mitigate contactability issues can be ramped up during the higher stages of load shedding.
These include making greater use of other communication channels or automated rescheduling tools. So, for instance, when a call is dropped, the company can send a WhatsApp message to continue the conversation. The client can complete the interaction digitally, or can reschedule the call for a time that’s convenient to them (and when the call won’t be affected by load shedding).
These tools, already powerful in and of themselves, can be enhanced by technologies like virtual agents. These AI-enabled pieces of software bring additional levels of context and personalisation to the interaction. In this situation, human agents are reserved for doing things only humans can do, such as reassuring a worried customer or dealing with complex complaints.
Using these tools and methods has the added benefit of allowing customers to contact an organisation on their own terms (an increasingly important tenet of good customer experience).
We may be in the midst of a reprieve from the worst stages of load shedding, but experience tells us that could change at any moment. It’s therefore critical that contact centres find ways to mitigate the worst of its effects. While contact centres may never be able to erase issues around contactability, they can mitigate them while still providing great customer experiences.