How to Keep Your Contact Center Nose-Up During a Crisis


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As the uproar continues to surround United Airlines after their very public display of “re-accommodating” a passenger, the company’s customer service representatives are finding themselves in the crosshairs. This is especially true in the contact center — often the place customers turn to vent their biggest frustrations.

So how does a company like United prepare their contact center customer service representatives for the wave of inquiries into Flight 3411 and distress fueled cancellations that they are surely seeing?

Here’s three key things you need to know in order to navigate a contact center crisis:


In any sort of corporate crisis, timing is everything. Likely, United had a crisis plan in place involving key executives and communicators. While some have questioned the soundness of that plan due to how external communications unfolded, the effectiveness of your internal contact center crisis plan is equally important.

While customers are increasingly looking to solve problems online, they still often have to turn to calling customer service to get real answers. According to Microsoft’s 2015 U.S. State of Multichannel Customer Service report, only 28 percent of customers call customer service as their first attempt to solve a problem. However, 81 percent of customers still end up using the telephone to contact customer service on a regular basis to find answers.

Although we don’t know the exact surge in customer calls with this incident, United does have a history of forcing incredibly long hold times on customers when attempting to get through to a representative.

Having strong analytics in place that can pick up and parse trending topics related to a crisis can also fuel the timely creation and dissemination of accurate updates and answers to customer problems. Additionally, things like predictive scoring across all conversations will give you real-time insights into where to focus your immediate attention.


Outside of answering the call in a timely fashion, understanding the nature of the call in its truest form is equally important. The contact center’s job is to resolve situations. Naturally, many of those situations are fueled in part by negative emotion(s). Our previous research has found that two-thirds of consumers are frustrated before they even start talking with a customer service representative.

Furthermore, when our researchers analyzed over 118K customer service calls at 11 large enterprises, customers exhibited emotional signs of anger 54 percent of the time in the first half of the call. They also displayed emotional signs of sadness and fear in their speech more than 50 percent of the time in the first half of those calls.

Technology like ours employs speech recognition algorithms to help enterprises understand these displays of stress or anger in seconds. It also allows us to leverage machine learning to identify trending topics and keep a pulse on situations in real time, giving the entire customer service team powerful insight into broad customer sentiment, trending problems or questions. Ultimately, it reduces the number of distressful calls by getting the right agents on the phone with the right customer.


While we may soon find ourselves in a world where the bot on the other end of the line can actually empathize with us, today humans reign supreme when it comes to exhibiting emotions in response to another person’s situation.

But the only way to ensure that the customer is paired with a representative that they will “click” with is to have a routing process built around an understanding of the different personalities you’ll encounter and how they prefer to be communicated with.

Understanding emotion is a human trait after all, and automation may just make problems worse. Even millennial customers don’t want to talk to robots when they’re angry. According to our research nearly 88 percent want to talk to a live person, not an automated system when they are calling customer service.

We all know that when you are handling a call there’s a lot more than one customer at stake. Today, consumers make decisions largely based on input from their spheres of influence — and in the age of social media — there’s a lot on the line. In fact, 81 percent of U.S. online consumers’ purchase decisions are influenced by their friends’ social media posts.

For us, the crisis plan is executed behind the scenes as enterprises employ the latest in technology and the most adept agents to stem the bleeding and pull the nose of the organization up and away from disaster. While Corporate HQ waits for another headline to take over the spotlight, proper mechanisms can help businesses, contact center employees and most importantly – customers.

At the end of the day, a corporate crisis often ends up becoming a frenetic and difficult battle. However, with the proper mechanisms in place in your contact center, it’s a battle you can overcome.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Marcel Korst
Marcel Korst is VP of Product Marketing & CX Strategy at Mattersight where he leads product evangelization, analyst relations, competitive positioning and customer marketing. Prior to Mattersight, Korst spent 13 years at Microsoft, most recently as Director of Marketing & PR for Worldwide Customer Service & Support, where he led brand, product marketing, demand generation, marketing automation, PR and analyst relations.


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