Agents on Demand: A Case for Contact Center Reserve Teams

Greg Levin

Whenever your contact center is hit with a sudden unexpected spike in call volume – one that requires all hands on deck (and then some) – wouldn’t it be nice if there was a glass case marked "Do not break unless an emergency" that contained a handful of extra agents who could help out on the phones at no additional cost to the center?

Well, that’s the idea behind agent reserve teams, only no glass-shattering is typically involved – unless some of your staff have a habit of diving through closed windows during call spikes. Reserve teams are a contingency of former agents and other individuals within the company who have ample customer service/call-taking experience and who can thus help out when unforeseen call deluges occur. Sounds complicated, but many progressive centers have implemented such rescue crews and experienced very positive results.

Some detractors may say that using a reserve team takes key resources away from other important areas in the company just to solve the contact center’s problems. It’s true, but who cares! Remember: The contact center, in most cases, is the voice of the entire organization – the key to customer loyalty and acquisition. Thus, borrowing a few skilled individuals for an hour or so from departments that are not experiencing a crisis at a time when the contact center is – and doing so to ensure solid service to the people who keep the enterprise afloat – is a pretty smart idea.

It’s not like the contact center needs to draw on its reserve team very often, or that reserve team members need to spend hours and hours on the phones, shirking their regular responsibilities. (If such is the case, then fire your WFM team, or at least threaten to take away their pocket protectors if they don’t start doing a better job of forecasting and scheduling.) Besides, the reserve team is usually comprised of volunteers – former contact center agents, supervisors and team leads who have moved on but who still secretly sleep with a headset and who enjoy getting their customer service groove on now and again. Like the old adage says, "You can take the boy (or girl) out of the contact center, but you can’t take the contact center out of the boy (or girl)".

Of course, coordinating an effective reserve team does not come without some challenges. It’s not always a simple task to sell managers of other departments as well as senior management on the idea. And even when you do, you must work closely with the other departments to determine who will participate and under what specific circumstances. Be prepared to return favors. If you want Marketing to cooperate with you and lend you some of their staff to help out on the phones, they might ask you to start providing them with special detailed reports to help them in their promotional efforts (something you should be doing anyway). And if you expect IT to cooperate with you, you might have to attend a Star Trek fan convention with them.

The use of reserve teams is not a way to make up for poor forecasting and scheduling practices; however, the reality is that, regardless of the mastery of your workforce management team, unforeseen call spikes are a common occurrence in contact centers. Reserve teams can be a cost-effective way for organizations to handle the unexpected, save customer loyalty during difficult times, and temporarily steal your best agents back from the internal departments that ripped them from the center’s womb too soon in the first place.

Read Greg's case for Elevating IVR: Stop the Hatred for Automation.