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Contact center recession playbook: fair winds and following seas

Raghavendra Rao

November 17, 20225 min read

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“Economic downturns are impossible to predict and sure as sunrise. Build resilience now, because when the sun comes up, you'd better be moving. — McKinsey

You have to go through several challenges to keep your organization afloat during a recession. From high inflation to supporting the workforce despite rising customer support costs, it’s going to be a tough sail. 

A recent Gartner study predicts that the forthcoming recession will be much more difficult given the triple squeeze on margins:

An image showcasing why forthcoming recession will be more difficult due to a triple squeeze on margins as per Gartner.

“94% of CEOs want to maintain or accelerate the already intense pace of digital transformation sparked by the pandemic, and 70% of CFOs expect digital technology to get more funding. — Gartner Research

An image showcasing what failure sound like during a recession through six different dialogues.

Traps and snares during a recession

Past recessions have shown us that companies generally makes these three mistakes during a recession.

Burn-the-furniture approach: companies get into a panic mode and implement extreme cost-cutting measures, wherein they halt all sales and marketing activities. They let go of a good chunk of their workforce which leads to growth stagnation across the board. It eventually culminates in the company’s closure. 

Cost cutting is necessary but be strategic about it. 

Spreading out too thin: companies tend to improve growth by diversifying into different portfolios. This approach usually works well for individual investors but may not be the right choice for corporations. During a downturn, venturing into new businesses is a bad idea because the odds of becoming a market leader are low. Besides, doing so reduces the company’s market share. Rather organizations should be laser-focused on their niche and devote all their resources to it to emerge as market leaders. 

The reactive approach: some companies take too long to respond. They have no idea whether to go on the offensive or be defensive. So, they observe the market, watch their peers, and try to latch onto what others are doing, which more often than not leads to disastrous results. 

An image showing why an economic downturn is an opportunity in disguise and how a business can emerge stronger post recession

Source: Bain & Company

“The common wisdom for inflation or a recession is to be cautious, restrict investments, and avoid major spending initiatives. Yet, an economic downturn just might be the perfect time to go on the offensive. 

If a recession is brewing, is your contact center equipped to steer clear of it?

If you are reading this playbook right now, bookmark these steps, and before you execute them, take the time to understand the context.

Good recession planning starts with a realistic assessment of your company’s starting position. Take into account inflation, social and political factors, changing consumer needs, what your competitors are doing, and federal measures. This is will be a good starting point from which to set sail.

Five-finger strategy to sail through a recession

1. Map the consumer journey to find points of inefficiency

The cost of staffing is the highest expenditure incurred by any contact center. 

A top priority for most modern contact centers is reducing cost-per-call (CPC). When trying to assess your CPC, look at your contact volume at a defined point in time. Next, calculate the total cost associated with that period (agent’s hourly wages, cost of software, and all other overheads). Divide that figure by the number of agents on shift. Then ask yourself the following questions to determine the areas you should optimize:

  • How many agents does it take to field a cutomer call? 

  • Are calls being routed multiple times? 

  • What are the top contact drivers?

  • Are there customer inquiries that could be resolved without a phone call? 

  • How can agents be made more efficient?

Doing this accomplishes two things:

  • Helps in better mapping of customer experience journeys

  • Breaks down internal silos resulting in significant cost savings. 

2. Minimize inefficiencies with low-cost engagement methods

Now that you know your CPC, can a few phone calls be routed to alternate channels like email, SMS, or chat? A Forrester study found that the average cost of a customer service phone call ranged anywhere between $6 and $25 – with an average of nearly $20 per interaction. 

On the other hand, chat and text messaging are significantly less expensive at around $1 to $5 per session. Factor in automation and self-service options such as a chatbot or knowledge base, and the average spend per interaction can shrink to just 25 cents. Adding multiple channels will also improve the efficiency of your agents. Leverage multi-channel calculator for headcount planning.

Forrester's Three-Year Risk-Adjusted Financial Summary illustrates the average year-over-year gains of investing in multichannel solutions.

An image showing Forrester's Three-Year Risk-Adjusted Financial Summary illustrates the average year-over-year gains of investing in multichannel solutions.

 Source: Forrester

3. Move to an AI-powered unified all-in-one platform while you have the budget

In your contact center, the availability of multiple channels including self-serve options is crucial to making your agents more productive. Empowering customers to resolve their queries will let your agents focus on  complex queries giving a much needed balance to your customer support ecosystem. 

Being omnichannel is more than just offering multi-channel support, though. Be sure to deploy a channel-agnostic solution that includes AI Insights & analytics capabilities, too. Therefore, seek out an all-in-one platform that ties channels together for a consistent experience across channels on the front end, and offers AI-powered insights and analytics on the backend.

An AI-powered unified platform will enable multichannel contact centers to deliver consistent customer experiences. Along with deep insights into the reasons for customer contact, the AI platform helps to steer customer journeys by predicting customer experiences, real time. Best-in-class solutions are scalable (works seamlessly with both structured and unstructured data types) and have high accuracy while supporting regional & international languages be it text, static imagery, or voice.

An image showing Sprinklr's AI-powered unified platform that helps contact centers deliver consistent customer experiences.

4. Reset your cost base by leveraging automation

Ask yourself:

  • Can chatbots/IVRs be used to field the most commonly asked questions? 

  • How can you improve your self-service? 

How to craft a winning customer service strategy using self serve

With a platform that offers a streamlined approach to leveraging data and gaining insights into your operations, you can forego the need to own multiple point solutions or on-prem systems. This, in turn, means that the cost and time it took your team to manage those operations can now be utlized better.

5. Focus on the consumer

Consumer behavior and buying patterns have changed considerably over the last decade. Plus, groundbreaking innovations in technology have further altered the consumer and business landscape. Thus, bringing down the cost of engagement. There has been a proliferation of modern channels, and consumers are empowered like never before. 

All this development in the course of the last 10 to 12 years has enabled businesses to understand customers’ unique needs better, helping them create personalized experiences at scale — if equipped with the right platform. 

Bon Voyage! 

But ahoy! The ideal way to sail through these tumultuous waters and avoid ending up like another Mary Celeste is to craft your own recession playbook. 

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