13 ways to effectively manage high volume in Customer Support
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High volume. It’s a dreaded yet common feature of working in customer support.
If you’re in a highly seasonal industry, periods of higher support volume are often predictable. But even when you do everything you can to ensure your team is prepared and well-staffed, unforeseen circumstances can quickly lead to feelings of overwhelm.
As a manager, it’s your job to equip your team with the techniques and tools they need to weather the storm. Great support teams are resilient and can handle these spikes in volume without too much trouble.
The best way to ensure your team is prepared is to have a strategy in place in advance. If you have time to experiment with some of these tactics before you’re under pressure, you’ll probably have an easier time. But even if it feels like time is running short — like when the holiday season is right around the corner — many of these techniques don’t take much time to implement, so you can still find value in them.
We’ve broken them down into three key sections:
Guiding principles for dealing with high volume
Tactics to reduce demand
Strategies for managing your support inbox efficiently
Dealing with a high volume often means dealing with a ton of stress.
To successfully guide your team through these periods, how you manage your team is just as important as what you do. These guiding principles can help reduce that stress, which will ultimately make your team more productive.
1. Keep a cool head
There are two potential responses to stress:
Get overwhelmed, lose focus, and become paralyzed.
Settle down, define priorities, and get stuck in.
Which path your team takes in stressful, high-volume situations starts with you. Your team will follow your lead. Although they’re often somewhat chaotic, embracing these challenges together can be a great opportunity to bring your team together. Overcoming obstacles as a team creates a strong sense of camaraderie and belonging.
If you respond to or prepare for your high volume seasons by making an action plan, assigning tasks, and tackling the challenge as a group, everyone will benefit.
2. Compromise makes a good umbrella
There’s often a temptation to simply ask for more across the board. For example, say you want everyone to double the number of tickets they answer each day, but you expect the answers to be at the same quality level as they’ve always been. That’s unrealistic.
That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t prioritize quality—sending your customers answers that don’t help will result in more volume, not less.
But the extra hours spent in the support queue have to come from somewhere, whether you’re reducing time spent on other projects or working more liberally with macros than you’d normally like. Compromise is not a great strategy in the long run, but it’s often a helpful approach for short term periods of high volume.
3. All hands on deck
High volume usually means having too much work for the people or time you have available.
To deal with your high volume, you need to maximize both people and time. That might mean getting your support leadership team working on tickets, even if they don’t usually. Or it might mean getting help from across your company if you have “All Hands Support.”
“All hands on deck” also means focusing the team’s effort on the same thing at the same time. If your team usually starts working at different times or if they work on a variety of tasks, try to find blocks of time where everyone can focus on tackling the queue together.
If you work with Zendesk, you might already know how much more motivating it is when you see a row of eye icons at the top of your queue. Working with your team to make quick progress on your backlog can often inspire agents to be even more productive.
Working with your team to make quick progress on your backlog can often inspire agents to be even more productive.
4. Manage customer expectations
Dealing with high ticket volume often means longer waiting times for your customers. They might get frustrated or impatient, causing them to reach out multiple times because they don’t know what’s happening with their request. That isn’t fun for them either, especially if they have urgent issues.
Find ways to communicate with your customers about the current situation and give them realistic estimates about when they can expect a response. You can do this via an auto-reply, by updating the support page on your website, or adding it to your help center.
Reducing the demand for support is generally a long-term project, but there are ways to leverage your self-service solutions during peak seasons, too.
5. Optimize your help center
If your help center is easy to find, chances are a large proportion of your customers land there before reaching out to your customer service team. You can get ahead of many problems by making sure there’s relevant information on your help center. For example:
If you’re running an e-commerce business and this is your peak season in general, identify the top 5 reasons people contact you (e.g. refunds, order fulfillment, package tracking). Make sure these articles are available front-and-center on the home page (and make sure they’re SEO-friendly!).
If you experience any bugs or temporary issues that you know will impact people, throw up an article or a banner about it ASAP.
Use your help center analytics to understand what people are searching for, then create new content or improve your existing content to better address their queries.
When you’re dealing with high volume, the tendency is to scale back on all other projects and focus exclusively on the queue. The queue is demanding. It forces you to work at a frantic pace. Knowing that customers are waiting for your replies right now creates a huge sense of urgency. Giving into that pressure might be okay—and necessary—for short, limited sprints.
Prioritizing the queue over strategic work for a longer period of time makes you a hamster on a wheel.
But doing that for longer periods makes you a hamster on a wheel. If you ever want to get ahead, you need solutions that have the potential to impact many customers, and how you manage your help center is a key part of that.
6. Deflect tickets where possible
Your help center is part of your ticket deflection strategy, but deflecting tickets is a broad topic and can take many different shapes:
Make your help center as easy to find as possible.
Integrate a self-service option with your contact form, so solutions get suggested as people are contacting you.
Include article suggestions in your auto-replies.
Offer a conversational AI chatbot solution in your product.
When you’re working on ticket deflection, each tactic might have a relatively small impact on its own. There’s a bit of a compounding effect, though. As you implement more proactive ticket deflection strategies, the combined weight of them all taken together can be incredible.
Manage your inbox
Managing a support inbox is an art.
Inbox management is more complex with a larger team, but regardless of your team’s size, every single support team benefits from having a well-managed queue. When you’re dealing with a high volume of requests, topnotch queue management goes from a nice-to-have to absolutely essential.
A queue that grows continuously, day by day, is overwhelming. It becomes a Sisyphus job —utterly demotivating and impossible to complete. Getting your queue under control helps you organize the workload and makes your team feel more in control of their jobs.
7. Set clear priorities
How you prioritize support requests is a unique question. It’s something that every company needs to decide for itself. But priorities are vital, and they need to be communicated clearly.
Priorities are vital, and they need to be communicated clearly.
Defining priorities makes it easy for your team to know what needs to be done every day, and in which order. You don’t want an environment where one person works on their assigned tickets, the other one works in the main, and the third one works on a specialized task. Shared priorities keep everyone on the same page and keeps your ticket queue in better shape.
8. Set goals
Goals can be based on the number of tickets done or on backlog size. They can be weekly or daily. You can even set goals for sprints that last just an hour or two, like challenging your team to respond to 200 customers in the next hour.
You want your goals to be ambitious, but they also have to be achievable. If they’re too ambitious, you’ll just demoralize your team even more — definitely not what you want when you’re tackling high volume.
In many ways, it doesn’t matter what type of goal you set (again, as long as they’re achievable!). Setting goals alone is motivating. They give clarity, bring the team together, and provide a sense of accomplishment. That positive energy makes a huge difference when you’re handling high volume.
Automation is a huge time-saver. It seems obvious, but it often takes a different mindset to notice where there might be opportunities to automate.
Are there any basic, simple tasks that your team does repeatedly? The best way to identify these is to look for the easy tickets that your team might want to avoid working on. Every click you save has a compounding effect if it’s an issue you handle hundreds of times a week.
Here are some easy options:
Automate merging tickets that are created by the same customer.
Implement an app like TextExpander to avoid typing the same snippets of text over and over again.
Fine-tune your triggers so tickets are categorized accurately and auto-replies are sent out where appropriate (for example, if a ticket is on hold and waiting for input from your engineers).
Set up an alert if there are sudden, unexpected increases in tickets, so you can catch incidents as quickly as possible.
Use a tool like Zapier to connect different apps you use together (e.g. if you track specific cases in a spreadsheet or want to send a message to Slack when a high-value customer reaches out).
Feed your customer data into your ticketing system wherever possible (so your agents don’t need to open a new tab to get to it).
10. Write great macros.
Macros, or saved replies, are your secret sauce.
Great macros have just enough room for adaptation that you can quickly tailor them to the individual case, while still providing all the information a customer needs. Make it easy for your team to create and edit macros, because the more you use them, the more efficient your support team will be.
The more you use macros, the more efficient your support team will be.
If you’re working with Zendesk, you’ll already know that its native macro search isn’t great. That’s why leveling up your search options can make it significantly easier for your agents to find and use macros, regardless of the issue.
11. Create a triage role
A triage role can have a major impact on your queue. It usually consists of having one person (or multiple people) scanning through the queue and cleaning it up. They might:
Get the easy tickets that can be answered with a macro out of the way.
Categorize or tag tickets so they’re routed to the right people.
Respond in batches to any cases that are reporting the same issue.
Scan the most recent tickets to see if new issues are cropping up.
Flag or assign complex tickets that will require time to investigate.
This can be a pretty stressful role, so it’s a good idea to regularly rotate this person. Implementing this tactic enables the rest of your team to work with minimal distractions, because they know that every new ticket they’re assigned will be a meaningful ticket for a customer who needs real help.
Another benefit of a triage role is that they can often identify opportunities for new automations. Repetitive tasks stand out more when they’re handled by the same person.
12. Work in sprints
The idea behind working in sprints is to focus the entire team’s energy on one task. Like a sprint at the Olympics, they’ll work as fast as possible for a short time. It might be an hour or it might be a day, but when you’ve decided to work in a sprint anything that interferes with the primary task is canceled.
Here are some different ways you can use sprints:
Allow your team to cherry-pick tickets, with the main goal of simply answering as many tickets as possible.
Categorize different types of tickets and have each person focus on one category. They’ll be faster at answering those tickets when they (temporarily) specialize.
If you work with Zendesk, use “Play mode,” which opens up the next ticket as soon as the current one is answered.
Sprints can be a double-edged sword. They are unbelievably effective as long as they’re used lightly. There’s a strong temptation to keep doing them—because they drive down open ticket volumes quickly. The problem is that there’s a risk of burning your team out by making “sprint mode” the expectation for every hour of every work day.
The real magic of sprints happens when you don’t overdo it.
13. Maintain your team’s energy levels
Last but not least, don’t forget to build in some downtime for your team. Your team can only work so hard for so long. When your queue is blowing up, burnout and employee turnover is the last thing you need.
Find small ways to dedicate some time for social interaction, like an end-of-week celebration or a team lunch. Make sure you recognize team members’ efforts and praise them often. Ask them how they’re doing and get feedback regularly. Once your peak season has passed or that horrible bug has been fixed, send them gift baskets or other rewards in recognition of a job well done.
Finding the positives in high volume
Dealing with high volume — especially around the holidays — can be a challenging and stressful time for your team. It’s important to remember that it’s temporary. Facing the challenges together as a team and making it to the other side is often one of the most rewarding experiences of working in support.
Maintaining a positive attitude, being open and experimental, and trying out different methods to see what helps will lead to a closer team and a better experience for your customers.
If you’re looking for ways to automate within Zendesk and to increase your productivity so high ticket volumes are less of a challenge, Swifteq provides a variety of tools that can help. Schedule a quick demo today!
Written by Nouran Smogluk
Nouran is a passionate people manager who believes that work should be a place where people grow, develop, and thrive. She writes for Supported Content and also blogs about a variety of topics, including remote work, leadership, and creating great customer experiences.