Chris Neises is Vice President of Contact Center Operations for Cincinnati Bell Inc. She is responsible for operational performance management for Cincinnati Bell’s contact centers including sales, billing, and technical repair – voice, internet, television, as well as financial care, B2B support, outbound telemarketing and omni-channel support. We sat down with her to ask how Cincinnati Bell has prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic and how she and her team are handling the increased demand.
Q: Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, what kinds of services are people ordering and how does that differ from what is typical?
A: Since the pandemic started, on the residential side, we are seeing demand for home phone and high-speed internet services as well as speed upgrades for our existing subscribers. On the business side, we have had 100+ customers requesting bandwidth upgrades for CBES (Cincinnati Bell Ethernet Service), Fuse (Dedicated Internet) or DWDM (Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing) services. As part of an outbound calling campaign facilitated by our Product Management team to reach out to residential customers who recently placed orders for new internet service, we found that 35% of customers contacted did not have a service provider prior to the pandemic and 2% used their mobile provider for connectivity. When asked why they purchased our internet services, 34% said it was because of COVID-19. Of those, 63% purchased due to work from home and remote learning, 25% said they purchased for faster internet, and 12% cite reliability as their main driver. As our customers needs have changed, we have been able to provide them with the services they need to keep them connected.
Q: What kind of call volumes are you seeing compared to usual, and what are people calling about?
A: Our biggest change in call volume since the stay-at-home restrictions were put into place, is to our Technical Repair Helpdesk for data/connectivity assistance. We are seeing a 50% increase from customers calling with questions about connecting devices to their home network. In addition to the increased call volume for data connectivity, we saw a change in calling patterns. Pre-pandemic, our peak call volume for Technical Repair support calls were during the evening (5p – 7p) when people get home from work. Now, with more parents working from home and kids home schooling, we see a peak in the morning (8a – 10a) when people are trying to get connected for their day, and again in the evening (5p – 7p) when they want to stream and watch TV as a family. This drove changes in work schedules, including split shifts and more over-time.
Q: How do we prepare for situations like this?
A: Several years ago, we adopted a new operating strategy. With this strategy, we trained our contact center agents to handle all call types as opposed to the silo approach typically seen in most contact centers. The driver behind this strategy was two-fold – 1) we wanted to reduce customer frustration and improve the experience by not forcing the customer to interact with us based on how we are organized, but rather take care of the customer and not transfer them between multiple customer service representatives and 2) we wanted the flexibility to move agents around based on the needs of the business. This strategy is particularly helpful when we see severe storms roll through causing power outages or during back to school months where we have increased demand for new installations. Fortunately, this model served us well when the pandemic hit, as we did experience high absenteeism across a couple of our contact center locations and we were able to flex our representatives to the most critical functions.
"We trained our contact center agents to handle all call types as opposed to the silo approach typically seen in most contact centers...we wanted to reduce customer frustration and improve the experience."
Q: How are we supporting customers remotely?
A: In addition to our Universal Agent strategy, we were able to utilize other employees within the organization to assist with taking inbound calls and chat requests. Within 2 days of the stay-at-home order, we enabled over 100 employees to work from home or remotely. Based on their expertise, they assisted with taking sales and billing calls which, in turn, allowed us to focus our technical experts on handling the increased volume for Technical Repair calls. Concurrent with bringing the newly trained agents on-line, the team worked at breakneck speed to transition our existing work force located in our other offices to work-from-home and restore our hours of operations back to pre-pandemic levels.
Call Wait Times
Q: What are some of the things we are doing to keep call wait times as short as possible?
A: Customers want to communicate with us via their preferred channel and we need to ensure those channels are available to them. In response, our Marketing team reminded our customers of our self-serve, chat and call/voice options. That said, 80% of our customers interact with us via voice/telephone, so it’s critically important we keep the hold times as short as possible. Outside of the first couple of days of the Stay-at-Home order when we experienced extremely high call volume coupled with high absenteeism in a couple of our centers, we have managed to keep call wait times under control. With the exception of a couple days last month when the severe weather rolled through the tristate, our average wait time is less than 2 minutes.
Q: What would you like customers to know about our efforts to support them during this situation?
A: As our CEO Leigh Fox has mentioned on numerous occasions, it is because of our employees that we are able to weather this storm and come out better because of it. Nothing could be truer for me personally. I always knew that I had a great team but, it’s not until something like this occurs that you can reflect on what we’ve accomplished and confirm – it’s BECAUSE of this team. Our job is to be there for our customers – answer their calls, resolve their issues and try to do what’s right by them. The folks on my team worked 18 hours days, including evenings and weekends. They willingly shifted from one function on Monday to something different on Tuesday based on the needs of the business. They never complained, they offered to take on more and they stepped up to make sure we did everything we could to take care of our customers. There are certainly many takeaways from this situation; however, one is clear- in times of difficulty, our employees care about each other and our customers.
"Our job is to be there for our customers – answer their calls, resolve their issues and try to do what’s right by them."