Forecasting call volume for a conversion event? Try these five best practices

By Ron Hasbrooke

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Accurate forecasting is key to proper staffing and delivering a high-quality customer experience during a conversion or change event. Unsure of where to start? Here are a few of Harland Clarke’s best practices, honed over many years of successful conversions.

#1 – Leverage existing data and tools

Most banks have estimates for their normal volume, but it’s easy to underestimate just how many customers will rely on service channels during a change event.

For digital banking conversions, anticipating customer needs is crucial to ensuring success. The easiest way to estimate how customers will act during a change event is to study their current behavior.

By knowing your customers and their use of service channels during normal circumstances, you can anticipate how they are likely to respond during special circumstances — and prepare accordingly.

Call volumes can more than double during a conversion or major change event, so it’s best to over-prepare, and normally easier to quickly ramp down than up. Give some thought to how shrink and attrition will impact staffing, a common estimate is 30% above needed staffing levels.

#2 – Think of impact on days and hours of operation

Often, when institutions know a big event is coming, they make the mistake of thinking simply expanding hours will solve the problem. The flaw in this strategy is a good portion of customers are already accustomed to your institution’s standard hours, and extra hours may not see expected volumes.

Further, expanding hours will stretch the same number of people over more hours, which may lead to short staffing and/or many hours of overtime pay.

Some institutions may choose to increase staffing in their contact center with existing branch staff. While this may seem like an obvious approach, it has significant risks. With customer experience on the line, it may be best to use experienced contact center professionals.

#3 – Factor in lengthier call handle times

Particularly during an inbound event, when customers have a greater number of, and more complicated, questions, they are likely to turn to the contact center first to find answers. This leads to not only an increase in overall call volume, but also longer call duration.

During a digital banking conversion, for example, calls average two to three times longer than normal, lasting an average of 6.5 minutes each (the higher end has calls lasting nearly an hour). Consider this — most institutions with general customer service calls will see average handle times in the two- to four-minute range. During a change event, these times can more than double to seven to nine minutes!

Also keep in mind the increase in call hold times. If you’re expecting 50% more calls, but those calls are coming in at much longer average handle time, your institution will be challenged if you only staff up by 50%.

#4 – Consider supervisory needs

Most contact centers run with representative-to-supervisor ratios of somewhere between 12:1 to 18:1. When it comes to a big inbound event, both the additional representatives and existing staff will be busier than usual, which means the supervisors will also be very busy.

When forecasting supervisory needs during an inbound event, lower the ratio of representatives-to-supervisors in the contact center. Having inexperienced or new representatives can make it even tougher on supervisors at a time when they need extra experience and expertise to deal with questions and call escalations.

#5 – Consider an expert solutions provider

A good way to estimate likely changes in handle time is to consult third-party suppliers, such as Harland Clarke, which offers extensive financial services expertise and support numerous inbound events, including  acquisitions, card re-issues, and conversions. Working with a partner allows institutions to double-check early forecasting and gather relevant case study data instead of relying on guesses or “ballpark” figures. Rely on our experience to help guide your institution in what is needed to prepare for the event (and provide an exceptional customer experience while doing it!)

Ron Hasbrooke is a business development executive for Harland Clarke.