On Monday the Center for Disease Control (CDC) sounded the alarm bell that the spread of Coronavirus in the U.S. was increasingly likely and that individuals and businesses should begin to prepare accordingly.

While no one knows what the actual impact of the virus will be, we expect that call centers across several industries along with public sector service agencies will be adversely impacted.

In fact, states and communities that have implemented coronavirus hotlines are already experiencing high call volume and long wait times. Additionally, many companies, such as those in the travel and hospitality industries, are feeling the impact in their call centers as well.

For this reason, we created a program that combines Xaqt’s Cognitive IVR and Engagement Suite with business continuity best practices to get you prepared and mitigate the potential impact to your business or services should the situation deteriorate.

Regardless of your current situation and anticipated impact, Xaqt now offers a suite of solutions that will help you with a call center automation strategy for your current calls or even create an automated Coronavirus hotline for you.

Risk Assessment

The first step in Coronavirus preparedness is to assess the impact that the potential spread would have on your business and call center. In many cases, even just the fear of the virus could drive more call volume or higher absenteeism rates.

Scaling to meet these challenges will be an issue for companies and agencies that fail to prepare.

Increased Call Volume and Call Volume Spikes

The first impact to your center will be call volume spikes. The types of calls that you need to handle may vary in nature depending on your company or organization. These could range from:

  • Handling calls about the disease itself, such as establishing a Coronavirus hotline for citizens or employees to access critical information in real-time
  • Business impact related - We now live and work in an inter-connected world. Even if the coronavirus does not spread in the U.S, it is already causing disruptions in the global supply chain and logistics. Ask how these could impact your business. Will it cause production delays that could lead to increased calls from your customers?
  • Cancellations, Reschedules, Policies, Procedures, etc. - Across many industries, such as travel and hospitality, customers are already calling to cancel reservations or ask questions about coronavirus related policies and procedures. We expect to see more of this.

Here are a few questions to ask as you assess the potential risk:

  • How many more calls per day will you need to handle?
  • What will they be about?
  • Can they be automated?
  • How will you ramp-up to handle these calls?
  • If an outbreak hits your community and agents can't get to work, what is your plan?

Negative impacts to your call center will be:

  • Long queue and wait times (some call centers are already experiencing wait times up to an hour)
  • High Abandon Rates
  • Lost revenue due to abandoned calls or poor customer experience
  • Increased labor cost and cost-per-call due to hiring more agents or paying for overtime
  • Agent burnout and high turnover
  • Critical calls will get blocked or held-up in queue

High Absenteeism Rates

Even if your industry won't be effected by an increase in call volume, there is the potential for high absenteeism if an outbreak occurs in the community where your call center is located.

The CDC has warned that

Widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time. Schools, childcare centers, workplaces, and other places for mass gatherings may experience more absenteeism.

"Places for mass gatherings", like call centers...

In the event that schools, businesses or other public services do need to shutdown, it will inevitably drive high absentee rates and attrition in your call center. Its best to prepare now.

There are two primary ways to handle this. The first is to establish a program for agents to work from home. The other is to evaluate which of your current calls, or anticipated calls, can be automated using Xaqt's conversational IVR technology.

Evaluate Current Opportunities for Automation

One way to minimize the impact of future call volume increases is to automate the voice interactions that you receive today. For example, if your call center handles reservations, appointment scheduling, logistics related questions, or FAQ type calls then Xaqt's Conversational and Cognitive IVR can have material cost savings to your organization immediately.

Xaqt's Cognitive Voice Automation Suite supports any type of voice interaction, not just those related to Coronavirus. So if you are anticipating higher than normal absentee rates, then our team can work with you to deploy a Conversational IVR that can automate many of the calls that you handle today.

By partnering with Xaqt to evaluate which of your current calls or customer interactions can be automated with Conversational AI, then your existing customers and business will not be negatively impacted by call spikes.

Does Your Business need its own Coronavirus Hotline?

One way to prevent calls specific to Coronavirus from impacting other customers or more urgent calls (such as placing an order), is to establish a dedicated number or call prompt just for to automate Coronavirus related calls.

These calls could be from your customers asking questions like, "does my travel insurance cover flight cancellations due to Coronavirus?" or "what is your coronavirus hotel quarantine policy?"

Regardless of the nature of these calls, Xaqt will partner with you to establish an automation strategy that delivers the right answers and ensures business continuity.

Employee Information Hotlines

Keeping employees up to date on the current situation and your company's policies and procedures is critical. There is a lot of misinformation on the internet, and providing employees easy access to verified and accurate information will have a positive impact on moral and reduce fear. Additionally, your company or organization may have pandemic plans in place as part of your business continuity procedures that need to be communicated to all of your employees, vendors and customers.

As part of our Coronavirus response program, Xaqt will partner with you to develop the best automated communication system. This could include a dedicated hotline to access your company specific messages, or even create proactive outbound SMS and email notifications. Providing the ability to easily access the information they need will be a great benefit to your employees peace of mind.

Establish a Coronavirus Hotline for Public Health and Safety

Several states and cities have already established dedicated hotlines or call centers specific to addressing questions about Coronavirus. The City of San Fransisco has even established a state of emergency to prepare for a widespread outbreak.

We expect that states, cities, counties, universities, health care providers, public agencies and NGOs that DO NOT create a dedicated hotline will be inundated with calls to their normal business lines, such as: 911, 311, public health departments and whatever phone number people can find that they think can answer their questions. You may be experiencing this already.

Unfortunately, most of the call centers in place today have not deployed any conversational IVR or proactive notification capabilities. Therefore, they will be unable to scale to meet the current and impending demand of call volume.

Xaqt has developed a Coronavirus Response IVR and program that automates the most common questions about the disease and its current state, therefore providing the ability to reduce the need to hire live agents.

Disseminate CDC and Coronavirus updates in real-time updates

As we've seen in recent days, information about the virus changes quickly. Whether its what we know about the virus itself, what can be done to prevent its spread, where to get test kits, or procedures that need to be implemented in the event of its spread. Keeping track of these updates and disseminating them is a challenge.

That's why Xaqt has established a real-time feed into the CDC's website and is constantly monitoring for the most up-to-date information. We can also work with your local health and human services department to ensure community based updates are accessible.

As new details emerge, our knowledge base is updated so that your hotline callers always have the most up to date answers. As we service more callers, our AI engine compiles a list of frequently asked questions. For those questions that we don't have an answer to, we partner with you or the CDC to find them.

With Xaqt's Cognitive IVR, you have constant visibility into who is calling, why they're calling, what questions are being asked and what feedback is being collected.

By establishing a Coronavirus hotline with Xaqt's program and cognitive engagement suite, you will help people get the critical information they need, when they need it.

For example:

Additionally, when a call needs to be transferred to agent, we can ensure that they are empowered with the information they need as well.

Proactive Coronavirus News Notifications

As new information arises, such as school closings or new findings, you may wish to mass notify people all at once, rather than waiting for them to call back into your hotline.

Xaqt's Cognitive Engagement Suite provides the option for people to opt-in to SMS updates or to receive an automate outbound call with the most recent information.

This can be a great mechanism to keep employees or citizens informed and aware of any potential impact to them or your organization.

Deployment Models and Getting Started

Xaqt's Cognitive IVR and Coronavirus hotline is securely hosted in the cloud and can scale to as many concurrent calls as needed. Our team manages the entire solution and there is no technical expertise required on your side.

You also get your own dedicated phone number with your company or organization's branding, and the ability to customize your own information and messaging. We take care of the rest. For calls or interactions that require a live agent, we can transfer to your call center or help you staff it.

Xaqt's Coronavirus Communication program and IVR will work with whatever phone system you already have in place. It's fully hosted in the cloud and managed by a team of Xaqt experts.

For companies that need help with automating calls specific to their business, such as with travel and hospitality companies, an Xaqt Customer Experience expert will work with you to design and built the best conversational AI flows and integrate any business systems or applications required to service the information to your customers.

There is a nominal one-time fee to set-up for the platform and then you only pay for minutes used. This means that if your business or call center is not impacted, then you won't be charged expensive fees.

Our AI based solution can be deployed within a couple of days.