Spark’s Inbound Contact Centre Manager, Trevor Flack, describes the ins and outs of managing an inbound contact centre during peak times.

In recent years the inbound contact centre arm of the business has become increasingly seasonal. In fact, we can output up to 50% of our annual volumes during the last four months of the year, so as you’d expect, preparation and planning are pivotal.

A key element of that preparation and planning is having the right staff in place to ensure we can cope with the inevitable uplift in calls we take during those busiest months. So each year the business recruits up to 150 seasonal workers who are trained to the level of our 150 full time employees and they provide the support needed to meet the demands of shoppers as they begin stocking up for Christmas.

And I believe that it is because of this common practice of having our vastly experienced core team work alongside the as-and-when-needed staff that we were chosen as one of the contact centres to field calls during last year’s Sport Relief event.

Scoping the size of the project

Once we were given word that we would be involved in the five-hour star-studded telethon, it was my job as inbound contact centre manager to put in place a plan of action just as we would when we prepare to kick off support for a new client.

I had to fully scope the logistics of the event; how many bums on seats were required to meet the volume of calls expected and to ensure the phones were manned at all times, what training would be needed, would we require external support, and so on.

Communicating with the client

I also had to work closely with the Comic Relief implementation team, which included a project manager and members from the IT, HR, training, security, facilities, marketing and catering teams. To be accepted for an event like this, you need to have the people, the technology, security and health and safety credentials, the ability to switch a large scale campaign on and off, and, most importantly, team spirit.

Getting the business on board

Because I’d never been involved in an event on such a large scale before, it was crucial I got it right and as much as I was relishing the opportunity for my team to demonstrate its organisational skills and expertise, equally it was an enormous challenge as our reputation was on the line. The pressure was massive.

But really I needn’t have worried. Staff from across the business was happy to give up their Friday night to man the phones, as were their friends, family and even some of our former employees. I’m not sure many companies can boast that. So after all the pre-planning had been done and the necessary training provided to non contact centre people, which was offered right up to 15 minutes before we went live, our focus was then on enjoying the night and doing our bit for what is such a worthwhile cause.

Manning the phones

During the event itself it was all hands on deck and by midnight, we had taken more than £44,000 in donations towards the overall £52m raised, which was fantastic. Everyone did their bit and I can honestly say that as well as it being a fun event for everyone involved, even without the usual Friday night tipples most of us enjoy, it was also carried out with the utmost professionalism. The evening was a great leveller as all us senior managers and directors chipped in taking calls and pledges.

There’s no doubt in my mind that our experience as a peak season business was crucial in us being able to adapt to the requirements of an event such as Sport Relief, and as a result of the great job we did, we’ve been chosen as a donation centre for this year’s Comic Relief too. That makes me incredibly proud.