Call Centers under Stress, Shai Berger

Call Centers under Stress, Shai Berger, CEO Fonolo.

Shai is a regular TADSummit contributor:

  • In 2019 he presented on “The Race to Control the Customer Service Messaging Channel.” This presentation looked at how Facebook, Apple and Google are competing with each other; the ecosystem of vendors around them; and how proprietary messaging platforms compare with other text-based channels.
  • In 2018 he presented on “New Platforms for Customer Service Communications: Who Benefits?” One of the important questions raised is all the companies based on the Twilio:Amazon stack has resulted in a wave of disruption across enterprise telecoms with consumption based pricing, much lower per-seat pricing, and enterprises being in greater control. But are we ending up with a General Motors problem, where differentiation will be difficult given the common underlying platform.
  • In 2016 he presented on “When will Telecom innovation breach the Call Center Silo?” And this year, the focus is the impact of COVID-19 on the call center.

Shai reviews a number of headlines as call centers operated through the pandemic. He highlights the lack of metrics to determine relative success during a pandemic / crisis. For an industry obsessed with metrics in the steady-state, to not have crisis metrics is unusual, power companies and airlines have such metrics.

Communications is critical infrastructure. With power outages during a hurricane we have outages reporting with an estimate to repair. Throughout the pandemic we’ve lacked reporting on how the industry did, and Shai’s presentation addresses this important gap.

Some call centers in overflow simply fail to the call path, that is incoming callers receive a busy signal. Which 20 years ago may have been acceptable. But today, with programmable communications, that does not have to be the case.

Shai reviews a number of crisis metrics, for example, how fast should a call center return to normal after a shock? He focuses on a real world case study from New Zealand. Its an impressive case, and I high recommend listening through Shai’s review.

At 2:30PM on 23rd March 2020 the Prime Minister of New Zealand announced a national lockdown, and new benefits for those made unemployed. About 75% of working New Zealanders went through this call center.

In the 3 hours after that address the traffic jumped by a factor of 5! It took about 4 months before the call volumes returned to normal, and during the crisis they had a state of the art system, and were able to triple the number of agents, as well as many other migitations. Some of the challenges included a concurrency limit on the voice IVR. Shai will be reviewing this case study in more detail over the coming months at

The New Zealand call center story is interesting, and I’ll be following Shai’s analysis. The point Shai raised on developing the metrics and mitigations for dealing with crises is a critical gap our industry needs to address, and programmable communications is part of the answer. With global heating, we have many more crises to come.

Agenda Description

The Covid era has placed stress on call centers like never before. It would be hard to design a better scenario to push call centers to the breaking point. At the same time that call volumes started surging, many call centers were forced to work with fewer agents. In other words: a demand shock and a supply shock at the same time.

Many call centers failed catastrophically, and we will look at some case studies. More importantly, we will look at how, exactly, call centers fail under load. This is a vastly under-studied topic, and one that is newly relevant.

We can’t just look back at mid 2020 and just do a “post mortem”; The increased volume and the decreased staff are stressors that are still in play today! As an industry, we need to make disaster-planning and operating-under-stress an integral part of call center design.

One thought on “Call Centers under Stress, Shai Berger”

  1. Thank you Shai for an interesting case study, I’ll be tracking you analysis. What do you consider to be the critical metrics during a crisis? And just like the 80:20 rule of 80% of inbound calls answered in 20 secs; what are some of the rules of thumb during a crisis?

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