Play: Manage increased call center volume during COVID-19

In this play:

This play was written by mRelief, one of the partners in the Social Tech Collaborative

For community-based organizations and government agencies that operate a call center, the number of incoming calls from clients has increased dramatically. Managing a high number of calls from clients with urgent needs is very challenging and can place a strain on call center employees. As clients call with questions about eligibility requirements, application options, interview schedule, case status, renewal options and benefit amount, triaging calls can be very difficult.

This article includes a few recommendations on managing the number of incoming calls while still meeting clients’ needs, ensuring that questions are answered as efficiently as possible and supporting the needs of call center staff.

Best practices for this play

What can be done quickly
  • Help clients understand the program requirements before they call - Clearly sharing program requirements or providing an eligibility pre-screener next to the call center number can help answer questions before the client calls. When clients have easy access to program information, they can begin the application process without calling to ask questions about eligibility. In one implementation with a community-based organization in Chicago, adding a pre-screener next to the hotline on the website reduced calls by 57% in a month and directed clients quickly to the information they need.
  • Set up call back options - As an increase in the number of calls can increase hold-times, setting up the option to request a callback can help clients minimize the time they spend enrolling in social services. When clients have not had to wait on hold, they are less likely to express frustration to call center staff. Given that some clients have limited phone plans, a call back option can save critical phone minutes.
  • Share information and set expectations on the recording - In addition to setting up a callback option, communicating the amount of time that a client can expect to wait on hold helps people plan accordingly. When possible, sharing information about available online resources can help clients understand all of their options while waiting on hold.
  • Track the number of incoming calls - Understanding the call volume and how it fluctuates based on the day of the week or the time of day in the short-term can be a critical foundation for making longer-term changes.
What to aim for long term
  • Set up scheduling options - Creating an online scheduling system for people to set up a time to speak with someone at the call center can reduce repeat calls and manage call flow through the day.
  • Follow up over text messaging - Sending any critical follow-up over text messaging such as websites, applications, documents needed or phone numbers can reduce the need for people to call as a follow-up.


Related categories

Mobile Virtual assistance Workforce


We encourage feedback, comments, and contributions to the Social Tech Playbook. Do you have experience with this play that you can share with your colleagues in the social services sector? We’d love to hear from you.

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