Skip to content

Handling call overflow: 5 strategies to maintain excellent customer service

call overflow

Ideally, every incoming customer call would be answered by your team in as few rings as possible, right? You know it’s best for your customers — that a knowledgeable, helpful person can immediately address their questions. 

But in reality, it’s nearly impossible to have the right number of staff available at all times. Too many customer service representatives and you’re paying for more than you need. Not enough and your customers end up reaching voicemail and waiting for a call back. How can you strike a balance?

While you can’t prevent fluctuations in call volume, you can manage them. By having some strategies in place (such as call routing and using external support reps), you can minimize the number of customers impacted. 

In this article, we’ll cover call overflow: what it is and how to handle it in a way that makes the most sense for your business. 

What is call overflow?

Call overflow refers to any calls your customer service reps can’t answer. This can happen for a number of reasons:

  • Your support team is understaffed
  • You’re experiencing high call volume (such as a seasonal increase in volume)
  • Your company is experiencing a product or service issue impacting your customers

If call overflow happens due to your support team being understaffed, the root issue is obvious: you need to hire more reps. You’ll want to plan your resources appropriately so you don’t hire after you need more support reps. If you wait too long, too many phone calls will go unanswered, and ramping up a new team member takes time. Consistent increases in call volume signal it’s time to hire.

But temporary surges in call volume are harder to solve. You know it’s temporary, but too much call overflow will result in unhappy customers or abandoned calls. Customers don’t know that during “normal times,” they would typically speak to a rep after it rings. They only know that this time, their call was unanswered and they may take their business elsewhere. 

To maintain good customer service, you need to handle call overflow. 

5 strategies to manage call overflow

How you tackle call overflow on a small team handling a product or service issue looks very different than on a large team dealing with seasonal volume. Circumstances and team size make some strategies more effective than others.

We’ve rounded up five approaches so you can decide what works best. You may even want to implement several strategies — especially if your call overflow happens for varying reasons. 

1. Be prepared: Identify peak call times

You can’t manage what you don’t know, so you need to pinpoint when you’re experiencing higher call volume. 

In some cases, you can predict regular increases, such as heavier call volumes at certain times of the month, every month. Alternatively, you know you’ll experience more calls during the holiday season. If you can predict these peak call times, you can staff appropriately.

An overall increase in call volume can sneak up on you if you’re not actively monitoring it. Nykki Yeager, founder of Flight CX and former Head of Customer Success at Figma, says it’s a pitfall many small businesses face as they grow: they don’t foresee the increased contact volume. “Then it becomes about fighting fires in the support queue instead of zooming out and focusing on the process and the tooling that will help do that at scale,” says Nykki. 

Use call analytics to identify your peak times, increases in call volume, and abandonment rates (customers who are frustrated and hang up). That way, you can use some of the other strategies we’ll discuss or plan to hire additional customer support reps. In OpenPhone, you can keep an eye on call volume with the analytics dashboard

2. Use smart call routing

One way to manage call overflow is to use smart call routing. With smart call routing (also known as call flows), you direct callers to the person available at that time rather than ringing the entire pool of customer support reps. 

Call overflows: smart call routing

A phone menu gives your callers options, such as selecting from different departments. This can divert calls from a single destination and ease the call volume for your reps. If your customer needs to speak to a salesperson, for example, it is better to give them a menu option for sales. It’s faster and more efficient than transferring calls. Interactive voice response (IVR) lets your customers speak phrases (“say ‘sales’ for the sales department”) within a phone menu to select a menu option. 

You can also route inbound calls for different shifts using ring groups. Calls would ring to one group first, then to a second group, and so on. You may have a group of employees primarily responsible for customer support and some “backup” support reps who can handle call overflow if needed (a second ring group). 

OpenPhone users can set their work schedules so they only receive incoming notifications during specific hours of the day. Individual call notifications are different from business hours, which are set at the company level. If a rep is within a certain ring group but not working, they won’t receive call notifications. 

3. Use auto-replies to set expectations and save time

If a call goes to voicemail, you can let the caller know when they can expect to receive a call back. You can do this through your voicemail recording or even automatically text the caller with additional information.

save time with auto-replies to manage call overflow

Let the caller know why you missed the call, such as being outside of business hours, reps assisting other callers, or a higher than normal call volume. Be mindful that if a customer calls repeatedly and always gets the message that “reps are busy” or “we’re experiencing a higher than normal call volume,” it will give the impression that you’re understaffed. 

With an automated text, you can provide the caller with a link to your Help Center, FAQs, or a scheduling tool. These self-service options allow customers to solve their own problems, making it easier for your team when the call is returned. 

4. Set up call forwarding during or outside business hours

If you want to make sure every call is answered by someone or have SLAs you need to meet, you can direct inbound calls elsewhere when you have call overflow. Conditional call forwarding to third-party answering services, virtual receptionists, or on-call representatives can help you during peak call times, temporary increases in volume, or fill a gap until you hire additional reps. You can also use these people to handle after-hours calls. 

Third-party support services and these other options allow you to maintain the appropriate level of in-house staffing while handling excess calls when they come in. 

How to add a call overflow number on OpenPhone

In OpenPhone, you can add conditional call forwarding to handle call overflow. Advanced call handling lets you forward calls based on specific conditions and is available on our Business plan

To get started in the desktop or web app, click Settings from the left-hand menu.

  1. In the Workspace section, select Phone Numbers.
  2. If your plan has multiple phone numbers, choose the number to enable call forwarding.
  3. To forward calls after business hours, select Business Hours under the Call Flow settings. Then, under Outside business hours, add the forwarding phone number. 
Use OpenPhone to handle call overflow with forwarding to an external number outside business hourrs
  1. To forward unanswered calls during business hours, navigate to the Unanswered calls section under Call Flow. Select When no one answers and add the forwarding phone number. You’d use this option instead of sending the call to voicemail or playing an audio and then ending the call. 
Forward unanswered calls to another phone number to manage call overflow during business hours

5. Investigate call handling with call recordings

If you notice your customer service reps aren’t able to handle the call volume, you might assume they’re at their max call handling capacity. And this is often the case, especially during peak times or as your company grows and more phone calls are coming in.

Investigate call handling to manage call overflow

However, you should also review inbound calls to make sure they’re being handled effectively. You can get to the root of the problem by listening to call recordings or reading transcripts. You might spot issues like reps spending too much time on calls or struggling to answer customers’ questions. These can be solved by talking to the rep or providing additional resources, such as training manuals. Solving these types of issues can minimize your call overflow. 

Reduce call overflow with OpenPhone

Some call overflow is normal, especially if you’re able to identify why it’s happening. But if you continue to have problems with missed calls, it can indicate a problem with your team. One way to solve this is by hiring more reps. But if you think your customer service reps could be handling a higher number of calls, it might be a signal of something else, such as a workflow problem or other issues with how the reps are handling calls. 

OpenPhone can help you dig into some of these issues through analytics, transcripts, and call recordings. We also know that sometimes reps avoid answering calls, which can lead to more voicemails and isn’t actually a call overflow issue.

Read more about call avoidance and how to mitigate it to keep your operations running smoothly.


What is call overflow handling?

Call overflow handling refers to the strategies used to manage situations where a business has more incoming calls than customer service reps available. 

What are the benefits of handling call overflow?

If you identify the reasons for call overflow and properly manage them, you can reduce the number of voicemails and missed calls. Customer satisfaction is higher if your customers can talk to a rep and get their issues resolved quickly. 

How do you handle call overflow during peak business hours?

During peak hours, you can handle call overflow by routing calls to a third party or on-call representative rather than letting the call go to voicemail. If the call does go to voicemail, you can automatically send a text with a link to self-service options.

5/5 - (2 votes)