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10 Tips For Slicker Call Handling & Improving Customer Experience

Written by Ian Moyse, Sales Director Natterbox

In today’s world of social media, Amazon, Uber, Airbnb and the like, smartphones, tablets, touchscreens and Smart TV’s is it any wonder that as customers we have all become more fickle, more sensitive and demanding of customer service and experience. ‘67% of customers state their standard for good experiences are higher than ever’ (Source : Salesforce State of the Connected Customer).

Customer surveys and studies constantly re-enforce this, we all tell far more people of a bad experience than a good and often go into situations expecting the bad. When you call your energy supplier with an issue, your broadband or cable TV provider with a problem or your cell service provider with a complaint, what is your expectation going into it?   Long and perhaps confusing menu systems, call queues, agents that take for ever to find your issue, bounces around the business to get to the right place, perhaps repeating your story multiple times.  You enter the journey expecting the marathon, having to commit a block of your time to something you just want to solve quickly and move on.  In many cases, we literally have to block out a section of time within our busy calendars to make time to start the painful journey.

Many propose that the solution is to drive customers online, promoting email, social media, self-serve, web chat and knowledge bases which of course help the customer and reduce calls to your queue. However, this has other issues; to successfully achieve all of this has a cost in money, expertise and resources. Amazon is a pedestal example, but they have very deep pockets and resources. When you contact their live-chat you get a rapid response and in my experience resourceful and resulting experience. The average company cannot achieve this! Setting up such technology options to go full omni-channel is the easier part, against being able to resource it to a customer’s satisfaction.

Add also into this mix that many of the ‘phone calls’ that are required are due to customer’s needs falling through the cracks of the self-serve methods. What they want to do is not catered for, didn’t work, they cannot find it, or they simply choose to phone preferring it or being in a position (such as driving) where self-serve is not a convenient option. Often when a customer ‘phones’ they are extra frustrated as they could NOT find the answer, have already spent time diverted and expectant of your online model helping and been disappointed. Hence the phone interaction now needs to not only serve and resolve, but also to make up for the lag position you are already in!

Often, I hear an offense being that ‘customers don’t want to interact with us on the phone or we don’t want to handle the calls as it needs more manpower and what about out of hours?’

Well regardless of all the channels available to them, millennials and self-serve,  according to a recent study (Source : econsultancy) ‘Consumers prefer the following channels: phone (61%), email (60%), live chat (57%), online knowledge base (51%) and “click to call” support automation (34%)’ and ‘another report stated that ‘80% of consumers prefer talking to an agent on the phone, which poses a financial challenge for organizations because it is by far the most expensive channel to support.’ (Source : Consumer Preference Report).

Regardless of opinion or statistics, I am sure we can all agree as customers ourselves that it’s key to get a customer or prospective customer quickly through to the outcome they want, be it an automated confirmation that their order is on the way, that their account balance is £XXXX or an agent aided fix of a product redelivery, support assistance to fix a technical issue or facts about an event they are attending.

Industry stats show that the average firm is providing less than an average experience to their customers, members or prospects, affecting both satisfaction, revenue and customer churn.

  • ‘75% of customers believe it takes too long to reach an agent”’ – (Source : Harris Interactive)
  • ‘67% of customers have hung up the phone out of frustration they could not talk to a real person’ – (Source : American Express Survey)
  • ‘Phone / Voice is the most frustrating customer service channel’ – (Source : Conversocial Survey)

Likely goals of your business are to deliver superior customer service. Reduce wait times, speed time to resolution and reduce average handle times with customers. To achieve this is a mix of process, technology, people (skills & training) and insights into clear metrics to facilitate tuning of all of these in an ongoing basis.

As you read on consider yourself as the customer, do these points make sense to you as a human being if you were calling in? Not with blinkered eyes of being the supplier and the mental barriers of defending how you do it today!

So what are some key focal points to enable you to better engage and serve your customers in any phone engagements with you:

 

1. Dynamic Personalised IVR (Interactive Voice Response)

As already stated one of customers biggest issues is how long it takes between completing the dialling and actually getting through to a human in the right position to aid their need!

Enabling Customers to get through to the right place faster, reduces abandonment rates and customer frustrations, which then often get passed onto the agent’s day in emotional transference from the customer.

  • ‘IVR amounts to 27% of the total call experience. However, only 7% of organisations offer an IVR solution that delivers a superior experience (CSAT). (Source: JD Power & Associates)
  • ‘34% of respondents chose their most frustrating aspect of customer service as “Automated Telephone System (IVR) / inability to reach a live person for customer support.”  (Source : Microsoft 2017 stat of customer service report)

We all put up and live with the same menu system every time we call a company and yet on web sites a big investment has been made to shorten customer’s journeys, knowing if not they will leave! Call a customer several times to resolve a need/issue and how quickly do you yourself get frustrated with the same long menu system, often starting to know the options before they are read out.

Why put customers all through the same menus every time, every situation?

Why not provide customers excellence from that very 1st touch point? Have a phone system that detects the inbound number, data dips into the details you hold against that number and present a dynamic IVR menu of options based on both the customer and/or their current situation with you. For example, if a reseller of yoursonly sells products A, D and F they don’t need a menu of A through F – only give options A, D and F for that caller! Or for a client calling who had an open support ticket yesterday that your system can see was not closed and the call-back did not happen, present an IVR such as “Morning Mike, we see you called yesterday and we did not resolve your support case, please press 1 if you are calling about this to be put straight through and 2 for our normal menu options”. The phone system providing the most likely options to the client, based on what you know about them, being both relevant to the person and the timing. Wow them from the outset and aid them getting where they want quickly and without frustration.

 

2. Personalise Their Experience

In the website example already mentioned, not only do you shorten the journeys, most look to identify the user and deliver personalisation through cookie technology and logins, giving the user messaging and impressions that are aligned to that individual.

‘84% of customers say being treated like a person, not a number, is very important to winning their business’ – (Source : Salesforce State of the Connected Customer)

So Why O’ Why when it comes to phone systems do we lack personalisation? We are all used to CLI (Caller Line Identification) on our home lines and mobiles, identifying the inbound caller from the address book lookup and presenting their details, so why is this not used consistently in business. You have a good chance (despite GDPR) of having the caller’s details in your systems (CRM, Service, Billing, Membership, etc), implement a phone system that allows lookup of this data, use text to voice to perhaps address them by name, time of day and customise their IVR to their situation, based on details in your system.

  • ‘Morning Susan, putting you through to your account team now’
  • ‘Afternoon Peter, We detect we did not resolve your parts enquiry yesterday; if you are calling about this press 1 to be put straight through, for all other options press 2’
    • And ongoing through pop and perhaps auto whisper to the agent that its Peter about his parts order 165x7f8 from yesterday, empowering them to answer it both personally and informed.
  • For a business partner who can only sell product ranges 1,4, 7 and 8, don’t present them with an IVR that walks them through all 8 options, detect the business they are calling from and present them only with the options relevant to them (1,4,7 and 8) on the IVR.

 

3. Put Customers In Control

If you are going to put me through a system that might frustrate me, give me control over it. As in the prior example, try to personalise and give a customer the most appropriate and shortened IVR menu options.

If you do then, however put them into call queues also consider how you can assist them here.  How many times have you gone into a queue and not been informed  how long the queue may be or your queue position, which queue you are in to validate you made the correct IVR selection and worse of all once you are in the queue having no option to leave it for fear of having to start again.

  • ‘Customers left on-hold without any background music felt that a 30-second on-hold call actually lasted 90 seconds. Furthermore, customers thought a 30-second on-hold call that used music-on-hold lasted only 15 seconds’ – (Source – AT&T Survey)
  • ‘34% of callers who hang up will not call back’ – (Source : Voice Response Inc)

Consider how your queue engages the customer, what music or messaging you utilise and give the caller the option to request a call back, to hold their place in the queue, provide or confirm the number to call them back on and allow them to go get on with their daily lives, assured that when their genuine time comes your system will automatically connect an agent, provide the agent with the information of who called and connect the agent via a call-back to the caller, delivering the end result required in a more effective manner for the client.

 

4. Most Appropriate Agent

All agents are not born equal. For example, you will have some with specific key skills based on their backgrounds and careers, some with language skills, some with more knowledge of your Product B and others with more gravitas and a variety of other soft skills. Some customers will only deal with your Division XYZ, others will be high spend customers who you may wish to direct to a certain account team.

For a variety of these reasons you may wish to consider how you utilise this to better direct calls to the best person for that customer at that time! If you could speak to the customer prior to calling, you could understand that for this call they need someone who speaks French and understands product ABC in depth and hence direct them to the best person to assist them. Giving them to an English speaker, who joined the team a week ago and hardly knows ABC product exists is not going to result in a good call for the client and likely also for the agent!

So, to achieve this best match approach, consider using skills based routing. Identify the caller, either by where they are calling from (e.g. you can assume someone calling from a French number perhaps should be answered in French) or by the system looking up their number as a known one being a silver customer of yours based in Paris. Using the IVR perhaps qualify down a little more by their choices of 3 for Support, 4 for Product ABC and then using the information quickly gathered have the system automatically in real time, identify the call queue or agents that are best set to help this caller and direct the call.  You could also pop to the agent and/or whisper to them from the system when they do answer that this call was directed to them because of needing a French speaker who understands product ABC.

 

5. Informed Agents

Getting customers through is one part of the quandary, a key component remains however, the ability for the agent to then satisfy that customers specific ‘now’ need.

So, combining skills based routing to maximise the chances of this, alongside pre-informing the agent, training and information at their fingertips is equally important.

  • ‘68% of customers said that a pleasant representative was key to their recent positive service experiences, and 62% said that a representative’s knowledge or resourcefulness was key.’ – (Source : American Express Customer Service Study 2017)
  • ‘22% of respondents chose their most frustrating aspect of customer service as having to repeat or provide information multiple times’ – (Source : Microsoft 2017 state of customer service report)
  • ‘According to consumers, customer service agents failed to answer their questions 50% of the time’ – (Source : Harris Interactive)

From identifying the caller, profiling quickly their need and directing to the most appropriate agent, now focus on providing that agent a fast heads up prior to and during the call.  Screen pop the customer details, case or cases available to ask the customer when connected, text to voice whisper in their ear ‘Answer in German” and the agent is going to continue the already improved experience for the customer as they reach their 1st real human!

 

6. Same Advisor Call-Backs

A big complaint of callers is having to deal with different agents every time and repeat their story.

There are several solutions to this, all of which can be configured easy enough to alleviate this issue.  Firstly, make it easy (refer to the next section) for agents to more quickly log details and thus accurately capture the customers enquiry / request / complaint to aid the next agent to be informed. As advised above, pop these details or make them easily and quickly accessible for the next agent to deal with this client.

‘89% of customers get frustrated because they need to repeat their issues to multiple representatives’ – (Source : Accenture)

 

7. Agent Efficiency – Less Clicks More Calls

How many times have you called to find a long queue time, ‘we are unusually busy at this time’ or an agent answering the phone sounding flustered or like they are trying to finish something else off.  Often the tools used require the agent to find your client record or create one, create an incident or ticket and log all the customers comments and details.

Therefore, you should find a tool that enables them to do this in the minimal clicks using predefined wrap-up codes, shortcuts and enablers. For example being able to log this call and schedule the next action / job efficiently will aid the Average Handling Time (AHT) of agents enabling them to better serve customers quickly and to serve more customers effectively per hour.

8. Call Monitoring & Recording

Having a record of calls not only helps your business in case of disputes or customer accusations and where applicable compliance, but also is a great aid to call coaching and training of agents. If you record all your calls in an easily accessible fashion it enables you to re-listen to calls and gauge progress and quality proactively. Also allowing an agent or sales person to easily identify and listen to their own specific calls can aid understanding and correction of notes from a call, often missed in the live listen mode. Imagine a sales person having a call with their largest prospect for the quarter and then asking their Sales Leader to review the call with a  link to provide insights to help them.

Also listening to unusually long calls, identified in exception reports and dashboards can allow a supervisor to identify those that have signs that an agent maybe has not listened to the problem or interrupted the caller or was unable to assist as effectively as you would like.

Monitoring facilities also allows a supervisor to listen in live, speak to just the agent or interject and speak to both agent and caller.  Personally, I find the whisper to just the agent feels challenging as you then have the agent listening to their boss and NOT listening to the client. Live coaching sounds great, but is it in reality the right approach and should we be putting agents under that strain of who is more important to listen to? My boss or the customer? But this is a personal decision and having a tool that allows a variety of approaches is helpful in aiding consistent improvement in customer experience and interaction within your business.

 

9. System Automated Self-Serve Information

We are told customers all want to self-serve and to varying degrees if made easy we will. Take the supermarkets and shops now with serve yourself tills, scan your own, pack them and pay without an actual person helping.

Self-serve is typically assumed to be the web and knowledge trees of information and help pages. Increasingly this is changing by the likes of Alexa and Google to allow voice interaction and businesses are seeking to enable this using telephony.  An easy way to do this is to use that same agent and system fed data to allow a customer to get fed relevant and timely information when they call, that may alleviate the need for the IVR, call queue and agent experiences above. Imagine I am calling to check where my delivery is.

If the system has the latest information of that detail, why when I call can the system not recognise my number against my account, address me by name, ask if you are calling to check the delivery for XYZ, request 1 for confirmation or 2 for other options and if the customers elects for 1 then text to speech reads out, ‘your delivery is scheduled for 1-5pm today to be at <customers Address>’.  Perhaps then even lead to press 1 to accept or 2 to reschedule this delivery to an alternate time.

This not only rapidly aids the customer, but shortens their time to resolution and alleviates the effort of your agents as no one had to actually speak to the client, hence a knock on effect being if 15% of your calls are handled through this method then you have gained 15% bandwidth to better serve those customers that do NEED to speak to an agent.

 

10. Call Metrics & Analysis

Traditionally telephony systems and PBX’s have allowed data to be pulled from them, but this begets the issue, it is just that, data!

You can usually align the caller to recipient and see how many calls, by who, how long etc and get some level of indicators. But aligning this data to real customer information is typically very hard and too cumbersome and effort heavy to do on a programmatic basis.

  • ‘67% of organisations see access to real-time or near real-time metrics as a very important capability. However, only a few companies (8%) get access to their metrics as soon as they are generated. Fewer than 18% receive them on the same day, while the remaining companies get it within four weeks.’ (Source: Ventana Research)

What you really want is to know how many calls come and go to which clients, which demographic of client is costing you the most in support, is it those who bought a combination of products, those of a certain size or type.  How many call and what durations are your agents / sales making to high value prospects compared to lower value clients in spend. Is your finance team hounding high profile Platinum criteria customers, are they not calling the ones you wish to collect enough. Are your Gold customers having to queue too long, etc. Having detailed telephony data correlated real-time with real customer data is invaluable, turning data into information and information into true insights.

You need such data real-time or as near as can be, the ability to change the report/dashboard format easily and flexibly and to be able to share these across the business as needed, allowing KPIs’ to drive upward and downward behaviours and common understanding. YOU may also wish to have these displayed on larger office screens alongside traditional wallboards showing agent availability and call queue information.

Getting this right can change the mindset and behaviours, not because anyone was intentionally doing anything wrong, but as they say knowledge is power. Someone understanding, with real data in an intelligible format where they are spending their call time, who with, how long etc can allow them to make their own positive realisations.

You don’t know what you don’t know and if you don’t know it you cannot and will not do anything about changing or improving it.

So, as you can see there are many logical and easy approaches to improving the lives of both your customer and your own staff, gaining efficiencies, bringing telephony into the modern age and showing customers a service that differentiates you and puts you right back up there. Isn’t it time we delighted customers, taking away their expectations of poor service, queues and phone bouncing and surprising them with a quicker, more personalised engagement.

‘80% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its product and services’  – (Source : Salesforce State of the Connected Customer)

All of this is possible today with affordable technology, with the investment costs usually and quickly eaten up by the efficiency gains and extra business from more loyal customers increasing spend and staying longer. A disgruntled customer and the effort taken to apologise or worse churning them outweighs the investment in new cloud phone technology that can be transformational to this side of your business.

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