Let's face facts: no one actually likes calling customer support.
By the very nature of it, reaching out to support from just about any organization is an irritating experience. Having to call means that you weren't able to figure something out for yourself. In the modern information age, this can be both humbling and humiliating for customers. Our job, as the people on the other end of that necessary-but-annoying call, is to make the experience as painless as possible and, if we can, find a way for the customer to end the call happier than they were when it began. To that end, here are a few ways you can make your call center operation stand out.
1. Monitor Your Menu
Have you ever looked down at your phone while stumbling through the auto-attendant and thought to yourself "I've got enough digits here to fill out a lottery ticket... if I EVER get off this phone!" If so, you're not alone.
Striking the balance between guiding customers down the right path and wasting their time is a tricky task. You don't want to dump all of your customers into a single queue and force reps to transfer them after the call has been answered. You also don't want to force your customers to navigate through dozens of different choices in order to speak to the person they need. Ideally, you should be able to stick to just a few phone menu options when someone reaches your call center.
One way in which Telzio empowers organizations is the ease with which our system can be customized, allowing for constant fine-tuning. Say that you've had your call center up and running for six months. In those six months, you've realized that over 75% of your call volume goes to the Billing queue, but you've had customers pushing 7 for billing. That option obviously belongs closer to the 1 key than the 9 key, and you can make that change in your phone system in just a few minutes.
By keeping your phone menu simple, and constantly adjusting them to your customers' behavior, you'll improve the customer experience, bring down Average Handle Time, and keep down costs.
2. Keep Your Hold Times Low
Average hold time is one of the most important call center metrics to know. This should go without saying, but apparently must be said. If you've ever spent three hours on hold listening to the same off-brand elevator muzak foisted upon you by company X, with the only respite coming in the form of the occasional "We apologize for the delay. Your call is important to us. Please continue to hold", then you know. Few things are more infuriating than being told that you matter and are important when all of the evidence seems to suggest otherwise.
Let's be frank: customers don't want to talk to you. They want your product or service to perform as advertised. If they've reached the point where they have to ask you for help, they want it to take as little time as possible. If you force them to give up hours of their time in order to fix a problem with your offering, you're giving them the excuse they need to leave you for someone who responds more quickly to their needs.
By allowing you to intelligently route calls and set hold time thresholds, our customizable call center software enables you to manage your traffic in such a way that customers should rarely have to wait to speak to someone when they need to.
3. Empower Your Supporters
Far too often in modern call centers, those charged with providing high-level customer support are little more than what longtime call center veterans refer to as "flowlist jockeys." The vast majority of support organizations force their representatives to strictly abide by pre-formed decision trees. For the uninitiated, this means that the reason "Dave in Georgia" asked you the same question five times was because the screen in front of him told him to ask you that question. Had he failed to do so, the person reviewing his call logs would have written him up for it.
The theory behind this was that, by coming up with a single set of processes and procedures, relatively untrained personnel could be relied upon to walk customers through resolving common issues. For large organizations, this can be a big cost savings. It's what has enabled the extensive outsourcing of customer support operations to call centers around the world.
Outsourced call center agents:
- have little to no direct experience with the product or service they're supporting, and
- are ill-equipped to help customers deal with problems which do not fit one of their preset processes.
At Telzio, we employ an "Independent Expert" model rather than trusting flowlist jockeys. Our supporters work with our VoIP platform every single day. Rather than trust a list to tell us what questions to ask and what steps to take, we rely on the experience of our trained experts to carry the day.
This approach nimbly sidesteps the biggest problem with flowlists: their lack of flexibility. If all you know is what the list tells you, you're lost when something beyond it occurs. If you work with a system daily, for years on end, you come to know every little quirk it has as well as you knew which floorboards in your childhood home would creak and wake your parents.
4. Embrace Humanity
You've successfully battled the auto attendant. You held for hours and managed to hang onto a shred of sanity despite the muzak's best attempt to take it from you. Now you're finally on the phone with an actual human being... who sounds like they're doing their best impression of Data from Star Trek. Everything which comes out of their mouth sounds canned and scripted. From "Thank you for calling Widgets R' Us, may I have your name and telephone number please?" to "Again, we appreciate your call and hope that you enjoyed your experience today would you like to stay after the call and take a brief survey?" comes off as precisely what it is: scripted lines designed to fit any and all situations.
Call centers often feel as though they've forgotten their single greatest asset: their people. That's a living, breathing human being you've hired to sit in that chair and help your customers. Rather than turning them into a biological robot whose pre-planned questions and answers are the same on every single call, allow them the freedom to engage with the customer as a person.
- Don't force them to regurgitate platitudes.
- Do encourage them to let their natural personality shine through.
- Don't mandate "an empathetic tone."
- Do reward them for genuinely caring about the customers' problems and making sure the customer knows how invested they are in fixing it.
When people feel as though the person on the other end of the line was being "real" with them, they feel cared about. A robotic voice delivering canned responses can leave customers feeling like they're being ground up by a machine. A human being whose feelings aren't locked in a steel cage in the break room can leave customers feeling as though they've just met the person at that faceless company who actualy cares about them.
5. Learn to Forecast
Once your contact center has been up and running for a few months, you should have started to recognize some trends. Does your call volume crater during the school year and skyrocket during summer break? Do you have traffic spikes during inclement weather events? Do your users find a greater need for your service after the home team loses or wins the big game? Almost anything can be a data point, and the more that you collect as your call center grows, the better you'll be able to predict what you need.
If you're a small organization, forecasts can be an absolute life-saver. The ability to look at trends over time to determine your busy and slow times is one which can make or break your organization. Being over-staffed during slow times is a waste of money, and having too low a head count during peak times can lead to long holds, abandoned calls, and very grouchy customers.
By using built-in call center metrics such as those on our platform, your organization can gather all the data necessary to determine when your slow and busy times are, and use those call analytics to adjust staff levels accordingly.
Optimizing staffing levels and call loads is a never-ending battle, but the more call data you bake into your forecasts, the more accurate they will get over time. You'll likely tinker with these until the end of time, but ensuring that you always have the right number of agents to support your customers is worth it.
At the end of the day, your contact center's priority is the same, regardless of industry: customer satisfaction. If you can make their experience simple, fast, friendly, and effective, you will have done everything you can to ensure that they stay with you for a long time to come. If you're lucky, they might even tell their friends.
Josh Epstein has been providing high-quality technical support since the days of dial-up, and has worked at every level of the telecommunications industry. He currently serves as the first line of support for Telzio’s customers around the world, where he strives to provide heroic service.