Maximise the customer experience: How to improve call handling performance by up to 50% and reduce staff costs, by James L. Tanner
Reducing customer service costs while improving customer loyalty is challenging in the best of times. During a downturn, performing this fine act becomes both more difficult and more critical to achieve. Communications Department’s experience of working with many clients over the last 10 years demonstrates that a focus on improving call handling can increase performance by up to 50%, without impacting customer service levels, as well as lead to stronger customer satisfaction and reduced customer service costs. According to Keynote research, 7 out of 10 people prefer the phone to any other method of contact.
We worked with Great Western Ambulance Service and Driver Vehicle Licensing Northern Ireland to implement these 10 golden rules, they both improved their call handling performance by 50% and substantially increased the number of calls answered per call handling team member.
By following these 10 Golden Rules you can balance efficiency and quality in your service operations.
1. Communicate the goal
Define and measure 5 contact handling performance targets on the phone, correspondence and face to face. Ensure that your call handling team know how to achieve them. Report monthly results to the board. Set up an internal culture of achieving or exceeding the performance targets, incentivised by rewards.
2. Encourage self-service
More and more call centres have welcome messages on the phone to inform callers about their web site address where frequently asked questions, download forms and to place orders can be found. The web channel should be re-enforced on an on-going basis so when the call handling team receive simple queries, they should refer callers to their website to have these issues resolved faster and cheaper in the future. Simple query resolution through self-service should automatically reduce call volumes. From our customers’ experience up to 30% of all calls are either simple queries or progress chasing, e.g. chasing up an existing order. According to Keynote research 1/3 of people overall prefer to contact organisations by email or online, and 50% of 25 – 44 year olds prefer contact by email or online.
However, please make sure that the web self-service copy is relevant, easy to access, and constantly updated. There is nothing more frustrating for the customer who having tried the web self-service option, didn’t get what he/she was looking for on-line and had to call again. According to a SOCITM report, between 12% and 31% of web enquiries end in failure.
3. Improve the customer experience with clear and short messages
Many call centre messages are too long and confusing, according to Keynote research, 8 in 10 people waste time waiting to be connected to the right department or person. Callers often spend minutes listening to introductory messages and the complex or confusing choices available. That's how costly ‘avoidable contacts’ are generated and they re-appear later as repeat phone callers or even more expensive face to face enquires. Less is more, the shorter and simpler the messages the more likely the caller will select the correct option.
Recorded Information Line: Many call centres receive thousands of ‘out of hours’ messages, so after the message is played the call can be automatically transferred to a recorded information line.
In order to reduce the number of repeat calls the next day, it is worthwhile providing as much relevant information as possible in key areas to address the reasons for the ‘out of hours’ calls. Focus on the top 10 simple main reasons for calls monthly, and provide details on how to remedy the problem so the caller won’t need to call again. All the other less relevant information should be removed from the ‘out of hours’ messages to keep the messages simple, short and to the point. By answering the urgent customer query through an automated ‘out of hours’ messaging system we get instant customer satisfaction but equally importantly, we reduce the number of repeat calls and reduce costs per interaction.
4. Call handling staff call performance
The key KPIs (key performance statistics/indicators) applied to measure the call handling team members call performance include: number of calls answered per person and average call duration. The below statistics taken from our clients’ work demonstrate the discrepancy in quality of the service delivered per person.
The average number of calls answered per person per day ranges from 26 to 133.
The average call duration per person ranges from 1 min 11seconds to 3 minutes 49 seconds.
These discrepancies highlight more training is needed. Training is an on-going process and should be conducted on a regular basis; it is good practice to take advatage of the quiet periods and encourage the more experienced agents to share their call handling tips with new recruits. Call recording implemented to monitor call quality can also work well, provided the calls are reviewed regularly and constructive feedback is provided back to the call handling team.
The below chart shows the efficiency gain from reducing average call duration:
The average ‘not ready time’ per call handler ranges from 16 minutes to 240 minutes per day.
It is recommended that call handling team members use different ‘not ready’ codes when they are not available to take calls, so it is well understood what they are doing during that time and encourage them to reduce it to the minimum. The below chart illustrates the efficiency gain from reducing ‘not ready’ time.
The call handling team member’s average call duration and number of calls per day answered should be monitored and reviewed regularly. Improvement plans should be implemented immediately after the reviews and adhered to.
Assuming call handling team members work full time, this approach will help increase the number of calls answered by 60 calls per day. This means 300 extra calls a week and (300 calls x 48 weeks) = 14,400 extra calls a year per person, and reduced cost per call by up to 33%. Keynote research states that 60% of operating costs for a contact centre are staff costs, so this is a key area for cost reduction.
5. Unique callers
It is important that customers only need to contact you once to get what they need. You should focus on eliminating repeat callers, and ensuring you have enough staff to answer the volume of unique callers on the phone rather than total number of callers. According to Keynote research only 63% of call centres try to maximise first contact resolution and 25% of callers don’t get an adequate answer to their query.
Here is another example that demonstrated the importance of reducing the numbers of repeat calls, see below. 25% of calls made to the call centre were repeat calls which significantly increased call volumes and operational costs. Focussing on resolving problems in a single call and finding remedies to reduce the volume of the repeat ones should be one of the key focus areas.
6. Call handling team location
Consider locating all your call handling team together in the same room and area rather having them distributed in different parts of your organisation. One room is easier to monitor/supervise, helps to build better moral and motivation within the teams, makes it easier to train them regularly and ensure they are meeting the standards required.
7. Messaging for busy periods
Call centres experience busy periods when they are not able to handle all the incoming calls instantly. Whilst a caller is queuing he/she often gets an unfriendly message “sorry all operators are busy, continue to hold or please call back later”. This queuing time can be more efficiently utilised by providing the caller with a recorded message containing your website’s URL and the location for the top 10 simple FAQs online, encouraging them to send an email, or leave a voicemail instead of queuing for an agent to answer. It is also good practice to inform customers through all communications channels when the busiest times are; this is usually weekday mornings while the best time to call is often weekday afternoons.
8. Managing peak call periods to deliver excellent customer service
Good call handling team management practice is to be prepared for the busy periods and ensure the right staffing levels. Average staffing levels required by hour of day, day of week and month of year can be easily calculated and should assist in forecasting future staffing requirements. According to Netcall research based on analysing 2m inbound calls, a caller waits an average of 12 minutes during peak times, in the public sector it’s 30 minutes.
Often 9am – 9.15am is one of the busiest 15 minute periods of a weekday, all call handling team members should to be logged in and ready to answer calls by 8.55am Good supervision and the right incentives can make this work effectively. Some of our clients take advantage of available staff from the non telephone pool, i.e. from the correspondence team, and encourage them to answer the phones during the peak times.
Call handlers should be cross trained to answer different cross-departmental queries to reduce queue times and abandoned calls in any one section. Longer calls, e.g. specialist inquiries, could be transferred directly to a specialist team to free them up for the next available call.
9. Real-time statistics
It is vital that call handling team members and supervisors have constant visibility of their individual and departmental call statistics in real time. The importance of constantly updated performance charts accessible to all agents and the effective use of more traditional wall boards can’t be under-estimated. Information like the duration of the longest live call waiting in the queue, number of calls in queue and the number of abandoned calls can have an immediate impact on the behaviour of the call handling team and supervisors responsible.
10. Independent call handling specialists
There are many reasons why an external and independent call handling specialist can offer a better help in auditing your call handling performance. Their independence, in-depth subject expertise and a clear focus will help you deliver results faster than any internal resource. Our experience has shown us that 1 in 5 projects managed internally fail because of reasons, often outside of the departmental control. We are offering for a limited opportunity for all readers – a FREE TALK/DISCUSSION on how to improve performance of your call handling teams by applying these 10 top tips; how to get the project off the ground fast, with the right measures in place and ensure it is completed successfully within the expected timescales. Click here to contact us: http:/www.commsdept.com/contact-telecom-consultants.html or call James on 020 8127 8302
James Tanner, Communications Department Ltd. ©
Tel: +44 (0)20 8127 8302. Email: email@example.com,
James Tanner is the Managing Director of Communications Department Ltd based in the UK. Communications Department helps organisations maximise the efficiency of call handling teams across Europe to become leaders in their industry. More information on improving call handling performance can be found on: http://www.commsdept.com/call-handling.html