What is required to make callers happy can be stated in a simple one-liner:
“Have them reach their goal as fast as possible, and as smooth as possible”
However, we understand that this is an abstract statement that everybody knows is true but does not help you further. That is why we have drafted the infographic “How to make your callers happy”, and you can find additional details, tips and tricks in this article.
Fast: Do whatever is necessary to help your caller as fast as possible but do only what is relevant and actually helps. Do not apply functionality just because it is available. Every step a caller must take is a nuisance. A step is acceptable only if it is relevant – e.g., saves (the caller) time at a later stage.
Smooth: Smooth is a more abstract goal and refers to the subjective experience. Does the type of phone number fit the services? Is the audio used of good quality and does the tone of voice fit the service? Does the agent appear knowledgeable, professional and friendly?
Basically, there are 3 areas of attention:
- Choose the right phone number
- Route the call smooth and efficient
- Prepare for the conversation
Let’s dive deeper into these topics in the following paragraphs.
Ⓒ MCXess B.V.
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Do not underestimate the relevance of choosing the right number. It is your calling card. Literally. It is the first impression when the decision is taken to get in contact. So, it is important to have your target audience in mind when making the choice. It is important but not that difficult. Let’s use a service provider (e.g., plumber) as an example:
Case 1: You are an independent service provider or a (small) group of service providers and want to help (local) businesses and individuals in your area.
In this scenario it would help to have a number that confirms you are nearby, a short travel away and provides trust. It is possible to build a (personal) relationship. In case there is a leakage in your house, you want to be able to rely on ‘your guy or girl’ and your number needs to inspire that. In these cases a local or mobile number could be a good fit. The subtle difference between these would be: A fixed number (which can be forwarded to your mobile) gives a little more professional impression (there might be an office and / or back-up available) and with the confirmation you are close by, while the mobile number gives a bit more the impression of being on the move and always available with the possibility to be ‘on your doorstep’ even faster.
Case 2: You have a solid organization and aim to serve long term service contracts with (mostly) companies. Many of which have multiple locations distributed over the country.
In this case a corporate and nationally operating image should be projected by the number(s). A potential client in the north of the country is not going to call a service provider in the south for a quote. So, no local number. Neither a mobile number, that does not support the idea of an organization that can help in case there is a leakage in 2 different offices at the same time. For these cases a national number is a good fit for the office. Not for nothing, this type of number is also called a corporate number. It projects a corporate image, that you are present in whole the country, it is (in most countries) reachable from abroad and has low operational cost. Perfect for (inter)nationally operating businesses.
However, you might want to invest in a freephone number to support campaigns to win new customers. A freephone number gives a very professional impression and gives the impression that the caller is welcomed with open arms. Or even use the freephone number for support calls. In case there is a leakage in a system that you are responsible for, the caller is irritated. Having a freephone number does not compensate that irritation but does send the message: “we are here for you to take care of your issues”, which gives the call a better start – smoother.
Case 3: You are an agency gathering assignments and matching them to available (independent) service agents.
You handle a lot of questions about plumbing and have a website with everything about plumbing, but you do not handle plumbing assignments yourself. If you do know a lot of plumbers, it can be profitable to match the 2. This case could be approached in several ways, 2 of which are:
Commission: Launch marketing campaigns and welcome callers with a potential assignment with your freephone number and distribute the assignment to the available plumbers against a commission.
Call revenue: Help callers with a high-quality service desk via the phone and help them find a plumber if needed. You’ll be helping both the caller and the plumber and your payment is the revenue generated by the premium rate number. Note: regulation regarding PRS numbers is rightfully very strict. Always check compliance with the regulators.
Case 4: You are operating in multiple countries and servicing (multinational) organizations with long term contracts.
Basically, this has the same dynamics and number type matches as the nationally operating organization targeting long term contracts with the remark it is wise to take numbers in all the countries where you are active. E.g., a French person is not likely to call a German number and vice versa.
But there is one additional option to consider: An International Freephone Number (officially a Universal International Freephone Number – UIFN). This is a single freephone number which can be activated in multiple countries. This number type has a couple of advantages; If a company has this type of number, you know it is a serious multinational. And it is convenient: You only have to communicate one number (regardless of the country of your audience), your customers only have to store / remember a single number- even when they travel internationally.
Herewith a comparison of the available number types with their main characteristics.
A call flow is all about guiding the caller and routing the call, making sure it gets to the right destination as efficient as possible and gathering statistics to help optimize.
Call routing can be divided into 2 categories:
- IVR (Interactive Voice Response): Call routing based on information that can be gathered about the call
- ACD (Automated Contact Distribution): Call routing based on agent information
Keep your call flows as simple as possible. Only add steps that have actual added value. Do not add steps just because it is possible or to fake the impression you are bigger than you are. Each step is a nuisance for your caller and each added functionality adds to complexity. Avoid complexity, that is how to make your callers happy.
Keep in mind this division is a theoretical division, in practice there is an overlap and each system will be able to function independently. Both contribute greatly on how to make your callers happy, if used correctly. If used incorrectly, they can do a lot of damage. Let’s go into the details to get you going towards excellence.
IVR (Interactive Voice Response)
So IVR is call routing based on information that can be gathered about the call. It is about classification of the call and route based on that information. There is a lot of information available about a call. These are just a couple of obvious examples:
- Caller number
- Called number
- Time / date of call
- Choice made in the menu
- Other input by the caller
These are examples of information that can be gathered autonomously by the IVR system, but it does not stop here. Additional information can be gathered from external systems such as a CRM system. E.g., in case a caller number exists in your CRM in a VIP list, that information can be added to the classification of the call in the IVR and used to route the call to dedicated agents.
This explains what an IVR is but how to make your callers happy?
There are a couple of things you should take into consideration:
Welcome a Caller
For all other functionality, always ask yourself the question: “Does this really contribute to ‘How to make your caller happy’”? For Playing a welcome message, it is the other way around. This functionality should always be applied unless you have a relevant reason not to.
With a welcome message, each call is answered right away. The caller does not have to wait to be accepted but is instantly ’in’.
The message immediately confirms the caller has dialled the right number. And if not, the caller can hang-up without having to explain himself or take time from you or your agents.
Calls being answered by a person without a welcome message give a caller the impression of calling a private person instead of a professional organisation.
With a welcome message you can set the right and consistent tone of voice. This has a big impact on the mood of the caller. Search for your tone of voice – obviously, a lawyer should have a different tone of voice then a gaming company.
Have clear and to the point audio messages and instructions
In a normal conversation it is already annoying when you cannot understand the other person, but that can be overcome by interrupting and asking for clarification. In an IVR that is difficult. Follow these tips and your caller will be happy:
Be concise and to the point: Every second counts and takes away some of the callers’ happiness. Besides this, elaborate explanations in a menu lead to confusion. The attention span of a caller in an IVR is short! The caller will get irritated, make a random choice and the wrong agent will spend additional time correcting the choice.
Clear articulation: Stick to clear and articulated pronunciation. Mumbled, fumbled and rushed instructions are amongst the biggest irritations of callers in an IVR, while clear and to the point give a sense of clarity, control and gives trust the caller will be helped.
One voice: Use the same voice throughout all messages. If possible, use the company voice – one that is for instance also used in radio or video commercials. This provides the most consistent experience and provides a reliable impression. It confirms your identity. This is often overlooked and underestimated.
Format: Since the introduction of VOIP, audio is being converted many times when traveling from IVR to caller. The most risk for damage to the clarity of the audio stream occurs when it needs to be compressed. From this point of view, opting for low res makes sense. However, clarity is key – as explained in the previous points. In our experience, sticking to this format gives the best results all the way around: .wav format, 16 bits, 8kHz, mono. There are professional voice-overs with audio studios available and they will give you the best result. But great results can also be achieved with a quiet room, a decent headset and software like Audacity, which is available for free. Note: Check the platform you use for format compatibility.
Make sure every caller can get their message of their chest
It really is important a caller is always able to convey their message and transfer the initiative to you. Just take these scenarios into account:
Sales: A potential new customer has finally taken the initiative to call you but can’t get a hold of you at that moment. There is a risk, the caller loses interest completely. Or he tries a competitor. Or – if you are part of a short list – the caller will mark you as eliminated. Even if the caller does try again, some doubt has settled in: “Once I am a customer and need support, will I be able to reach them then or is this exemplary?”
Support: I don’t think what kind of damage not being able to reach anybody while having an issue with the service will cause, needs a lot of explanation. And still, this conversation is more common than you think: Mgr.: “Can you give an update on the status of the issue? Eng.: “It is with the service provider, but they are not responding. I told you, this party is not reliable.” Mgr.: “Maybe it is time we look for alternatives.”
A lot more scenarios can be given, but the importance of being reachable is evident, now we need to define what reachable is. There are different levels of being reachable. An overview with the levels, ordered according to the caller happy level:
1. Instant: Answer all calls at the moment of calling. This way all callers can start heir dialog right away. It gives the best possible experience. Instant satisfaction. This is possible by making sure you have more people available who can answer the questions at any time then you get callers. Obviously, this is a very expensive option. There are good distribution options to ensure best workforce efficiency (more on this topic later), but this is only feasible when service is extremely important for your business. E.g., when offering a directory enquiry service, answering the phone instantly is imperative.
Pro-tip for starters
In case of doubt, start with a standard flow with:
- Welcome message
- Queue enabled (with music and custom audio)
- Voicemail when closed
This contains the essential set-up for an independent entrepreneur or starting organization and will make most callers happy. If anything is off, it will show in your reports. Always look at your reports!
2. Near instant: In most cases it is not feasible to have agents available for peak moments. A good alternative is to use a queue. A Queue is great to handle peak moments and provides options to keep the caller happy even when waiting. At least the caller is ‘in’ and trusts to be helped shortly. What is important is not to violate that trust. Make sure the waiting time remains short and manage the balance between number of available agents and numbers of caller closely. While in the queue, there are a couple of things you can do to ease the waiting pain:
- Utilise queue music: Use music that fits your identity. It confirms your identity to the caller but also confirms to the caller, they are in an active queue. Silence will bring doubt – the caller will think something went wrong with the call and probably hang-up.
- Use custom queue messages: In case you are facing a major issue and have a lot of callers regarding that issue, place a custom message in the queue acknowledging the issue and a status update. That way you update the caller in an efficient way.
Else place an informational or entertaining message. It will distract the caller and maintain some of the happy.
- Queue position: Play the position in the queue of the caller. That way the caller’s queue expectations are managed.
- Queue escape: Long waiting times are killing for caller experience and will take all the happiness away from your caller. Make sure to provide alternatives, such as:
Custom message: The easiest way is to utilise the custom message to announce alternatives such as FAQ, email, or calling back at a quieter time. What is important is to announce when it is quiet. That way the caller knows when to try again and you can balance the workload.
- Delayed response: Offer the possibility to break out of the queue and opt for delayed response. There are different types of delayed response. See next paragraph for details.
3. Delayed response: Alternatively, you could collect the caller’s information and call back yourself. This way the caller at least was able to transfer initiative to you and is not lost. There are a couple of types of delayed responses you can use:
- Route calls to an external telephone answering service. They answer a call on your behalf. That way the caller has the perception to talk to you. These services register the request of the customer so you can estimate the urgency, address the question when it is convenient for you and prepare before following up with the caller. Services like this start from 20 to 30 euro per month.
- Route calls to voicemail. At least the caller has the possibility to express the question or issue and hand the initiative over to you. Most systems have voicemail to email, which means the email lands directly in your email. Giving you the opportunity to assess the urgency, assign and prepare the call back. When delayed responses are acceptable, this is a very efficient and cost-effective method. But is a step down in happy level for the caller in comparison with actually answering the call.
- Call back request. Last resort is to offer the caller the option to be called back. Ask the caller to which number the call back should take place. A caller can make mistakes typing in the number to be called back on, so – if the caller is not calling anonymously – ask if the caller would like to be called back on the same number, if the caller is calling anonymously, ask to submit the number and repeat back to the caller. This option has a lot of downsides; it is very cumbersome for the caller, a lot of mistakes can be made and you do not know why the caller called – so you cannot prepare and have no indication of the urgency. There is one huge advantage though (if your system supports this functionality): These call back requests can be submitted to an outbound campaign and automatically offered to your agents at the moment they are available.
In case answering calls is sometimes difficult an overflow to an external telephone answering service really is a cost-effective tool to improve your caller experience.
E.g., as an independent service provider, it happens that you are in a meeting with a customer all afternoon or executing an assignment. During that time a potential customer might have called multiple times and by then your competition did answer.
Or, for a big contact center, it might help balance peak loads while maintaining caller satisfaction.
Important remark: When offering the possibility of delayed contact, always follow up! Make no exception. Requests not followed up will lead to lost leads and lost customers.
Now the delayed contact options are clear, you need to determine when to apply them. Here are the most common places and reasons to apply delayed responses:
- As a queue escape: Try to respond with your agents first. The need for a queue escape should always be avoided but is still better than a long waiting time. At least the caller can transfer the initiative to you.
- As an overflow (alternative for a queue): In case none of your agents is available at the moment of a call, escape directly to the delayed response. Technically this is a bit easier to implement than a queue escape but less desirable. A delayed response can feel like being put ‘on hold’, so any option to connect to an agent is preferred.
- Closed: If you only provide support during office hours or your traffic is not big enough to keep a team actively on call 24/7, the various delayed response options could be a good option.
4. Self-service: In some cases, it is also possible to offer self-service on the phone. For instance, we have really good results with package delivery and transport organisations. Even though most delivery companies have track and trace apps and websites, people keep calling for information. By integration of the IVR with the delivery tracking system we have manage to enable the customer to track their packages via the phone-self-service – offloading the contact centre of the delivery organisations completely. In most cases, self-service is seen as a nuisance by callers, but in this type of cases, it can be an excellent solution.
Self-service call routing can provide a huge cost improvement.
5. Don’t answer: Not answering and not providing an alternative is the worst you can do to a caller. The caller will get the impression of being ignored. Not answering calls in any way does not help in how to make your callers happy.
Take the shortest route to the (group of) people that can answer the caller’s question
Nobody likes to repeat themselves. So, avoid callers having to explain why they are calling multiple times. This can be realised in different ways. Here are examples in order of caller preference:
All round agents: The preferred way is to connect callers to agents that are able to help with any question. That way:
- The caller has the shortest possible route to an answer
- The call flow remains the most comprehensible
- The workload can be distributed the most efficient over your workforce
Automated routing: Avoid bothering the caller with questions if there are other possibilities to classify the call. For instance, if you have the phone numbers of the important customers that should get special treatment stored in your CRM, check if the caller number is one of them and route accordingly. That way the caller gets the right treatment without having to put any effort in. Any external information can be used. If different callers need to be routed differently, check what information is available to make the distinction.
Caller input routing: Sometimes you just need specialists answering the calls and do not have the means to make the selection automated. In these cases, ask the caller to make a choice in a menu. Making a (single) choice is still better than explaining twice why the caller called. Do keep in mind the tips regarding the audio.
Alternative: Use different numbers for different scenarios. This might sound crazy but can be the most efficient and elegant solution. For instance, when you have a portal where your customer logs in, present the number(s) based on the login. That way, calls can be forwarded directly to the right (group of) agents. If you use a support portal, show the relevant number based on the topic selected. Or communicate the VIP number only to your VIP customers. These calls can be routed based on called number, so the caller does not have to make a menu choice. Calls from these numbers can still be handled by the same (group of) agents, but can be given different priorities, extra overflows, etc. So, you will still be able to optimise the workload of your workforce but without bothering the caller for input or complex flows. Improve caller satisfaction smart.
Using multiple numbers for different support topics can be more effective than implementing a menu.
Your initial inventory might be missing something, or things change over time – that will not contribute to how to make your callers happy. Besides: Anything can always be better. So, keep focus on improving. All routing systems have extensive reports. Use these reports to identify areas of improvement. Use reports of your ticketing, CRM or any other system as well. This can – and should – be done by anybody operating a professional phoneline, regularly.
More advanced users can also use other means such as automated surveys via the phone to determine the callers’ happiness level and areas of improvement. This sounds like a contradiction with everything else because it takes time of the caller but can give valuable input – and gives the callers’ the means to expression their emotions (good and bad). This needs to be implemented carefully with the honest intention to obtain a representative view of the callers’ happy level.
ACD (Automated Call Distribution / Automated Contact Distribution)
ACD is call routing based on agent information. At his point, in one hand you have a number of calls of which you know why they called, what the priority is, and any other parameter that might be relevant. And in the other hand you have various destinations where calls can be handled. The goal now is to distribute these calls over the destinations as efficient as possible, so the caller is the happiest and the workforce the most efficient.
First question to ask is “What kind of destinations can I have?”. A destination can be:
- Anything a call can be routed to; a phone number (fixed or mobile), a SIP address or for instance a MS Teams user, Queue or Auto attendant.
- An individual internal or external agent.
- A group of internal or external agents. Per destination, it is possible to set the maximum simultaneous calls. E.g., A destination could be a contact center with 10 agents. In that case, the destination would be able to handle max 10 simultaneous calls.
Second question to ask is “What is the goal with the distribution?”. There can be several reasons to distribute:
- Load balancing: Balance the workload between colleagues, offices and / or internal and external contact centers
- Overflow: In case primary destination(s) are not able to handle the load, the surplus can be routed to one or more overflow destinations.
- Failover: In case primary destination(s) are not reachable for whatever reason, the calls will be routed to the failover destination(s).
Hybrid working is here to stay. People work at different times, locations and with different systems. It provides better results for the organisation and a better work- and personal life balance for the team members.
With a call routing system that natively supports different types of destinations, hybrid telephony is solved and hybrid work supported.
Read more in this Whitepaper about Hybrid Telephony.
ACD provides huge benefits but is only relevant for organisations with high call volume. For all others: Keep it simple!
Implement an overflow to a delayed response (e.g., phone answering service) when there is no response from your primary destination(s). Simple and effective.
And the third question is “Which tools do I have to support distributions?”:
- Workgroup: Organise your destinations (or agents) in groups (workgroup or skill group). In this way you have all destinations with the same capabilities grouped together and can be called from multiple flows. Within a workgroup there are several tools to divide the calls between the destinations in that group:
- Availability and status: Calls can be distributed according to availability, such as online, on break or offline and their current status, such as on call, wrap up or idle.
- Priority: Within a workgroup, each destination can be given a priority. Destinations with the second priority will only get a call when it is not possible to deliver the call to the first priority. This is a great tool to implement active overflow.
- Distribution: There are many mechanisms to distribute calls over the available destinations. Most common are:
- Cyclic distribution: Every new call will be offered to the destination on position 1 from priority 1, then the 2nd position from prio 1, etc until all destinations in prio 1 have been tried and continue with prio 2, and so on.
- Longest idle: The call will be offered to the destination that has been idle for the longest time in prio 1 first, then the 2nd longest idle in prio 1, etc until all destinations in prio 1 have been tried and continue with prio 2, and so on.
- Ring all: The call will be offered to all destinations in prio 1, the first to respond will get the call. If no destination in prio 1 responds, the call will be offered to prio 2 destinations, and so on.
- Percentage: Divide calls between different workgroups based on percentage. E.g. 50%-50% or 50%-30%-20%. Ideal for workload distribution or load balancing.
- Statistics: Any kind of statistic gathered in a call flow (e.g. counters) can be used to distribute calls between workgroups.
Based on these parameters you can define the shortest way to the right agent, optimise your workforce load and ultimately how to make your callers happy.
Multi-channel contact handling note: When agents handle multiple types of contact (e.g. phone calls and Chats), the ACD is typically where these types of call are blended.
In case an agent handles calls different topics or calls from different brands, play a (short!) whisper to the agent before connecting the caller. It will help the agent respond accurately.
At this point the caller is connected as fast as possible to the agent with the best skills to help the caller. Now the agent needs to have the right tools to answer the caller’s question as fast and complete as possible. What this should be depends highly on the specific situation, but first and most important topic to address is access to the relevant tools:
- CRM: Access to the available caller information; identity, running services and outstanding offers
- Ticketing system: Contact history of the customer and contact (in some cases, this is an integral part of CRM)
- ERP: What services or products are available and when can they be delivered against what cost?
- Reports, logs and analysis tools: The ability to analyse and evaluate the cases presented by the caller.
- Back-up: An agent can find support themselves, for instance via:
- Knowledge base and manuals
- Consultation with experts / team leads
- Transfer to experts / team leads
Next point of attention is education. Every agent should be coached to the right level in available knowledge, how to use the tools effectively and maintain the right tone-of-voice.
integration of these tools. If these tools are cumbersome to use, integration can help an agent work faster and more effective. E.g. by integrating the CRM with your telephony system, it is possible to show the caller details and contact history based on the caller number. Another example is to have the caller type in the service ID and open the relevant tools for the agent. However, be very careful with these integrations. We have seen a lot of effort wasted because it did not help the agent as much as anticipated and in some cases, it even became an obstruction for the agent. Again: simplicity is key. Do not start integrating or developing unless there is a clear (caller satisfaction) advantage to be gained.
Inspired but looking for more detail? Or would you like to discuss the specifics of your situation with our experts? We are happy to help! Leave a comment below to start a dialogue with us and other people from the community, or:
If you feel inspired and want to get started right away, we advise new users and companies with relatively small call volumes, to start with one of our easy-to-use standard call routing packages. These have all relevant features and can be configured by anybody that can configure their mobile phone. Switching between these packages can be done at any time, so you can change your mind as many times as you need.
If you need more flexibility, build any call flow you can think of yourself – or have us do it for you – with our Custom Call Routing Package.
But it all starts with selecting the right phone number:
Get started and make your callers happy!
Ⓒ MCXess B.V.
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