According to industry reports 7/10 people prefer being contacted via the phone over any other method; however there are still some very common errors that companies continue to make in their customer contact operations and with call handling. To help provide you with some top tips for overcoming these call handling issues we caught up with Steve Brown, Operations Manager at GFM ClearComms who has over 20 years of industry experience and he shared with us the following:
Good call-handling team management is to be prepared for the busy periods and should ensure the optimal staffing levels at all times. 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. 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 the agent up for the next available call.
When the phone rings make sure it gets picked up ideally within 3 rings. This positive affirmation to your prospect in the first few seconds of calling sets them up to know you are keen to speak with them and reflects on the rest of the service you will give them. Picking up quickly but being stuck for words on the phone however is not good. Whoever takes the call needs to be confident and competent. Ensure your campaign roll-out is complete. Have all staff received the necessary training? Can they answer questions about the enquiry or at least find someone who can?
Identify and prioritise the different types of customer contact so that the most important ones are answered 100% of the time and no calls are abandoned. Obviously this is easier said than done but this is again why being prepared and asking effective initial questions is key.
Ideally you want customers to only need to contact you once to get what they need. Training, planning and agent experience will assist this process greatly. 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 the total number of callers.
Establish the caller’s requirements and taking their contact details before going any further is essential. This will ensure you can follow-up the enquiry even if the call was to fail. If the caller asks for a particular service or product you do not sell, find out exactly how you can assist them as quick as possible. You might be able to sway them to interest in the products and services you do have.
If you are busy when a call comes in, remember that people can hear a smile. The prospect has called you to buy something or find out something. They are important. Do not put them off with a rushed or hassled tone of voice. Stop what you are doing, turn away from your work and take the call calmly and professionally. You will be guaranteed a better outcome.
Many call centre messages or scripts are too long and confusing. Less is more; the shorter and simpler the messages, the more likely the caller will select the correct option. This is mutually beneficial in that the caller gets directed to the appropriate agent quicker and it also reduces the time processing the call.
Hold should be the last resort. Unless it is for a specific reason, or to avoid pushing a call from pillar to post, it makes the caller feel unwanted and more unresponsive as a result no matter how good your hold music is. Can you take their details and call them back, if you need to research something for them? This goes back to being prepared for the call.
Pretty much everyone does some internet research before they call you. Most customers shop around on the internet before making a call. Be ready for the ‘ready to trade’ consumer as they may be the hardest to convert. Firstly, if you don’t have the product in stock or information at hand, try to get them interested in an alternative by finding out a little about their requirements. Ask some leading questions and steer them into a different product that you do have in stock rather than let them go disappointed.
Try to put yourself into the shoes of your caller. Make them feel comfortable and get into a discussion about their requirements. Find out a little about them to give you some insight into their buying habits. Act as an advisor, an impartial guide to help them through the tough process of making a purchase. As a result, the customer will feel comfortable and build up a feeling of trust which will increase the chance of them buying something from you.
When the call is coming to a natural close, summarise the key points you have discussed. If your caller asked you to provide a quotation, just go over this with them and confirm an agreed time frame to get back in touch. Make sure the caller knows what will happen now with regards to an order placed, quotation request or if there is more information to be supplied.
When taking telephone enquiries make sure you have a follow-up procedure in place. Put information gathered on the call in to your CRM to assist with any follow-up. Make sure to set a ‘next steps task’ in your CRM as well. Keep in contact with them as appropriate (mindful of obtaining their permission to do so). They may not want to buy now, but when they do they will have your company in mind as you kept in touch.
If your enquiry is for a product you do not have in stock, try to offer an alternative. Don’t let the customer end the call feeling disappointed because you were unable to offer a suitable solution. Many callers enquire about a specific item they have seen advertised but may be unaware that you have much more on offer. Make sure you tell the caller about other items and cross and up-sell where you can.
Ensure that everyone throughout the business answers the telephone in the same way after a certain amount of rings. If your company name comes through clearly and concisely and you sound warm and approachable every time, the customer will feel comfortable and more likely to do business as a result.
Define and measure five contact-handling performance targets for phone, correspondence and face-to-face communication, e.g. to answer 95% of incoming calls within 20 seconds and reply to incoming correspondence within 24 hours. Ensure that your call handling teams know how to achieve them and report results to the board on a monthly basis. Set up an internal culture of achieving or exceeding the performance targets, incentivised by rewards.
The key KPIs applied to measure the call-handling team members’ call performance can vary depending on the client and service provided; however common metrics are: number of calls answered per person and an average call duration. In some contact centres there is quite a discrepancy in quality of service delivered by individuals and effective KPIs are a great way for your quality assessors to highlight where and how performance can be improved.
There are many reasons why an external and independent call-handling specialist can offer better help in auditing your call handling performance. Their independence, in-depth subject expertise and clear focus will help you deliver results faster than any internal resource.
By deploying screen popping software, call-handling teams can view the telephone number of the caller, and if it is an existing customer or prospect, their name, address, account number, and any notes/history. As said previously this can help identify and satisfy the customer’s needs quicker.
Call-handling team members and supervisors need to have constant visibility of their individual and departmental call statistics in real time, i.e. the number of live calls waiting in the queue. This can have an immediate impact on their behaviour and performance.
As with most things, finishing a conversation on the right note can create lasting positivity and a satisfied customer; which may well be a repeat one. In order to achieve a great ending to a telephone call, make sure that the caller understands the information you passed along before you hang up. Ask the customer, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” Once all of the necessary information has been shared, finish the call in a friendly manner. Say, “Have a nice day” or, “It was nice talking with you”. This will let the customer know that you happily helped them and that you would be willing to aid them again in the future.
As you can see although providing effective call handling services is not always straight forward there are certainly steps that your company and its call centre agents can take in order to enhance their performance. Alternatively if you are looking for specialist call centre services or even to up scale during peak periods GFM ClearComms can definitely help you optimise your customer contact operations. For more information on our industry-leading call centre services and how we can help your business please contact us now.
GFM ClearComms is an award-winning, industry-leading, specialist customer experience agency that has been delivering flexible, end-to-end outsourced call centre services and marketing solutions for almost 30 years on behalf of some of the country’s most loved brands from its head offices in Colchester, Essex.