There is a legendary call that occurred a few years ago that is often held up as a shining example of how to deliver a world class customer experience. It involves a phone agent from an online retailer who spent over ten hours on a call with one customer. The call resulted in the sale of one pair of boots and included a lot of discussion about what it’s like to live in Las Vegas.
This particular retailer is known for their commitment to delivering a unique and high quality customer experience, and their large call center can absorb the occasional ten hour phone call. But what works for them doesn’t work operationally for a lot of other organizations, especially those with smaller contact centers.
In fact, mention a ten hour phone call to your average contact center manager and there’s a good possibility that there will be some yelling. Afterall, while the customer on the ten hour call might be happy, the ones sitting in the backed up queue are definitely not.
A competent outsourced contact center actively manages handle times by employing various call control techniques. Not only does this make operational sense, but outsourcers also have an obligation to their clients since much of their billing is time-based. By controlling the call, outsourcers can control handle times, which allows clients to control their costs.
One of the biggest challenges of call control is not sacrificing the quality of the interaction in the quest for efficiency. It’s a classic balancing act that all call centers face (well, almost all).
Sometimes customers just want to talk, and rushing them off the phone could be perceived as rude. How does an agent let them satisfy that need while still maintaining a reasonable handle time? One effective technique is to use a three pronged approach to call control that includes a software facilitated call guide, agent initiated techniques and post-call inspection.
- Software facilitated call guides – One of the most effective ways to control a call is to follow a call guide with well thought out branches that accommodate a good majority of call types and situation scenarios. Not only does this help agents efficiently help callers, but it also enables companies to control some of the language that’s used and therefore deliver a more branded experience. Good, disposition-based CRM software automates the guide, allowing agents to focus on using more of their soft skills, such as building rapport. This allows agents to talk “to” callers rather than “at” them, thus avoiding a drawback associated with too tightly scripting calls.
- Agent initiated techniques – As effective as call guides can be, they won’t handle every possible call scenario. Additionally, there will still be callers who are tough to manage within the confines of a guide because they really want to chit chat. Because of this, agents need to know how to employ techniques like asking close-ended questions, using transitional statements and summarizing the call at the end to reassure the caller that they were heard and understood.
- Post call inspection – Practicing effective call control is an ongoing effort that needs regular attention. Handle times that are higher than an acceptable target are one indication that an agent may be struggling with call control. Call control should also be assessed as part of quality evaluations.
When done right, controlling the call can result in an interaction that’s both efficient and satisfying for the customer. The two outcomes do not need to be mutually exclusive.