5 Ways for Contact Centers to Power Better Customer Interactions

Tim McLain

…And Increase Business!

Several years ago, I placed a large online order. As will sometimes happen even with a good company, they got every single thing wrong. I’ll spare you the details, but they included two computer glitches, a dropped call, and a big trip to the local store. When I called, however, the customer service rep was extraordinary. She took my number at the top of the call, and called me right back when it dropped. She displayed empathy. And when her computer crashed at the end of much input, she said, “I took notes – I’ll re-enter it all and call you back!” The result? I’ve been back to that store many times.

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Once upon a time, “customer service” consisted of a staff of long-term, trusted employees in the back office who often knew the callers by name. Those days are long gone, and today’s contact centers are sophisticated enterprises hyper-focused on the latest technology and the bottom line, yet often staffed by employees who lack experience and over-rely on scripts to interact with customers. Contact centers are critical in a highly competitive environment with slim margins. But the fast pace can sometimes cause you to lose track of why you have these tools and what ultimately ensures financial success: happy customers.

You can’t quickly replicate long-term employees or make every customer happy, but you can give them the essence of what once made call centers great: picking up calls FAST and providing quick answers that solve problems. People hate waiting even more than a lack of resolution after that wait.

Stats vary around how long callers typically wait on hold and how long they’re willing to wait. Some say 60% of callers won’t wait longer than a minute and 32% won’t wait, period. That said, others claim the average wait time is anywhere from 5 to 12+ minutes. Regardless, there are lots of ways to make the experience better.

1. Make sure customers can connect via their preferred communication channel. 

Technology has enabled a plethora of ways for companies to communicate and customers to get the answers they need, including:

  • Website / knowledge base
  • Email
  • Chat
  • Phone
  • SMS
  • Social media

In our highly digital age, customers expect not one, not two, but rather all of these. Some customers have quick questions, while others have more complicated issues. Some are technologically adept and others need a knowledgeable human being to assist. You need to ensure that each channel is equipped to answer as many questions as possible.

Also? Make sure your phone numbers are SMS enabled! Many people—especially the younger generation—just assume that all phone numbers can receive text messages, and an unanswered message means they’re being ignored. Luckily it takes just a second to enable a number (on the Commio platform, it’s one simple click).

2. Minimize the wait time and steps a caller must take to get answers.

Whether it’s optimizing the search function on your website or the response times for texts and emails, time is of the essence. Most importantly, support your callers, who are doing a slow burn for Every. Second. They. Must. Wait.

Technology can be your best friend or worst enemy when it comes to call management. How many times have you called someplace, listened to a half dozen menus, clicking as you go, only to hit a dead end and have to start over—or pounded on the “0” key praying to get a real, live person? Phone trees, artificial intelligence (AI), and interactive voice response (IVR) are all excellent tools, but they still require human planning and oversight.

Start by thinking about your various types of callers, knowing their most common reasons for calling, and what percentage of your overall volume they take up. Map out your phone tree, and see how many steps it takes to get most questions answered. Test the system. Test it again. Have customers test it! 

Then once it’s live, test it regularly. Record calls and trails. The reasons for calling evolve. If calls are an important part of your business, also consider working with a human interaction consultant.

One deliberate choice you should make is how easy (or difficult) it is for a caller to reach a live person (agent). While you want to answer their easier questions with IVR, saving your agents for the more complex issues, be aware that if, for example, you disable “0 is for Operator,” customers will be less than happy by the time they reach someone. (You also want to keep your agents happy!) So it’s a balancing act.

3. If there is a wait, create ways to make the time pass more quickly.

Unlike texts and emails, the wait for callers is essentially downtime. Use technology to show customers their time is important to you:

  • Let callers know the current wait time, so they can make an informed decision
  • Offer a callback and/or voicemail option
  • List the alternative resources mentioned above, such as your website
  • Provide useful information while they wait (not just ads)

4. Make sure the answers you provide to customers are correct.

This may sound obvious, but mistakes happen—and when they do, customers will be very unhappy. I can remember one such incident from 14 years ago and I’m still mad! Happily, technology can once again keep this to a minimum while also supporting your agents:

  • Agents should have quick, easy access to your customer resource management system (CRM), with a complete history of customer information and interactions.
  • As previously noted, AI can provide quick and easy automated answers through IVR; it can also transcribe calls for training and development.
  • “Whisper” technology can be used to quietly provide live agents with content from AI or even another live agent monitoring the call.

5. Optimize your audio! 

With all of the call center and help desk technology, CPaaS and UCaaS applications, CRM, artificial intelligence, etc., worrying about your voice network might seem mundane in this day and age. But your telecom service provider is the linchpin of your operations without which there can be no calls, and providers are not all created equal. 

You want to be sure that customer calls connect seamlessly, the sound is crisp and clear, and the calls are never dropped (which often means the caller must start over). When selecting a provider, there are several factors to consider:

  • No one likes poor audio! We’ve all been on calls with short blips and/or static, which is especially frustrating when conveying details like an address or order number and ensuring they’re correct. Intelligent call routing uses machine learning to find the best route for optimal call quality (and at the best price!).
  • While dropped calls are rarely the fault of a contact center or even their direct providers, customers hold them responsible. At the very least, they’re more than a little aggravated if they must go through the phone tree and wait again. Worse yet, a carrier outage can kill both incoming and outgoing calls! Inbound and outbound carrier redundancy are critical for any business that depends on calls (Commio offers 40+ carriers with 99.99% uptime).
  • Response times for a support ticket can be anywhere from several hours to several days. Meanwhile, industry experts estimate that the direct cost of a network outage for a call or contact center ranges from $1K to more than $5K per minute, depending on the size and industry.  You need to ensure that your provider is responsive and offers expert 24/7 support. 

Even better, Commio offers users complete call routing transparency and control for fastest resolution. Have an issue? Trace it to the source, change carriers, and reroute traffic in real time—you’re back up and running in seconds!

  • While most centers use an all-inclusive omnichannel communications platform such as Twilio that allows them to do many things, these platforms aren’t voice carriers and they don’t scale well or offer the same capabilities as a voice provider. In fact, CPaaS, UCaaS, or similar platforms make it easy to add a voice or messaging API (aka, Bring Your Own Carrier) for these very reasons, typically in less than a minute! 

Bonus Tip: Tell customers (and show them!) their opinion matters. 

Even an unhappy customer will feel better if they can express their displeasure. And if your agent goes the extra mile, you want to know that, as well. Many times a caller won’t bother to respond but they’re happy to know the option is out there.

  • Offer a survey re: call quality and resolution
  • Send a follow-up email or SMS message to ensure customer satisfaction

Last but not least, take advantage of the analytical tools available in your various applications to create and track your key performance indicators (KPIs). While individual customers might or might not tell you directly how they feel, the numbers provide a lot of valuable insights.

* * * * *

There’s a ton of excellent technology to provide customers with accurate and efficient answers (which makes for happier agents, as well!). And even if a caller has to wait, you can make the experience as positive and pleasant as possible. Connectivity is critical though, so you need the best voice provider for your business, and not just whatever service comes with your one-size-fits-all solution. 

Date posted: June 12, 2024

Topic: APIs   CPaaS   UCaaS   Voice API  

Tags: Call Center   Contact Center   Inbound Redundancy   Intelligent Call Routing  

Tim McLain

A passionate technologist at heart with more than 25 years of marketing experience, Tim loves using technology to help businesses solve problems and grow their bottom line. Tim is happiest brainstorming new approaches to marketing and communications to help Commio's partners better understand, trust, and embrace our cloud communications solutions. In his spare time, he loves shooting and editing video, riding long distances on North Carolina’s amazing bike trails, and enjoying the darkest craft beer he can find.

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