Phone Service Performance: Transform your Call Center with 4 Solutions (Part 1)

Thanks to digital technologies like chat, SMS, and social media, customer service delivery has come a long way. It’s smarter, more convenient, and more efficient than anyone could have imagined a decade ago. And yet, like a comfortable old pair of shoes, phone as a service channel still holds a special place. Phone service performance is crucial as it remains the highest volume channel for most of our clients. Nearly two-thirds of consumers say they prefer non-digital interactions (over the phone, face to face) over the ease and convenience of digital.

In fact, the more digital tools customers have at their fingertips, the more important (and valuable) the call center becomes. Customers who can’t resolve an issue through self-service, or prefer a high-touch interaction, expect more from call center agents than ever before.

Is your phone service performance where it needs to be?

If your customers and/or service benchmarking data are telling you there’s room for improvement, here are the two of the four call center solutions we recommend.

1. Avoid Being Crushed by Heavy Call Volumes

Volume spikes are a fact of life for call centers. Some are predictable, and some strike without warning. To minimize the effect on wait times and customer relationships, make sure you have solid plans in place.

Know What’s Coming

Our service benchmarking studies of the 30 brands in our StellaService Ecommerce Index typically show a big December spike in total time to live agent. But some brands field more service calls around Valentine’s Day or during the back to school season. Whenever your seasonal spike occurs, make sure your seasonal hires are already in place.

You should also communicate with your marketing and merchandising teams on a regular basis about product launches and promotions. Both can trigger heavy call volumes, for which you should not only staff appropriately, but also provide specific training so agents can answer customers’ questions with confidence.

Prepare for the Unforeseen in Phone Service Performance

At any given moment, a website glitch or a broken promo code can unleash a torrent of customer calls. Contingency plans can bring order to chaos and keep service levels high.

Deflect unnecessary calls with front-end messaging. Use your IVR to let customers know you’re currently experiencing higher than normal call volumes, and direct them to other channels.

Provide a call-back option. Some customers will choose to avoid the wait altogether, resulting in a shorter queue and less frustration all around. Consider allowing customers to specify a timeframe for the return call.

Lean on overflow call center partners. Or borrow agents from other brands, if you share agents in some capacity.

Prioritize calls. Customers who recently placed orders should come first, as they’ve already spent money with you and are likely calling with urgent issues (order changes or cancellations, for example). Other customers should be routed to agents who are prepared to take orders or handle simpler tasks.

2. Tame Your IVR

More than 80% of our Index retailers use an IVR. Fortunately for consumers, IVR duration has gradually decreased over the past five years (from 44 seconds to 38 seconds on average). Two Index brands in particular, Nike and Macy’s, have shortened IVR duration dramatically: Nike, from 55 to 26 seconds; Macy’s, from 59 to 31 seconds.

How did they do it? By recognizing who’s calling and why, and simplifying their IVR menus accordingly.

Nike cut its IVR menu down to five items including “speak to an agent.” Many Nike customers reach out to the call center because they have detailed product questions, need help comparing products, or need help finding the right shoe. Nike’s new IVR menu allows them to connect with an agent fast.

Macy’s trimmed its IVR down to just two initial options. Customers can access the “automated system” (where they’ll find the rest of the IVR tree), or they can “speak to an agent.” If customers choose the latter, they can connect with specialists in various product categories or choose “all other orders and registries.”

As Nike and Macy’s understand, customers know what they can and can’t accomplish on their own. Burying “speak to an agent” at the bottom of the tree won’t do your brand any favors; make sure your customers can select the option and connect with a live agent as quickly as possible.

Read on for the second half of our call center solutions list: our best advice for improving agent training, resources, and service protocols.