Phones and time itself under your control

10 Ways to Control Time in the Call Center ACD

Shocking fact: Your callers don’t enjoy waiting to speak to an agent.

Sometimes it’s not the actual amount of time waiting, though. It’s the perception of time.

Everyone’s experienced the perception of time issue. You’re sitting in a meeting, and you look at the clock. After what seems like hours, you see it’s only been a few minutes. You get home from work. You finally have a chance to that thing you wanted to do. You start doing it, then after 10 minutes you look at the clock and an hour has passed.

There are a few things you can do to improve your callers perception of time. Here’s a list of 10. Some of them reduce the amount of time waiting. Some of them just make the experience more tolerable.

#1 – Let them leave a callback number.

Modern call center ACD software should have the ability to leave a callback number. You set a key that the person can press to break out of the queue and leave a callback number. Once they’ve entered the callback number, they hang up. The ACD software holds their position in the queue.

When it’s the caller’s turn, the agent gets the caller information on their screen. It may be auto dialed for them, or they may get a “Dial” button for when they’re ready. If the phone is busy or it takes one or two tries to reconnect the agent should take that initiative.

This method doesn’t reduce the amount of time waiting for an agent. But it does cut the amount of time tied to the phone, and it doesn’t cost you anything extra. Your caller can go watch a TV show. They can make a sandwich. What’s important is they’re not fuming while they’re waiting and listening to your music on hold.

#2 – Improve your music on hold.

Picking your music on hold is more important than some people think. There are a lot of people who really love country music. There are also a lot of people who can’t stand country music. If you make your hold music country music, some people will be delighted. Others will be in their own personal hell until your agent answers or they hang up. If you’re running the ticket line for the Grand Ole Opry, country music is a great choice.

If you already have something that you know your customers will enjoy, give them more of that. For instance, if you call game developer Blizzard, you will hear tunes from their games. People calling Blizzard for game support are already familiar with that music. They can probably tolerate it, anyway.

If you’re not sure what your clientele will like, think ”elevator music”. It’s usually pleasant and upbeat. Innocuous is much better than annoying.

Something else to think about with music on hold is avoiding repetition. If you’ve only got two tunes, people might hear them several times while they’re waiting. Maybe they’ll get sick of it. Or maybe they hear something they don’t like, and now they have to hear it every five minutes. Put in a lot more music than you expect anybody to have to listen to, and people won’t get sick of it.

One thing to watch out for is restarting the music every time you play an announcement, or do anything else. Some versions of Asterisk used to do that. It would be playing a piece of music, you’d play an announcement, then it would restart the same piece of music. It could drive you crazy. Make sure you are not doing that. Just try going into your queue and listening to what happens when your periodic messages play.

#3 – Use openers, greeters, or qualifiers.

Access to sales or tech support agents might be expensive. They may be tied up in calls for an hour or so. There’s no point in tying up a caller for a long time if they’re in the wrong spot. Or if they’re unqualified for the sale. In that case, you can have the call answered by a pool of greeters. They can take initial information, make sure the caller is in the right spot, and qualify the caller.

Employing greeters can be cheaper. Calls to your more qualified agents are prescreened. Often greeters just follow a simple script and collect some basic information. It’s a good position for a trainee.

When a greeter answers a call, the caller is happy they got to speak to a person. Even if it’s just collecting information and then more waiting. Your caller feels like their call is being handled.

It can also reduce the amount of time spent with the qualified agent. Some of the information has already been collected. Your tier 2 agent doesn’t have to spend time qualifying the caller.

#4 – Putting extra people into the queue.

For calls that have been waiting for a while, you can allow agents with other skills to start answering. It’s like having on-demand qualifiers.

A script can handle simple issues. If not, recording information and transferring the the call can help manage the load.

Once again, this allows the caller quick access to a person. Callers are always happy to talk to a person.

If the issue can be handled with a script, that’s a benefit to both the caller and the call center. If the first agent can’t resolve the issue, at least the caller spoke to a friendly voice. That helps the perception of time.

This method also makes your staff more familiar with more of the company. This may help them deal with their own calls more effectively. It may also increase the number of cross-trained agents.

#5 – Announce estimated wait time or position in queue.

Part of the problem with waiting in a queue is not knowing how long you’re going to be waiting. You have things you could be doing. Maybe you’d like to put your phone down for a few minutes and make a sandwich. You can’t risk being away when the agent answers, though. Otherwise you have to call back and wait again.

If the queue plays a periodic message announcing  the estimated wait time, the caller can then decide how to spend that time. The same applies to just playing the queue position. If they hear they’re caller eight in the queue, and five minutes later they’re caller six, they can tell it’ll be a few minutes.

If you’re waiting 15 minutes, but knew in advance it’s going to be about 15 minutes, then the wait isn’t too bad. If you think the wait is going to be short, and it winds up being 15 minutes, you’re probably furious by the time your call is answered.

#6 – Don’t say “Your call is valuable!” every 30 seconds.

There are messages that you want to play to keep your caller informed or to let them know that you appreciate them.

Don’t annoy them with this though.

It’s easy to design a loop of audio messages that you want to play when you assume the wait is only going to be 30 seconds. But what happens if the wait is a lot longer than that? If you have a 30 second audio loop, your caller will hear it 30 times if they have to wait 15 minutes. That’s not good.

If you want them to hear your message just once every few minutes, make sure you add a long pause before playing another message. Your callers will only hear how important their call is every few minutes, instead of becoming an ironic method of torture.

#7 – Don’t keep reminding them about your website.

You’re proud of your website. It will save you a lot of money if everybody could just go to the website and do whatever they need to do there. It will also save your callers a lot of time if they can use the website.

If this isn’t their first time calling, they already know about your website. They may have already tried to use it, and been unable to do what they wanted to do. So making them listen to a long message about your website before they can continue through your IVR is not always going to be welcome.

Related to #6, don’t play this message about your website over and over and over and over and over again. In fact, let’s just make that a theme. Like a bonus tip.

Don’t keep playing the same message over again.

They heard it the first time you said it. It may be useful to play a reminder about the website after five minutes. Or if they choose a particular option that’s especially suited to the web page. Just don’t keep hammering them with advice to use the web page without testing that it actually does improve the user experience.

#8 – Always accept input when playing a prompt.

If you are not letting your callers enter input before the end of your greeting, you are probably committing a rookie mistake.

If your client or legal department requires that you play the whole greeting every time before your caller enters a queue, that’s one thing. But make sure you keep the amount that someone has to listen to the absolute minimum, and allow input after that.

It may also be acceptable if you know for 100% sure that callers will never have come through this IVR before. But how likely is that?
In most cases, it’s possible that a caller has already been through your IVR before. They’ve already heard the preamble. And they already know which option they want to pick.

Don’t make them wait to enter their option any longer than necessary.

Otherwise, you’re adding to the wait time even if agents are standing by to take their call.

Your frequent callers will thank you for it.

#9 – Give an option to reach a human after playing all your other options.

You can do this earlier than the end if it makes sense.

Not every call that comes in to your line will fit perfectly into your options. Or, your options may fit the call perfectly, but for some reason that fact is not clear to the caller. There are always going to be oddball cases that come up as well.

Remember that if every call could be handled in a cookie-cutter fashion, they’d probably already be using your website.

You think all the options are covered in your IVR. But are they really? Let’s pretend you’re the cable company. What option is the caller supposed to choose when telling you they saw a piece of equipment fall off a truck? Would that be billing, subscriptions, or technical support? Is that clear to the caller? What if they want to report that one of your other numbers just rings busy and hangs up?

It can also be useful to have an option that goes to human after a few loops of playing the options menu to the caller. Every once in a while, a cell phone will have problems sending DTMF. An upstream provider could be messing that up as well. Anyway, sometimes it’s just impossible to send the right button press.

Having a human answer the phone will make the caller feel less stressed about the call and quickly get the call directed to the correct spot.

#10 – Test your IVR. Then test it again and again.

We’ve said it before. We’ll say it again. You should be testing your IVR thoroughly. You probably don’t have to do it every day. But it’s really important to do that. Especially if you’re adding new DIDs or toll-free numbers.

What is it you want to test?

  • Listen to your music on hold. Make sure your file wasn’t corrupt or something like that. Make sure you can listen to it. Make sure it doesn’t have static.
  • Listen to your prompts. Make sure that the prompts that are being played are the audio prompts you’re expecting to hear.
  • Test your options. Make sure the options that you hear in the audio prompts actually go to the places the audio says they should.
  • Make sure you’re not making any of the mistakes listed in the previous nine items.

Try making test calls during busy periods. Some of these things only show up when the system is under load or wait times are high. Those are the times when your callers are already stressed. Make sure you’re not giving them extra reasons for no reason at all.