In a world where the number of channels via which customers can reach businesses has proliferated as technology evolves, the phone call still matters. Taking and handling phone calls effectively sits at the heart of customer service for millions of UK businesses, large and small.
Best practice when it comes to answering calls has evolved over the years alongside the onward march of phone technologies. Here are seven tips on getting call answering right first time.
1. Answer the call quickly
Nothing says unprofessional like leaving a caller hanging on a ringing line. If someone has made the move to call your business over the others listed on Google (and probably cost you a ‘click’ in the process!) reward them by being quick.
2. Answering with a smile
It might sound cheesy, but it works. It doesn’t matter if someone is having a bad day, is halfway through a complicated spreadsheet or halfway out of the door: the caller takes priority. Warm and enthusiastic counts every time.
3. Mention the company name
Any greeting should confirm where the caller is ringing so they don’t have to check. It sets the tone for a professional conversation.
4. Speak clearly and be professional
Enunciate every word and avoid using slipshod language; ‘cheers’, ‘uh-huh’, ‘mate’ and ‘yeah’ aren’t appropriate. Keep it friendly but business-like. Everyone should learn the phonetic alphabet too, for spelling out troublesome words.
5. Don’t know the answer? Stay positive
Even if a call handler has no idea in relation to a question, remaining positive and professional holds the key. ‘Let me find that out and come back to you’ is so much better than ‘I don’t know’.
6. Need to call back? Say when
Where possible a call handler should give a caller an idea when they can expect a call back. If a colleague is in a meeting or out of the office for the afternoon then it may be that it’s the following day before they will get a response – and check if someone else can help.
7. Manage out of hours calls
Out-of-hours callers are just as important as those who call within office hours. That means every contact centre needs a professional call answering service in place for out-of-hours calls. After all, the next big sale could come through when the office is closed.
Automation and helping employees deal with calls
How a phone call is routed and handled has also profoundly changed. The rise of automated services means there is an associated need to keep things simple in how automation is offered, with the customer experience in mind, and for the crucial role of those taking the calls to be prioritised.
In 2017, more and more call-handling teams have welcome messages on the phone to inform callers about self-service options. Self-service might include options for frequently asked questions, taking payments and even where download forms can be found. But the key to call automation and routing is also simplicity. And whatever options are chosen will need constant review and revision. Here are six variables to consider:
1. Clear and short messages
Many call centre messages are too long and confusing. Less is more: the shorter and simpler the messages, the more likely the caller will select the correct option.
2. Call-handling and staff performance
In most contact centres there is quite a discrepancy in the quality of service delivered by individuals. The key performance statistics and indicators that apply to team members will include the number of calls answered per person and an average call duration, but call handling is about quality too. How best do you measure quality and ensure training needs are met?
3. Unique callers
It is important that customers only need to contact you the once to get what they need. A lot of effort should go into eliminating repeat callers and in ensuring there are sufficient staff to answer the volume of unique callers on the phone – rather than the total number of callers.
4. Peak call periods
Call centres need the right staffing busy and quiet periods – and everything in between. Average staffing levels required by hour of day, day of week and month of year can be calculated for future-needs forecasting.
When are peak times? Often 9am to 9:15am is busy on a weekday, which means that all call-handling team members should to be logged in and ready to answer calls by 8:55am. Good supervision and the right incentives can make this work effectively. Some companies will take advantage of available staff from their non-telephone pool during the peak times.
5. Cross-training on knowledge and skills
Call handlers should be cross-trained to answer different cross-departmental queries. This will reduce queue times and cut abandoned calls in any one department. Longer calls, such as specialist inquiries, can also be transferred directly to a specialist team to free up an agent for the next available call.
6. Prioritise urgent calls
It’s important for companies to identify and prioritise the different types of customer contact. This means the most important ones are answered all of the time – and no calls are abandoned.