Quick, think of your most horrible customer service stories.
Some of you might think about burnt-out agents who are threatening to quit their jobs, or perhaps that frustrated and angry customer screaming at your call centre employees. But the most undesirable customer service outcome is often not that apparent or scandalous: it’s lost business.
According to Harris Interactive, around three out of every four customers think that it takes too long for them to talk to a customer service agent. And that should be a cause for concern, especially since around 69 per cent of online consumers in the U.S. prefer to buy from businesses that have consistent customer service. Around the same number of people (64 per cent) place a higher premium on stellar customer service than the product’s price.
If you’re running a customer service call centre, there are two major things that you can do to help cut wait times and ensure that your customers are happy and that their questions are answered. The first strategy is to hire more call centre agents, although this option might not be viable for some businesses. More employees mean more salary and training expenses, as well as other costs, such as benefits.
The other thing you can do is to reduce the number of inbound calls to make the call volume more manageable for your agents. The good news is that there are several strategies that you can try to reduce call centre demand. As a bonus, reducing call centre demand helps to improve customer satisfaction and customer retention when done right.
You can imagine that not everyone looks forward to spending time on the phone asking questions or complaining about a product. Most people don’t relish the thought of spending minutes of their lives listening to awful elevator music whilst waiting for an agent to come on the line.
So, what can you do to reduce call centre demand?
1. Use Self-Service Customer Programs
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Many calls to your call centre are from customers who have open tickets and are wondering if their concerns are being addressed. If your customers can easily see the status of their enquiries and concerns, they will no longer need to talk to a live agent.
Tools such as customer portals can help bring transparency into the mix by allowing your customers to track and send tickets via a web page. All they need is a web browser to report a problem or ask for support. Customer portals are not only easy for customers to access and use, but they also become a valuable knowledge resource over time by giving customers access to their complete history of customer support requests and answers. That means your customers can find answers to questions they’ve asked in the past, eliminating the need to contact your call centre to ask the same question a second time.
Customers can also see what issues are still pending resolution. When they know that you’re actively working to solve their problem, they don’t need to contact your call centre to inquire about the status of their request. Customers are also able to create new tickets or reply to existing tickets from within the portal, which can be customised to reflect your brand characteristics, providing a seamless experience for your customers.
2. Use Interactive Voice Response Technology
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An Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system is an automated system that interacts with your callers. IVRs can quickly get the necessary information so that your clients can get the answers they need or talk to the right person about their issues. Today’s IVRs feature voice recognition technology, eliminating the need for customers to press buttons on their phone keypads to register their responses.
IVRs can easily reduce your customers’ wait times and can ensure that the call is routed to the best agent to address their concerns. More effective call routing helps reduce the frustration that customers feel when they have to wait for a while and then get the wrong person on the line. That agent then transfers them to another person, adding to the total time they spend on the phone – whilst also adding to the overall call centre demand.
However, one study found that more than six out of ten customers hate having to go through an IVR system. That’s because some IVRs have ridiculously long lists that they have to listen to, along with touch-tone instructions. Others find that an IVR prevents them from eventually talking to a live agent, whilst some find that the system’s voice recognition is so bad that they end up repeating themselves.
With the right system properly implemented, your callers will no longer have to listen to a long list of options. They can interrupt the recording and speak out what they need.
3. Use Chats and Chatbots
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If the problem is that you don’t have enough agents to answer live support calls, then you can reduce call centre demand by implementing omnichannel support options such as email and chat. Your agents must give their complete attention to a customer who’s on the other end of the line, but they can multitask more easily with chat, email, or SMS enquiries.
A NICE and Contact Babel report shows that the average agent can handle two to four customers at once when responding to support requests via chats. And this multitasking doesn’t affect service quality.
If asynchronous channels are not enough to ease call centre demand, then try using chatbots. Chatbots use artificial intelligence to simulate conversations in a natural-sounding language and answer customers’ questions.
When your customers talk to a chatbot, it’s like they are talking to a live agent. They type in their questions like they would if they were chatting with a real person. And they get accurate answers, too.
Facebook says that more than six out of ten people across generations would prefer to send a message than make a phone call or send an email. Meanwhile, HubSpot Research showed that 47 per cent of shoppers are willing to buy from a bot. The same report also showed that more than seven out of ten customers want to use messaging apps for customer service. They find messaging a whole lot easier to do, and it delivers the answers fast.
On top of being a preferred and acceptable way to deliver customer service to your clients, chatbots offer several additional benefits. For one, chatbots are available around the clock. They don’t get tired, they don’t call in sick, and they don’t even have to go on holidays. They also provide quick answers to important questions.
Sometimes your customers are only asking for the price of an item, or the location and operating hours of the store nearest them. Instead of waiting for several minutes on the phone for a live agent to become available, a chatbot will be able to answer those questions in seconds.
There are also chatbots that you can integrate with your customer relationship management (CRM) system so that they will be able to access customer data records when necessary. They can even look at the customer’s history with your business and tailor their responses accordingly.
What’s more, chatbots are useful for upselling and cross-selling relevant services, content, or products. For example, if a customer is asking about a particular product, chatbots can refer them to a piece of content on your site that can answer their questions more thoroughly.
If they are ordering pizza via a chatbot, they might get recommendations on sodas or other food items that might go well with their orders.
4. Use FAQs and Online Knowledge Bases
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Sometimes, your customers have the same questions, and they will try to look for the answers on your website. The good news for you is that they are more than happy to do some research.
Make it easier for your customers to find the answers they need by publishing a Frequently Asked Questions page on your website. Have your customer service agents brainstorm and collate the questions that your clients ask most frequently, and then write an authoritative answer to each question.
Your business’ FAQ should be prominently featured on your website to make it easier for your customers to find. Your FAQ doesn’t only answer your customers’ questions; it also saves them time because if they have more questions or related queries, the answers are right on the same page.
Having an FAQ will take away the need for customers to contact your customer support team, further reducing call centre demand. This saves them from long wait times to have just one question answered, whilst also freeing your customer service agents from having to answer the same question repeatedly.
FAQ answers also allow you to bring your brand characteristics to the forefront. For instance, if you have a playful image, the answers to your FAQ can be a bit silly, yet no less informative. Having a personality will help you build rapport and trust with your customers, thereby making it easy to engage and maintain a relationship with them.
Online Knowledge Base
Sometimes, FAQs are not enough. You should reserve FAQs for those questions that are frequently asked about your products, services, and company. For everything else, consider building an online knowledge base. Knowledge bases are similar to FAQs, although they often include more in-depth information, such as tutorials walking customers through standard processes and detailed explanations of product features and use cases.
According to a report, 51 per cent of consumers will use an online knowledge base. How significant is that? Online knowledge base articles are high on the list of your customers’ preferred methods for getting answers to their questions.
An online knowledge base is a collection of information about your products, departments, topic, or service. Your FAQ might be a part of your knowledge base, but it can also include user manuals, troubleshooting tips, repair guides, and other useful information that can help your customers if they run into a problem whilst using your product or availing your services.
If that sounds like a whole lot of work, it is. An excellent knowledge base software will help you create, structure, organise and publish all information you can about your service or product so your customers can access the information they need with a quick search. You can even integrate some knowledge base software with your support ticketing software or customer relationship management solution, allowing agents to send relevant articles and tutorials to customers easily. After all, you can have the best content in the world, but if nobody can find it, it’s not benefiting your customers or your business.
Knowledge base software should allow you to generate and edit your content easily, with a rich text editor that helps you format everything even when you don’t know how to code or use HTML. It should also allow you to publish PDF files, ebooks, and videos, among other media. Some knowledge base software integrates with your support ticketing system, so your customer support representatives can easily send relevant articles and resources to help resolve customer issues.
5. Provide Accurate and Easy to Understand Information
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Sometimes, reducing call centre demand is possible through effective planning. Using simple and easy to understand words in your written communication will help avoid confusing your customers, so they don’t need to call you for clarification.
If you have letters or invoices to customers and it’s not clear to them what you’re asking them to pay or how you arrived at that amount, expect them to call you. Expect that some of them will be angry for misunderstanding something from what you wrote. This is especially true if you send them a bill with the wrong amount.
Avoid jargon and industry-specific terms in your letters; instead, use language your customers are likely to understand. Also, make sure that there are no errors in communications with customers. The same holds true for your online properties, such as your website, landing pages, blog posts, articles, press releases, white papers, mobile app, Facebook page, and Twitter updates.
6. Encourage Online User Communities and Engaged Customers
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Another way to reduce call centre demand is by leveraging your current customers. Brands that are active on social media know the value of engaged customers.
Loyal customers and super users can help you market on social media. These are the people who know, trust and love your brand. They readily recommend your products and services to their family and friends.
On social media, they share your content with their connections, and they may even help by answering questions or clarifying things for other customers.
Engaged users like that are treasures. Now, imagine what a community of engaged users can do for you:
- They can create content that includes product recommendations. That’s precisely what Sephora did with their Beauty Insider Community by allowing users to upload photos of themselves wearing Sephora’s products. For example, a user can submit a photo of a makeup look along with a list of products used appearing alongside the photo.
- Your user community can also share their product ideas. For instance, they can share recipes that include your products as ingredients. But what’s most relevant to customer service is to have engaged users who can help answer questions. To get a feel for how this works, look at Xbox Ambassadors, which uses some of the best Xbox players who meet specific requirements. These are advanced Xbox gamers who can readily answer other gamers’ questions. They also create gameplay videos on Twitch or YouTube, as well as participate in online discussions and forums.
- Another company you should look at is FL Studio. This digital audio workstation has a lot of expert users lurking in the forums trying to find solutions to their questions. To give back, they answer other people’s queries as well. The FL Studio Forum currently has more than 1.6 million users who have posted more than 1.5 million posts covering more than 223,000 topics.
How Do You Form an Online User Community?
Admittedly, creating and fostering a helpful bunch of engaged users is easier said than done. What’s more, it can take some time to grow your community organically.
How do you even find these super users? First, you have to open the lines of communications and let them contact you. They can be the people who answer your online surveys, submit feedback, or those who write to you. They may be the moderators and admins of a Facebook support page for your products, or they could be the most ardent commenters on your Facebook page – the “Top Fans.”
Once you have identified your super users, the next step is to give them some degree of editorial control. For instance, allow instant approval for their posts on your page or give them a higher rank on your online forums.
It can also be visual, such as giving super users badges, customised profiles, or specialised interfaces. You might even offer them exclusive content, special access to events, or private invites to Google Hangouts.
Sometimes, your super users might come from within your organisation. Google does this with their products. Product heads and engineers often have their own blogs where they write about what they’re working on, which products are being launched, and how certain features in their products are used. These employees are also the ones who write on Google’s official blogs and regularly add to their knowledge base.
7. Get a Mobile App to Help Reduce Your Customer Service Agents’ Workloads
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Now that you have all of these strategies, your next move should be to implement them. The next part of your work is to make sure that you put all these strategies in motion right in front of your customers. And to do this, mobile apps can be of tremendous help.
In 2013, people spent 144 minutes a day on their desktops; that number dwindled slightly to 128 minutes by 2019. For that same period, the time people spent on their mobile devices increased dramatically from just 88 minutes a day to 203 minutes. That simply means that more people are on their smartphones and tablets today. Whilst your website is a good investment, it may not provide the same kind of user experience as a mobile app can provide.
So, it’s time to put your call reduction strategies in front of your customers by creating a mobile app that can engage your users and answer their questions. You can have your knowledge base, FAQs, online forums, and even your customer portal as prominent features of your app. And make sure that you provide your customers with an easy way to ask their questions, search and read your answers, initiate a chat, or call you.
Self-Service Is the Key to Reducing Call Centre Demand
Today’s consumers are comfortable with technology, and they don’t mind researching if it means that they can avoid calling a business on the phone. According to the American Express 2017 Customer Service Barometer, more U.S. consumers (around six out of ten) are using digital self-serve tools such as mobile apps, websites, voice response systems, and online chat to get answers to simple questions.
Meanwhile, Forrester reports that customers often use knowledge bases more than other types of digital self-service channels. That means that you can free up your call centre agents from responding to simple customer queries and have them focus on more complicated tasks such as payment issues or product complaints.
As with everything online, your starting point to implement these strategies is the content. You will have to think about how to implement these strategies and how to best leverage these technologies. Then write out clear and concise answers, explanations, and instructions that are easily understood by your users or customers.
Knowledge base software, chatbots, and IVRs: all of these technologies will amount to nothing if you don’t plan your content. Lastly, make sure that you tap into your network of loyal customers, such as your brand ambassadors. They often are willing to volunteer their time to help your other customers with their issues and questions.
All of these strategies can help you pare down the number of support calls your call centre has to fill, reducing call centre demand. And whilst nothing can replace the human touch, these strategies can help ensure that the calls you do get have faster and better resolutions.
Originally published Oct 29, 2020, updated Jan 16, 2023