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Every business handles inbound calls, sometimes daily. Customers and clients need to get in touch, and picking up the phone is still a standard part of this process, even if social media messaging and live chats are growing in popularity.
What is an inbound call? How do businesses handle inbound calls? And what are effective inbound call strategies? This guide will tell you everything you need to know about inbound calls and end with simple yet effective tips for improving the inbound call experience for both you and your customers.
What is an inbound call?
An inbound call is when your customer or client initiates contact with you. Typically, an inbound call is made over the phone when a customer calls your helpline and is routed to your contact centre.
Nowadays, however, inbound calls don’t just take place using the telephone. Customers can initiate contact with you on their PC or tablet, thanks to VoIP. They can also reach you via email, social media, or a live chat system on your website. They may not be calling, but you must be ready to respond whenever the customer is getting in touch with you.
How to handle inbound calls?
Business owners have a variety of options for handling inbound calls. The methods for handling inbound calls often depend on the size of your business, the number of calls you receive, and the type of calls. Likely, your business is already using one or more of the following options for handling inbound calls.
1. In-house contact centre
A standard way to handle inbound calls is with an in-house contact centre. This means that your own employees handle incoming calls. Small businesses may have a receptionist, a help desk, or a single customer service agent. Larger businesses may have a team of customer service agents or their own call centres filled with inbound call centre agents.
2. Outsourced contact centre
Other businesses outsource their call centre services. This means that they hire a third party to handle inbound calls in their own contact centre. This contact centre may well be handling inbound calls for a variety of different businesses.
We’ll discuss the pros and cons of outsourcing your inbound contact centre below, but this is a popular option for large companies or businesses looking to scale.
3. Omnichannel contact centre
An increasingly popular way to handle inbound calls is to offer multiple communication channels for customers to contact you through. These could include email, messaging via social media platforms, or speaking to live agents via online chat or helpdesk.
An omnichannel contact centre does not replace the traditional call centre; rather, calling is integrated into the contact centre.
4. Automated contact centre
Some customer enquiries don’t require speaking with a live agent at all. Automated messaging chatbots and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems are a useful way to streamline incoming phone calls, reduce wait times, and assist callers quickly.
Automated systems are beneficial for customers searching for simple information or assistance, such as business opening times, appointment booking, or technical support.
The pros and cons of outsourcing inbound calling
Whilst omnichannel options and automation can be integrated into either type of contact centre, the in-house vs outsourced call centre debate is the biggest in handling inbound calls.
Outsourcing your inbound call centre has advantages and disadvantages; here are the pros and cons that most business owners face:
Outsourced call centres are often cheaper than handling inbound calls in-house. Call centres cost money—labour, infrastructure, and overhead costs quickly add up—and outsourcing your call centre to a third party is usually a cheaper alternative.
2. No training is required.
In external contact centres, the staff are already trained in customer service, call handling, and using a contact centre phone system. This saves businesses both time and money since they don’t need to train inbound call centre agents themselves.
3. Less risk.
Contact centre phone systems go down, employees call in sick, and mistakes are made. Business owners know that risks are involved in all parts of their business, but by outsourcing their inbound call centre, the burden of dealing with these risks falls on the third party.
If your business is growing, you may need to expand your call centre. An outsourced inbound call centre makes this easier since these call centres are ready to increase or decrease capacity and upgrade phone systems or customer relationship management (CRM) systems if you need it.
1. Less business and brand awareness. Brand identity is an important part of customer retention, especially if customers are contacting you because of a problem.
Most outsourced inbound call centres do not train their agents in the individual brand identity of the businesses they work for, so customers can receive a generic customer service experience.
2. Language differences. Language and cultural barriers in outsourced call centres are common complaints.
With so many outsourced call centres being based overseas, there is a chance that the call centre agents are not fluent in your customers’ language or have the shared cultural touchpoints that are essential to customer service. These differences can cause frustration and miscommunications on both sides of the inbound call.
3. Less customer care. Many outsourced inbound call centres are focused on reducing wait times and handling as many phone calls as possible rather than service level.
A great customer service experience may not be their top priority. Customer satisfaction is vital to any business, large or small, but outsourcing your inbound call centre could compromise this.
4. Compromised data security. There is always a risk with outsourced contact centres that the data you give to them and that they collect from callers may not be as secure as it would be if you handled inbound calls in-house. Personal data, payment details, and security details such as passwords could be hacked.
5. Less control. If the training and management of call centre agents and the experience offered to customers who contact you are important, outsourcing could make you feel powerless to make changes or implement strategies.
Ultimately, you’re handing over an essential part of the customer journey to another business—one in which you have little say and may never set foot inside.
What is the difference between inbound and outbound call centres?
The difference between an inbound and outbound call centre is between inbound and outbound calls. While your customers or clients initiate inbound calls, outbound calls are initiated by businesses.
Business owners use outbound calling for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is to contact potential customers and follow up on leads. Other times, and it is part of their telemarketing practice.
The people in an inbound and outbound call centre differ, too. Inbound call centres are usually run by support teams focused on dealing with enquiries from existing customers or offering technical support. On the other hand, outbound call centres are more likely to be populated by sales teams who are focused on making outgoing calls for customer retention or to gain potential customers or clients.
Inbound calls often require more complex business phone systems, too. Since inbound call centres often deal with a larger call volume and need to pull up information for individual customers and products at a moment’s notice, they require automatic call distribution (ACD) and CRM systems.
Related reading: Setting Up A Call Centre: The Definitive Guide
Inbound call strategies
If you handle inbound calls in-house, there are plenty of strategies you can put in place to ensure that your customer service and call centre metrics are top-notch.
These five inbound call strategies are perfect for small businesses looking to scale or large businesses that want to improve their contact centres.
1. Interactive Voice Response
An Interactive Voice Response (IVR) phone system is a great way to improve your handling of inbound calls.
An IVR is an automated phone system that greets inbound callers with a pre-recorded message and prompts callers to select from a menu of options. The IVR system uses the responses made by the dialer to deal with the enquiry and, where necessary, for routing the caller to the correct department or call centre agent.
IVR technology is great for dealing with a large call volume and helping the inbound contact get the help they need. IVR also functions as an automated help desk, providing information for callers such as opening times or tech support and freeing up your live agents for the callers who need them most.
2. Streamline inbound call routing
Getting bounced around from agent to agent in a call centre or across various departments is frustrating and time consuming for inbound callers. An effective call routing and call handling system can help streamline this process, saving time for both you and your callers and providing more effective customer support.
RingCentral MVP lets businesses set their own rules for call routing and forwarding. They include recognising if the inbound caller’s phone number matches that of a previous caller or an important client so that their first interaction is with the right person or setting up different phone numbers that customers can call based on the nature of their enquiry.
3. Give agents easy access to data
Providing your inbound call centre agents with an effective CRM system is the best way to improve efficiency and a high customer service level in your inbound call centre. When your agents receive calls, a good CRM system will let them easily pull up client or customer information.
Having the customer’s information at hand makes call resolution quicker and easier for agents and means that inbound contact queries are more likely to be resolved on their first call. Well-kept CRM records empower agents and help them become more helpful, professional, and personal during inbound calls.
4. Track and analyse inbound calls
If you have a customer service team or a dedicated inbound call centre, you must track and analyse inbound calls. Metrics such as call volumes, first contact and first call resolution, the average speed of answer, and handle time, and customer service scores collected through post-call surveys are all useful ways to analyse the effectiveness of your inbound call handling.
Whatever metric you focus on when analysing your inbound calls should suit your needs. If you run a small business that works in eCommerce, for example, you may also want to analyse inbound calls to gather customer information, such as demographics, and assess what products are causing inbound queries.
5. Expand your communication channels
Businesses that offer multiple channels through which customers or clients can contact them offer a stronger and more streamlined customer experience. An omnichannel customer engagement platform lets your customer service team interact with customers in real-time across a range of platforms.
This means that customers can contact you via social media, live chats, and email, as well as inbound phone calls. Not only does this give your customers more options, but it also saves time for your customer service team, who can deal with enquiries quickly over a live chat rather than dealing with a large inbound phone call volume.
Handling inbound calls efficiently and effectively is central to any business’s service level and customer experience. Businesses planning to scale must consider how they handle inbound calls even more carefully, as they may need to upgrade from a one-person help desk or customer service team.
RingCentral offers a range of inbound contact centre solutions that will help you implement the above strategies.