Call handling refers to managing incoming and outgoing phone calls at your company. Modern technology allows for much more robust call handling than was previously available. Your phone conversations can now be as tightly integrated with your tech stack as your emails are. This availability has impacted customer expectations. Customers now expect an immediate response to their questions, with 60% of people defining “immediate” as less than 10 minutes.
Using every available tool to streamline your call-handling processes will significantly affect how your customers perceive your business and how likely they are to continue as your customers.
The Impact of Poor Call Handling on Small Businesses
When customers call your business, they expect to receive a resolution to their problem quickly. Waiting on hold for a lengthy period and leaving the call without a solution is a worst-case scenario for the customer and your business. As a customer-facing area of your business, your call center plays a significant role in how your business is perceived.
Unprofessional or otherwise unsatisfactory performance from the people on your staff taking inbound calls or making outbound calls can reflect on the whole company. This can negatively impact customer satisfaction, loyalty levels, and retention. As a result, your company will suffer a loss of potential sales and reputational damage.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your core competencies are all customers about. A solid product or service will compensate for any deficiencies in other areas. However, a Salesforce survey puts that assumption into the proper perspective. They found that 88% of customers believe that the experience of working with a company is just as necessary as its products and services. Call handling must become a core competency for the portion of your staff responsible.
Designing a call-handling strategy
Given the importance of providing a solid experience to customers who communicate with your staff over the phone, creating a solid strategy for dealing with calls is essential. For each type of call you’ll field, there are three significant steps to designing your approach. The first step is to list the calls you’ll be making or answering. Then, for each of those types, take the following steps:
Identify the purpose of the call.
Your customers will be calling for different reasons, which should be easily categorized. For example, they may need to ask questions, book an appointment, place an order, or do other things. If you have an automated response system, these are the types of things the system will use to direct the calls, so you’ve probably already given some thought. Understanding the purpose of the call is essential to complete the following steps accurately.
Determine the target audience.
This step is two-fold, though there’s a good chance you’ve already completed the first half. Who are your customers? Understanding your buyer personas will help you craft scripts and processes that resonate with the people you’ll communicate with.
The second step is to refine that target audience to the specific call type. What type of person will likely call in to ask for technical support, and what may their role be? Which of your personas prefer making appointments over the phone versus other methods you have available? The more accurately you can guess the type of person you’ll be talking to, the better you can serve them.
Set performance metrics and goals.
Metrics and goals are a vital part of tracking the success of your strategy. You can’t tell whether your call-handling process is effective without some way to measure performance. You need to find out whether your methods to improve it are working. A good call-handling strategy will identify relevant metrics, set target goals for those metrics, and monitor progress over time to determine when tweaks need to be made.
Each type of call will have metrics that are specific to it. Some general metrics applicable to all calls include:
- Call abandonment rate
- Average call time
- Customer satisfaction rating
Remember that acceptable values for some of these, particularly average call time, will vary greatly depending on the type of call.
Implementing effective call-handling techniques
Now it’s time to examine and refine the actual way in which you communicate with the customer. Part of this is using what you’ve learned about your target audience for each call to customize your staff’s tone and messaging when communicating with them. Beyond that, several essential best practices have been proven to increase customer call satisfaction:
Personalize the call-handling process.
Just as you personalize your email communications, you should personalize the call-handling process. People want to feel you’re talking directly to them, not a random person. The most prominent part of personalizing the call is to use the person’s name. Addressing them by name establishes a rapport and builds trust.
The most important part of personalizing the call is actively listening to what the caller says. If the customer feels that the person they’re talking to is merely reading off a script that only vaguely applies to their issue, they won’t feel engaged. Talking to a person should never feel like browsing the knowledge base of a website.
Provide clear and concise information.
Clear communication is the hallmark of good communication. Avoid using technical jargon or complex terms unless you’re sure the person you speak to will understand. Anything that may confuse the customer or impede their ability to understand the conversation will result in their problem not being resolved or their feeling alienated.
When discussing essential details, repeat them to ensure that no misunderstanding has occurred. Some good examples of when this is important are when talking about account numbers, order numbers, or delivery dates. These things can be easily misheard and are crucial to customer satisfaction.
Always confirm that the customer understands the information; ask them to repeat it or summarize it when necessary. This will ensure everyone is on the same page, with nothing left open for a difference in interpretation.
Manage caller expectations
If a caller is led to believe they’ll receive a response quickly and ends up waiting on hold for an hour, they’ll be much more disappointed than if they’re told the wait time ahead of time. This concept applies across the board. The more the person you’re communicating with understands the process, the fewer chances they’ll have to be annoyed when something doesn’t align with their expectations.
Providing estimated wait times is a big part of this. Modern telephony systems allow you to integrate deeply into your tech stack. One of the advantages of this is that you can use that tech stack to estimate the wait time based on the customer’s place in line and the average call length.
When there’s a multi-step process or any complicated procedure that must be followed, give the customer an overview of the process before you start and explain the next steps as the call continues. This will provide the customer with a reasonable estimate of where they are in the process and what to expect during the next phase of the conversation. Arming them with this knowledge can help reduce their anxiety and further manage their expectations.
Resolve issues promptly and effectively.
Resolution is the heart of good call handling. Here again, modern telephony systems can help. By integrating into your CRM, your support staff can quickly view the customer’s history, past support questions, and the resolutions to those issues. This lets them go into the conversation already up to speed and prepared to help without having to ask questions that have been answered in previous calls.
As you talk to the customer, identify the root cause of their issue. For example, a customer may need to understand how a particular feature works at a fundamental level. Depending on the circumstances, the most basic answer to their questions might not solve that underlying issue. It might not always be obvious what the underlying problem is, so having past support calls readily available is so beneficial. With them, your staff can detect patterns and draw conclusions that help address customers’ problems more comprehensively.
Finally, always follow up with the customer. Whether you do it by phone, email, or some other preferred communication method, allow them to let you know if things don’t turn out as well as they’d like. This, in turn, gives you a second chance to fix the problem and prevent a negative experience from permanently souring the customer on your brand.
Use technology to improve call handling.
We’ve mentioned several uses of technology already. Any sound business-class phone system will provide advanced features, tools to hook into CRMS and other aspects of your tech stack, and APIs that help you create additional functionality. Armed with these tools, you can bring your communications systems well beyond the simple telephone switchboards of the past. Below are some examples of how technology can improve your systems.
- Automated response systems – These can serve two purposes. In some instances, the automatic response may be enough to answer the caller’s question without them ever needing to talk to a person. When it isn’t, the system can ensure that the calls are routed to the appropriate department and queued properly.
- Unified communications – By hooking your phone communications in with every other area of your tech stack, you now have the tools to keep all your information about a customer in a single location, regardless of communication source. This information can then be readily drawn upon to improve customer service.
- Call recording and monitoring – There are several reasons to record customer calls. If there’s a problem, a recording provides an accurate overview of what was said and where the trouble began. These recordings can also be periodically reviewed to see which areas your staff may need improvement. Recordings of challenging issues or customers can be especially instructive.
Let Phone.com Be Your Partner
Phone.com is a leader in VoIP phone solutions for businesses of all sizes. Our platform will allow you to create effective phone handling systems easily. For requirements unique to your company or industry, our powerful API will let your developers integrate phone communications into whatever processes you need. To learn more about Phone.com’s service, contact us today.