Six practical ways to be more customer responsive using your phone system

Six practical ways to be more customer responsive using your phone system

Six practical ways to be more customer responsive using your phone system

It’s good to talk and making that contact experience with your team as swift and efficient as possible lies at the heart of good customer experience and service.

Customer experience or CX is one of the most frequently cited business buzzwords these days.  Being successful today, we’re told, is all about providing existing and potential customers with the best possible experience when they interact with your brand, whether that’s through your website, your social media channels or on the phone.

However, many organisations spend far too much time focusing on their digital presence and forget about the importance of “old fashioned” voice communications.  It’s good to talk, as they say and making that contact experience with your team as swift and efficient as possible lies at the heart of good customer experience and service.

Most businesses have some form of key system, PBX or hosted VoIP telephony solution that they use to power their incoming and outgoing voice communications.  However, like most technology we interact with day to day, we never quite get around to using and benefitting from its full functionality.

And the same is true of businesses and their telephony systems.

They often have dozens of in-built features right at their fingertips, but haven’t taken the time to map these features onto the customer experience or examine practical ways in which they can contribute to a more streamlined communications process for the client.

It’s time to put yourself in your customer’s shoes.

And whether you’re a small or medium-sized business, it shouldn’t make a difference.  Using enterprise telephony features for your smaller team levels the playing field and allows you to compete with the big boys on the block.

If your current key system or onsite PBX can’t perform some of these functions, it could well be a sign that it’s time to look at changing telephony solution providers, particularly since taking a path towards hosted VoIP can significantly reduce costs, negate upfront capital investment and offer a more feature-rich experience to everyone who interacts with your brand.

Here are some telephony features we think you should be using to power positive customer experience.

1  Help customers reach contacts quicker through self-service options using Automated Attendant and Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
This is the typical self-service scenario that we’ve all encountered hundreds of times. An automated attendant allows callers to be automatically transferred to a user’s extension without the intervention of a receptionist.  For example, dial 1 for sales, 2 for support, 3 for accounts etc.

This has the benefit of customers reaching the desired department without having to wait for someone to manually transfer the call.IVR is a slightly more advanced way of call handling in that callers can navigate a menu of options through their dial pad or use their voice to control their final destination.

Both options have the same objective of getting customers to their intended contact quicker and we’ve seen lots of companies use this technology to better manage incoming calls.

This functionality is great for smaller customers such as accountancy practices, legal firms, business services firms and any organisation without a dedicated receptionist where incoming calls are spread amongst the team.By offering self-service options, call volumes don’t represent a huge overhead on one member of staff and of course, by encouraging staff to share their extension numbers publicly on email signatures etc., you start to see automated call handling volumes increase even further.


2  Load customer account information as the call is received through an API module
Imagine every time we rang an organisation they had all our account information on screen and didn’t have to go through transaction history again and again? Well, depending on the phone system you use, this functionality has been around for quite some time but many organisations fail to activate it.

Having customer information pop up on screen as they call can be done through an API.  APIs or application programming interfaces are pieces of software that act as conduits between two applications.  They basically get two applications talking to each other.

Consider the power of getting your business telephony system talking to your CRM system or accounts package, where customer intelligence and account information can be loaded as a customer dials into your organisation using the number that’s recorded on the CRM system.

This is really powerful and greatly assists agents in building more intimate customer relationships.  By demonstrating your knowledge of account transactions and movements, it’s easier to show you care and create that close brand connection in the mind of the consumer.


3  Avoid a telephony cul de sac by using call forwarding functionality and hunt groups
Things get busy, particularly if you’re in a seasonal industry such as travel where the vast majority of bookings are completed in January each year.Conversations take longer than expected and sometimes we completely underestimate the number of staff we need to handle call volumes.

That’s fine but what’s not fine is sending customers into a telephony cul de sac when they can’t reach anyone on the other end of the phone.  Fortunately, this can be completely avoided through the use of call forwarding and hunt group functionality.

Use call forward on no answer to forward the call to another extension if not answered after a certain number of rings.  You might decide to forward it to another member of the team or to someone who can simply take a message.  Similarly, with call forward on busy, the call can be redirected if that line is already busy.

Hunt groups allow you to set up functional teams so that support calls can be forwarded to another support specialist and sales calls to another sales person, if they’re out on site.We all put so much effort into marketing our businesses and driving inbound communications.

Wouldn’t it be wasteful if calls were going unanswered and potential customers were lost through our sales funnel simply because calls were not answered?


4  Streamline communications across multiple offices and leverage the power of many through local and remote call agents
Lots of businesses have multiple offices in-country or spread across several geographies. Just because they’re not physically located in or beside HQ doesn’t mean that you can’t connect them to the same system and leverage remote teams.

IP is location agnostic and as long as you have a solid internet connection with reasonable bandwidth, there’s no reason why you can’t have distributed telephony communications from one hosted instance.

Intellicom is a good case in point where the bulk of our sales, engineering and support team members are spread across two main offices in Dublin and Birr but also with additional team members working from home offices in other parts of the country.

However, customers ring just one number and choose the option they want.  If all the support team is busy, the call will ring back in all office locations and can be picked up by anyone in the team using a feature called remote call pickup.  It makes for a very efficient system and virtually no calls are left unanswered as a result.

Leveraging remote agents also provides huge flexibility to growing businesses or those with seasonal peaks and troughs.

Where extra capacity is required, you can extend out telephony functionality to people at remote locations.  This can be very attractive for those who want the flexibility of working from home, for example.

Suddenly, your telephony technology is now a core part of your ability to attract and/or retain staff, at a time when recruitment and retention is so difficult, particularly in the tech support industry.


5  Give customers multiple communications channels through social media integration and multi-media support
Omni channel is the buzzword and it’s here to stay. As communications media become increasingly fragmented, customers are using more and more channels or mediums to connect with their favourite brands.

In retail for example, customers can access as many as six touchpoints with our brand before they actually receive their goods.

I think most commentators would agree this is far too many and in the contact centre industry, the move is on to try to reduce down that number by offering customers the option of multi-channel communications.

Using social media integration with your telephony system, you now have the ability to queue virtual calls from social media applications such as Facebook or Twitter and treat them the same as audio calls.

Similarly, you should look for system support for channels such as SMS, email, video and instant messaging.

This functionality is hugely powerful as these “calls” are now subject to the configuration of your standard audio calls and that means you can seamlessly manage and control them.  It also means they’re included as standard in your reporting and are subject to the same metrics.  This gives you more holistic measurement of all contact points with your company.


6  Use system reporting to drive more efficient handling of calls
Numbers don’t lie. Call waiting times and call abandon rates are key metrics you’ll want to focus on to improve customer responsiveness.  But this assumes that your telephony system can churn out these important reports for you.

It’s critical to have in-depth reporting on every aspect of your inbound and outbound calls as well as the performance of your staff.  After all, you can’t manage what you can’t measure.

Here are some of the metrics directly related to customer-responsiveness you’ll want to keep an eye on:

i)  Overall inbound and outbound call volumes
Tracking call volumes over time allows you to identify trends and to engage in pre-emptive capacity planning in terms of reduced or extra staff depending on volumes.  Having these numbers to hand introduces a level of predictability to your voice traffic and reduces the risk of nasty surprises, where you could be losing calls due to lack of agent availability.

ii)  Call abandon rates and dropped calls
As the name suggests, this report will tell you the actual number of calls that were abandoned or not completed by the caller.  Perhaps, it’s because the wait times were too long and callers lost patience or perhaps it’s a staff training issue where calls were inadvertently disconnected.  It’s happened to us all.  By identifying upwards trends in call abandon rates we can begin to dig deeper, understand the reasons behind them and work to resolve them.

iii)  Connected to abandon rates is the metric of average call waiting time
It’s good practice to set a target for average wait times.  For example, we might set a maximum 60 second wait time during which time we can play some promotional messages while agents work through the queue.  Being able to assess performance versus target allows the business to introduce measures to reduce call waiting times through automated response or extra capacity to deal with call volumes.

iv) Staff productivity reports
It’s equally important to measure agent/staff productivity as they are directly responsible for delivering on your promise of customer responsiveness.  Look for reporting on call volumes by agent and average call durations.   For example, are certain staff members spending too much time needlessly chatting with callers rather than trying to terminate the call and move to the next one?  Is the gap between calls too large and are certain staff leaving it up to their colleagues to answer calls?

As a manager, it’s important to take the time to read and analyse your call reporting and automated report generation can make this activity a little more disciplined for you.  For example, you can custom-build the report that’s right for your business using over 40 different metrics and then set a schedule for the report to be generated.

Depending on your business, you might request report delivery once a week or once a month.  But the arrival of the email in your inbox, without manual intervention, serves as a trigger that it’s time to crunch the numbers and see if these important customer responsiveness metrics are heading in the right direction.

In summary, customer responsiveness is critical in today’s hyper-competitive environment.  We’re all looking for an edge that will help us to better compete and at a time when so much of our business is transacted online, we have to offer potential customers a positive, efficient and streamlined experience when interacting with our brand.

Don’t forget that your telephony system, long since the stalwart of robust communications for your business, is a core component in helping your business to build competitive advantage.  It deserves investment, both human and financial and with the right input from a knowledgeable technology partner, can help to deliver real improvement in customer responsiveness.

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