Feeling overwhelmed is tough. When your phones are ringing off the hook with customer service calls, it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose. Here are some practical steps to help you get control.
Types of Inquiries: Determine what kinds of calls you are receiving and what is generating them. Understanding the problem thoroughly is the first step towards tackling it.
Patterns: How accurately can you anticipate your call volume? This will determine how well you can create an employee schedule to handle it. Examples of variables you need to anticipate are:
- Time of day
- Day of the week
- Monthly billing cycles
- Marketing campaigns
Is there going to be a price change, a new billing system, or an end-of-quarter sale? If any of your company’s departments plan on making a big change that will impact customers or plan to offer a special promotion, you need to know about it as far in advance as possible. You should be part of every department’s internal and external communication process.
Brainstorming: Once you understand what types of calls you are getting, why you’re getting them and when to expect them, it is time to brainstorm with other departments. Are there changes they could make to their processes that could reduce or even eliminate some calls entirely? Are they communicating accurate expectations to new customers? Could more helpful information be posted on your website? Could an instructional video be included as part of a client on-boarding process or included in orders that are delivered? Are invoices confusing? Go down your list of call types and ask, “What could we have done in advance that would have eliminated the need for this inquiry?”
Funneling: The faster you can determine what a customer really needs, the faster you can help them. The bonus is that you also reduce your average call length. Whether your employees are IT professionals, service technicians or customer service reps, they need to have a question funnel for each type of call they receive. The initial query should help them categorize (ex. are you calling for sales or service). Then, each subsequent question should help them narrow down the issue.
Don’t assume that all of your personnel do this equally well. Creating good, consistent call handling processes can have a huge impact on overall service levels. For example, if one of your customer service representatives takes an average of 150 calls a day, and shaves only one minute off of each one, they will gain 2.5 hours of additional time each day! Make sure that you are stressing improvements through better questioning and listening skills, not by rushing and strong-arming clients. Your employees can be a great resource for improving performance if you schedule time for them to share their best practices with each other.
Cooperation: Two important tips to share with reps to make them sound more helpful and inspire customers to be more cooperative are:
- Tell callers what you can do rather than what you can’t do
- Help defuse upset clients by using the phrase “I want to help you.”
Set Accurate Expectations: If you don’t set accurate expectations, you are simply setting yourself up for a subsequent call. Whether the issue is a delivery time or a time when your customer can expect some type of follow-up action, be conservative and truthful when you tell clients what to expect next. This is true even if the news isn’t good. It is better to deal with the facts now and simply disappoint them rather than having to handle someone who becomes irate in the future.
Outsource Selectively: Outsourcing your calls doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Consider being selective by:
- Time: when it may not be cost effective to staff yourself (ex. after business hours)
- Type: to maximize revenue (ex. sales opportunities)
- Volume: to reduce spikes and the need for additional staffing during peak times.
How do you deal with high customer service call volume? What actions could you take today to reduce the volume and length of your inquiries?
This blog was written by Laurie Leonard, the President of SUITE 1000, a U.S. based national telephone answering service, inbound call center and outsourced call center service. Her company has specialized in handling legal intake, sales leads, email lead response, appointment scheduling, customer service and help desk calls for over 20 years.