6 Ways to Keep Your Call Center from Being the Bad Santa

By Adrienne Burke | Small Business


I believed I was on the ball back in mid-November when I ordered my 8-year-old niece’s holiday gifts online from the catalog of a popular children’s magazine that offered free shipping on all sorts of cute toys. But now, with four shopping days till Christmas and no time left to ship three states away, I am the bad aunt.

Three phone calls and two emails to the company’s customer service team reveals that they have no idea where my order is, why it hasn’t arrived, or how to track it. The company doesn’t issue shipment confirmation emails or tracking numbers, and provides no way for consumers to log onto the website to check shipping status.

Instead, call center agents took my information—twice—for “forwarding to customer service.” Not only is my time wasted, and my niece without a package, but I imagine those customer service reps feel pretty helpless working for a business that doesn’t equip them to actually provide customer service.

My credit card was charged, of course. And I have been bombarded daily with the magazine’s chirpy marketing emails ever since. But no word about where my niece’s felted animal petting zoo or mask-making kit are. Guess who will not be shopping there again?

Adam Simpson, CEO of Easy Office Phone, says it’s a common mistake small retailers make. “Many focus heavily on marketing and merchandising products and services prior to the shopping season,” he says, “but fail to strategically implement tools to cover the entire shopper experience—from point of purchase to consumer care to returns.”

Simpson says especially at this time of year, when stakes for on-time delivery are high, “It’s vital for businesses to have the proper communications systems in place to handle consumer demands efficiently and effectively.”

Perhaps by virtue of being CEO of a cloud-based phone service company, Simpson suggests that “moving to a cloud-based phone service will enable businesses to provide excellent customer care this holiday season.”

Personally, I prefer shipment confirmations that include tracking numbers so that I can track down packages myself. It saves me and your customer service team time and frustration. But if, like the small business I dealt with, you provide customer service the old-fashioned wayover the phoneyou might appreciate these additional tips from Simpson.

1. Use call queuing. Queues are a powerful tool for handling calls in an orderly and efficient manner. Call queuing allows you to distribute calls to multiple staff as calls arrive, and will also hold calls in priority sequence if all agents are occupied. You can easily change which agents belong to a given queue, and even offer call preference to your top performers using skills-based routing.

2. Set target service levels and measure results. Responsiveness is critical during peak shopping periods as consumers will gladly shop at a competitor if your team can’t get to them in time. Determine an optimum response time and the target service levels feature will report how frequently your targets are actually being met in practice.

3. Use tracking and reporting tools. In addition to targeting service levels, use deep tracking and reporting tools to understand how your contact center teams are performing across a wide range of metrics including areas for improvement. Remember to make these evaluations in advance of the busiest days so you can make any needed adjustments without added pressure. Metrics can include: total number of calls, how many calls were answered versus abandoned, average hold time, average call length, and more. A good tracking and reporting suite will include the ability to easily export data to your favorite spreadsheet format.

4. Consider implementing “spillover” queues. Anticipate that at some point the influx of Black Friday or Cyber Monday calls will overwhelm your staff, despite their best efforts. The ideal solution is a spillover or backup queue that will receive those excess calls and pass them to a second group of agents who are standing by for this contingency. Additionally, if your business brings on staff on a temporary basis, and pays them based on calls taken, you can use your tracking and reporting tools to ensure the accuracy of payments to these temporary agents.

5. Use your phone service provider’s Web interface. Companies with discrete product and service offerings may need separate phone numbers and call queues for each in order to handle requested volume. Use your cloud-based phone service provider’s Web interface to ensure that each product or service has a unique phone number, which points to a call queue staffed by appropriately trained agents.

6. Announce approximate wait times. Assume that your shoppers may not be patient enough to tolerate a reasonable hold time. Be sure to provide them with a rough idea of when they can expect to reach an agent. This feature is easy to implement through your phone service provider’s Web interface.

If my niece’s favorite orthopterous magazine implements some of these measures, maybe I’ll try again next year for the felted animal petting zoo and mask making kit. Today I put cash in a card and mailed it priority.

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