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Your Call Is Important To Us - the use of telephony call-back

Customers have such a dislike of contact centre queuing that they cannot objectively estimate how long they queue for – ContactBabel research shows that while 94% of UK contact centres report an average speed to answer of under two minutes, 55% of customers report that they normally wait for over five minutes before their calls are answered.

Yet only 26% of UK contact centres offer the customers a call-back function, so as to alleviate call spikes while improving the customer experience.

Virtual queues

There are several different varieties of virtual queuing (call-back) systems: the "First-In, First-Out" (FIFO) system keeps the customer's place in line by monitoring queue conditions until the estimated wait time hits a set target, at which point it intercepts incoming calls before they enter the queue, informing customers of the likely wait time and offering the option of receiving an outbound call in the same amount of time as if they had personally waited on hold.

At this point, customers choosing to remain on hold go directly into a queue. Customers who opt for a call-back are prompted to enter their telephone number and possibly some extra details that can be used for agent selection and skills-based routing, and are then asked to hang up. Virtual placeholders keep the customers' places in line and the virtual queuing system launches an outbound call to the customer at the agreed time. When the call-back is answered by the customer, the system checks the right person is on the line and ready to talk. If this is the case, the call is routed to the next available suitable agent, who handles it as a normal inbound call.

By replacing real hold time with this virtual version, customers are free to do other things, thus removing four of the five problems that they have with queues - unknown queue times, hold music, the inability to do anything else and repetitive announcements.

Scheduled call-back options differ from a FIFO experience, in that customers do not keep their place in queue, but are called back at some time in the future that is more convenient for them (for example, when they know they will be back at their desk and available to take a call).

There are several types of scheduled virtual queuing:

- Datebook-type scheduling systems allow customers to schedule appointments for days in the future, with times blocked-out that are unavailable for scheduling, and limiting the number of call-backs available. This system also allows customers that reach a contact centre out-of-hours to schedule a call-back during normal working hours

- Timer scheduling systems promise a call-back after a specific amount of time, regardless of queue conditions. While this ensures an on-time call-back for the customer, a surge in call volume or staff reduction due to a shift change can create problems for the contact centre's queue, lengthening wait times for other callers

- Forecast-based scheduling systems offer appointments during times that are expected to have low call volumes. These times may not be convenient for the customer, and the contact centre runs the risk that their scheduling may be inaccurate.

Respondents offering a telephony call-back option were asked to state which types of call-back were presented to callers. 65% of respondents that offered call-back functionality allowed callers to request a FIFO call-back (i.e. acting as a placeholder in the queue), with 35% allowing customers to specify a scheduled time, 25% being called back at a time that suits the contact centre, and 10% only allowing callers to specify a day to be called back on.

Survey respondents who offered call-back reported that FIFO placeholder call-backs were far more requested than one of the delayed call-back types. On analysing the contact centre activity type (i.e. sales or service), those callers making sales enquiries were more likely to want a placeholder-type of call-back. This could possibly be explained by the differing states of mind of customers calling to purchase something, or to make a query or payment. The former is more likely to have chosen to call the contact centre to make a purchase that they are enthusiastic about, and/or which is time-sensitive, and as such, want to speak to the business as soon as possible.

Respondents indicate that telephony call-back tends not to be universally available to callers, with businesses only offering it after a certain period of wait time or once the queue becomes so long that it triggers the functionality to be offered. Half of respondents trigger call-back functionality based on the actual time that the customer has spent waiting, with around 30% looking at the estimated wait time based on ACD statistics. The remainder of respondents use a mixture of actual and expected queue time.

Two-thirds of contact centres using call-back state that it is offered after the caller has spent up to two minutes in the queue, although 10% say that it takes longer than five minutes before call-back is offered, at which point many customers have already given up.

Of those who are offered a call-back, most respondents report that fewer than a quarter of callers chose this option. This may be because customers lack confidence that the business will call back when they say they will, are relatively unfamiliar with the technology and/or do not have the call-back option offered to them early enough and so have already abandoned the call.

The previous finding is concerning, as call-back has great potential for both customers and businesses: virtual queuing and call-back, when implemented - and explained properly to customers - can be a win-win for both business and customer by:

- Increasing customer satisfaction and experience by being called back by an agent who already understands the customer’s context and identity

- Reducing average speed to answer and call abandonment rates

- Reducing call lengths as customers should spend less time complaining and adding-on unnecessary queries "while they're on...", pressuring agents trying to meet targets

- Reducing toll-free/freephone costs, as virtual queuing time does not incur telephone charges borne by the business.

Respondents offering telephony call-back functionality stated clearly that is was most useful for managing call volumes and spikes in busy periods, thus improving customer satisfaction and experience. Being able to spread calls out over the day and allow callers to keep their place in the queue - without actually having to queue – is seen by users as being of great use to both company and customer.

Telephony call-back is not seen by businesses as having a particularly positive effect upon reducing agent stress and pressure to achieve key metrics, and it is definitely not viewed as maximising sales opportunities from customers who would otherwise go elsewhere. Few respondents considered it particularly useful in reducing their freephone costs from customers who were queueing at the businesses’ expense from considerable amount of time. It is not to say that telephony call-back does not provide these benefits, only that respondents do not use call-back with these in mind.


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