Time plays a key role in customer service. Customers seek meaningful yet quick responses, while companies need to deliver quality experiences while avoiding long and costly service interactions. For this reason, average handling time, or AHT, is often considered an important metric to measure in the contact center, as agents strive to offer great customer service while keeping their interactions as short as possible. Here are seven essential tips that enable brands to reduce AHT without compromising quality customer service.
Train and inform agents
Agents should be properly trained to use different resources. For example, they should be able to use a CRM database effortlessly, understand how and when to route customers to other agents, and know how to use call scripts effectively. In addition, brands must keep agents informed of company updates such as new products or services, product recalls, or promotional offers. Keeping agents well-informed is essential to reducing average handling time.
Give them tools for success
A CRM database is essential to organizing customer data and empowering agents to deliver efficient service. Agents are able to understand customer history quickly and provide faster and more accurate responses based on current information that may be updated in real time.
Give customers a chance to explain
While a CRM may provide key customer information and make an interaction progress faster, agents should always invite customers to explain their problems fully at the start of each interaction. Listening to customers closely enables agents to understand their situations better and eventually saves time, as customers will not have to repeat information later.
Optimize IVR menus
IVR menus reduce average handling time by connecting customers quickly to the most qualified agents or information sources. However, brands need to keep their menus up to date by making sure that the IVR options reflect current brand events, such as product recalls or promotional offers, for example. Visual IVR options can connect customers even more quickly to the answers they need.
Keep customers informed
Whenever agents need time to find or process information, customers should be kept informed. Silences can be confusing to customers, as they may think they have been disconnected. Agents should explain what steps they are taking and provide approximate wait times.
Identify and analyze pause times
When pauses occur during service interactions, it’s essential to find out what is happening during those moments of silence by recording calls and monitoring all other channels. Is the CRM database lacking critical information? Is the agent waiting for a response from a colleague? Understanding pause times helps brands improve service and further reduce AHT.
Ask for agent feedback
Agents have valuable insights to share, so brands should make sure to solicit their feedback. Peers may discuss their experiences, and the most productive agents may share their advice with those who have longer AHT. Such feedback may also be used to revise call scripts, optimize routing practices, and devise best practices for the contact center as a whole.
Reducing average handling time is critical to delivering great customer experiences and cutting costs. However, a smart and strategic approach can achieve this goal without compromising the great experiences customers desire.
Irrespective of the size your company, ensuring that your clients can contact you whenever they need your services is very important. For start up businesses, it is easy to stay on top of incoming calls yourself or with your staff.
However, as business grows, the demands for running the company can leave you with less and less time to dedicate in answering the rising number of client phone calls. This often leaves you with two options: either hire a receptionist or hire a call answering service.
While both options are very similar with respect to quality service and professionalism, it is vital that you understand the real cost comparisons involved based on your budget.
Which one costs more? Let us look at some statistics
According to a 2015 report by the US Labor Statistics Bureau, the average cost of hiring full-time, on-site staff was $13.12 per hour translating to $27,300 per year excluding payroll taxes or benefits.
On the other hand, call answering services typically charge between 0.8 cents and $1.20 per minute depending on your plan. So, assuming that your program is designed to answer about 10 calls per day (about 200 calls per month), with each call lasting between 30 seconds to 1 minute, your phone answering service will pay about $200 to $300 per month.
This means that in a year, your company will have to pay somewhere between $2400 and $3600 or slightly higher per year for professional live answering services. Compare that to the cost of on-site staff.
Now, let us see some other costs that you can evade by hiring an answering service as opposed to on-site staff.
No Salary Expense
With professional full-time staff costing about $ 27.3 per year, the cost does not stop there. Remember there are payroll taxes, benefits package, pension, paid breaks, vacations, and bonuses. This means that your receptionist’s budget would need to be in excess of at least $ 2,000 per month. However, with an answering service, that costs $3,600 you will be saving your company $ 23.7 per year without additional expenses.
No Hiring and Training Cost
When hiring on-site staff, you may need to consider more than just the wage you will have to pay. The hiring costs, training costs, as well as the effort into ensuring that your new hires are doing a great job and are happy in their new role must also be considered.
Finally, it is vital to consider how long a receptionist will hold their position before moving onto another job leaving you with the pressure of finding, interviewing, hiring, and training another one.
With an answering service or a virtual receptionist, you can get rid of all the added responsibilities and stresses of signing up committed full-time staff.
No Missed Opportunities
Let’s say your receptionist is inevitably out of work due to illness or does not work on weekends. Who will answer the phones calls? The odds are people will try to reach your company with no response. That means loss of business.
However, with a professional answering service, you can rest assured that your calls are answered 24/7, messages taken, and orders placed even when your business is closed.
Sales calls are the livelihood of your company. Hiring a professional answering service is undoubtedly the cheapest option regardless of the business size. Not to mention the removed cost of training, recruiting, training and turnover associated with receptionists.
It’s hard to run a business and still be available for customers’ calls around the clock. Your phone is the front door to your business and first impressions count.
Sending customers to voice mail when they call could be costing your business big time.
Having a live person answering your phone makes all the difference in the world to customer perception and satisfaction. What follows are the hidden costs of using voice mail.
1. Upset Customers
What if your customers don’t like the impersonal nature of voice mail? When a customer complaints, chances are their anger will increase when they go to voice mail instead of instead of speaking with a real person.
Plus, in the time it takes you to call back, their frustration can fester even more. Instead of voice mail being a customer service tool, it becomes a customer disservice tool.
2. Lost Customers
Even worse, some customers won’t tolerate automation. Tick them off with greetings, beeps and the proverbial ‘voice mail jail’, they will simply take their business elsewhere.
When you look at the lifetime value of a customer, suddenly the inexpensive voice mail solution just became expensive.
3. Inefficient us of Time
With voice mail you need to listen to all the messages. Then you need to write down the key information. Some people will drone on for five minutes and give their phone number just before they hang up.
Others talk too fast and you have to listen to their message over and over, especially for addresses and phone numbers. What if you jot the number down incorrectly? What if you can’t read your writing or make sense of your notes? It happens.
If you still have the recording, you can listen to it again. If you already erased it (which is the efficient thing to do), then you need to scour your CRM and customer files to find their number. Or maybe all you have to show for your efforts is that you’ve lost the opportunity to respond. (Refer to the first two items.)
4. Continuous Telephone Tag
After a while of listening to messages you realize how much some people ramble. They can talk for two minutes and still not leave the key information you need. Then you need to call them back just to find out what they want. If they’re out, you leave them a message. Then they return the call and leave you a message, hopefully a complete one this time.
Now that you’ve learned the reason for their call, you need to research the situation and call them back again. But what if you need even more information from them? The game of phone tag rages on.
When you total up the cost of angering callers, losing customers and wasted time, the true price of voice mail really adds up. Can your business afford it?
I am asked quite often why a small business would need an answering service. There are several reasons that an answering service is a good investment, regardless of the size of business you currently have.
When you are running a business, manpower is very limited. Having to run around and do everything yourself, including answering random calls, appointment confirmations, and calls for scheduling can add up to a lot of time. The time you spend answering these calls throughout the day can be better spent working with current in-person clients and other tasks that help your business run smoothly. You can concentrate returning calls when it is most convenient for you.
If you have to take time from current clients, they can become agitated and leave. On the other hand, if new clients are calling to set up appointments and not getting an answer, they may go elsewhere. Having an answering service makes it possible to keep both customers happy at the same time. This insures you don’t lose someone’s business, and the associated income.
Preparation for Growth
Having an answering service in place from the beginning makes it possible for your business to grow without having to stop and take time to find new sources of help. A business needs to grow at its own pace and any kind of interruption could be detrimental to that growth.
Everyone needs a vacation, a day to spend with family, or simply an uninterrupted night’s sleep. Having an answering service allows you to have all these things without worrying about customer service. When you are able to get those breaks, you are better able to deal with clients in a positive manner that keeps them returning.
I like to tell those with small businesses that an answering service is like an investment in the future. In addition, it shows professionalism to prospective clients and shows confidence in yourself and your business. Give yourself the gift of hiring an answering service. You work hard, allow someone else to help you out so you can concentrate on what you do best.