How to Reduce Hold Time in a Call Center and Other Tips

By Digium Content Marketing Team

Did you know that the average person will spend 1.2 years on hold? That’s a lot of waiting. According to the Small Business Chronicle, after an average of one minute and 55 seconds of hold time, most callers hang up- and 34% of those callers won’t call back. In today’s technology-driven world, information is available instantly, so when situations arise in which information is slow to access or confusing, the customer experience is diminished. This balancing act of providing information quickly and keeping the customer happy is something that call centers across the world deal with on a daily basis. Many are ready to try just about figure out how to reduce hold time in a call center.

Call center humor - how to reduce hold time in a call centerIn the case of a customer calling your business, while they don’t expect you to answer as soon as the phone rings, long response times and on-hold times quickly become aggravating for customers. The longer they are on hold, the more frustration builds up and engagement is reduced before an agent even handles the call. Add in poor call routing, confusing IVRs, and agent turnover, and good service calls quickly go south, leaving your customers frustrated and your business in jeopardy.

Effectively helping the customer and getting them off the phone quickly is a difficult balancing act, especially when trying to keep costs low. Here are some tips for reducing on-hold times and customer frustration in your call center:

Utilize Call Data*

Call reports provide a wealth of information and insight into your calls. By knowing who abandoned a call, when they called you, and how long they waited before hanging up, you have a bird’s eye view of call center performance, and can make informed decisions as to how to resolve any issues, including reducing on-hold times. Having a solid understanding of your callers’ patience threshold and effectively managing call queues will result in a seamless customer service experience for both your agents and your customers.

*Want to know more about accessing call data? Read: “ How to Use the Hidden Data in Your Business Phone System”

Monitor Agent Call Performance

Make sure your call center solution has features that allow you to listen in on calls, talk to your agents during a live call (during which the customer can’t hear you – only the agent can), and actively join in and engage in complex calls. These listening features allow you to pinpoint where customer interactions are taking a wrong turn, or what specific things are leading to happy customer interactions! Call monitoring is an invaluable tool for expediting agent training, reducing escalated calls to management, and reducing call transfers – all of which decrease handle time and on hold time in the call center.

Record Calls

When you are not available to monitor complex calls in real-time, listen to the call recordings. Use the recordings to consistently identify agent inefficiencies and other issues that increase handle time – and act on your findings. Find several examples of well handled and poorly handled calls and use them when training new call center agents. Include a variety of common case scenarios so that your agents know how to handle these inquiries quickly and efficiently, which will help reduce on-hold times. Recording calls can also be valuable to make sure promises are being kept, information is accurate, and procedures are being followed appropriately.

Keep an Updated Knowledge Base

Hold times will be reduced if agents have quick access to relevant information that will help them answer common questions quickly and move the calls forward. Make a robust knowledge base (spreadsheet, data sheets, shortcuts on your company website, or document) available and easily accessible to reference during a call. The faster your agents can access commonly requested information, the faster customers can be helped. In addition to having this information available to your customers online, have a special desktop version made for your agents so that if the internet connection is slow or not responding, they can still access the information quickly for customers.

Utilize Conference Calls

If your agent has tried everything in their power to resolve an issue, but they still need guidance, encourage the use of a conference feature. Instead of placing a customer on hold, have the agent with a question or concern conference in a more experienced agent, tech support, or a manager to help. Adding an agent to the call will help reduce the customer’s frustration of being passed along from agent to agent, which also helps answer how to reduce hold time in a call center. Also, conferencing can make calls more efficient because the initial agent explains the question or situation to the conferenced-in agent instead of the customer having to repeat themselves.

Optimize Call Routing

Call center software with effective call routing reduces handling time by ensuring that the most qualified agent handles the call from the beginning. It’s important to make sure your routing system is up to date and able to meet the unique demands of your business. For common issues such as tracking a package, resetting a password, or paying a bill, consider using an automated self-service queue so that customers can be helped without having to speak to an agent directly. Also, have your agents take notes regarding common issues with customer calls and periodically review them to determine if new menu categories need to be added within your IVR.

Update The On-Hold Message

NATA reports that callers who hear music on the line stay on hold an average of 60 seconds longer than those who do not. Keep in mind that the type of music you choose for your call queue can further impact how long a customer is willing, or not willing, to wait. Keep your target demographic in mind when shopping for on-hold tunes, but as a general rule, keep the music upbeat and cheerful. Another option instead of on hold music is customized scripts where your latest product or service offering is discussed. In fact, 16-20% of callers make a purchasing decision based on information they hear while on-hold (Stan Rapp and Tom Collins of Maximarketing).

Keep Customer Information Up-To-Date

When your agents don’t have access to updated customer information in your call center or CRM software, handle time will increase as they search for what they need. Make sure your software has integration capabilities, so that when an agent updates information in one system (such as Salesforce), all integrated business tools will be updated with the same information, eliminating the need to open several applications at once. Train your sales and call center agents to habitually check and update any customer information that is outdated or inaccurate. Not only will this reduce handle and on-hold time with customers, but also ensure that your team is providing a top-notch customer experience.

Staff Appropriately

The most effective and obvious answer to how to reduce hold time in a call center is to staff appropriately. Taking budget into consideration, this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to hire more agents; staff according to call volume. Analyze your call center data to identify your high volume periods and adjust agent schedules accordingly. Create contingency plans for when agents call out, such as transferring calls to remote agents, or adjusting the menu options to more efficiently route incoming calls.

Limit Agent Turnover

As you are well aware, being a call center agent or manager is a very high-stress job, so be sure to reward agent performance and do what you can to ensure they are comfortable on the job. Even something as simple as allowing agents to keep small personal items in their work area can increase their feelings of loyalty. Regularly check in with agents and encourage suggestions for improvement on any level of the customer interaction. Keep in mind the time, effort and costs associated with replacing skilled agents, and do your part to make their work environment more enjoyable so they can focus on helping your customers with their issues.

In many cases, implementing one of these tips on how to reduce hold time in a call center is enough to significantly customer frustration when interacting with your business over the phone. Focus primarily on the improvements that will yield the greatest results. You can tweak the details once you have made progress on the key drivers.

Next Steps

As you continue to ponder how to reduce hold time in a call center, one crucial option to consider is adopting a Unified Communications platform for your call center. Not only will this allow easy facilitation of all the tips and tricks covered in this article, but it will further reduce wait times for customers by bringing all the streams of customer communication onto a single, easy-to use platform. Customers will be more satisfied, and employees will be more effective and productive.

Learn more about Unified Communications at the Digium web page for call centers! And don’t forget to check out the demo center while you’re there to see Switchvox for call centers in action!

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There Are 2 Comments

  • Michelle says:

    Our call center has 3 team members who all take phone calls and emails from customers. There isn’t a schedule in place, it’s just all hands on deck all the time. My hypothesis is this causes frustration because the agents don’t know who’s going to get the phone so they all stop what they’re doing to answer it , one gets it and the other 2 continue back where they were. This constant Interruption in their thought process seems to be adding to frustration with managing workload. Likewise our email system has a delay when one grabs an email out of the general inbox so daily I hear them say “did you already handle xyz?”

    Are there any studies out there to show we could be more efficient if we have one of the 3 only work on email for part of the 8 hour shift, leaving 2 to focus on the phones? I have to believe that if you knew you could focus on the emails and sort of tune out the phone for a bit it would be better. Of course we would have to keep all 3 agents on during higher volume times and we are in the process of exploring software to provide our current state metrics, etc.

    If anyone has data to show we could be more efficient please share it, I can tell they’re getting frustrated and feeling overwhelmed and I want to help

  • Cora Cloud says:

    Hi Michelle,
    Our Digium sales team had a very similar problem, as they are constantly balancing incoming phone calls, chats, emails and web form submissions. We previously used a Ring All queue strategy which meant everyone’s phone rang for every incoming call. Based on your description that sounds like the ring strategy you are using as well. We changed our queue strategy to Fewest Answered Calls which accomplished two objectives- it reduced interruptions for the reps and more evenly distributed calls across the team.

    Our only concern prior to making this change was that response times might suffer. At least in our environment, we were pleased to see response times remained the same at seven seconds. The big problem with a Ring All strategy is your reps now have decisions to make for any incoming call. They will think, “do I answer, or is Amy going to answer?,” “I answered the last two, I am waiting for Bob to get this one?”, etc. With Fewest Answered Calls the reps immediately know it is their call to answer. You can also setup in queue call routing to overflow calls to a secondary queue that is Ring All to ensure no call goes unanswered. In our environment, response times stayed the same but we saw improvements in other metrics that were suffering due to the constant phone interruptions. In addition, reps are happier and feel the workload is more evenly balanced across the team.

    With regards to the other email activities, I think a schedule is the right approach until you can find an automated way to assign those to the reps. Hope this helps! Let us know if you have any other questions

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