May I Just Talk to a Real Person, Please?

The explosive growth in the popularity of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) call handling software in the 21st century caught many companies by surprise and the only question they asked at the time was how quickly they could start to use the same technology. As many are only now discovering, failure to stop and ask whether they should adopt IVR technology rather than just why, was an omission that can have serious ramifications for a company’s bottom line.

Certain businesses, such as high street banks and insurance companies, may actually benefit from the high degree of automation that automated call handling systems have to offer. However, others are now finding that having their phone calls routed through a never-ending loop of multiple choice questions is something that customers resent. The fact that many top internet retailers choose to have their phones manned by real human beings in this age of automation, rather than by a machine, is definitely food for thought.

What Can Your Company Do About This?

The question that is now being asked by savvy customer relationship and marketing managers across the United Kingdom is what can they do right now to deal with this problem? There are a few options that can be considered:

  1. Routing All Calls Through a Receptionist

This might sound like the obvious solution and it does have its merits but there are a number of drawbacks associated with this option too. The biggest one for larger organisations is cost: hiring the number of full-time receptionists needed to replace an ACD could be prohibitively expensive for big firms that deal with thousands of customer enquiries on a daily basis. The second drawback, which applies to organisations of all sizes, is the sheer amount of time that it will take to train these new receptionists and the problems that clients may encounter getting through to the right person when they call during the ‘bedding in’ period.

  1. Using a Traditional Answerphone

The main advantage of this choice is the extremely low cost, in terms of initial investment. However, the cost in real terms, when you consider the amount of revenue your company may lose by taking this approach, could be massive. As far as most organisations are concerned, and rightly so in our opinion, using a standard answerphone would be a huge step back when what is really needed is a bold leap forward. For very small firms, i.e. one-man bands or those with just 2 or 3 employees, it might work but even then, it’s a risk that we think is simply not worth taking.

  1. Paying for a Professional Call Handling Service

Not surprisingly, this is an option that we wholeheartedly recommend. However, there are a number of very good reasons for doing so; it is not just the fact that we are one of the top call handling organisations in the UK that motivates us to recommend this approach. Firstly, it is the most cost effective option: if you choose an overflow call handling service for example, you will only be paying for the calls that are actually handled by that service. Compare this to the cost of extra receptionists, who expect to be paid a regular salary whether they are busy answering calls or doing their nails! Secondly, it allows a seamless transition because you can start with overflow call handling and move on to a more comprehensive answering service when you are ready. Thirdly, because such services are available on a 24/7 basis, you know that your customers can talk to a real person no matter what time of day or night they happen to call.

What Your Customers Have to Say

Before you choose one of the above options, or take a completely different, approach, it is a good idea to ask your customers what they think about it. By soliciting the opinion of a broad cross section of clients, you should have a much better idea of what they expect from your organisation and what they might be willing to accept in the future.

Most firms that conduct the type of research suggested above find that the overwhelming majority of their customers wish to speak to a company representative when they call, not to a machine. Whether this is an actual member of staff or somebody who is working for a third party call handling service provider needn’t matter. As long as you take the time to properly brief the service provider in question, you will find that most of your customers are not even aware that their call has been handled by an outside company.

Monitoring the Effect of Your Choice

Whichever route you decide to take, it is crucial to monitor the performance of your telephone answering strategy on an ongoing basis. Some firms do this in a direct way, such as by asking callers to leave feedback before they hang up, but if you want to know what your customers really think of the way you are handling their calls, a glance at the bottom line will usually be more revealing. In fact, monitoring the effect that your call handling choices have on turnover and profits is not the most difficult task with which you will be faced. What is infinitely more important and often far more difficult to get right, is how you react.

Maintaining a Flexible Attitude

The key to success when implementing a new call handling strategy is to remain flexible and open to change at all times. Regardless of the initial cost of the new system that you implement, you should be willing to adapt or throw it out the moment you discover it is not having the desired effect. Goodwill takes years for successful companies to establish but it can be destroyed in a matter of days. If you want to hold on to your reputation and your best customers, you need to react quickly to any problems that may arise with your call handling strategy.

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