Customer wait times – expectation vs reality
What do you hate most about supermarket shopping? Probably waiting in a checkout queue.
And what do consumers hate most about calling a company contact center? You guessed it; according to most surveys, it’s waiting in a queue to speak to someone. In 2012, this study found that nearly 60% of callers wouldn’t wait on hold for more than a minute. And at five minutes, over 90% of them would hang up altogether. Things haven’t changed much since.
We know that long wait times are bad for business, leading to frustrated customers, and leading in turn to agent burn-out.
Consumers had a bit more patience during Covid lockdown, and cut call centers some slack. Since then, expectations have soared, but delivery is often still woeful – ‘We are experiencing unusually high call volumes’.
Why are consumers still having to endure this?!
For contact centers, it’s about supply and demand. There are plenty of ways to predict and schedule what should be the right number of agents. But without a crystal ball, incoming call volume is not accurately predictable, so other strategies are required, too.
1. Reduce call demand
- Look for ways to improve processes so that customers don’t feel the need to contact. I had to renew my passport recently, and the proactive email response from the UK Passport Office was outstanding, keeping me informed of progress every step of the way, and pre-empting any reason I may have had to contact them.
- Provide self-service options. Sure, they are all the rage and getting better. Can an online FAQ, or an IVR or chatbot provide the service required? Sadly, very often customers don’t get what they need through these channels, or would simply rather talk to a human. Best practice is always to offer a way to escalate to a live call.
2. Manage the customer in-queue
- Offer to call the customer back; customers will happily wait longer on virtual hold. Or have them leave a message, which can be responded to when agents are less busy.
- Announce the customer’s position in the queue, or expected wait time. Knowing where you stand prevents frustration.
- Identify priority customers (e.g. over 65) and route them to a queue that is answered quickly.
3. Squeeze more out of the agents you have
- Enforce schedule adherence? Yes, but reduces trust and autonomy, leading to greater attrition.
- Enforce shorter call handling times? Service quality declines, agents get more stressed, and attrition increases.
Hmmm – not one of our preferred options…
4. Increase agent supply
- Overflow to an external supplier, or a pool of part-time workers.
The key to reducing customer wait times is … automatic balancing
Having considered all these points it is tempting to think that supervisors can then step in, take a top level view and perhaps take additional actions such as moving customers between different queues, to see if they can improve response times to customers.
Intuitively a nice solution, but plain wrong! Yes wrong. Too many moving parts for a human to manage.
If we look at the media queues in a contact center, whether they be voice, email, chat and so on then the supervisor never knows best. Once you have specified SLAs for all queues and recorded agents’ skills, your software should be able to balance workloads across all queues. And, paradoxically, this might even mean giving preference to answering an email, rather than taking a waiting inbound voice call.