Tips for contact centre agents, from contact centre agents

Call centres are worth £21 billion to the British economy and a colossal 1.1 million people are employed to work in them. Those 1.1 million people are often the subject of customer frustration, criticism and outright anger.

But what are the underlying reasons behind this discord, and how can they be reduced? Howard Williams, marketing director of business automation expert, Parker Software, singled out some of the best brains in customer service and contact centre management. Here, these experts identify three rules that contact centre agents should live by.

1. Minimise hold times

Siobhain Goodall from contact centre specialist, mplcontact, believes that keeping on top of incoming phone calls is key to customer satisfaction. “In this fast-paced world, most people will hang up the phone if it isn’t answered after the fifth or sixth ring,” explained Goodall. “If the person on the phone does wait, and you take forever to answer, you’re already starting off on the wrong foot. Each unanswered ring gives potential customers more time to form a bad first impression.”

No one likes being kept on hold. According to research from Valaro, 60 per cent of customers will hang up after waiting on hold for one minute. A further 32 per cent believe that customer service departments should be answering immediately, with no hold time whatsoever.

“You shouldn’t be putting your customers on hold unless absolutely necessary,” continued Goodall. “If you must, make sure it is done properly by always asking the person on the phone if you are okay to put them on hold — and only do so for up to a minute. If the matter is going to take longer than this, suggest a call back and always follow through.”

2. Protect your customers’ data

“The interactive nature of customer calls to a contact centre means they are a prime target for fraudsters,” explained Tom Harwood, co-founder and CPO of voice security specialist, Aeriandi. “Often, criminals gather just a small amount of personal information on a victim from social media sites and attempt to manipulate agents into either feeding back additional personal information, or allowing them access to customer accounts.”

Many contact centres have invested in technology to better manage customer data — not only for security purposes, but also to improve customer relationship management (CRM) systems to better deal with enquiries.

“While providing a great customer experience is important, protecting customer data should be the number one priority for all agents,” concluded Harwood.

3. Invest in technology

Technology is not only for security purposes or managing customer data, but can also be used to make the customer experience a more convenient affair. Many call centres with high volumes of calls will have already invested in some sort of automation.

“If you experience high volumes of calls, make sure you provide an option menu,” explained Goodall. “This allows the user to get transferred to the right person as soon as possible to prevent any further delays on their part.”

However, there is more to customer service automation than telephone option menus. In fact, there are ways to implement technology into customer service interactions, without losing the human touch of a real contact centre agent.

“The development of business technology has meant that offices now operate in environments that are increasingly hectic and process-intensive,” explained Stephen Parker, CEO of Parker Software. “Business automation technology, like ThinkAutomation, removes the menial, administrative tasks associated with customer service by automating those processes — updating CRM systems, filing documents and responding to very basic customer enquiries.”

By investing in this technology, businesses can cut through the noise of customer service and contact centres can stay on top of what really matters: keeping customers happy.

Contact centres are a colossal industry in the United Kingdom, but many haven’t dramatically changed since their introduction in the 1960s. To survive in the era of chatbots, AI, and instant messaging, contact centres must embrace change — offering a customer experience that is both technologically efficient and steeped in friendly human engagement.