10 Tips to Improve Call-Handling Performance

plane performance

Despite the fact that seven in ten people prefer the phone to any other contact method,  there are some common errors that companies continue to make in their customer contact operations.

James Tanner highlights 10 tips which could improve performance by more than 30 per cent.

1.  Communicate the goal

Define and measure five contact-handling performance targets for phone, correspondence and face-to-face communication,  e.g. to answer 90% of incoming calls within 20 seconds and reply to incoming correspondence within two working days.  Ensure that your contact-handling teams know how to achieve them and report results to the board on a monthly basis. Set up an internal culture of achieving or exceeding the performance targets, incentivised by rewards.

2.  Encourage self-service

A recent survey found that the average cost per contact is £15 for face to face, £12 for postal enquiries, £5 for phone enquiries and 6p for online.

For 120,000 contacts it would cost £1.8million to manage face-to-face contacts, £1.44million to manage postal enquiries, £600,000 to manage the phone enquiries and just £7,200 to manage the online self-service.

More and more call-handling teams have welcome messages on the phone to inform callers about self-service options, i.e. where frequently asked questions, payments & download forms can be found.

Self-service options are perfectly suited for simple enquiries across all contact channels (phone, correspondence and face to face). They can be set up using the following methods:

Interactive website, recorded messages, telephone automated payments, pro-active automatic alerts by email/SMS, PC terminals and in-house telephones in receptions for customer access.

To reduce simple enquiries we should automate, eliminate and simplify them monthly using well-executed self-service options.

3.  Clear and short messages

Many call centre messages are too long and confusing. Less is more; the shorter and simpler the messages, the more likely the caller will select the correct option.

4.  Call-handling staff performance

The key KPIs (key performance statistics/indicators) applied to measure the call-handling team members’ call performance should include: number of calls answered per person and an average call duration. In most contact centres there is quite a discrepancy in quality of service delivered by individuals.

5.  Unique callers

It is important that customers only need to contact you once to get what they need. You should focus on eliminating repeat callers, and ensuring you have enough staff to answer the volume of unique callers on the phone rather than the total number of callers, see chart below:

6.  Managing peak call periods

Good call-handling team management practice is to be prepared for the busy periods and should ensure the right staffing levels. Average staffing levels required by hour of day, day of week and month of year can be easily calculated and should assist in forecasting future staffing requirements.

According to the Netcall research based on analysing 2m inbound calls, a caller waits an average of 12 minutes during peak times, 30 minutes in the public sector.

Often 9.00am-9.15am is one of the busiest 15-minute periods on a weekday, which means that all call-handling team members should to be logged in and ready to answer calls by 8.55am. Good supervision and the right incentives can make this work effectively. Some of our clients take advantage of available staff from the non-telephone pool, i.e. from the correspondence team, and encourage them to answer the phones during the peak times.

Call handlers should be cross-trained to answer different cross-departmental queries to reduce queue times and abandoned calls in any one section. Longer calls, e.g. specialist inquiries, could be transferred directly to a specialist team to free the agent up for the next available call.

7.  Independent audit of performance

There are many reasons why an external and independent call-handling specialist can offer better help in auditing your call handling performance. Their independence, in-depth subject expertise and clear focus will help you deliver results faster than any internal resource.

8. Prioritise urgent calls

Identify and prioritise the different types of customer contact so that the most important ones are answered 100% of the time and no calls are abandoned.

9.  Screen popping

By deploying screen popping software, call-handling teams can view the telephone number of the caller, and if it is an existing customer (or prospect), their name, address, account number, and any notes/history.

10. Real-time statistics

Call-handling team members and supervisors need to have constant visibility of their individual and departmental call statistics in real time, i.e. the number of live calls waiting in the queue. This can have an immediate impact on their behaviour and performance.

James Tanner

James Tanner

James Tanner is the Managing Director of Communications Department Ltd based in the UK.

Author: Jo Robinson

Published On: 30th Jun 2010 - Last modified: 24th Aug 2022
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  • Tweaking call handling further can be achieved by reducing key strokes, there are a number of Apps available that are in the form of a webservice/api. They allow entry of an address with just the postcode and house number, speeding up the process and ensuring accuracy. There are others that will validate telephone numbers and email addresses. Improving call handling performance is not just about speed but accuracy as well.

    John Turtle 30 Jun at 14:47
  • Excellent article. It’s good to see truly helpful articles such as this one. We truly believe in goal achieving metrics. They do make a difference. Too many centres short change the agents by not providing meaningful metrics. Articles like this accentuate the importance of them. Thank you.

    Susan Saldibar 30 Jun at 16:05
  • Nice article James – easy to read and concise. Some good sound advice for all.
    The challenge is once decision is reached – what the ACTION looks like – how to achieve the desired improvements. I guess that’s where you come in – right?

    Graham Bunting 1 Jul at 12:28
  • This is the best article on call handling I have read. Fully comprehensive and well explained what more can be said.

    John Call 6 Jul at 16:15
  • Dear John Turtle

    Over and above the metrics outlined within our article, another useful metric is to measure the customer experience and how satisfied they are with your service.
    Best wishes

    James Tanner 9 Jul at 18:12
  • yery good

    kamariah 20 Jul at 05:26
  • good tips this improve my performance as an agent and i will also gain amasing experience as an intern in the company i work for.

    bakang 21 Jul at 10:55
  • This is an excellent article, points discussed and ideas are the call centre material and understandable. Hope this will assist me and my team.

    Anonymous 15 Aug at 01:26
  • It was wonderfull going through your article.

    Bob Dawson 28 Sep at 11:54
  • You ROCK man!!!!!!!!!

    Bob Dawson 28 Sep at 11:58
  • great piece, practical and very helpful. thanks

    seun david 12 Nov at 11:59
  • Great tips, my favourite is tip#3, short message is very important, it’s all about speed for businessmen.

    Chris Anderson 19 Nov at 16:49
  • Some great tips here, one that rings (sorry for the pun) most true for us is having real-time stats so you can respond quickly to any surpises in call volumes

    Nicky 5 Oct at 16:41
  • Good!

    Abi 13 Jul at 08:44
  • good tips,,, thanks for that

    bhing 22 Jan at 09:21
  • great information. pleasure reading your article

    Daisy 3 Mar at 13:29