How to balance customer service with efficiency


Here Carolyn Blunt tells us how to balance customer service with efficiency and still stay in control of calls.

With every new client I always need to find out the answer to the following questions early in the consultation:

1. Are advisors measured or guided on their average handling time (AHT) for each call?
2. How is feedback given to advisors on their performance against this target or guideline?
3. What measures are used for customer satisfaction and how is the team/department/desk currently performing?

The answers to these questions can usually shed some light on the interesting conundrum:

a) to be more efficient we need to keep call durations short so that more calls can be answered per advisor per day.


b) for customer service to be effective, a customer must not feel like they are being rushed off the phone. Failure to deal with the customer completely simply results in more calls being generated when the customer calls back to ask something else.

As a contact centre customer service training specialist, my role is to help clients to train their advisors to get this delicate balance right.

It is a false economy to reduce AHT by using wrap time as ready time. If an advisor is still typing up call text when the next call starts they will immediately be on the back foot for both customer service and efficiency. BE READY means just that.

The first ten seconds of a call are crucial for securing rapport with the caller. The advisor must actively listen to determine not only the caller’s reason for calling but also their mood (are they rushed/angry/bored/unsure/assertive) so that they can tailor their approach accordingly. Failure to actively listen and cause a customer to repeat themselves or cause a wrong diagnosis/solution is a disaster not only for customer service but also efficiency – the caller will need to call back/complain, etc.

Rapport is based on mutual trust and understanding and is an essential ingredient in the recipe for customer service. The old saying that ‘People like people who are similar to them’ is very true – think about your friends, you no doubt have things in common with them. Getting advisors to think about the caller in a positive way from the very start of a call, and show ‘like-mindedness’ will encourage rapport to develop. An example is when an advisor asks the caller for their account number. The caller replies ‘I can’t read it without my glasses’. How does a good advisor respond? Under no circumstances must they allow frustration, boredom, irritation, etc. to creep into their voices, the customer service experience will deteriorate rapidly and the call may be escalated. The best response is ‘I know, I’m the same, I can’t see a thing without my contact lenses/glasses, let me find it from your postcode’.

Customer service and efficiency are both beautifully served when the reason for calling can be swiftly and satisfactorily fulfilled. It can be more challenging when it is an unusual or complicated request, complaint or part of an on-going saga. In these cases it is important to analyse the freedom your advisors have to take ownership of such issues and whether they can make outgoing calls once they have looked into the saga when the caller is offline. Some centres will have a dedicated team to deal with certain issues that can be utilised; but in my experiences, devolving as much autonomy for this to the front line as possible allows for more first-time resolutions, improving both efficiency and customer service, not to mention making the job more varied and rewarding for advisors.

Is the caller really clear on what will happen next? Is your advisor? Do they have conviction that the process works or does doubt creep into their voices: ‘our engineer should be with you before 1pm’. Is there a bigger customer service problem between office staff and field staff or between departments that needs attention? In addition, analyse whether your advisors again are able to take ownership – do they give out names and numbers for any further queries or problems? Being able to do this improves the customer service experience and makes calls more efficient as the customer does not have to go through the history of the situation again with somebody else. Failure at this stage to really clarify what happens next may result in further call backs, decreasing efficiency and damaging customer service reputation.

Staying calm and in control of calls is critical for call handling times. Allowing the caller to wander off on a tangent is a waste of time for everyone involved, but bringing them back on track is often over done over-zealously, with the advisor rudely interrupting, speaking in clipped tones or raising their voice. Other advisors just passively avoid bringing the caller back on track or even worse join in the gossip and almost encourage it (this can happen if no guideline or measures on AHT are made)! The trick is to bring the caller politely back on track with a question the next time they pause for breath. ‘So you mentioned earlier…?’ is always a nice phrase that shows you were listening.

Imagine the advisor who has done a great call and fixed the caller’s gripe or complaint but then says goodbye with ‘And sorry again that you had this problem’. This simply serves to remind the caller of the dissatisfaction they felt at the start, which up until then had dissipated. Apologies are useful tools at the start of calls, said once with sincerity. The end should be all about the positives – thanking them for calling and wishing them a good weekend, for example. This is often the lasting memory for a customer, make it the right one.

Carolyn Blunt is a Training Consultant with the Training Consultancy Real Results.

Author: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 18th Jun 2008 - Last modified: 7th Apr 2021
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, ,

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  • I have a sneaky feeling that an over reliance on ACD stats will have the end result on trying to rush callers off the phone.

    Wall boards that show the number of calls in queue may also reinforce this message.

    jamesportcullis 18 Jun at 15:09
  • Rapport is based on mutual trust and understanding and is an essential ingredient in the recipe for customer service – i agree.

    Rita 5 Dec at 10:03