How to Improve Contact Centre Response Time

Red clock with speedy blurred effect. Concept of fast time passing.
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Quick Overview

Whether it’s by phone, email, chat, or social (to name a few), contact centres should be looking to improve their response time, and there are many ways to do this, including:

  1. Improve the Accuracy of Your Forecasts
  2. Introduce Optimized Scheduling
  3. Automate Responses

This article contains practical methods contact centres can apply to improve their response time.


Ways to Improve Contact Centre Response Time

Customers don’t like to wait, and in today’s world responding quickly to customer enquiries can have a huge impact on both customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX).

With this in mind, we asked our panel of experts for their best ideas on how contact centres can successfully improve their response time.

Here are 15 ways to improve contact centre response time:

1. Improve the Accuracy of Your Forecasts

Customers hate hearing “All of our agents are busy right now. You are at position 5 in the queue.” They hate having to wait for their chat or email to get a response.

And 9 times out of 10, the root cause of the problem isn’t staffing numbers. The problem is that the actual volume of contacts is greater than you predicted during some intervals and less than you predicted in others.

Today’s WFM applications harness the power of AI and machine learning to almost completely automate the forecasting process.

The same problem often applies to average handling time (AHT). There are free spreadsheet forecasting tools out there.

Even better, today’s workforce management (WFM) applications harness the power of AI and machine learning to almost completely automate the forecasting process, enabling you to achieve the level of accuracy that previously required a PhD in statistics, with almost no effort. There really is no excuse for inaccurate forecasts any more.

2. Introduce Optimized Scheduling

Even if you’ve got a super-accurate forecast, customers end up with slow response times unless you optimize staffing levels around the forecast demand.

There will always be peaks and troughs that you need to staff for. Fixed, full-time shifts won’t cut it, even if you stagger start times.

If you staff for the average volume, there will inevitably be intervals when you are understaffed, leading to slow response times. There will also be intervals when you are overstaffed, which is wasteful.

You need a mix of part-timers and full-timers, and agents willing to work flexibly around demand. And you need to optimize their shifts to eliminate or minimize the under- and overstaffing.

Realistically, spreadsheets aren’t up to that job – you need a WFM application. The good news is that the best WFM applications include empowering agent self-service options, giving something back to agents in return for being flexible.

Contributed by: injixo

3. Automate Responses

Stuart Clarke at Odigo
Stuart Clarke

Automation provides immediate responses to predictable queries and frees agents’ time to respond more rapidly on other channels. Its use, however, should come with provisos.

Any automated or bot-led interaction may dramatically decrease response times for some interactions, but it will only save time if it prevents rather than simply delays customers reaching out to an agent.

Responses must be accurate, integrated and offer next steps or you are creating dead ends and blind spots that inevitably lead to customers turning to channels with longer response times.

4. Make Interactions Personal and Proactive

You can bypass the need for a response time entirely if you provide answers before customers even ask a question.

With predictive analysis, and by taking the time to understand your customers, personalized communication can be planned at predictable stages in the customer journey or life cycle.

The number of incoming queries may drop, even if it doesn’t check your KPIs, and proactive provision of quality information can increase the chance of First Contact Resolution (FCR) and decrease AHT, saving agent time.

In some cases, thorough analysis of customer contact may even identify ways to bypass the need for any interaction by addressing FAQs with updates to customer-facing literature – changing a product description, for example.

Contributed by: Stuart Clarke at Odigo

5. Empower Agents With the Right Technology

Colin Mann at Enghouse
Colin Mann

Agents needing to access multiple systems for information naturally slows down customer response times, adding stress to each call.

A unified agent desktop brings everything together in one system. When an agent can move seamlessly between applications, information can be exchanged more quickly and so resolution times come down.

Keeping knowledge bases up to date is also important as it helps to resolve interactions quickly, and significantly reduces the amount of callbacks. Having the right knowledge to hand also stops transfers and escalations from spiralling through the contact centre.

Efficiency also comes from arming agents with pre-drafted templates and responses to common enquires that they can personalize and send.

By using AI to analyse incoming digital queries, it’s even possible to automatically provide agents with the most relevant templates without them having to search for it, improving response rates all round.

Contributed by: Colin Mann at Enghouse Interactive

6. Make It Easier for Agents to Access Knowledge

Customer demand is rising while, at the same time, the nature of enquiries is becoming more complex as simple contacts are often solved by chatbots.

Contact centres, already under pressure from agent burnout and soaring attrition rates, are finding it even harder to deliver fast, satisfying customer experiences.

When organizations face a deluge of data, helping agents access the right knowledge at the right time is one – often underestimated – way to improve contact centre response times.

Yet opening a knowledge base application, typing in a search and flicking through relevant articles takes time and can detract from the agent and customer experience

Be proactive with knowledge.

Schedule time for agents to become familiar with where they can find information and how to apply the knowledge they obtain.

Make the most of modern agent-assist applications that track conversations in real time and help by spotlighting relevant data. Integrating your knowledge base with other corporate systems and providing customized dashboards are other ways to improve response times.

Contributed by: Nick Brook at Calabrio

If you are looking to create or develop your knowledge base, read our article: What Is a Knowledge Base? – With a Definition, Uses and Mistakes to Avoid

7. Optimize Workflows

Agents can respond more quickly when their time isn’t taken up by inefficient workflows or figuring out how to do things because of knowledge gaps.

One way to improve response time is to optimize workflows by identifying the most common requests and investing time in removing barriers and creating smooth pathways to resolution.

It can be tempting to target intents with long AHT, and additional training and reviewing processes will always be beneficial, but trying to save time on intents where investing it might impact customer satisfaction is false economy.

8. Improve the Accessibility of Digital Channels

Self-service doesn’t have to be a hurdle that a committed customer needs to overcome to reach an agent. In fact, it’s an opportunity to deliver the help your customer needs without making them wait in line.

Greater efficiency leads to higher response rates, meaning you can spend more time on the customers that need assistance with more complicated queries.

Self-service needs to be part of an omnichannel strategy, where customers can reach you in a way that suits them.

Advances in AI continually deliver improvements to the self-service channel. With AI-powered chatbots, customers can use the language they’re comfortable with and be understood!

Natural language processing (NLP) can be trained with your data to understand exactly what the customer wants and quickly provide them with the answer they need from your knowledge base.

Self-service needs to be part of an omnichannel strategy, where customers can reach you in a way that suits them. And on digital channels, they can get the answer they’re looking for without tying up a phone line or waiting in a queue.

9. Integrate Channels

Decreasing the number of incoming enquiries to agents by using self-service channels is clearly beneficial.

However, even when looking solely at agent-led interactions, multiple channels are advantageous. Customers get the convenience of both synchronous and asynchronous channels to fit in around their priorities, and agents are able to manage multiple interactions.

As asynchronous channels are text-based this also introduces the time-saving element of editable templates, allowing for efficient personalized care.

For multiple channels to really reduce response times, though, they must be integrated or they can actually introduce repetition and customer care ‘blind spots’ which take up agent time in subsequent interactions.

Contributed by: Stuart Clarke at Odigo

10. Enable Customers With AI-Powered Self-Service

Jason Griffin at Five9
Jason Griffin

Meeting customers on their own terms is becoming a competitive advantage.

Consumers are no longer content with long wait times or interacting with agents during regular business hours. They want 24×7 instant access without the need to speak to a representative for something they class as a simple request.

Self-service tools help consumers get the information they need, when they need it. Thankfully, self-service is on the rise with the addition of bots, conversational AI, FAQs and other AI tools to help create effortless and seamless customer experiences.

For example, an intelligent virtual agent leverages AI technology to provide intuitive answers to common questions so you can easily and quickly solve customers’ problems and improve contact centre response time.

Virtual agents are deployable across both voice and digital channels, allowing consumers to contact your business at any time on their channel of choice.

This lowers wait times for consumers with highly complex problems that need to reach a human agent quickly.

Contributed by: Jason Griffin at Five9

11. Automate Wrap-Up Activities

Responding to customers effectively is a three-step process involving talk time, hold time, and wrap-up time.

Arguably, the final part of the jigsaw – wrap-up time – is the trickiest. It is time-consuming because it involves a whole raft of activities that, while helping to build a positive outcome for future conversations, can keep agents away from responding to customers.

Many are looking to automate their wrap-up activities by harnessing the power of modern analytics-driven technologies.

Categorizing and logging contacts, summarizing call notes, updating information in the CRM, and performing follow-up tasks such as sending confirmation emails to customers or conducting post-call surveys all take time.

The experiences of Calabrio’s customers highlight a definite trend. Many are looking to automate their wrap-up activities by harnessing the power of modern analytics-driven technologies.

The statistics speak for themselves. By deploying speech analytics, for example, many of our customers have already reduced wrap-up times by as much as 80%.

An astonishing result that leaves agents free to focus on the next customer.

Contributed by: Nick Brook at Calabrio

12. Apply Five Strategies Simultaneously

Richard Coward at MaxContact
Richard Coward

To improve response time in the contact centre, there are several effective strategies to consider.

Virtual Queuing

Virtual queuing allows customers to retain their spot in the queue and receive a callback when they reach the front, eliminating the frustration of waiting on the phone.

Call Deflection

Another useful approach is call deflection, which utilizes different channels to direct customers from long queues to ones with shorter wait times through channels like SMS or webchat.

Self-Service Options

Self-service options are also valuable, as customers can complete identification and verification tasks themselves using an automated system. This frees up advisors to handle current calls more efficiently.

Technology

Implementing new technologies such as conversational AI or chatbots is another option, as they can address simple queries without the need for an agent, allowing them to tackle more complex cases.

Shifting Interactions

Also, shifting interactions from voice to digital channels where possible enables advisors to handle multiple interactions simultaneously, resulting in faster response times for the customer.

These strategies optimize contact centre efficiency, leading to increased customer satisfaction, agent satisfaction, and of course, reduced wait times.

Contributed by: Richard Coward at MaxContact

13. Focus on CX Insights

Nick Brook Calabrio
Nick Brook

If agents spend too much time looking for the information they need to solve customer problems or are second-guessing what customers want, response times along with customer dissatisfaction rates are likely to soar.

One way to improve response times is to bring data to life, using AI and machine learning (ML) to get into the mind of customers and then leveraging these powerful CX insights to deliver fast, satisfying customer experiences.

Modern-day analytics combine contact centre solutions with a range of speech and text, sentiment analysis, predictive evaluations, and personalized customer dashboards to interact with customers swiftly and effectively.

By focusing on CX insights, many contact centres have achieved impressive improvements in response times.

In the US, the State of Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services can now manage requests in 75% less time than before, and in Australasia, Relationships Australia Queensland has raised answer rates by over 15%.

Contributed by: Nick Brook at Calabrio

14. Collaborate Across the Business

Helping customers is a team game, especially when queries are complex. Often, an expert working in the back office or the product team is best placed to answer your customer’s question.

Rather than disappoint a customer, or waste time trying to organize a callback, collaboration tools can speed up customer resolution first time by pulling in the right expertise.

Using either text-based or video tools, each team member will have a presence indicator, letting agents know when they are available to assist.

With collaboration tools, agents can quickly identify who has the knowledge and who is online to consult with the customer, bringing down call duration times in the process.

Collaboration is about bridging the gap between knowledge and people, so that customers get a fast response with minimal fuss.

Contributed by: Colin Mann at Enghouse Interactive

15. Focus on Training, Wellness and Quality

Andrea Meyer at Centrical
Andrea Meyer

In today’s world of real-time communications, customers expect a speedy response and resolution – bringing pressure for agents.

Here are three ways contact centres can deliver a quality experience for agents and customers alike:

Thorough Training

Enquiry types vary. With thorough training, and reinforcing that knowledge with targeted microlearning, agents can better address enquiries satisfactorily and efficiently.

Monitor Wellness

Agents absorb customer stress and frustration, which can impact performance. Wellness checks alert managers for when an empathetic coaching session is needed.

Optimized Quality Management

An optimized QM process quickly delivers insights to managers, enabling meaningful coaching sessions in the moment of need to help develop agents’ skills and knowledge, leading to faster, more positive experiences for customers and agents.

Contributed by: Andrea Meyer at Centrical

For more great insights and advice from our panel of experts, read these articles next:

Author: Robyn Coppell
Reviewed by: Megan Jones

Published On: 26th Jun 2023 - Last modified: 15th Nov 2023
Read more about - Technology, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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