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On-hold messaging, IVR and centralized 800#s

Do you know of any resources regarding the following items:
1. On-hold messaging - best practices, and what technology is needed to tell person how long it will before their call is answered?
2. IVR - steps to take to create the best possible IVR system to meet customers' needs in terms of the call tree structure, but also more sophisticated options like hot transfer and voice recognition.
3. Why/when to create a centralized 800# (verses one for each business unit or product), or examples of any companies who have done this.

1. On-Hold Messaging
The information required to tell a caller their expected wait time inside your ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) system. Some systems require a 3rd party application to extract this information and present it to the caller while other manufacturers do not expose it. Many ACD systems have started offering the ability to provide this information to the caller. Your best bet is to contact your current vendor or ACD manufacturer as a starting point.

There are two areas of concern with this capability. First, if your average hold times are long, some callers may be put off hearing. Be sure to offer them alternative courses of action such as an e-mail address or times to call back when waits may not be so long. Second, most of these systems provide only an average time to answer. If your calls vary significantly in length, your average time to answer could be very inaccurate. Of course this can be a big problem because telling a customer their expected wait time is 2 minutes and having them wait 5 does not go over well. It's a good idea to track the degree to which answer times vary as well as average time to answer.

2. IVR
A successful IVR implementation is based on three key principals.

A. Understand the information your customers commonly look for and place those in order of importance on the menu tree. There are a couple of ways to figure out what information your customers are looking for. If you have an existing ACD with decent reporting, you can use your reports to gather this information. Another method is to ask your agents. They'll tell you. Also, make it a regular exercise to reevaluate what your customers are looking for because as customer needs change so must your IVR.

B. Do not put more than four choices on any single tree.

If you list eight choices to a customer, they will not remember what choice #2 was and they'll press 0 to connect to an agent (defeating the purpose of IVR). Four seems to be the right balance. You can offer subsequent trees, but don't offer more than four choices on any of them.

C. ALWAYS offer customers the ability to press 0 to reach a live agent at each stage of the IVR system.

Voice recognition is becoming less expensive all the time. Your IVR vendor can assist you in adding this capability.

3. 800 Numbers
In my opinion: offer both.

I am a firm believer in giving customers choices. I would have a main 800 number that uses Auto-Attendant or IVR to let the customer choose where to go or what they are looking for. I would also have separate 800 numbers that take the customer directly to a specific queue or agent group. This way, a new customer can call the main number and find the resource they are looking for. Customers that call frequently can be given a direct 800 number to save them time.

Customer service today is all about giving the customers choices.

For more information, check out searchCRM's Call Center/Customer Interaction Center Best Web Links.

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