In the customer service industry, mechanised answering calls (also known as interactive voice responses, or IVRs) are ubiquitous. For many companies who have to deal with numerous customer calls each day, they seem ideal: they cut costs, direct incoming calls to the correct person and free up your employees to do other tasks.

But you should be wary of jumping on the IVR bandwagon too soon, particularly if your customer base is primarily made up of small businesses. Put yourself in these customers’ shoes: you’re busy running your business. You’ve got heaps of tasks to do but you can’t get on with them because you’re stuck on the phone. It’s taking too long because there’s no-one at the other end, just a machine that’s giving you ten different options, none of which seem helpful or relevant to your problem. Before long you’re kept on hold waiting to speak to a human being. Frustrating, isn’t it?

The trouble is that an exclusive focus on short term efficiency means you lose sight of your bottom line: keeping your customers happy. If there’s one sure-fire way to make someone who needs to get a problem solved angry, it’s making them wait – and then being unable to help when they finally get to the head of the queue.

At XLN , we came to learn this following research. We commissioned through Deloitte to survey our small business customers to find out exactly what they disliked about call centres. The survey revealed that small business owners would far prefer there to be a person at the end of the phone than a machine. People want to have a proper conversation with someone who can help.

“Well of course that’s what they want,” a sceptic might protest. “But it’s impossible. No single business can afford to spend so much time on each customer”. But they’re wrong. Getting your employees to pick up the phone is entirely do-able. But it requires good organisation and good training.

Good training is essential because no-one wants to converse with someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Your employees need to really “get” your business. Naturally, they need to know your products but they also need to understand your business goals. What are you trying to achieve? At our new centre in Sheffield, we’re teaching new employees how our business works in detail: introducing them to every aspect of our work, from sales to finance to technology. After this, they’ll be able to answer whatever questions a customer might have. It takes time to train employees properly, but investing in their future is absolutely necessary if you want to ensure your customers enjoy a positive experience of your company.

Perhaps you’re thinking that this personalised call service will mean the calls will go on for too long? The solution is to effectively organise your employees into call handling teams who can split and share particular tasks and allocate each small business customer to a specific team.

Large corporations already have the option of doing this at many call centres: their employees are fortunate enough to get put through to an account management team trained to know about their business and able to handle any and all enquiries they may have.

Saeed SheikhSaeed Sheikh
Saeed Sheikh has more than 17 years of international management and business leadership experience. His focus lies in leading teams to success and achieving customer service excellence. Saeed’s work has taken him around the world, from Europe to Africa to East Asia. He currently works with XLN Business Services in London.

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