Out With the Hold and in With the Virtual Queue

By Michael Oristian

Unexpected events can wreak havoc on an enterprise. Storms affect airlines, high winds affect electrical utility companies, and icy roads, flooding, or drought all mean more calls to insurance and maintenance companies. These conditions produce a flood of calls to customer service centers, causing rapid and unexpected increases in call volume. Companies and their call centers can weather these storms by implementing a callback solution, also known as virtual queuing.

Virtual queuing allows customers to choose between waiting on hold or receiving a callback. It helps call centers reduce call abandons and eliminate long hold times, increase staffing efficiency, and improve customer service. The value of superior customer experience is immeasurable, while poor customer interaction, as Comcast recently demonstrated, can be devastating. It’s no surprise that businesses want to alleviate the frustration wait times bring. The integration of virtual queuing technology is a step towards achieving this goal. While apps and mobile sites are a great way to address customer experience, inevitably customers will need to talk to an agent.

One-on-one interaction through voice results in improved customer satisfaction ratings. The customer may abandon a contact experience for a litany of reasons at various times before even speaking with an agent, but waiting on hold for an extended period remains one of the most common reasons why callers give low marks on customer service surveys. According to a Velaro study of 2,500 consumers, 60 percent of customers surveyed reported that waiting on hold for just one minute is too long, with 63 percent saying they’d prefer a callback option. Due to its ability to improve call center efficiency, virtual queuing provides call centers with cost savings and improved customer service.

Callback as a Cost-Effective Solution: In an ideal world, a business could hire more customer service agents during anticipated periods of high call volumes. However, this is rarely feasible or cost-effective and can even produce new challenges. Finding and training more agents takes time, and when call volumes are low, extra, unused agent resources result in unnecessary additional expense. For example, a US-based call center agent earns an average of $40,000 per year. Hiring an additional twenty agents would cost a call center an extra $800,000 per year. With virtual queuing, call centers are able to eliminate the additional cost of hiring more agents.

Traditionally, virtual queuing has saved call centers the telco costs associated with having a customer wait on hold. The typical telco cost for an inbound toll-free number is around one cent per minute, which, during a period of high call volume, can add up to thousands of dollars spent by a call center only to frustrate its customers.

With new, decoupled virtual queuing techniques, call centers can increase efficiency by slightly delaying callbacks during periods of high volume. This helps improve efficiency by more effectively matching the available agent pool to the call arrival patterns, thus increasing utilization.

Returned Calls Improves Customer Service: Virtual queuing enables a customer to request a callback at any time while they are waiting on hold. This eliminates frustrating start-and-stop hold times and provides a more enjoyable experience.

According to a recent white paper from Fonolo, in a survey of 200 call centers offering a callback option, 32 percent encountered a lower than average abandonment rate. This is because callers appreciate the freedom to continue with their daily activities while waiting to speak with an agent. A business that understands that a customer’s time is valuable is able to create brand loyalty.

Offering a callback option also takes advantage of a customer’s increased patience to speak to an agent when that customer is not tethered to a phone, which means service levels can be relaxed on the callback queue.

As cloud callback technology evolves, call centers will have the option to offer a callback at the beginning of a call or the option to request a callback via a website or other contact channels. These options are convenient and respectful of the customer’s time, which means that customers who choose to wait on hold find better satisfaction because they were given a choice.

The archaic process of waiting on hold has hurt organizations for decades. Many businesses haven’t grasped the concept that a customer should never wait on hold. But others are recognizing that callback technology is a simple, effective way to improve both customer loyalty and profitability. Strong customer service pays dividends toward business revenue and growth, and virtual queuing is a powerful tool for optimizing customer service.

On Premise or in the Cloud: Callback models continue to improve with the options of on premise or cloud-based models. Cloud-based, or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), offerings are becoming popular among companies of all sizes. Callback is no exception. This is due to the ease and speed of installation. A cloud-based virtual queuing solution can be installed in one to seven days.

Consumers today have more of a voice than ever before. They also have increasing distractions and responsibilities, and they are far more rushed than prior generations. They want an immediate response, and they expect their time to be respected. The option of a callback can do just that.

Michael Oristian is a co-founder of Callpromise/Lucyphone and serves as its chief marketing officer. Along with his brother Thomas, he was responsible for developing the original Lucyphone application and brand. Two years later he oversaw sales and product development for the enterprise SaaS virtual queuing solution and its subsequent relaunch under the name Callpromise. Contact him at moristian@callpromise.com.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2015]