Please Stop Using Voice Mail In Your Contact Center
By: Colin Taylor
There are a few that really grate on me, fingernails scraping a blackboard, chewing on tin foil and voice mail in a contact center. There is little I can do about the first two on my list other than avoiding blackboards and tin foil, but I can make an impassioned plea to stop using voice mail in your call center or contact center.
Many well-meaning organizations provide the option for a caller to leave a voice mail when contact center is closed or even when they are being swamped with calls or contacts. I understand the logic and sentiment, “we can’t speak with you now but would like to in the future, so why don’t we call you”, very admirable. On the surface, this appears to be a very customer centric and oriented approach, which we could expect to align with a superior customer experience. But as the saying goes the devil is in the details.
There are a number of challenges that quickly become apparent to anyone who has ever played ‘phone-tag’, first if they customer left a voicemail when you were swamped dealing with other customers, when will you have a chance to reach out in response to the voicemail? You know that you will do so once you have put out the fires and have some availability to be able to make outgoing calls, but the customer doesn’t know this. So when is the customer expecting to receive a callback? In 5 minutes, 20 minutes, 4 hours later? Each customer will have their own expectation in their mind unless we educate them otherwise. We know that failure to meet customer expectation leads to erosion of customer loyalty and degrades the customer experience. But if the customer expectation is unknown, then how can we be expected to meet it? Sounds like a no-win situation to me.
Maybe voice mail during a volume spike in an anomaly, so let’s examine after hour voice mails. Many organizations will open the contact center queues in the morning and find that they have received a number of voice mails since the center was closed the previous day. These customers are expecting a callback. Everything that was said above about customer expectations holds true here as well, with the exception that the customer will not expect a call until we open the office the next day. Even with this parameter established, it can still be tricky. Do we return a call at 7 am on a Saturday morning? What is we open at 7 am Eastern time and the customer is in the Pacific time zone? Who doesn’t like a phone call at 4 am?
We have likely scheduled agents in the center to be there to answer the anticipated volume of new calls and contacts and have not factored in the 10, 20 or 200 calls to be returned. As a result time slips by as the staff service other customers and occasionally is able to place an outbound call between inbound contacts. Over time, perhaps the entire day or the next couple of days we get all of the calls returned. Are we out of the woods then? Not by a long shot. What happened when we called the customers back? Likely at least half of the calls went to voicemail or some kind and the center likely has a policy on leaving voice mail messages: Yes leave a message so the customer knows we didn’t forget about them, or No, don’t leave a message because they will then call us back and will need to be queued and we may not be able to speak with them. Both approaches have flaws. If we leave a message, we don’t know when they will get the message or when they will call back. There is no guarantee that agents will be available to speak with the customer when they call back or worse they may call again when we are closed and leave another message, which can further reduce the happy factor of this interaction. Now you may be thinking that no leaving a message is the best strategy and that we will keep calling until we reach the customer. That approach is great for every customer we reach quickly, but remember that because we haven’t left a message the customer doesn’t know that we have called. What would you think if you left a voice mails and didn’t receive a call back in what you consider a reasonable time? You wouldn’t be happy.
It is an unpleasant situation all round, and we haven’t even addressed the fact that many millennials and other, screen their calls and don’t answer a number they don’t recognize (Caller ID is dependent upon the last mile carrier) and some people simply have very busy lives and will never answer their phones. If you fail to reach a customer despite numerous attempts, the customer’s perception is that you didn’t contact them and must not value their patronage or need their business. This is not the customer experience that anyone is working to deliver.
But we can stop the insanity, by eliminating voice mail in our contact center. I can hear the scoffs of derision at such a suggestion. But is leaving a voice mail really doing the customer a favor? They may have to engage in a protracted game of phone tag, increasing volume into the contact center, they may never hear from us (as we never left a message) and neither of these outcomes enhances the customer experience or is likely to build loyalty or repurchase. The other scenario, of course, is that they reach out to us again with a phone call, chat or email. Heck, they may even have resolved their issue while we are still phoning them trying to make contact. These outcomes represent additional and wasted effort which doesn’t necessarily result in a better experience.
If we shouldn’t offer voicemail what should we do? Well, the first strategy is, well, nothing. If the customer cannot get through, because the center is closed, then they will likely call us back or employ another channel such as email to make their request. In either case, we are handling the contact through the expected channels and with the appropriate resources assigned to the task. A second option can be to employ a ‘callback’ in queue approach. Callback in queue allows a customer to request a callback, be provided with an estimated time for the callback and enter the number where they would like to be called. Customers love this feature as it allows them to get on with their day, while still retaining their place in the call queue.
So there you have it, two viable and reasonable alternatives. The choice is yours, and both will likely represent an improvement in customer experience. So please select one of these options and for goodness sake please stop accepting voicemails in your contact center.