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Call Blending Best Practices

Friday, May 5, 2017 - 10:45
Call blending best practices

Call blending allows the same agents to handle both inbound and outbound calls, depending on call volumes at any given moment. If you have software that can do it well, and agents that are suitably skilled, it can be an invaluable addition to your workforce management arsenal. The challenge, however, is doing it well.

Is Call Blending Hard?

Call blending requires quality software, and multi-skilled agents. This is why some companies can find that call blending is hard to do well.

If you have large teams for inbound and outbound calling, and those agents haven’t been cross-trained, you might find that call blending could decrease the quality of your customer service and cause scheduling headaches.

For smaller and medium sized teams, however, it can be a great solution – especially if you evaluate agents carefully and use only the best multi-skilled agents for your blended routing, while allowing agents that excel at a single skill to manage only those types of calls.

How Call Blending Can Improve Efficiency

Call blending helps you make the best use of your agents. When inbound call volumes are low, agents can make outbound calls so that they are being used most efficiently. If there is a spike in inbound calls, agents that would typically be handling outbound calls will help handle the excess.

This helps reduce average call waiting time, improve customer satisfaction, boost employee morale, and avoid situations where you are over or under-staffed.

According to the study “Contact Center Practices for Pairing and Blending Inbound, Outbound and Service and Sales”, 53.5 percent of contact centres believe that there is a customer experience benefit to call blending, and 28.6 percent of contact centres believe that there may be a benefit to the customer service experience. This means call blending can save contact centres money while simultaneously improving the customer experience.

Making Call Blending Work for You

Today, powerful routing tools make it far easier to perform blended call routing. Thanks to sophisticated workforce management and agent evaluation tools you can get access to reports on agent efficiency with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Based on those reports for skills, speed of answer, average calls handled, average handling time and average ‘closed’ calls, it is easy to set up routing that will send calls directly to agents with the skills to handle them, while routing uncategorised or general calls to the first available agent.

One of the biggest perceived barriers to blending, other than training requirements, is technology. 

The good news is that more and more systems offer integration for ACDs and outbound diallers, so even for the most basic levels of functionality, the solutions are out there.

Scheduling is still a challenge, however.

Blind blending could put agents in a situation where they are presented with a long and complex call right before they are due to go on a break. This is something that could be avoided through more careful routing, but not all software offers this feature. If you are looking at upgrading to a newer call centre management system with integrated workflow management and CRM, then you can take that as an opportunity to delve more deeply into those technical challenges.

Supporting Your Agents

For some contact centre agents, making the switch to running a blended call centre is a significant challenge. Specific personal attributes and skillsets tend to be better suited to either inbound or outbound call handling, and agents cannot be expected to simply take on a new job role without training.

Finding the time to schedule in training for a large portion of your workforce may be difficult in a smaller company where agents are already on a tight schedule, and in that case blending may not be an option for you right now.

If you do have the capacity to take some agents off the phones to train them, the long-term returns of effective and efficient blending will be well worth the initial training costs.

In addition, you may find it beneficial to review your hiring practices, so that all new hires are qualified to handle both types of call – or at the very least willing to learn.

Changing How You View Your Metrics

Many contact centres find that when they implement blending, the average handling time increases slightly. This is in part due to the fact that some calls are being handled by agents that are less experienced, so they work more slowly – however a part of it is also due to the fact that sales agents have a different mentality and do not usually put as much emphasis on average handling time.

Overall customer service usually improves, and the small increase in average handling time is offset by the bigger pool of agents handling calls – allowing more calls to be handled per day, without needing to take on more agents. This means that you should revise your expectations for the main metrics, and look at the end result – are your customers (or clients, if people are outsourcing to you) happy with the service they are getting?

Two Way Communication Improves Satisfaction

The trend, today, is for two-way communication between customers and brands in every-respect. Omni-channel customer-service is an expectation, not a bonus. Blended call handling is just one extra tool that can help contact centres meet their users’ expectations, and if you can build a team of agents qualified to offer this then you should find that you save money and have happier employees as well as happier customers with a higher lifetime value.

Implementing blended calling isn’t always easy – and it’s not a fit for every type of contact centre, but it is something that every centre should at least explore as an option.

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