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What do you see as best practices concerning allowing customers to leave messages in voice mail if there are no agents available? Is it different “during the day” than “after hours”?

What do you see as best practices concerning allowing customers to leave messages in voice mail if there are no agents available? Is it different “during the day” than “after hours”?

6/6/2010

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Question
What do you see as best practices concerning allowing customers to leave messages in voice mail if there are no agents available? Is it different “during the day” than “after hours”?

Answer

When it comes to customer service, it’s always a best practice to provide customers with as many options as you can practically support. Customers greatly appreciate the ability to leave a message, as it shows that your organization respects their time. Customers particularly appreciate it when a voice message maintains their place in queue and is handled as if they had remained on the line. If this is not an option for your company, it’s essential to establish best practices that facilitate the timely handling of all messages. (Many automatic call distributors (ACDs) have a call-back feature that automatically dials out to customers who have left a message.)

Customers want their inquiries resolved on a timely basis, regardless of whether they place a call or leave a message during normal business hours or after hours. However, if a customer service organization is closed, customers who leave a message are not going to expect an immediate call-back. DMG recommends using a voice message announcement to advise customers of the expected time frames for a call-back. Customers generally expect a return call on a same-day basis if they leave a message during normal operating hours. However, when messages are left after-hours, most customers expect a return call the next morning or business day.

Here are some best practices that will help your company provide an outstanding customer experience:

  1. When providing the option to leave a voice message for call-back, have the system maintain the caller’s place in queue and automatically dial out when the agent becomes available.
  2. Set up the customer’s voice message as a structured voice form, which prompts the customer to speak answers to specific questions. This information should include the best number, date and time to reach them.
  3. When making callbacks, be mindful of time zone differences between the customer and your department.
  4. If voice mail box messages are manually monitored by agents, have all messages go to a group mail box for the department, instead of being directed to different agents. This allows you to prioritize call-backs on a first come/first serve basis. (It also ensures that messages are returned, even when agents are absent.)
  5. Always follow through on what you say you are going to do. If you tell customers on a voice mail system that they will receive a call-back within 1 hour, put a support infrastructure in place that allows you to keep your commitments.
  6. If agents are assigned to making call-backs, block out time in their schedules for this activity. (Do not ask them to squeeze in call-backs during “down time.”)
  7. Agents should be trained on the handling of call-backs to ensure that they use best practices when returning calls. This should include thanking callers for contacting your organization and choosing the voice mail option.
  8. Have a closed-loop process in place to ensure that voice mail call backs are handled like any other inquiry. They need to be logged, tracked and reviewed by the quality assurance team.
  9. Include call-backs as a performance metric for which agents are held accountable in their performance reviews.

These best practices help ensure that call-backs are addressed professionally and on a timely basis. However, in the majority of situations, customers prefer getting through to a live agent with minimal wait time over leaving a message. In addition, call-basks are likely to be more costly for your organization than handling inbound calls. For these reasons, companies should re-evaluate their call volume forecasts and staffing schedules during periods of high voice-mail volumes.

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