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Call Queue 101: What Is It and How Can It Help Your Business?

This article was published on February 23, 2024

For most businesses, it’s not realistic to expect your team to answer every inbound call as soon as it arrives. That’s especially the case if you receive a high volume of calls, and if you only have a single phone number for people to contact you. However, with a call queue system, you can streamline your call flow and distribute calls to the right people — reducing customer wait times and improving staff morale. This creates a better experience for customers and employees alike.


But what exactly is a call queue, and what are the benefits for your business?

Photo of a smiling call center agent talking to a customer through his headset and writing notes

What Is a Call Queue?

A call queue is a call management feature that helps businesses and call centers manage their incoming calls. If a caller dials your number and there’s nobody available to assist them, this feature places the call into a virtual queue until it can be answered.

Calls are typically answered in the order in which they arrived, although some businesses create priority queues for certain customers or types of inquiry. If more than one employee is available, your call routing rules can also determine who takes the call.

Tools such as IVR (interactive voice response) menus and virtual receptionists collect details from callers in the phone queue. They use this — along with pre-set rules — to route the call accordingly. Call queues can also play hold music and provide helpful messages about estimated wait times.

Now that we understand call queue’s meaning, let’s move on to how they actually work.

How Should Call Queues Work?

Call queuing should streamline your call flows and help your business to help more callers in a shorter space of time. If your call queue management is up to scratch, the following explains how it should happen.

First, somebody calls your business with a question, a complaint, or the intention of making a purchase. 

You’re experiencing a high volume of calls, so there isn’t anybody available to speak to them right now. Instead of letting the phone ring out, the call is accepted into the queue.

A message informs the caller that they’re being placed on hold, and that someone will be with them shortly. Ideally, it should tell them their current place in the line, and offer an estimated wait time. That way, the caller can decide whether or not to continue.

The IVR or auto attendant asks a few questions to understand the caller’s intent, and collects the ID and phone number. It uses this data to select which employee(s) will be most suited to handling the query — for example, someone with authority to process a refund.

Meanwhile, the caller listens to pleasant hold music and receives regular updates about their queue position. If the wait is likely to be long, the system may also offer them the option of receiving a callback, either at their convenience or as soon as somebody is free.

The IVR or virtual receptionist may also offer extra information to help the caller, such as business hours or answers to common questions. When the caller reaches the front of the line, the automatic call distribution (ACD) system transfers them to the right person, following your pre-set routing rules.

The employee who picks up the call is equipped with the caller details and prepared for the interaction. The customer is satisfied that they didn’t have to wait too long or repeat themselves, and in most cases their issue can be resolved by the first person they speak to.

Why Are Your Call Queues Longer Than They Should Be?

Call queuing systems don’t always work as perfectly as we outlined above.

Sometimes the queues can become overlong. Callers feel like they’ve been forgotten and that your company doesn’t value their time — and then they’ll probably just hang up. So, what are the reasons why this might happen?

Not Enough Staff

One reason for a high number of calls in the queue is that there simply aren’t enough staff to cope with the volume. This could be because several people are out sick, but often it’s because the business isn’t effective at staff scheduling.

This stems from a failure to predict peak times for inbound calls, such as during a big marketing campaign or in the run-up to the holiday season. The employees who are working will get overwhelmed, and callers will face long wait times.

Lack of Training

It’s one thing to have enough staff; it’s another to ensure they’re properly trained to handle both basic and complex inquiries. Maybe they don’t have sufficient product knowledge or they’re not able to deal with a complaint, or maybe they’re getting sucked into an irrelevant chat.

Team members may have to transfer the call to a more experienced colleague — or, even worse, place the caller back on hold while they search for information. Either way, you end up with longer call handling and resolution times.

Ineffective Technology

Using the wrong software will definitely hinder your call queuing success. Outdated or substandard tools and systems won’t be able to cope with high call volumes, and they may not have the features you need for intelligent queuing and distribution.

Perhaps you’re not collecting the right information at the start of the call, or perhaps the system doesn’t use AI to route queued calls to the ideal person. If calls aren’t properly distributed, callers get passed around and first-call resolution rate drops.

Lack of Options

If the only way your customers can get in touch with you is by calling and waiting on hold, then your call queues will invariably be lengthy. 

If you’re not offering self-service options, alternative communication channels, or a callback system, the queue will (metaphorically) stretch out the door.

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Call Queue Management Best Practices

It’s clear that you need to do everything possible to reduce calling queue length and reduce frustration for staff and customers. Call queue management is the way to do that, so here are our tips for optimizing call flows and monitoring the results.

Predict and Schedule

The first step is to forecast when call volume is likely to be high, so that you can schedule enough staff to handle it.

Look at your existing data and assess consumer behaviors to identify peak periods. If Friday afternoons are always busy, or if you experienced a spike in calls last Christmas, these are the times to avoid understaffing.

Provide Training

It’s essential to provide full training to any employee who answers customer calls. 

They need to know the best ways to handle various situations, from serious complaints to technical queries. It’s best practice to record calls and build a database of successful and unsuccessful interactions for training. Employees also need to be familiar with call management technology.

Use the Right Tech

On the subject of technology, make sure your system offers robust call management features. 

Use an IVR menu or auto attendant to gather relevant details, and integrate the system with your CRM. The software should include intelligent routing and enable you to adjust this as necessary. The best packages combine call queuing with other call management and communications tools, plus analytics.

Offer Alternatives

Even when your queues are short, waiting in line shouldn’t be the only option. As well as callbacks, offer the choice of leaving a voicemail or trying another channel. 

Self-service is also important, as callers who resolve their own problems won’t need to join the phone queue at all. Provide online knowledge bases and tutorials, and program your IVR to answer simple queries.

Improve the Experience

Sometimes being on hold is unavoidable, so make the experience as pleasant as possible. 

Choose hold music that’s not annoying – you could even match this to caller demographics. Provide helpful messages and updates, and always be honest about wait times. It’s best to upload your own audio files instead of the software’s default options.

Analyze the Stats

Cloud call center and business phone systems typically include analytics to help you monitor and evaluate call queues. 

You can keep an eye on call volumes, peak times, agent schedules, and customer sentiment — and give your teams real-time access to the data. By staying across your analytics, it may also be possible to discover how long most callers are prepared to wait on hold.

Adjust the Strategy

Once you’ve performed the analysis, you can make improvements to your queuing and distribution strategy. 

You could set maximum limits for queue sizes or wait times, at which point the callback option will appear. You might decide to create a priority channel for VIP customers, or set up an emergency call center queue (for things like insurance claims or bank account fraud).

The Benefits of Optimized and Streamlined Call Queues

When you’ve identified potential problems and implemented best practices, what are the business benefits of an optimized phone queue system?

Maximized Efficiency

Streamlining your call flow boosts efficiency, as your team can handle more calls in a shorter period of time. 

Call handlers will have caller details at their fingertips, reducing average hold time and handle time. Managers can oversee stats like queue length and agent availability in real time and make immediate adjustments if needed. Plus, the queue data helps with workforce scheduling.

Minimized Wait Times

Call queues should mean shorter wait times and handle times, plus the opportunity to receive a convenient callback without losing your place in line. 

This leads to reduced call abandonment rates and happier callers. They’ll feel like they’re valued, which means they’ll be more likely to stay loyal, share good experiences with others, and build a long-term relationship with your company.

Improved FCR

Because optimized call queues — in concert with IVR and similar systems — collect caller information, they can help ensure calls reach the best person to resolve the query. 

Skills-based or intelligent routing makes it more likely that the issue will be resolved in the first call, which goes a long way toward customer satisfaction. Callers won’t have to try again later or repeat information to a second person.

Better Staff Morale

Call queues enable fairer distribution of calls among team members, and also ensure that team members are neither overwhelmed nor idle for long periods. 

Providing caller details from the start means they’re better prepared for any interaction — and with no backlog of calls, there’s more time to offer stellar service (and feel rewarded for doing so). Happy employees can also mean reduced staff turnover.

Reduced Costs

When you maximize efficiency and productivity, you’ll typically see a reduction in operational costs. 

Call queues help to prevent abandoned or missed calls, providing more opportunities to make a sale or retain a customer. There’s no need to hire a human receptionist, and you can handle high call volumes with the same number of employees.

Continuous Improvement

Built-in analytics help you evaluate performance, by measuring metrics such as average wait time, peak call times, and agent productivity. You can see where improvements are needed, and monitor progress toward goals. 

For example, you ‘ll be able to schedule more staff for busy periods, and provide callers with more accurate hold times.

How the Right Software Can Help You Manage Your Call Queues

The right software will come with many features to help you manage queues in a call center or other business. It’s best to look for a single platform that gives you call management and many other communication features in one place.

Good software, too, should offer access via mobile apps and call forwarding that works with different devices, so that your staff can pick up inbound calls outside of a traditional office. 

Vonage Business Communications (VBC) offers more than 50 features and add-ons, with a call queue system add-on that can be accessible from anywhere via laptop, desktop, and mobile devices.

You’ll never need to miss a call, with tools like call forwarding, simultaneous ring, Follow Me, and voicemail. (There’s also a Do Not Disturb feature.) Plus, the receptionist console can handle up to 50 concurrent calls. You can even customize VBC with features and add-ons that turn it into a VoIP call center.

Streamline Your Call Queues To Delight Your Customers

Streamlining your call queues can help you reduce operational costs and increase the potential for revenue by delighting your customers. 

You can answer calls quickly, route them to the most suitable agent, and personalize interactions. Which means the issue should be resolved in the first call. You may even increase customer loyalty and build a reputation for great service. 

Meanwhile, your agents and reps have a fairer workload and they won’t have to deal with angry callers who’ve been kept waiting for ages. It’s a win for everyone.

Learn more about call queues and other Vonage Unified Communications features that can empower your team and drive customer engagement.

Still Have Questions About Call Queues?

Your aim is to direct every call in the queue to the right department or person. There are a range of different call routing rules you could choose from.

Fixed or sequential routing is when calls are routed according to a set list, with the first employee as the preferential destination. For example, you could list the most experienced team members first. Others will only receive calls if the top names are unavailable.

Round robin or rotary routing, meanwhile, is when calls are routed on a rotational basis, circling back to Employee A once everyone else has taken a call. This means nobody gets overwhelmed.

When each call is sent to the agent who’s best equipped to handle it, based on their training and specific skills, it’s called skills-based routing.

Least occupied or idle time routing is when the system identifies the agents who have gone the longest without taking a call. Time-based routing, finally, is if you queue calls according to your employees’ working hours or time zones.

A call queue is when incoming calls enter into a system that places callers on hold, gathers basic details, and distributes calls to the right handlers.

A ring group is a call management feature that assists with call queueing. You create a group of phone numbers or extensions, and when a call comes in, the system rings them according to your rules.

If it doesn’t matter who picks up, you can set it to ring all phones at once. For round robin routing, you can have the numbers ring in a certain order. Or you can ask the system to send specific types of calls to specific people.

Listening to generic “muzak” or hearing the same two or three songs on a loop, doesn’t help a caller’s mood. Your software should offer you a built-in library of music or let you upload your own. It’s also good to give callers the option to listen in silence.

As well as music, callers should hear custom messages. When you have a lot of calls waiting in a queue, keep callers updated on queue position and estimated wait time. Offer them a callback, alternative contact options, or direct them to FAQs.

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