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Improving Your Inbound Call Strategy

This article was published on July 10, 2024

Handling inbound calls well is key to maintaining consistently high levels of customer satisfaction, so it’s something every business has to get right. But this can be a challenge, particularly when call volumes are high or vary unpredictably. How can you develop a strategy that meets this challenge head-on and supports your team to manage calls efficiently? Simply get started with this step-by-step guide!

Photo of a a smiling call center agent talking to a customer through his phone headset. In the background, a series of small vertical lines runs across the frame, representing communication.

What Are Inbound Calls?

Let’s begin by setting out a simple inbound calls definition. Inbound calls are calls that are placed to a business from outside the organization. They’re often (but not always) handled by a contact or call center, and come from a wide variety of sources. Types of inbound calls include:

  • People calling up to make an appointment

  • Customers looking to place or check on an order

  • Clients seeking help with tech support

  • Contacts from other businesses looking for information

  • Customers making a complaint

Inbound vs. Outbound Calls

Outbound calls mean the opposite: phone calls made from inside an organization to anyone outside of it. Typical examples would be:

  • Sales agents calling up prospective customers

  • Marketing professionals conducting market research

  • Follow-up calls to existing clients

Many call centers specialize in either inbound or outbound calls. A customer support team, for instance, will often work in an inbound call center, whereas sales teams would use an outbound one. On the other hand, some businesses use a hybrid call center, which deals in both. This can be a more efficient solution, particularly for smaller companies.

Are Inbound Calls Still Important?

In an era when other methods of communication are becoming ever more popular, it’s reasonable to ask whether inbound calls are still relevant. After all, customers have so many more options these days. Email, webchat, social media — all of these have their place, not least because many customers find them to be very convenient.

To find the answer to this kind of question, it’s always worth drilling down into some real-world data. According to Vonage’s Global Customer Engagement Report 2024, as many as 92% of customers surveyed use at least one voice channel with businesses/service providers.

Is that higher than you expected?

It might seem surprising, but the truth is that for many customers, there’s no substitute for contacting a business directly via phone call. This is — at least in part — due to the ubiquity of mobile phones. The same report found that 69% of respondents use their mobile phones to place a voice call to businesses, making it the most popular voice option.

Interestingly, other common platforms for placing voice calls included WhatsApp (41%) and Facebook/Messenger (18%). So the reality is that even when people are taking advantage of modern messaging platforms to contact businesses, many prefer to use them to place voice calls rather than send written messages.

It just goes to show that inbound calls remain an essential element of the communications mix.

How To Build an Effective Inbound Call Strategy

Any modern business has to formulate a strategy for taking inbound calls. You simply can’t do without, because customers expect to be able to contact you directly via voice call.

So, what’s the best way of building such a strategy from the ground up? Let’s take a look.

Analyze Your Current Situation

The first step is to assess where you are now. If your business doesn’t currently provide a way for customers to get in contact via voice call, you won’t have much solid data to go on, so there will necessarily be a certain amount of trial and error at the beginning. 

That’s because even though you will have a good idea how many customers often contact you via other channels, this may not be a completely reliable indicator of future call volumes once you give people the option to call you directly.

If you do currently take inbound calls, the assessment will be a little more straightforward to carry out. Focus on the following:

Current call volumes: How many calls do you get at the moment? Is there a pattern to how the volume of calls ebbs and flows? What’s the maximum number of calls you’ve taken on any given day?

Nature of calls: What types of calls do you get? Are they mostly from customers looking to ask about simple issues, or do you tend to get a lot of calls from people with complex questions that take time to resolve?

Current performance: How well is your team handling the calls you get at the moment? What’s the average call queue waiting time? Are you able to answer all calls, or are you dropping a significant percentage of them?

Getting to grips with the details of how well your organization deals with inbound calls gives you the best foundation for developing a better strategy.

Decide What To Keep Internal and What To Outsource

Bear in mind that it’s not essential for your own internal teams to deal with all inbound calls. For some smaller organizations in particular, dealing with high call volumes can be a significant challenge.

There’s always the option to outsource some of the work to a third-party call center. The downside is that you’ll lose direct control over how these calls are handled, but on the other hand, it can be a useful service if your team is regularly overwhelmed.

If you do consider doing this, it’s vital to think carefully about which types of calls you want to keep in-house and which ones you’re willing to hand over to an external team.

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Invest in the Right Technology

Having the right technology in place makes all the difference. Modern business communications solutions come with a whole host of useful features that help your teams process inbound calls efficiently while delivering next-level customer service.

First, it’s essential to choose software that incorporates call management tools. These are features that help your team handle inbound calls, making sure they’re routed to the right agent, so your customer gets the assistance they need as quickly as possible.

A prime example is a Virtual Assistant. This can answer inbound calls automatically and decide how to handle calls based on pre-established rules. For simple queries, it can provide self-service options, and for more complex inquiries, use smart routing to transfer the call to an appropriate live agent. This reduces the overall burden on your team, particularly when call volumes are high.

Some of the more sophisticated Virtual Assistants even deploy AI technology to enable functions such as sentiment analysis, which determines the mood of the caller. If the call is being transferred to a live agent, they’ll be notified of this so they’re aware of the caller’s sentiment before they actually speak to them.

In fact, one of the best aspects of modern call center solutions is that they put so much useful information in front of your agents. Another way they do this is via integrations with your other business software.

For example, if you use a CRM like Salesforce, you can seamlessly integrate it into your call software so that your agents can see any customer history at a glance. This helps your team resolve queries with lightning speed, since they have all the necessary data at their fingertips.

But it’s not just call handling where the top-tier call center tech shines. Depending on the nature of your business, you may want to consider choosing a solution that allows you to set up dedicated local or international numbers for your customers to call you on.

Why would you want such a thing? Well, having a local number demonstrates your presence in a particular market, which can be terrific for boosting customer engagement. It’s also useful if you want to deploy region-specific marketing campaigns.

Similarly, having an international number demonstrates global authority. If many of your customers are located abroad, giving them the option to call your international number means they can get in touch without worrying about having to pay extra charges.

In short, when you’re researching call center solutions, it pays to spend some time researching what kind of features they come with. Many of today’s systems can do a lot more than simply route calls.

Create Clear Policies and Scripts

A crucial part of developing an effective inbound call strategy is making sure the service you provide is consistent. To that end, it’s a good idea to draw up a list of policies for your team to follow. The policies you choose will depend largely on what kind of business you run, of course, but typical examples could include:

  • Guidance on when to escalate a call to a supervisor

  • A list of customer details that should always be recorded

  • Checklist of what to do after a call (e.g. scheduling follow-up)

Additionally, it can be helpful to develop standard scripts for your agents to use in-call. These shouldn’t be so prescriptive that they present barriers to free-flowing conversation. Instead, they should give a descriptive overview of how to interact with customers, including elements such as:

  • How agents should introduce themselves

  • Answers to commonly-asked questions

  • Suggested supplemental questions to ask in specific situations

Establishing clear policies and scripts guarantees that your team delivers a consistent standard of service, and helps customers know exactly what to expect.

Provide Training to Your Staff

Maintaining high standards of training is key to delivering the best customer service. Remember that there are two kinds of training that your team should receive: service-focused and platform-focused.

Training your staff in excellent customer service techniques is a given. You can’t simply throw some scripts at them and expect them to excel. Make sure you give your agents the opportunity to practice so that when they’re talking to a customer, they know exactly what they’re doing.

Also, allow time for them to come to grips with the software you’ve chosen to implement. Some interfaces can be more complex than others.

For instance, if you’re using a dedicated ecommerce communications solution that includes multiple contact channels, your staff will need to become adept at switching between them so they can provide seamless customer service.

Offer Multiple Modes of Communication

Offering multiple contact channels is generally a good idea, even with all the focus on phone calls. Not only because many customers prefer methods like email or webchat, but also because if the only option you offer your customers is voice call support, then every single support query you get will come via that route.

As we’ve established, a feature like a virtual assistant can help cut down on the total number of calls your live agents have to handle. But even with this in place, you may find that peak call volumes are still a challenge to manage.

On the other hand, if you make other options available, this will inevitably reduce the total number of calls your agents have to deal with — for instance, if customers can change their details via an AI-powered livechat, they won’t need to call because they can do it themselves.

Track Relevant KPIs

In order to monitor performance, you’ll need to track some crucial Key Performance Indicators over time. There’s a broad range of call center metrics that can be helpful, and it’s up to you how in-depth you want to get. At a minimum, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the following:

First call resolution: This is the percentage of calls that end with the customer’s issue being resolved the first time. Some customer issues are very complicated, so it’s not realistic to expect this to hit 100%. However, you should be looking to get it as high as possible, because it generally correlates with high customer satisfaction scores.

Call abandonment rate: It’s bad news when your customers give up. Their issue won’t be any closer to being resolved, and they’ll feel frustrated at the lack of help available. Aim to keep this to as close to zero as possible by making sure you have enough agents available at all times.

Average time in queue: This is related to call abandonment, for obvious reasons. The longer your customers have to wait in a call queue, the more likely they are to hang up. There are certainly things you can do to help make their waiting time more pleasant, but the bottom line is that nobody enjoys waiting. If you’re managing your inbound calls well, this metric should trend consistently downward.

Evaluate and Improve

Monitoring those KPIs will help you evaluate your performance and fine-tune it. If one or more of those crucial metrics is heading in the wrong direction, you’ll be alerted to the fact as quickly as possible. In turn, this means you’ll be able to implement solutions before a minor issue develops into a more serious problem.

For example, suppose you find that customers are being put on hold for too long when they’re being transferred to another department. In that case, you could get agents to use the call park feature to transfer calls to an extension used by a whole team rather than one individual. This will help speed up those transfers.

Or, if you want to give your staff training program a boost, you could consider using the call conference option to make it easy for supervisors to join live calls. This can also be helpful when it comes to improving your first call resolution rate, since agents can more easily access help to solve tricky issues without having to transfer the call.

Easy Call Management With Vonage Business Communications

The Vonage Business Communications platform puts you in the driver’s seat when dealing with inbound calls. With a wide range of easy-to-use features — including an AI-powered Virtual Assistant and multiple call management options such as call tagging and call recording — it helps your team deliver the kind of top-quality service your customers deserve.

But that’s not all it can do — because it’s a truly unified platform, it’s superb for internal communications too. Packed with more than 40 features, including team messaging and video conferencing functionality, VBC is your go-to solution for both in-office and remote communication.

This makes it ideal even for small and medium-sized businesses, since it means you don’t need to implement separate systems for your inbound calls and your internal communications. VBC is a one-stop shop platform that does everything you need it to — and more.

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