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What Is a Warm Transfer, Why Does It Matter, and How Do You Get It Right?

This article was published on January 18, 2024

When a member of your team can’t immediately resolve a customer’s issue on the phone, sometimes the best course of action is to warm transfer the call.


But what actually is a warm transfer, and should one be used every single time an employee escalates a call? The picture’s a little more complex than it might initially seem. Join us for a deep dive into why, how, and when you should warm transfer — and when you shouldn’t.

Photo of a smiling call center agent talking to customer on her headset as she prepares to make a warm transfer

First Things First: Warm Transfer Meaning

So, what is a warm transfer in a call center or a customer-facing business? Essentially, it’s when an operative transfers a customer call to a colleague but talks to them first to explain the context. This is also sometimes also known as an attended transfer. 

Typically, the employee transferring the call will put the caller on hold while they run through the details of the situation with the transfer recipient. That way, the latter is ready to swoop straight in and help the customer immediately when they speak to them.

So What’s a Cold Transfer?

You’ve probably guessed by now. It simply means a transfer that happens without the two employees who are interacting with the caller talking to each other first.

This means the second team member is answering the phone “cold” — that is, with no idea what it’s going to be about. This is also sometimes known as a “blind” call transfer.

There are pros and cons to both types of transfers. There’s little doubt that using warm transfer calls as a standard can be a sign of excellent customer service. However, there are occasions when a cold call transfer is the more appropriate approach.

Let’s take a closer look at when it’s best to use warm transfers and when cold transfer call handling is absolutely fine.

Cold Transfer vs. Warm Transfer: When to Use Each One

If you think about warm and cold transfers from the customer’s point of view, it might seem as if warm transfers would always be preferable. After all, no one likes the feeling of being transferred between agents and having to repeat issues multiple times with seemingly no guarantee of resolution.

In fact, the warm transfer vs cold transfer question isn’t quite as simple as that.

When To Use a Cold Transfer

There are times when using a cold transfer is the right choice. For instance, if a customer calls wanting to speak to a specific person, it’s completely appropriate to just put them through.

In an everyday situation, this may not happen very often. What’s more common is for someone to answer a call that they quickly realize is meant for a different department altogether — a sales associate taking a call from a customer with a technical query, for example.

There’s little point in the sales representative trying to establish any more about the context of the call before handing it over to a more technically minded colleague. If they try, it’s likely to waste both their time and the customer’s. Far better to let the customer know they’re being put through to someone who can help and maybe even give them some customizable hold music to enjoy while they wait.

Finally, there are occasions when you might like to do a warm call transfer but can’t. If call volumes are particularly high and there are deadlines to be met, you may have no option but to cold transfer most calls just to make sure they aren’t dropping without resolution.

It’s not ideal, but there are times when surges happen, and it’s better to transfer calls cold rather than not at all.

When To Use a Warm Transfer

Nonetheless, there are some situations where you should use warm transfers no matter how busy the lines are. These include:

  • When the customer is in a state of high emotion (upset or angry)

  • If the query is a complicated one that needs to be escalated to an expert

  • If the subject matter of the call is especially sensitive

Generally speaking, warm transfers are the only way to deal with these situations. That’s because all of these scenarios necessitate top-level customer service to ensure they’re resolved properly.

If a customer is angry, cold transferring them to a colleague will exacerbate the situation. The customer will feel they’re not being listened to — and the colleague receiving the transfer won’t have a particularly fun time either.

If the topic of the query is complex or sensitive in some way, it’s much better to do a warm transfer to prepare the ground in advance. This way, the receiving employee has all the information they need to understand the problem without the customer having to repeat themselves.

Generally, this will lead to faster resolutions and a reduction in handling times for these special cases. This is why it’s crucial to warm transfer in these scenarios — even when the call center or business is busy — as it helps rather than hinders progress when dealing with a surge.

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Best Practices When Warm Transferring a Caller

It’s vital to define warm transfer best practices so they can be implemented consistently. Here are the most important points to follow:

Keep the Customer Informed

Most customers want to have their issues resolved by the first person they talk to — that’s not a surprising revelation. However, there are going to be cases where that’s not possible. In those situations, keeping the customer informed is the bare minimum requirement.

First, the original recipient of the call should explain why the transfer is necessary. They should also tell the customer exactly who they’re being transferred to, and — if possible — how long the transfer is likely to take.

Make Sure the Colleague You’re Transferring the Call to Has the Information They Need

We’ve all been there at some point. You call a business to resolve an issue and get transferred to another representative or department. Maybe you spend some time on hold before talking to that second person. If you then have to start explaining your question all over again, things can quickly get frustrating.

On the other hand, if the second person you speak to is able to greet you by name and already has your account details to hand, you’re likely to feel much more positive about the service you’re receiving.

When you’re the one making the transfer, it’s important to bear this experience in mind. Ensuring the colleague you’re transferring to fully understands the facts is at the heart of warm transfer philosophy.

This is also why it’s important to have the right platform in place to share information.

Ideally, you should have your communications tools integrated with other business-critical software such as your CRM. This way, the transfer recipient will be able to pull up customer account details while you’re explaining the query, saving everyone time.

If your workforce is split across a hybrid team, something like Vonage Business Communications (VBC) can help. It’s accessible both on desktop and mobile devices thanks to the VBC mobile app, making it a useful choice for hybrid workers.

What’s more, VBC has integrations with popular CRMs like Salesforce to make sharing customer information — while on a call or otherwise — quicker and easier. Plus, there are also integrations with productivity tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack to further boost employee collaboration.

Give the Caller Options

You should never transfer a call — even warm — without first getting the customer’s explicit consent. To start with, the person you’re talking to may have limited time available and prefer to try again later.

There might also be potential avenues of resolution they’re unaware of, like checking for information on your website or via an automated tool like a chatbot. Chances are, if their query is complex enough, they’ve already attempted those options and might not necessarily appreciate being steered toward them again.

There can be better alternatives. Do you offer a callback service? That’s something worth exploring, as long as you can execute it consistently. If you can arrange a time for someone who can resolve the customer’s issue to call them back, this can be a much more convenient option and is excellent for building trust.

Good Warm Transfer Examples: How They Should Work

Sometimes, it’s best to run through some examples to get a concrete picture of how things should work.

Example 1: Imagine an employee takes a call from a customer who wants to complain about a faulty product. Rather than arrange a simple exchange, they insist they want a more expensive product as additional compensation. When the representative explains that’s not standard company policy, the customer gets annoyed. 

This kind of experience is all too common for customer service team members, and it can be tricky to manage. The key here is the emotional state of the customer. The frontline rep should escalate to their supervisor, who will hopefully have the authority to negotiate.

The employee should use the following procedure, which checks the boxes of all the best practices we’ve reviewed:

  1. Offer to transfer the call to a supervisor who may be able to help, asking for permission to do so

  2. Locate an available supervisor on the system (or in the office)

  3. Explain to the customer that they’ll be put on hold for a short time

  4. Brief the supervisor of the situation, while the caller is on hold

  5. Warm transfer the call

Example 2: A customer calls tech support with what initially seems like a straightforward issue. The representative makes several attempts to resolve it before realizing they’re out of ideas.

This is a straightforward warm transfer situation. The first team member should follow the steps above to escalate the call to a more experienced technician, making sure to bring them up to speed with what they’ve already tried before they hand it over. Otherwise, the second technician might try the same approaches again, wasting time.

These kinds of situations are easier if you’re working within a unified communications system operating in the cloud like Vonage Business Communications.

VBC brings together communication channels, like instant messaging, emails, and more, so that it’s easy to share information in real-time, from virtually anywhere you’re working — thus making sure all your employees have what they need to deliver the best possible customer service.

Warm Transfers Are a More Personal Way To Pass a Caller to a Colleague

What is warm transferring a caller if not showing customers that you value them and appreciate their business? It’s a fundamental building block of top-tier service.

It’s also a much more collaborative way to do business all around. With warm transfers, colleagues become accustomed to helping each other, so it’s a more satisfying experience for your employees as well.

And let’s not forget that for some calls, it actually reduces time to resolution. So even companies that prefer to prioritize efficiency metrics rather than customer experience (CX)-focused ones are likely to find that instituting warm transfers is a good choice in many circumstances.

Connect with a Vonage expert today to find out more about how VBC can help your team make warm transfers — and achieve a lot more besides.

Still Have Questions About Warm Transfers?

It depends. There’s little doubt that warm transfers are appreciated by customers. It means they don’t have to explain their issue all over again once they’ve been transferred to a new employee.

However, there are some circumstances where warm transfers aren’t really needed. For instance, if a customer call comes through to the wrong department entirely, it's fine to transfer them to the right one directly.

Yes. They’re just different terms for a call transfer where the referring team member talks to the receiving one to explain the situation before putting the call through to them.

The customer will usually be put on hold during this conversation, so it’s important to get their permission first.

Contact Us

Let's connect!

Want to know more about the value of warm transfers? We’re here to help! Call us at 1-844-365-9460, or fill out this form! A dedicated specialist will show you:

  • How a warm transfer can set the stage for a faster, more satisfactory resolution of a customer's query
  • When a warm transfer is preferred and when a cold transfer might be a better option, depending on the situation
  • The importance of making sure the customer is informed all they way through the transfer process and that all involved employees have the necessary context at their fingertips

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