• November 4, 2003
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

Phone Tag: A Costly Game

Siemens Communications released the results of an online survey outlining how much money British businesses are losing due to phone tag. Of thirty thousand British information workers surveyed, 70 percent of respondents claim up to one third or more of their calls do not get through to the right people the first time. They are either forced to hang up or to leave a message when an associate is not available to take the call. In fact, more than one quarter of respondents believe that 50 percent or more of their calls fail the first time because people are not available on the other end of the call. Based on the survey and its own research, Siemens estimates each office worker wastes at least 30 minutes a day playing phone tag or making unsuccessful phone calls. After considering average employee hourly pay rates, based on figures from Britain's National Statistics Office, unsuccessful phone connections costs British businesses nearly L83 million ($139.1 million) a day, or L22 billion ($36.87 billion) in a working year. These figures do not include toll costs. Connecting employees to associates quickly is a familiar concept inside call centers, especially when agents need to call an associate or a supervisor for help with a customer. A related study this summer by Collaborative Strategies, commissioned by ePeople, revealed that more than one-third of the workweek is spent answering intrusive questions, which often necessitates another call to a colleague for help. Collaborative Strategies surveyed 157 respondents from companies with at least $50 million in revenue. "Where we see this most often is in what we call exception management, which is when you have an irate customer.... Eighty percent of the time you can use a low-cost automated solution [to answer customer queries]," says David Coleman, managing director at Collaborative Strategies. Yet, it's the other 20 percent of calls that causes the most difficulty. These need to be answered by a live agent, and quickly. One way to solve the problem, the Collaborative Strategies report claims, is effective expertise management that includes knowledge-sharing and other more efficient ways to answer questions, find expertise, or obtain necessary information in a timely fashion. Companies like ePeople and Kanisa compete in this space. "Enterprises have been slow to adopt knowledge management technologies, but based on the survey results they could clearly benefit," Coleman said in a statement. "There exists a tremendous opportunity for knowledge and expertise management vendors to deliver tangible value to the enterprise." Another way for agents to solve customer problems quickly when they don't know an answer is to call a supervisor. But that process alone could tie up the line even more if a supervisor is not available to answer the phone. Siemens has its OpenScape product, which can identify whether an associate is on the phone, or not, with a light indicator on each user's phone that shows the intended party's availability. "You would be able to see if you can get an advisor without getting a busy signal and without going back to the customer, asking the customer to hold again while you find someone who can help," says Paul Moulds, director of marketing for Siemens Communications. According to Moulds, if you're in a regulated environment you could conference in an expert and share documents over the Web with the expert to facilitate the call. Siemens OpenScape is not specifically tailored for call centers, but Moulds says a future version of the product may target the call center market.
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