Contact centres or call centres often struggle to provide customers with the help they really need precisely when they need it most, and COVID-19 has emphasised this issue more than ever before. With sudden spikes in pandemic-related queries, such as those relating to general concerns, changes to products and services, cancellations, refund requests, and information updates, contact centres everywhere have worked hard to tackle surging call volumes using the same fixed resource pool of agent resources.
But despite this experience becoming so predominant and widespread across industries during the pandemic, the challenge is as old as time. During the pandemic, 75% of customers were using digital channels for the very first time and anticipate the continued use of them when things level out. On a smaller and more isolated scale, contact centres frequently find themselves buckling under the pressures of spontaneous spot fires like service disruptions, product shortages, and technical issues (such as a website being down), among many others.
Of course, it’s not financially feasible nor practical to scale your agent headcount up and down as an immediate response to rising call volumes. This is why the concept of call deflection has become a critical feature of contact centre operations over many years. The definition of call deflection is often dependent on where your contact centre is at with the evolution and uptake of new technology.
How technology is changing the meaning of call deflection
Around 49% of survey respondents said ‘long hold times‘ was one the top reasons why voice channels were frustrating as a consumer. Enter call deflection. The earliest iterations of call deflection are based on a simple technique where pre-recorded messages and information are played to customers while on hold. In this case, if a caller indicates they are calling about an existing purchase by making a selection from a numerical menu system, the IVR might automatically play a message which says “did you know you can check the status of your order online by visiting our website?”.
A traditional call deflection technique will succeed in diverting calls from agents because some customers will realise they can easily resolve their query themselves, without waiting on hold to speak to an agent. But there are limitations to this.
Numerical menu-based IVR systems are only able to offer a limited number of options categorising the calls into a select number of general call types. This means generalist deflection efforts are often only relevant to a small proportion of callers that end up in that queue. For example, a caller who chooses the menu option that they are calling about an existing purchase, may, in fact, have a query related to order cancellations, returns and exchanges, product features or related products, plus a whole lot more. But, the IVR system won’t be aware of these nuances. Often deflection messages are telling the caller bad news - we are experiencing delivery delays at the moment for example - therefore it is best to limit the delivery of the news to only the callers that it is relevant for. With menu structures this is often not possible.
Where call deflection meets automation
Moving into the modern era, call deflection techniques are being enhanced by AI-powered conversational IVRs, such as Convai’s cloud call-routing solution, Oration, which are capable of delivering more targeted deflection outcomes. Speech recognition technology invites callers to explain their reason for making the call, which is then accurately interpreted by advanced language interpretation technology and assigned to a specific caller's intent.
Once the precise nature of the call is known, the system has free rein to choose from a potentially limitless variety of call deflection methods that offer alternative solutions to speaking with an agent. These alternative solutions (call deflections) are designed to be highly targeted to the specific needs of each caller which have already been automatically identified.
Call deflection use examples
Chatbots. Most businesses aim to deflect 90% of their calls through the use of chatbots. An IVR system that understands caller intent from their natural language and uses intelligent call routing technology to determine the best outcome can identify caller intents that are able to be resolved through live chat.
Starting with the least complex queries, some customers could be offered the chance to avoid call queues by switching to an online chatbot. Chatbots use artificial intelligence to automatically interact with customers and resolve their queries via a chat window using a customer's computer or mobile device. Automated chatbots may be able to provide information such as store opening hours, information around stock levels, and deal with other frequently asked knowledge-based questions.
Live chat. Live chat is a step up from automated chatbots and is usually reserved for more complex queries that require basic input from a real human agent. The question is, “what is the value in call deflection to live chat if it doesn’t eliminate the support agent?”.
The types of queries that might be resolved by live chat methods will be more complex than those deflected to a chatbot, but not so complex that they require one-on-one verbal interaction between the caller and a dedicated agent. Agents who are supporting live chat channels might be able to handle multiple queries at the same time, enabling contact centres to take care of higher call volumes with the same resources. This could be beneficial during high volume periods like the holiday season when support volume requests increase by 65%. Examples of how live chat may be used to benefit both the caller and the contact centre could include:
- Facilitating returns and exchanges
- Effecting changes to account preferences
- Following up on the status of a refund or complaint.
Self-service. In an increasingly digitised world, secure technology applications are enabling customers to do more for themselves, with 81% of customers who try to find a resolution on their own before reaching out to customer support teams. It’s estimated that allowing customers to help themselves could reduce the number of calls reaching agents by up to 30% and improve customer service ratings.
One of the biggest benefits of offering self-service options as a call deflection method is that it provides customers with an avenue to resolve their queries 24/7, irrespective of contact centre opening hours. For example, Oration by Convai allows you to implement pre-packaged speech-driven micro applications to offer self-service over the phone for queries such as:
- Checking account balances
- Making a payment
- Updating personal details
- Finding out the nearest store location.
Shift to SMS. Delivering added customer convenience is a major advantage of deflecting to SMS. In this scenario, an IVR solution recognises when a caller is seeking to obtain information that might be better represented visually or provided in a more tangible form. The IVR system could use SMS to send map locations or quick links to webpages or online tools, so these resources are immediately and permanently accessible to the customer after hanging up the phone.
Targeted banners. By implementing a call routing solution that has the capability to automatically recognise all kinds of caller intents, there are virtually limitless opportunities to set up targeted banners to address common call types. For example, if you’re experiencing supply issues with a particular product, a targeted banner could be set up to provide information about the delays and expected delivery timeframes. This will be served to every caller who says that they are calling in relation to the specific item.
Targeted banners can be continually adjusted to meet evolving customer needs. This means that designing a suite of bespoke targeted banners as a call deflection tool for your intelligent call routing solution means you won’t waste customers' time by making them listen to irrelevant information. This is crucial when it comes to 66% of customers feeling that valuing their time is the most important part of a good customer experience.
Optimising your knowledge base
To support your call deflection strategy, it’s essential to develop a knowledge base that can be used as a ‘go to’ resource by your IVR solution. Analysing your calls to get a picture of the types of information and resolutions that customers are calling for is an important starting point when designing a comprehensive knowledge base that’s capable of addressing the maximum number of calls without the help of agents.
Dedicated web pages filled with informative content can be used to provide valuable links to callers who will find everything they need to self-help in relation to multiple issues as an alternative to chatting to an agent. But implementing a knowledge base to support your call deflection strategy should never be considered a one-time project. While it’s important to ensure your information is always well organised and easy to navigate, you should also ensure your data and information are continually updated to maintain the credibility and integrity of your call deflection techniques for customers.
Call deflection has always been seen as a cost reduction strategy. In fact, organisations that invest in digital customer service solutions like call deflection could reduce their overall support expenses by up to 30%. The effects of implementing such solutions also boost customer experience and satisfaction by 19%. It’s not hard to understand why when limited by technology, call deflection has its origins in highly generalised one-size-fits-all techniques which usually begin with the automated question: “Did you know you could….?”.
Today, call deflection is as much about offering more convenience to the customer than it is helping your agents manage high call volumes. While helping your agents through busy periods, call deflection when partnered with AI-powered intelligent call routing solutions can offer customers more ways to perform tasks and get the help they need, and sometimes, right around the clock.