Strategies for Handling Repeat Calls

I recently changed my Internet service provider of 10 years, mainly because by the fourth call in one morning, the technician was making the same suggestion the previous three had made: call back if the problem persisted, This was AFTER the technicians had read the notes from the previous three failed attempts at resolution.

The problem? The fourth agent was no more equipped or empowered to resolve my problem than the first. Of course, when I called the fifth time to cancel my account, I was offered specialist help, but by then it was too late. The damage had been done.

There has been considerable discussion about first call resolution (FCR), particularly as it relates to a measure of customer experience. A common discussion thread is a lack of agreement on exactly what FCR means and how to define it – and the customer often has an entirely different view from the supplier. What’s more, even with the best will, tools and people in the world, there will always be second-call situations.

What’s uncommon is finding a company with a second-call resolution strategy. Second call resolution (SCR) is about the process of handling the second call differently from the moment it hits your inbound switch. It may even apply to what appears at the switch as a first call, but has resulted from failed self-service or chat attempts. At the Call Center Optimization Forum earlier this year in Tampa, FL, I took a straw-poll and only one of the companies represented had a specific process to handle the second call differently.

The first step to a second-call resolution strategy is to decide how you will identify the repeat caller. This is easier said than done, especially since we often can’t even define FCR. Technology exists to match the incoming caller ID against the inbound call history.

But the easier method is to ask the caller using the first question in the interactive voice (IVR). For the record, my ISP did identify me as a repeat caller in the IVR but stopped there. Perhaps they were merely measuring failed FCR.

One thing is certain: Your customers’ perception is your reality, and if the customer thinks it’s a repeat call, their frustration is probably high whether you classify it as a repeat call or not. However you catch it, identifying a repeat call at least gives you the chance to warn your associate before they answer the call.

The second step to SCR is to decide how you will handle the repeat caller. Who gets it? Do you give the option of speaking to the same agent, a supervisor or a specialist? Do you automatically route to a “save” team? Do you treat the call with higher priority, perhaps move it to the front of the queue?
The answer will depend on your business model and brand values, but it is important that you ask the question and consciously decide. Don’t leave it to chance.

The third step to SCR is to equip and empower your associates to provide resolution. Smart desktop solutions exist to provide associates with the information they need when they need it, but as with the previous steps, the strategy starts with the process and the people and depends on how you decided to route the call.

If the second call goes back to the main associate pool, you have to equip and train everyone for what could be unique situations. If the repeat call is identified up-front as “special” and targeted to a specialist, supervisor or save team, the group to manage is then much smaller, easier to control, and swifter to react to change.

It was at the third step where my ISP experience unraveled. Yes, the call was identified as a repeat, but once it got to the agent there was no evidence the rep was handling it any differently.

The same diagnostic steps were repeated, I went through the same reboot cycle, and I was given the same outcome: The agent wasn’t equipped or empowered to break from the script and deal with the exception case.

During the fourth call, when it was suggested I purchase a new modem, the agent wasn’t empowered to respond to my challenge that a competitor was both cheaper and offered a free modem.

If my ISP had a strategy to handle my apparently difficult situation before I called to cancel, I would still be paying $12/month more than I needed to for the security of a known, trusted relationship and it may have been another 10 years before I needed to make another difficult call. Wouldn’t that have been worth the $80 modem to fix the problem?

Neil Crane is director of product strategy at Cicero, a provider of customer experience management and desktop integration systems.