Anatomy of a Telephone Call

By Wayne Scaggs

What is more basic or universal in the call center than the telephone call? No matter how different, unique, or special your call center is, the one common thing we all share is that we handle telephone calls better than anyone else. We take that basic telephone call and make it special in our own way. Some add style to the call, others add humor, and we all know how to help the person on the other end of the line. That is what we do.

What does a telephone call really mean to us, though, and how do we get paid from it? The drawing (figure 1) will dissect an inbound call and add some possible revenue generators.

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1) When the telephone company sends a digital call to your switch, the call has a data stream containing information about that call.

2) We match up the information from the telephone company with the information programmed in the switch; the amount of time to do this is in the milliseconds.

3) When the caller hears ringing, we have connected to the call and are playing the ring tone. Callers are so accustomed to hearing the phone ring that in most cases we play the ring sound even though the call has been answered. A typical ring cycle is six seconds, and if you are playing two or three rings before making the call available to the agents, it is time added to the call that may not be necessary. Assuming the average call lasts one minute, if you reduce the number of rings by one, you are able to answer eleven calls in the time it took to answer ten calls.

4) The call is now in queue waiting for an agent. At this point we start to see the differences that make it special to be at one call center as opposed to another.

  • If you do “live” answer and take one call at a time, this time may be zero; however, your ring time may be extended while the caller is waiting for the live agent.
  • If you do live answer and place the caller on hold, you will have a short ring time and a short agent queue time with extended initial hold times.
  • Another method is to take one call at a time and let the call queues handle the distribution of the calls. When the call is in queue, the caller usually hears hold music, but what if you provided targeted advertising for that client to his customers? You will add value to answering their call and either bind that customer closer to you or increase the value of that call, which makes it possible to add an additional fee to the calls.

5) Above all this is the make-or-break point of the caller’s customers’ experience. The caller may hate any automated services. The live agent can make that caller feel like the most important person in the world, or confirm to the caller that he or she is just a number in the system. The agent answering your calls is the heart and soul of your call center. Simple and kind words from the agent can enhance the caller’s experience to the point the caller may not want to speak with anyone else. I know those agents are out there because I often get to talk with them. It is a real joy to call many call centers, if for no other reason than to say hello.

6) In the some cases it’s necessary for the agent to place the caller on hold. To maintain a quality caller experience, the hold time must be short.

7) While the caller is on hold, you can play the appropriate hold music, but what if the caller was informed about the business they are calling (advertising)? Take a lemon and make lemonade. Increase the value of the call and prove how wonderful your service is and show that you offer something truly special and unique.

8) At this point your agent will get a second chance to make your service shine with person-to-person communication, and the agent will get the satisfaction of providing the caller with a most pleasant caller experience—the hallmark of why we exist.

9) This is the end of the person-to-person experience, and the termination of the call will have made the client happy with you because you have made the caller feel special.

10) The call is not finished until the wrap-up is completed.

Some of you have been handling calls longer than I have, and since I am a vendor, we probably look at calls a little differently. This article hopefully has given you a different look at what you do every day. Can you find something to improve your business or increase your revenues? If you are answering 100,000 calls a month and you are able to add one penny or save one on each call, it’s an extra $1,000 per month. We live in a competitive world, where pennies and tenths-of-a-second do matter.

Wayne Scaggs is president of Alston Tascom, Inc., which offers premised-based and hosted contact center solutions.

[From Connection Magazine May 2013]