A phone system perfect for everybody?
Not sure about you, but I’m not a big fan of phones. I don’t like talking on them, and whenever I hear that ring I get a slight panic feeling in the back of the throat. Because of this, I was actually a great candidate to design our phone system. Who better than the individual that wishes to minimize the phone impact and the ever-increasing (and in my opinion business detrimental) usage of Interactive Voice Response (IVR)? This guy.
How do you design a phone system?
To answer this, you first have to look at your requirements. Do you need to have a complicated IVR because you don’t have or want the staff needed to field all calls? Do you need some sort of gatekeeper system (such as a PIN or lookup mechanism) that allows only authorized users in? Do you need to change how the system handles a call throughout the day? These questions, and others, are necessary to understand how you are going to craft your phone system so that it best fits you. The above are some of our requirements, so let us walk through the thought process that came up with the question, and our answers to them.
Do you need to have a complicated IVR because you don’t have or want the staff needed to field all calls?
We are a relatively small company. Our customer base far outweighs the number of staff members that routinely answer the phone during our operating hours. So, to that end, while we don’t need a complicated IVR, we certainly need something that will assist our customers and direct them to the right location.
This answer could be a trap; because, in theory, you could design an IVR that essentially facilitated a large percentage of calls coming in. If the customer need is simple, then you could in theory fully handle the requirements utilizing an IVR system. But at what cost? You need to look into the fact that generally people like talking to people over computers / automation systems. You may lose some of your value as a company if you don’t maintain that fine line between human-to-human interaction and the needless busywork that bogus calls coming in can cause.
For us, the answer was simple: we need an IVR that at least told the caller who they were calling, which Queue system they were calling in for (Sales, Support, Operator, etc.), and then as quickly as possible get to a human. We much prefer one of our staff members to handle a call coming in, once it has been legitimized, as opposed to a convoluted IVR system.
Do you need some sort of gatekeeper system that allows only authorized users in?
Our support line is one of privilege. You generally should only speak with our support technicians when you are already a vetted account holder with Prominic. This may be a unique situation, but it is ours and added to the complexity of the phone system. How do we determine who is allowed to speak with us? To answer that, there are two questions asked each time a call comes into our Support line: Do I know this number? Is this number unique to the CRM?
To know the number, we simply ask our CRM database to give us a match. If there is one, then yes we know of that person. If not, then we redirect the call to the Operator queue. This is so that a human can chat with you and have little fuss in doing so, and notifies our support technicians that are answering that we weren’t sure who this person was. That way no matter the issue (such as calling from a new cell phone that hasn’t been registered yet, or calling from a payphone in Tijuana because an emergency just happened while on vacation and boy you need to chat now with someone) you can get some sort of resolution on your issue.
To know if it is unique is a bit easier at first, but complicates quickly. We have several customers that call in on a trunk – that is a single phone number that is publicly representing multiple people. Let’s say that there are three people in a company that routinely call us, and they represent themselves as the same phone number in our system – how do we distinguish? Our answer to this is to pose a question to the caller asking for a PIN that uniquely represents the person. So, those three individuals each have a unique PIN but the same phone number coming in. Easy right? Not so much, because now we need to complicate the IVR in not only asking for a PIN, but also validating that the PIN is correct and matching it against the proper CRM contact. So keep this in mind when you are making these decisions on how best to utilize your crafted phone system.
Do you need to change how the system handles a call throughout the day?
This is likely one of the most common questions that need to be answered. We all close our doors at some point in the year / week / day right? So if you have a standard 9-5 work day for a standard 5-day work week, what should the phone system do outside of those hours when no human is directly available to field a call? First, you need a competent IVR that can take the call, inform the caller that ‘hey, we’re closed right now, sorry!’ and perhaps allow for very simple relaying of information if it happens to be a real emergency on the caller’s hands.
The specifics get a little more involved. First, the IVR needs to identify what time of day it is – can I take this call like normal, or do I have to let the caller know that we’re closed / not in service right now? Our solution is to have a simple map listing our business hours and this year’s holiday dates that represent closed days for the company. Each call that comes in, checks the hour and the day of the call against this map and returns the result back to the IVR to process further. This works out well in our simple case, but there are more complicated ones. Such as shift changes in staff. Maybe you’re a 24/7 company, but only the IVR can work those hours! You need to somehow route the calls in question to the right people at the right time throughout the day – ideally automatically. To do this, we came up with an application that runs against our phone queues (put simply, a queue is a collection of people that take a call from a single identified resource, such as Sales, Support, or Operator). We leverage this application to log users in and out of the proper queues based on the time of day. The result is the phone system only attempts to call the right people at the right time.
I want an IVR that does everything for me; we only let our Intern Steve field calls, so let’s avoid that if we can shall we?
I hate to break it to you, but this isn’t really possible. Sure, we can divine a fully competent IVR that could handle 80% of the calls coming in, but what about that remaining 20%? Do you want Steve the Intern to address those 20 percent? Probably not, because we can easily assume that if our amazing IVR can’t fix the problem and it falls through to a human it must be a really difficult problem that Steve just isn’t equipped to handle. Which just turns Steve into a … Human Voice Response (HVR) system. More expensive too, since coffee and doughnuts aren’t free. Instead, approach this problem from the other direction: how can we make sure calls we get are legitimate and assuming they are, how quickly can we get a fully trained human on the line to help our customer out? This is best for two main reasons: you add value to your company by leveraging your staff against the problem quickly, reducing overall resolution times, and, you don’t look bad by having this awkward IVR system hanging out trying to ask questions that just may not be relevant to the caller, frustrating them in the process!
While this is a general overview of what a phone system can do for you, and what kind of questions you need to ask before you get serious about developing one, it is an important starting point that I highly recommend all companies that take calls to review. I only touched upon the basics, and most simplistic of questions are here. You probably have several more and are curious about what kind of solution can address these problems. If that sounds like you, I recommend that you contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help you out. My next blog will delve deeper into the specifics of our phone system and its processes. Stay tuned!