Welcome to Our Contact Center
Illustration by Alex Dolan

You barely started reading this article, and you are already forming an opinion about it. Most importantly, you are deciding whether or not it is worth your time to continue. In a few short sentences, I know that I have to capture your interest and make you feel this with be worth your time investment. In short, I have to make a good first impression.

If you run a contact center, you have the same responsibility. The hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands of customers who visit you each day must feel welcome. They have to believe your company cares about them and the interaction will be worth their time. Just as you will do when reading this article, the customer will give you a few precious seconds before starting the evaluation process. Within that window, you must somehow make a connection.

And if that is not enough pressure, consider that you can’t lean on your friendly, superbly trained reps to meet this need. In most of our contact centers, the customer is greeted with automation. Sure, the rep will likely take over at some point, but the first impression will already be formed by then. It our job to make sure that the customer is still at least hopeful, if not fully satisfied, by the time the handoff takes place. We have three tools at our disposal to make that first critical minute a success:

  • A voice that conveys the right impression
  • Call-flow design that personalizes the interaction
  • Transparency that eliminates guesswork

To get a great start to our calls, we have to get the most from each tool.

The Right Voice

We know how important voice quality is—nearly every monitoring form in the industry has a category reserved for it. If it matters when the call reaches an agent (and it certainly does), then it stands to reason that it matters prior to that point. This means our selection of a voice for the IVR requires as much attention and effort as we give to the tone, volume and other characteristics of our agent’s voices.

Yes, a professional voice costs money. Consider, though, how many customers will be greeted by that voice. Now spread the thousands of dollars of cost across the hundreds of thousands, or millions, or tens of millions of your callers. At a penny a call or less, a professional voice is well worth the investment.

But with many professional options to choose from, what are you looking for? We tend to search for someone who sounds pleasant and welcoming. While that is not necessarily bad, it may not be the best option. What we really need is a voice that fits the brand. Do you provide financial services for high-net-worth customers? A business-like and confident voice could be a great fit. Do you offer products that serve professional and weekend athletes? A high energy, upbeat voice is appropriate. Are you taking first notice of loss calls for an insurance company? A soothing, comforting voice would be most appreciated by your callers.

Remember, though, that the voice is only part of the equation. That voice, professional or otherwise, will be reading from a script. The wording must also fit your brand. For example, the greeting for the athletic products retailer might start out with a, “Hi, and thanks for calling the Athlete’s Corner!” delivered in an upbeat manner. The claim intake call at the insurance company should be more calm and factual: “You have reached the Claim Reporting Line for the Auto Safety Group.” They may sound vastly different, but in both cases, the voice and scripting support the brand while making the customer comfortable.

You Know Me!

Few things are as impressive as a person or organization that can immediately recognize me as an individual. When a contact center does this, it opens up the opportunity to personalize call flow based on individual needs. A well-designed opening can accomplish this via the following:

  • Quick, simple authentication (which likely means that one layer is provided by ANI).
  • Accurate contact tracking from all channels (so the IVR can “ask” if this call is related to the chat session that took place earlier today).
  • Intelligent trend recognition that identifies events that trigger contacts (so the IVR can inquire if the contact is related to the event).

The best customization protocols in contact centers tend to be conservative—assumptions regarding the reason for a call are not made unless there is a high degree of certainly. So, an auto insurer may ask if a call is about a claim that was submitted yesterday because it is common for customers in that industry to call shortly after submitting a claim. It is far less likely to get a call after a monthly premium payment is made, so the degree of confidence is simply not high enough to ask if the call is about the payment. Personalization is valuable and comforting, but only when it is correct.

Great Expectations

A third key practice to follow during that critical first minute is to avoid surprises. Simple script enhancements can help “lift the curtain” and remove doubt from a caller’s perspective. Some examples include:

  • A basic instructional message prior to authentication—“Let me ask you a couple of questions to confirm your identity.”
  • Insight on how long a menu might be—“Please choose from the following four options…”
  • Clarity on what is happening next—“I was not able to locate your account, so let me get you to a representative that can help you”
  • Short phrases like this add to routing time, but by providing expectations, they lift the patience level of your customers. This not only improves satisfaction, but it makes a caller more likely to “hang in” and try some paths—like self-service—that they otherwise may be too busy to attempt.

The Value of an Effective Opening

If you read this far, my opening sentences met their objective. They gave you an idea of what was coming next, and led you to believe the information was worth your time investment. When the voice talent, design and scripting of your opening messages does the same, you get rewarded with that all-important positive first impression.