Call queues are central to the effectiveness of call centers and customer service. Call centers use a variety of methods, tools, and practices to lower the average time that a caller spends in the call queue. The goal is to have the lowest average call queue time possible, which will result in more effective service and happier customers.

It is imperative that call center queues be consistently monitored and actions be taken to reduce queue wait time in order to decrease customer frustration and call abandonment. Every call center interaction is an opportunity to convey a message to your customer about your company. Effective call center interactions will communicate to the customer that your company is dedicated to assessing their needs and resolving their issue. It can result in the identification of new sales opportunities, increase loyalty and promote positive brand awareness.

From the caller’s perspective, they have only two choices: wait until an agent resource becomes available, or abandon (hang up) and try again later. From the call center’s perspective, a long queue results in many abandoned calls, repeat attempts, and customer dissatisfaction. Queue time still matters in customer service. It feels a little old-school in this age of social media and natural language IVR, but every company has to make sure that they are answering the phones promptly.

What is a Call Queue?

Call queuing is a concept used in inbound call centers. When calling a phone system that uses call queues, callers usually hear a welcome message and an IVR menu and are then sent into a call queue, where they hear waiting music and position announcements until an agent becomes available. The normal distribution approach in call queues is first in, first out. Call centers use an Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) to distribute incoming calls to specific resources (agents) in the center. ACDs hold queued calls until agents become available.

Call queues make it easier for callers to access telephony services, while the call center and service staff is relieved due to ACD Queues.

There are agents whose phones are constantly connected to the call queue. Some call queues also allow dynamic agent login. This allows additional staff to login their phones into queues in times of high call loads to support the other agents and ensure smooth service for the callers. Decreasing the call load, the additional agents can logout the queue and go back to other tasks.

Situations that Result in Call Backlog or Call Queues

Long Call-Handle Times – The reason sometimes for call backlogs is long handle times, which means that each call is taking longer than expected. Long calls may be a sign of the agent not listening to the problem, interrupting the caller or being unable to take control of the call.

Understaffing – Lengthy call center queues are related to suboptimal staffing. The obvious reason would be that your call center is understaffed. There just aren’t enough agents to field calls.

Outdated Technology – Outdated or non-customer-centric call center software affects call center agent efficiency. Advanced call center software features enable agents to reduce call time by displaying comprehensive customer information before agents answer the call. Also, call disposition codes and notes and automatic synchronization with integrated CRMs, helpdesks and other business tools reduce after call work.

The biggest problem is that a lot of contact centers are using outdated software, not capable of predicting wait times on an average. As a result, the customer is in the dark about the length for which he/she would have to hold onto the receiver.

Sometimes the ACD or predictive dialer takes much time to match the skills of the agents required to handle your call with those available. To ensure that the match is as close to perfect as possible, it matches your profile and your problem with the profile of the agents. That takes some time.

Peak Seasons – Due to holidays, bad weather and special promotions call centers often experience peaks in their call volume. Dealing with these spikes can be a challenge while delivering a positive customer experience. During these peaks, the Average Speed to Answer (ASA) goes up increasing abandon rate. During these peak seasons, the call center does not hire additional staff, and there will be excess agents in non-peak days.

Why is Call Queue Management Important

Call queue management relates to maintaining/improving the service level of a call center (implications of poor response time).

Customer Satisfaction

Nobody likes to be on hold or stuck on the phone. When someone calls for customer service, they want prompt service and quick responses. The longer someone is stuck in a caller queue, the less happy and satisfied they are going to be. Having a poor average call queue time is the easiest way to score very low in customer satisfaction. Customers become frustrated, angry, and annoyed when wait times are high, and they may switch to another company.

Reduced Call Abandonment Rates

The longer callers are stuck waiting in a queue, the more likely they are to simply hang up. Sometimes, they may try again later. Other times, they may take their business to a competing company. In either situation, they are likely unsatisfied and also add to queue times for other callers who contact the company. By lowering the average time spent in the call queue, call centers can reduce call abandonment rates and handle a higher volume of calls.

Good First Call Resolution Rates

Call centers aim to resolve as many customer complaints, issues, and questions as possible on the first call. Not only does this increase customer satisfaction, but it also allows the call center to handle a higher volume of calls and provide superior service. When customer issues are only resolved on the second, third, or another subsequent call, that’s an indication that poor service is being provided. As well, issues can stack up, causing worsening service.

Reduced Costs

With the traditional approach, a PSTN line gets occupied for the entire duration of a call on hold. On a toll-free DID, this can carry higher per-minute rates. By swapping hold-time with a call-back, those lines can be freed and the number of total minutes consumed can be reduced. It can also bring down the total number of lines required. This reduces the cost considerably.

Also, when an agent gives the customer a call-back, he makes an outbound call with lower per-minute rates than the inbound toll-free rate. For a call center that handles millions of calls per year, the savings can even cover the cost of the virtual queuing system.

Average Time in Queue as an Important KPI

Average time in queue is the average amount of time your customers wait in a call center queue — from the moment they enter the queue, until their call is answered by one of your agents. This is a vvery important call center KPI. Call center managers are always working to keep average time in queue as low as possible. This call center metric is directly tied to customer satisfaction. However, the acceptable average time in queue varies by industry, caller type and the reasons callers are reaching out. There is no “industry standard” for average hold times. Many factors influence callers’ tolerance to wait and what should be the service level that you provide.

If the waiting time in queue in your contact center is uncomfortably long for your customers who call, invariably some callers would hang up in disgust. Even if an agent calls back, the customer may be uncooperative or may decide against having any kind of transaction or business with the contact center.

Now this, in turn, can have a spiral or domino effect. A disgruntled customer would surely register complaints against the lack of proper service received from your company. This would usually spread like a wildfire in the customer circle. You can be rest assured that similar incidents would be recorded as more customers would use the same method of grievance redressal.

That means your business would take a hit. One of the major reasons for the existence of a call center is to ameliorate the problems for which callers seek assistance. If it cannot provide proper customer service, it is only natural that customers would soon become ex-customers.

Estimated queue time is an important key performance indicator for any contact center.

If you are using the average hold time as the measurement, the good news is that hold times can be quickly reduced with additional resources which do not have to be dedicated for an extended period of time. If you have ever noticed that the addition of one additional teller or checkout counter at the grocery store will quickly dissipate the queue, then you realize that the way to manage short-term queuing problems (excessive hold times) is to have a team of several people available to “open up” new channels.

Utilize Virtual Queuing and Queue Callback

Virtual Queuing refers to holding a caller in line “virtually” so that they stay in queue, without actually having to stay on the phone. Most commonly, this is done by collecting the caller’s phone number and then calling them back when an agent is free. So, in short, virtual queuing means “replacing hold-time with a call-back”. The obvious way to lower abandonment rate is to lower hold times, and the obvious way to do that is to hire more agents. If you have the budget, you can just add agents until your abandonment rate shrinks down to your target level. However, in the real world, budgets are always constrained, making this solution unrealistic.

For call centers with occasional volume spikes, the situation is even trickier. If one staffs to the peak volume, there will be a lot of excess agent capacity at other times. Virtual queuing is an excellent way to tackle this problem. According to Contact Babel’s recent survey of 200 call centers, those that offered a call-back option to callers had a 32% lower average abandonment rate.

Queue Callback

This feature provides callers with the option of exiting the queue and waiting for an agent to reach out to them. There are several benefits of Queue Callback.

Augmented customer satisfaction and retentionCustomers are more loyal when they know that they never have to lose time waiting in a queue.

Reduced call abandonmentWhen your callers have the option to request a callback, they will no longer be tempted to hang up and move on forever. Instead, they can request a callback and go about their day while they wait for an agent to return their call.

Use every lead – Agents can easily handle every lead that comes their way. They will never lose a lead again because they were too busy, couldn’t answer their call in time or lost their contact information.

Cost Savings – By allowing your customer the option to hang up and receive a callback, you will no longer have to pay for the time that they would have spent waiting in a lengthy queue. This can save your team a significant amount of money when call queues are long.

Establish an IVR System

An Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system is a call center software feature that facilitates self-service call segmentation and routing by enabling callers to make choices using spoken or typed commands on the telephone keypad. Most consumers are familiar with IVR systems, whether or not they are aware of what the acronym stands for. IVR systems are effective for handling low-level concerns, allowing callers to receive help through the automated system. IVR can be used to provide business hours, account balances, and other information without a live agent, which keeps the call queue less crowded. A multi-level IVR allows numerous stages of input from callers. For instance, in the example above, the caller went through two levels: language selection, topic of inquiry. A simple IVR would only allow for one initial option. A very complex IVR could have many levels so that the caller is routed more precisely.

Test your system to see if you can detect inefficiencies in how it’s configured. Make sure that your IVR is set up in an intuitive way so that callers are able to get through the prompts quickly and to the right queue. Create specialized queues for teams and agents so that waiting time in the queue is kept to a minimum.

Upgrade to More Modern and Intuitive Technologies

Investing in a modern call center software solution that can help you and your team meet the needs of your customers by offering advanced call center software features. These tools are effective, particularly for providing the most competitive, superior service.

You will have to optimally configure the queue settings to reduce the wait time. The modern software gives your callers multiple options. Use these features. The options could range from call back to prompting the caller to leave a voice message with an assurance of a call back within a certain period with a solution. It could even automatically divert the caller to a messaging platform to leave a message or interact with a chatbot, if the wait time prolongs beyond the contact center average or if the size of the queue becomes longer than acceptable.

There are a number of features that allow callers to skip call center queues, going directly to voicemail if they choose. This is another effective way to clear up your call queue and reduce average wait times.

Empower Call Center Agents to Handle Their Own Queues

Allow agents to monitor their own queues and take steps to reduce the average call queue time. Instruct your call center agents to keep track of the number of calls in their queue and average wait time. Encourage them to make adjustments to their interactions with callers to improve their KPIs, such as trying to spend less time on calls when average time in queue is above a certain threshold. When live agents have more freedom, they can take more steps to optimize their service.

Contact centers can improve performance with configurable call wallboards, KPI metrics, and live queue monitoring. Also, keep the team informed with supervisor and agent dashboards. Automated KPI alerts to notify staff whenever performance thresholds have been exceeded, can also be useful.

Adjusting to Staffing Needs

On-Call Agents

One easy way around overstaffing is having on-call agents who can work when call volumes are high, helping handle callers stuck in the call queue and reducing their wait times for peak periods, as well as for holidays, promotional events, or new product releases. You can use call center software with historical data or workforce management to help you refine your call center staffing approach.

Create Cross-Functional Teams

In the event that one department, team, or “skill-group” is extremely busy, and another is not, managers should have the ability to quickly and easily bridge the gap. By training agents to be skilled in different areas of the business, or sending simpler inquiries to agents who typically solve more complex issues through skill group adjustments, managers can help alleviate long hold times.

Record and Analyze Calls

Record 100% of calls received for training purposes. This then enables you to listen to long and short calls. This should allow you to see if there is a training issue. Long calls may be a sign of the agent not listening to the problem, interrupting the caller or being unable to take control of the call. Managers can measure the productivity of the agents and identify their trouble areas which hamper their quality of output. The recorded versions of the calls enables managers to access the desired insights and single out the reasons that increase handle time.

The call center queue is a major part of the customer experience and cannot be overlooked. It’s one of the things that can impact customer satisfaction, so you have to manage it well to get good outcomes. Many things can go wrong in the call center queue. Technical problems can cause delays. Long waiting time can result in dropped calls. Irked customers will vent on reps, and further clog the call queue. There are many situations to anticipate, and both managers and reps have to be ready for them. In the end, the foundation of any positive customer experience today is the impression that you value their time. If you are up to the challenge, the results will speak for themselves.