Contact centres have been facing challenges since they were established.

Targets are a challenge to achieve, staff absenteeism and turnover are high and first resolution rates can be near impossible to attain at a satisfactory level.

Making the concept of a call centre possible in the 1950s, the first Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) was introduced. The evolution of technology has helped shape modern contact centres, improving the systems in place and introducing new ways of communicating through a letter, fax, live chat support, social media, instant messaging and email enquiries, in conjunction to a telephone conversation.

ACDs and IVRs have been integrated into telephone systems, enabling the customer to interact via a telephone keypad or by speech recognition. IVR can direct the customers on how to proceed by pre-recorded or dynamically generated audio.

It has become a known customer frustration as IVR has grown within companies; however, it is a necessary evil for companies to point the call in the right direction to the correct department.

The order in which the company delivers their messages can take an important role, offering an easier and quicker way of contacting the company, for example through live chat can improve the customer experience.

The Power of the On-Hold Message

When waiting on hold or in a queue, businesses can choose to play music, a repetitive jingle or a message they have recorded.

Messages can include that the call is important and the caller will be connected as soon as possible, significant information containing the contact centre’s opening hours or redirection to the website for enquiries.

However, what makes an on-hold message valuable to the customer?

Knowing your organisation’s average hold time ensures that key information is conveyed within that time. For longer average durations your message will need to be spaced out, as a great deal of information will not be absorbed by the caller.

Update your message regularly, especially if it contains date-specific information; otherwise, you will promoting summer offers in the middle of November, not useful at all!

The Original On-Hold

The first transatlantic call was made from New York to Paris in 1928, containing an informational message: ‘your New York call is coming through, hold the line’. This was followed by a ‘silent’ hold until the two parties were connected. There was no way of knowing if someone was on the line.

In 1962 on-hold music was discovered by accident. A factory owner Alfred Levy noticed that his company’s telephone system was picking up broadcasts from the neighbouring radio station due to loose wire touching a steel girder within the factory.

The Telephone Hold Program System was then born, connecting the originator of the call to music at the touch of a key/button if the wait for the other party became too tedious.

It wasn’t until the mid-1980’s that companies started experimenting and began mixing sultry toned messages between the music.

The psychology behind using music and messages is to reduce the customers’ frustrations by distracting them from their delay. However, today the wait to speak with a company via phone is becoming longer. Harris Interactive reported that 75% of customers believe it takes too long to reach a live agent.

North American Telecom has noted that “Callers with silence on hold will abandon their calls in less than one minute. 90% hang up within forty seconds. Callers with music on hold will stay on the line thirty seconds longer than with silence. Callers with information on hold will stay on the line for up to three minutes longer.”

To resolve long waits, companies can use messages to filter customer enquiries quicker, by suggesting other alternative forms of communication for certain questions – such as an email address, a section on their website or using live chat on the website.

Live chat support is a newer form of online communication. It has taken off in the last decade and has enabled website visitors to receive instant, real-time assistance using real-time text-based messages.

In Practice

One Call compares car, home, van and travel insurance from a panel of trusted insurance brands. They also offer many other insurance products and services including breakdown, short-term and learner driver insurance.

To improve their customer service they introduced another channel of communication: Live Chat.

One Call mentions in its connecting message that customers can make changes to their policies through live chat online and are reminded whilst on hold that live chat is available. This optimises the information relayed to customers in a short amount of time.

It can be frustrating for customers who waited on hold to discover they could have taken a quicker route. By explaining to the customer straightaway through the on-hold message about live chat, One Call customers don’t have to wait in a queue and can have their enquiries answered instantly.

For customers looking to make changes to their policies, One Call incentivises them to use live chat by offering discounts. One Call prefers easy enquiries such as changes, to be asked via live chat, reducing the pressure on their phone lines.

Before the chat starts customers enter their full name, reference number, postcode and date of birth on a prechat form. Representatives are presented with the information at the start of the chat, reducing the amount of time spent identifying the customer through security questions, helping instead with the enquiry at hand.

Implementing Live Chat

Installing live chat onto an organisation’s website (whether your own or on behalf of a client) is extremely easy, by copying and pasting a small piece of HTML script into the website, the live chat functionality is ready to use.

Live chat equally support a multi-client approach required in a contact centre as the majority of providers can integrate with existing systems using Application Program Interfaces (APIs), ensuring a smooth implementation.

Identifying Multiple Client’s Visitors

If a contact centre is working on behalf of multiple companies and doesn’t have dedicated staff for every organisation, they will need to identify which company the customer is contacting.

Live chat software can display the website where the chat was initiated. A pre-chat form can collect the visitor’s account details before the chat starts, helping your operators to locate the customer’s record.

First Contact Resolution

Appropriately addressing the customer’s enquiry first time is vital to streamlining representatives’ workload and increasing the contact centre’s performance for its clients.

The pre-chat form can include a department selector that enables the visitor to choose which area of the business they need to speak with.

This can be broken down further into the types of enquiries that department handle, helping to guide the visitor to the correct department to resolve their enquiry.

By being directed to the correct department on the first contact, increases the likelihood that the customer’s enquiry will be accurately answered.

Agent Productivity

Some live chat solutions enable representatives to control their workload, permitting them to handle as many chats as they possibly can and increase their productivity.

There are many independent studies into how many chats an operator can handle without the quality of their responses declining; however, it can vary per chat.

One customer could be a speedy typist and therefore requires the operator’s full attention, or other visitors who are slower at typing or has been distracted by other means enables another customer to be assisted in their pauses. Therefore there is no real baseline.

Predefined replies (canned responses) can be stored and used to speed up operator responses whilst keeping the operators’ accuracy throughout their responses. However overusing these can make the chat seem robotic.

Staff Absenteeism and Turnover

Chats can be spread across the available representatives when staff are absent, enabling present employees to cover their colleagues who are out of the office.

Majority of live chat solutions are scalable allowing the centre to increase or reduce the number of operators they have handling chats.

By mirroring staffing levels, companies can save money when their staff resources are low and reinvest into recruiting more employees.

Playing the Waiting Game

Being an instant form of communication, live chat reduces the waiting time to speak with a representative. Sending real-time messages decreases the delay in receiving a response that can occur even from other electronic communications mediums, such as email and social media.

Clearer communication

With a telephone conversation details can easily be misunderstood. This especially true of email addresses and telephone numbers, that may be required to complete any conversation when the customer is contacted again.

Written communication lessens the chance that information is misinterpreted and also allows any mistakes to be corrected easily and quickly.

Live chat software can support multiple languages which allows the same level of support to be supplied globally. Importantly, for the customer, there are no premium charges for contacting a foreign company.

Personalised Features

Some live chat accounts (depending on the provider) can be configured to each client’s requirements, if they have answers to frequently asked questions, or possible outcomes of their chats, the account administrators can configure these aspects to be available for the relating organisation’s chats.

Personalising the features available can speed up operator’s response times, whilst replying accurately. Or keep each stored chat organised to make reporting and retrieval easier.


To ensure there is an audit trail and every conversation is logged, reference numbers are usually given out across the spectrum of communication channels. Live chat enables notes and reference numbers to be included, which can be transferred into the customer’s account record.

Contact centres have adapted as technology has made alternative communications available and need to consider how customers behave as they are turning more towards digital forms of communication when it is available, including live chat and social media, as these have proven enquiries can be answered quickly.

Live chat software is a perfect solution for any contact centre, benefitting the centre, its employees and customers, it is a technology that can expand as the industry and customer requirements change. Additional functionality can be developed to ensure the solution stays relevant to contact centres, rather than become obsolete and less widely used.