“We’ll call you” – A case study from British Council Malaysia on how we tackled our abandonment rate problems

In my dreams, the British Council contact centre in Malaysia would have five agents who are super-efficient. They would never need a break nor would they ever fall sick. They would be able to answer 20 calls per hour as each call takes exactly three minutes. As there are only five agents we would only receive five calls every three minutes and the calls would come in an orderly manner following that exact timings.

At the end of the day 700 calls would have been answered as that is our quota for the day and there would be not a single abandoned call!

In reality it is the total opposite. Customers call at any time they want. We can do all the analysis in the world, looking into the call arrival patterns, average call handling time, abandoned rates to have an optimal team but nothing can predict the arrival of 20 calls at 11.30am on a Wednesday and then less than 10 calls for the rest of the day. To make matters worse, that Wednesday according to the calculation it is a non-peak day and as such you have approved leave for your agents!

How do we deal with this?
We realised that we had a real problem with our call abandonment rates and that this was costing us important sales. We decided that we needed to update our telephone system to help. We contracted a local supplier and introduced a call back option for the customers.

How does this work?
Customers will be placed through the usual Interactive Voice Recognition system (IVR) and if there are no agents to answer the call there will be a prompt asking the customers if they want a call back. If they press no – they will be placed in the queue so that they can wait till their call is answered by the agent.

If they press yes – they will be asked to leave their preferred local number for us to return the call. The callers can leave their mobile or a local fixed line number.

So what happens when the customer opts for this?
The ‘call back’ as it is known is queued in the system. When there is an available agent the call will be routed to the agent. The agent will have the option to proceed with the call back immediately whereby the system will automatically dial the number. If the agent has opted to do the call back later the call will go back to the queued to the next available agent.

Once the call is made the agent will need to complete the call either by clicking completed, voicemail or no answer. For no answer the agent can opt to park the call in the queue again if they want to try to call the customer again.

So how has this worked so far?
The initial uptake for this option was slow. In the first month we had an average of two calls back per week. Now we have an average of 10 per week. Of course this depends on our availability as well as the number of calls. So far all call backs are made within 30 minutes. We consider this is a huge accomplishment as our initial measure was within the next working day. Furthermore, customers seem delighted that we are getting back to them so quickly.

How much did this cost us?
There was an urgent need to upgrade our phone system as we had changed from permanent desk space to hot desking. Riding on that change we factored in the need for a new phone solution for the team. Besides the call back option we now have better call reporting software, supervisor monitoring, call queue visibility and a whole range of other options for us to have a mini professional call centre.

Was it really worth it? A definite yes! Our abandonment rate is falling. We believe that this is due to both the better data we now have to monitor our call volumes as well as the call back option improving the efficiency of our service. I now have less panic attacks when I see calls building up at 9am with less team members, customers do not have to stay on hold to get through to us on a busy day and the ones that choose the call back option are happy that we get back to them so quickly.

Author: Anita Mammen – Senior Manager Customer Service, British Council Malaysia

The author can be contacted at: Anita.Mammen@britishcouncil.org.my. British Council has been using ACCORDIA CIS IP Contact Center Solution since March 2012

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