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How to Coach Transfers and Hold Time

sadOn a consulting engagement this week and there it was again – Transfers and Hold Time on an Agent scorecard. When I asked my client what was so important about the transfer and hold, they said, “We know excessive transfers and holds are a customer dissatisfier, so we want to make sure team members understand how important it is to limit them.”

Hard to argue with, right? After all, loads of research is clear: holds and transfers are a customer dissatisfier, and almost every contact center wants to minimize them.

To accomplish this, many of us go directly to agents with a clear message: “Minimize holds and transfers.” This straightforward approach, though, can encourage unintended consequences, such as agents not putting callers on hold when they should or failing to implement necessary transfers to meet their numbers.

When we place too much responsibility for reducing holds or transfers solely on the agent’s shoulders, we miss an important point: Holds and transfers are either a process/workflow issue or a knowledge issue.

There are times when they are necessary and times when they are not, and it’s the leadership team’s responsibility to improve processes, tools and agent behaviors to reduce customer friction and enable great customer experiences.

In addition to refining hold/transfer behaviors through observation and coaching, we should use our QA processes to gather insight into the reasons for transfers and holds. We should try to answer the following questions:

  • When do they occur and why?
  • How can we improve agent’s access to information?
  • How can we speed up system performance?
  • How can we integrate systems?
  • How can we proactively pop vital information, streamline and simplify processes?
  • How can we make it less likely an agent needs to place a caller on hold or transfer them?

These process improvement efforts should result in clear hold and transfer guidelines, which clearly describe when we transfer and when we don’t, and when we put callers on hold and when we don’t.

Once you’ve put significant effort into improving and documenting hold/transfer processes and workflows, now (and only now) it’s time to move on to coaching employees to manage their hold time and transfers.

In the most common scenario, a supervisor runs an agent’s transfer and hold time report, sees a number that’s “too high”, and coaches the Agent on lowering those numbers. The conversation might go something like this: “You can see your hold number is higher than we need it to be, so work on that, you just need to focus on it a little bit more. As you learned in training, there’s a correlation between holds and C-SAT, so you want to avoid placing the caller on hold as much as possible.”

It’s pretty easy to see the flaw in this common approach. After all, do we want Agents to minimize holds and transfers, or do we want them to follow the correct processes for each call type?

The most effective approach, then, is to use the numbers as an indicator that the agent needs additional assistance in managing holds and transfers. This requires you to listen to a sample of the hold/transfer calls to determine if there is a knowledge or skill gap driving those higher-than-average numbers. Did they put the caller on hold to read an article they should be able to skim with the customer on the line? Are they lacking confidence, leading to transfers to “make sure”?

At the same time, be on the lookout for process and tool issues – knowledge bases that are difficult to search on the fly, confusingly written articles that require the agent to put the caller on hold to decipher, or unresolved customer issues with no clear reason.

This coaching approach might sound like this: “This month you transferred 20% more calls to billing than your peers. I listened to a sample and this is what I heard – it sounds like as soon as the caller expresses any dissatisfaction with the billing timeline, you offer to transfer them to speak to someone in billing. This isn’t necessary – you should be prepared to explain the process and encourage the caller that the wait will get them what they want. Let’s listen to a call I pulled from the Exemplary Call Library where the Agent does just that. Then we can figure out how to get you more comfortable with it.”

When it comes to the gathering insight into and having a positive impact on agent behaviors, consider these ideas:

  • Create an exemplary call library of recordings which illustrate the desired behaviors. If you expect agents to put callers on hold while they review account details, or if agents can prevent some transfers by explaining other team’s processes, create a library of screen and call recordings with examples of agents successfully demonstrating these skills.
  • Involve agents in the conversation about workflow and processes. Tell them, “We know holds and transfers are a customer dissatisfier, and we’d like to eliminate them as much as possible. What are your ideas?” Conduct Root Cause Problem Solving analysis sessions in your team meetings to identify opportunities to eliminate these chronic dissatisfiers. This helps your frontline team members feel like they are part of the solution – rather than the problem – which will improve coaching receptivity, too.
  • Bring holds and transfers to life by adding emotion and impact. Limit the time you spend on the numbers in your coaching conversations, and focus on how holds and transfers make callers feel. Then, help agents see how these factors erode customer trust, loyalty, and satisfaction, and reduce the likelihood of a positive interaction.

It’s true, holds and transfers erode customer satisfaction. Use these coaching strategies to work with your frontline agents to reduce these customer irritants, drive frictionless customer interactions, and meet their numbers, too.