Tips from the Top 50 UK Contact Centres

Why choose the phone when there’s so many other ways to communicate?

There might be many more methods of getting in touch with people, companies, customers or friends but does that mean that they’re actually better than the good old phone?

Aside from being face-to-face, the only way to really gauge how someone is feeling, their mood, how helpful they are and how enthusiastic they are is to speak to them. With your voice and not a keyboard.

So yes, times have certainly changed and we’re a lot more tech savvy now (apart from my mum who still doesn’t understand how to use a mouse let alone Google something..) and despite there being tons of apps that can be used to make a call like Hangouts, Facetime, Skype or Whatsapp, we still believe that the good old fashioned phone is the best way to keep in touch for a business.

Why is it so much better?

  • Immediacy
  • Technophobes friendly
  • Time Saving
  • Human
  •  Security
  •  Reliable

Easy to use – with the push of a button your call will be re-directed through an often very complex and long IVR system or tree, where there are many menus and options for the customer so that their call can be directed to the most appropriate department or contact. Even my mum knows how to navigate a telephone menu, it’s minimal and straightforward in comparison to using an online chat system where you often have to enter your details before you’re able to be connected to an agent.

Timely – We know waiting on hold is boring, it’s why iNarrator was born, to keep you entertained when you’re on the phone. The average time waiting on hold to the top 50 customer service companies last month, was a mere 1 and a half minutes. This is super speedy when compared with the average wait for a response from live chat (5 minutes), social media (30 minutes) and email which averaged anywhere between a snails paced 1 hour to a 1 day wait.

Knowledge – If you’ve ever used an online chat box then you will know how stressful it can be to get your queries across to an advisor using a keyboard, rather than speaking to someone over the phone. It takes time to type out your initial query, followed by the advisor asking you several more questions to help them decide on how best to advise you, something which could be done in a fraction of the time if it was to be done over the phone. It’s reassuring speaking with an advisor over the phone as their knowledge is readily available for you to request. I’m much more likely to respond with “Yes, actually there is…” when asked “Is there anything else I can do to help you?” over the phone, whereas I would much quicker to disconnect from an online advisor. Which brings me to our next benefit of speaking over the phone…

Personalised – Stock answers or scripts can only be used to a certain level over the phone because someone is reacting to your conversation in real time, they can’t sit back and mull over what to respond because that would create an unprofessional awkward silence. We’re not saying it’s impossible to be personable or friendly via live chat but you can’t beat having an actual conversation! Live chat has changed the sound of the office, where once there were rooms of melodic tones and happy chatter now there’s the pitter patter of typing.

When it comes to personalising a call we’re quite thankful that the switchboard is a thing of the past, after finding out that to advertise the appropriate manner in which to answer the phone in 1910, saying ‘Hello’ was quite frowned upon. As the phone was once quite an exclusive mode of conversation, it was used mainly by the middle classes and therefore service had to be perfect. Callers and office workers were sent the AT&T Telephone Pledge, where they promised to be as “Courteous and Considerate over the Telephone as if face to face” Something we think should still be a Golden Rule today!

Reliable – The phone is direct. Using the phone to resolve an issue is a two way conversation without playing email ping pong or having to go back and forth on a live chat, it’s one interaction where your query is likely to be resolved. The phone is still the dominant form of customer service, making up 68% of customer service interactions. Which shows how reliable it is still considered to be when there are now many other methods of contacting customer service departments.  


Who likes using the phone?

The idea that people might actually prefer to speak to a company over the phone might seem a little farfetched to some but there’s plenty of reasons why the phone comes up trumps, and we’ve already mentioned a few.

It might divide opinion but using social media as a dominant means of communication isn’t just changing the way customers and clients interact with your business but it’s changing how your employees do too. Hark back to the days before the internet went mainstream, circa 1999, and think of office life and how equipment has changed and developed. Without the chitter chatter of the phone your office becomes silent, you might be using the internet to speak to customers but is a reliance on online chat as a tool for customer service encouraging a stony faced generation of arthritic fingered advisors who are losing the ability to converse?

A recent study of how the top 50 UK customer service companies handled customer queries, across a range of methods, positions the telephone as the best method for communicating with customers. Pitting the phone against live chat, social media and emails, the phone came out top in all five categories. Each communication method was tested in the following and the phone scored best;

Timely – 87.2%

Easy to Use – 93.9%

Reliable – 94.9%

Knowledgeable - 89.5%

Personalised – 75.0%

The survey found that customers were most satisfied when the advisor asked their name and introduced themselves, coming across as friendly in their conversation was another aspect that callers reported added to a positive experience, something that isn’t as easily achieved over a typed conversation.

There were of course some elements that customers didn’t like about contacting customer service over the phone, which will be worth noting so that you can strive to make sure your callers don’t face them!



  • Making multiple attempts to call – Yes this one might be difficult to avoid if you’re a busy company but there are steps you can take to at least improve the caller’s experience. Why not offer a call back service or have informative and entertaining on hold marketing and messages, so that callers are more inclined to stay on the line. Just take a look at the average times people stayed on the line waiting when they didn’t have anything to listen to, compared to when they did and you’ll be sold!
  • Speaking too quickly or unclearly – It’s vital that your staff are trained in call handling, a customer is going to have a much better experience and become less irate if they’re not straining to understand what is being said to them. Provide your staff with some guidelines and have regular top up training to ensure the quality of the service is at the standard you expect.

There are of course benefits for using email or live chat alongside having call handlers available, but you need to make sure you’re offering the right type of contact and support for your business. You need to assess the type of contact each method is used for. For example the phone will usually be used when a customer has a complaint or a query that can be quickly resolved. Email is better for marketing or sending information that doesn’t require an immediate response or to confirm details, plus it can be used at all hours. Social media is more the fun side of communicating, where your customers may post how happy they are with their product or have a more general enquiry, it’s more light-hearted and informal than a telephone call would be. What suits you best?

If you’re a small business then it may be unwise to offer lots of ways to contact you, unless you’ve got the manpower and time to respond to and monitor each platform or method. It might seem like a great idea to be present everywhere but if you are only appearing as easy to reach, when in actual fact you don’t have enough staff to answer your calls or keep an eye on the inbox and social media channels, then it would be better to focus on one primary point of contact. Don’t spread yourself too thinly!

Is the phone best?

In a recent survey the phone again proves itself as the most popular choice of contact, handling half of all inbound calls, compared to the channels you would think are growing like social media, only accounting for 2.7% of interactions. Despite expanding the ways in which we can now reach customers and they can reach us, since the 1950s, the phone has remained as the most dominant method of customer communication.

The phone was the fastest growing method of contact during 2013 and was also predicted as the busiest method of contact throughout 2014 and 2015.

"The results also reiterate the fact that voice is and should continue to be a dominant channel in the contact centre.”

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves!

With the telephone being the most personal and human way to interact, aside from face-to-face, it’s important to brand your company similarly. Whilst callers are waiting, does your IVR Menu or on hold marketing reflect the way your agents will speak with the caller? Adding in a personal touch before your customer is even connected is easy with On Hold Marketing and can be tailored, with regional voices or area specific offers.

Although times have changed, you can see that there is still a huge market for telephone based companies and customer service departments. It may seem like a dated option when compared with more high-tech means of communication such as video chat or social media yet it’s evidently the most reliable and easy to use method, having stood the test of time.


Omnichannel infographic

Utility Company in Hot Water

If keeping your customers happy doesn't come quite as naturally as you’d hope in your business, then maybe the fire that Scottish Power has come under will spur you on to improve or polish your existing customer service protocols.

The energy giant found themselves in hot water with Ofgem, the government regulator for the gas and electricity market in Great Britain. They conducted an investigation into how Scottish Power handles it’s customer’s complaints, handle customer calls and conduct their billing, during the implementation of a new IT system.

The company has been handed a fine of £18 Million to compensate vulnerable customers who were failed by the way their queries or complaints were dealt with, with £15 Million to be paid to callers who were affected. The investigation found that customers had been treated unfairly and that there was little in place to protect them from the havoc that arose when Scottish Power implemented their new IT system.

If you’re part of a small company then hopefully your complaints department receives minimal calls, Scottish Power can’t say the same and received a staggering 1 MILLION complaints between June 2013 and December 2015. The reasons for the complaints varied but were mainly surrounding the unacceptably long periods in which customers were placed on hold when trying to contact the supplier, callers had to make several attempts or wait for extended periods of time before they were able to speak to an advisor.

The trouble arose when the new IT system didn’t perform as it should have, increasing complaints to the company. However it wasn’t just the increased volume of complaints that has caused Ofgem to step in, but also the way these were dealt with and the time it took to resolve them. A simple update to your on hold marketing to acknowledge that there is a higher volume of calls than usual or that you’re aware of a problem, could help to keep customers peachy during a longer wait.

There’s also lesson to be learned here, you need a solid contingency plan for all aspects of your business but particularly for when you introduce something new, do you have a back-up plan if something goes wrong? You should treat your customers with the same high level of service no matter what dilemma the company is facing!

This is the perfect time to highlight how important communication is, whether it’s a quick post on social media, a mailshot or postal campaign - don’t forget to cover the phones! As we recently wrote, the phone is still the most effective and efficient method for customers to contact businesses, so adding a message to your On Hold Marketing to keep callers in the loop about news or company updates is vital and shows you’re prepared.

So if this story has got you panicking then it’s time to make sure your on hold is current, that you’re fully prepped on a backup plan and that your team know the importance of excellent customer service!

How average is your customer service?

“People won’t remember what you said or did... they will remember how you made them feel”

Can you think of a time you received exceptional customer service?

Can you think of a time you received poor customer service?

No one tends to remember the times that their customer experience was just average and at iNarrator we’re not fond of being mediocre.

We provide professional, clear and informative recordings to a wide variety of business types. No matter what sector you’re in it’s important to make a good first impression. Don’t mistake this for being the only important aspect of connecting with your customers. Coming across a helpful and friendly recorded message is only a tiny element of your customer’s overall experience.

Taking the time to prepare scripts and get your new recordings installed is time wasted, if once the phone is answered your caller receives poor customer service. Customer service is a talking point and we Brits love a good grumble, as the old saying goes news travels fast. The power of the internet has allowed us to see the good, the bad and the ugly of customer service go viral.

Poet Mary Angelou once said…

“People won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel”

This is the customer service mantra that we want your call handlers to adopt, the chances are that if they upset a customer that they won’t feel great themselves which could then have a further negative impact on their next few calls. Good customer service is underestimated, it doesn’t need to be a huge gesture to make someone feel that they’ve had a good experience with your company.

Your call handlers should strive to reflect the professionalism demonstrated in your IVR and In-Queue Messages. Mirroring and matching what your caller has been greeted with should be your standard. Customer’s expect to be met with a certain tone, manners and a handler who is adequately trained to assist them. Set the bar high and you’ll find callers are more satisfied, they may spend a little longer on the phone but this will help to build a positive relationship with your business and reassure them that they’re not just another number waiting in a long list of queries.

According to Walker Info by 2020 Customer Service and experience will be the leading brand differentiator, making how you treat your customers even more important than your pricing structure and products or services.  We take for granted how far a little empathy can go and the statistics below highlight the key skills that your customer service agents need to have in order to impress.

The research found that:

“71.5% of positive customer service experiences that people share in person or on social media began as negative experiences and in 82% of negative customer service stories employees were perceived as not caring.”

Training is vital in ensuring that your call handlers are able to deal with the kinds of requests and queries that they receive, there’s nothing wrong with going off script to make a call a little less robotic but the way agents handle calls should be monitored to ensure consistency, accuracy and professionalism.

If you don’t consider customer experience as something you need to be monitoring then you might want to read these statistics, consumers decide where their loyalties lie based on customer service so it’s important that you value them otherwise they won’t value you.

  •  88% of people have been influenced by online reviews while making their purchase decisions.  – Source:  Zendesk
  • 79% of high-income people, 51% of B2B clients, and 54% of Gen Xers will avoid your company for two years or more following one bad customer experience.  – Source:  Zendesk

If you've got the right team but you’re lacking the right first impression, that’s where we can help. Plug in and listen to our Case Studies to discover what a good first impression really sounds like.


Source of Statistics:

The top 5 mistakes when implimenting IVR Messages

We create a lot of IVR menus for some very reputable companies, but you’d be surprised at how many companies don’t have comprehensive and easy to navigate menus, before they find IVR Recordings of course.

I’m sure you’ll have a few companies in mind who could really do with simplifying their current menu. Usually larger companies need IVR menus because their call handlers cover many different aspects of their company, with a lot of departments comes a lot of options and usually a lot of confusion.

We can think of plenty of ways to improve your current IVR System or give you some pointers to consider if you’re thinking of getting some recordings. In our opinion these are the top five mistakes made in IVR recordings.

Options Overload

Calling a company takes time, if there’s a long introduction at the start of your IVR, it is time to consider cutting it down. The issue is you’re providing a lot of irrelevant information to someone who might know exactly what department they need to speak to, especially if they have called before, forcing your caller to endure a two minute spiel that likely infuriates them before they’ve even reached your menu. We’d advise to only really have the necessary bits and bobs in the welcome message, after all it should be just that, welcoming! Avoid including your company history here as this is best saved for your on hold messaging.

Massive Menus

Your menu should be really straight forward with clear directions for the caller so they know exactly what to select. Having a simple IVR menu will save you time and money, meaning calls are directed to the right department first time, rather than having your customer passed from one department to the next which not only takes time for your employees but leaves your customer feeling like they’ve been passed from pillar to post. We’d ask you to consider where your options eventually lead to, if more than one option leads to the same department then merge them!

No Exit

It’s a familiar story, you need to make an important call but know you’ll be placed on hold so try to do so on your lunch hour or after work. When a customer takes time to contact your business, your IVR system should reassure them immediately that they’re query is going to be resolved quickly and hassle free. There’s nothing worse than calling somewhere and missing the options, either resulting in a panicked press of the wrong option in the vain hope it was the right one (likely wasting time when they get through to the wrong department and have to be transferred) or it means the caller has to hang up and re-dial. This could all be resolved by one last message, to hear the options again.

Melancholy Music

Call us bias but we hate rubbish on hold music. No matter how big or small your company is, you should come across as professional, particularly when the first point of contact your customer has with your business is through your phone system. Playing a muffled recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons into your callers’ poor ears for twenty minutes doesn’t quite give off that image. We’ve got a range of music available to suit lots of different types of business. Do you think it’s time to change track yet?

IVR Journey

Finally the most important point we’d like mention is that your IVR is never finished, you need to keep it up to date, interesting and relevant to the direction your business is taking. Managing your IVR system is really important, if you don’t think any of the mistakes above apply to your current system then we’d advise you to take the customer’s journey and call your company to listen first hand and see how easy your options are to navigate. This should highlight any areas to you that you think could be improved and simplified for your customers. Once you’ve done that, it’ll be time for you to give us a call!

The rise of AI

There’s no denying that technology and artificial intelligence (AI) has progressed significantly over the last hundred years. From the Turing Test in Alan Turing’s 1950 paper ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence’, to IBM’s super computer, Watson winning Jeopardy in 2011 and not to mention countless references in popular culture with AI as the centre of their plots.

IPsoft have unveiled the “first cognitive agent who understands like a human”. Their virtual agent, Amelia, who assists customers contacting a call centre is currently being trialled by several companies, with the ultimate intention to see if she can replace call centre operators.

Amelia is said to be able to understand how customers feel, learning as she completes tasks. IPsoft are using ‘cutting edge technology that emulates the human brain’, becoming more intelligent the more she has to deal with and respond to.

AI is a controversial subject, particularly when it can threaten your job; only recently did articles emerge giving you the option to see how safe your job was from being taken over by robots! We are all aware that this kind of technology exists and is used in technical roles and top secret places that only James Bond is familiar with, but it seems that recently the thought of introducing such advanced systems is going to affect normal, everyday roles in business.

Amelia can read and understand text, process new information and queries, effectively learning from her experiences, but is this going to make humans redundant in customer service roles when a robot can supposedly provide customer service to rival that delivered by your employees?

Counteracting the argument that a computer can’t interact in the same way you and I can, IPsoft describe Amelia as intelligent enough to adopt human behaviour, equipped with an EQ to sense emotions and react to these accordingly. She’s also able to search for an answer in several ways, by answering if she already knows, searching on the internet or internal databases, and if she doesn’t know the answer she will ask a colleague for help. She’s able to observe how the human colleague responds, helping her to learn about this process for future enquiries.

We’re not too convinced, there’s a good reason that we like to record our IVR with warm and friendly voices, you can’t beat good old fashioned human interaction and the ultimate goal when you have a customer on hold is for them to receive brilliant customer service from your agents, it’s meant to be a relief when they speak to a person. We’re not denying that Amelia is a brilliant invention but we’re not sure how necessary it is to replace human employment with a robot that can be deployed from the cloud…

Find your Moneypenny

Today sees the release of the latest Bond film, as ever it’ll be full of gadgets, action and of course cars. The Aston Martin makes an appearance in 11 Bond films and is one of the most iconic vehicles in cinematic history, yet even James Bond’s car needs a service every now and again particularly after running into an enemy!

From the Aston Martin DB5 featured in Goldfinger, complete with rotating number plates to the V8 that ends up in a wooden hut on an ice rink in The Living Daylights, it’s clear to see each of the cars featured in the films brought something new, whilst maintaining a Bond tradition. Yet most impressive by far must be the DB10 in Spectre. The car was purpose built for filming, with only ten being produced it’s never going to be sold to the public, making it the most exclusive Bond car of all time.

We think that you and your business should be as impressive and unique as the DB10, bringing us to an important question, are you an Aston Martin or a Reliant Robin? Does your company sound as good as it should? The Aston could have all the gadgets in the world but if it didn’t look the part it wouldn’t have the same impact. First impressions are valuable when it comes to your company, don’t settle for being reliable, be impactful.

According to Inbound Telephone Call Centre, 94% of marketing budgets entice a customer to call, yet only 6% of the budget is actually spent on handling inbound calls. Customers deserve to be entertained if they’re prepared to wait on the line to speak to your advisors, welcoming IVR Prompts and Music On Hold Marketing is proven to retain those waiting on hold, compared to those who are faced with silence.

Bond has Moneypenny, your customers could have an IVR menu. Being able to direct your customer’s calls as quickly as possible through simple and easy to navigate menus is far more efficient than leaving someone on the line or passing them from department to department. Bond has Moneypenny, why not include an almost virtual secretary to your phone systems with IVR recordings?

How IVR Has Developed

Despite not quite being where Back to the Future predicted we would be at this point in time (or yesterday to be exact), it’s fair to say that technology has developed at an astonishing rate, with some inventions that have completely changed the way we interact and socialise in modern day.

We often take for granted the ease of the taking a picture, making a call and checking our emails all on one device, when once upon a time you’d have needed three separate ones. Now we’re able to call a company and without even speaking to an operator we can get to the person we need.

The first electronic speech synthesiser was created in 1936, so speech recognition is nothing new. Following on from rapid developments and growth in the telephone industry the Bell System (a continuation of Alexander Graham Bell’s work) unveiled a system which could dial dual tone, multi-frequency audible tones, this was in 1962.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) was to change the way call centres and businesses operate and connect with their customers, serving as a bridge between the customer and the company to direct them to the most suitable place. Brian Bischoff (who was once a part of AT&T which eventually became the Bell System’s parent company) highlighted how the development of the internet hasn’t dented the popularity of speaking on the phone “Is Web traffic up? Yes, definitely. Is phone traffic down? No, not really”

IVR has developed along the way to become more accurate, less sensitive to background noise and much easier to navigate nowadays. There are several options available to those using IVR.

·Natural Language; After a prompt is read the customer responds as though talking to a human

Touch Tone; The customer can either make their selection by pressing a number on their phone or by saying the option they want

Directed Dialogue; This works by the customer using keywords to access the department they wish to speak to.

The aim for IVR has always been to improve customer service, refining the speed and ease at which customers can reach their desired department or contact. Technology has developed to allow IVR systems to detect and understand a range of accents, vocabularies and pronunciations. There’s less need to enunciate each individual word when prompted, meaning if an IVR system was to use natural language, the response of the caller could be an unbroken sentence of continuous speech.

IVR technology has developed so far that gone are the days of trying to book cinema tickets for a specific film and time and ending up with the complete opposite of your request. Gone are the days of even needing to speak to someone to pay a bill. IVR has developed so far that thousands of tasks are performed using the tech every day, from placing an order to tracking it, paying a bill, using a directory to reach a specific contact, checking schedules, the list goes on!

With the IVR industry spanning decades, improving rapidly and being available in our pockets in the form of Siri, Cortana and OK Google it’s no wonder the industry is worth £14 Billion annually in revenue and growing at a very healthy 10.7%!


How to place people on hold

Yes it is as simple as hitting the hold button but, as always, there is a better way!

Over the summer we've been working closely with a call centre client to improve the experience for their callers. This included providing a report on the current system and offering a full solution to make customer service improvements, from rationalising the IVR routing scripts to recording the new IVR messages with a professional female voiceover; in addition we made a recommendation to train staff on how to place callers On Hold.

 Now stick with us here, yes it is as simple as hitting the hold button on the phone but how you prepare the caller before placing them on hold has an impact on how they feel and the customer satisfaction level. Think about it how often are you unceremoniously dumping someone on hold without any warning?

 It’s much better to explain (even apologise if the interaction isn't going well) before placing the caller on hold, something along the lines of:

 I’m going to place you On Hold, I’ll be back with you as soon as possible and won’t keep you any longer than necessary. Then place the call On Hold

When you return to the call: Hi [callers name] thanks for being On Hold, sorry to keep you.

Simple but effective and callers will appreciate it. Test it out. Get your teams together, brief them, then at the end of the week hold a team meeting and see the responses they have had.

How call centre metrics impact customer service

We all know the frustration of badly recorded IVR messages, a muffled at the other end of the line presenting a baffling array of department options then being placed on hold and listening to terrible music. Do we ever think about the people at the other end of the line? There’s pressure behind these calls for measuring and judging staff on several different factors that we often overlook.

Call centre staff usually have their work measured and assessed on their average call times with a customer, the amount of calls they make or take in a day and of course customer feedback. Are all these factors really contributing towards good customer service? Or are they merely ensuring the numbers at the end of the month are on target? What impact do these metrics actually have on a customer’s call?

In any work environment being assessed can leave you with a sense of self-doubt, even when you know you do a good job. Whilst it may be better for a company making or taking calls to have their staff abide by a strict max call time, this won’t necessarily benefit the customer or resolve their issue if an agent is rushing to get them off the phone. A three minute call doesn’t quite justify half an hour on hold.

Many large companies choose to outsource their calls to a call handling company, which can mean agents need to know the ins and outs of several businesses and be familiar with different call handling styles and queries. For example I had three calls in the same day last week from a telephone provider, from the same agent each time in an outbound call centre, demonstrating the desperation some agents face just trying to hit targets.

There are several areas call centre staff are rated by:

  • Call handling times
  • Sales tactics
  • Feedback and surveys   

The issue is that, to really get to the bottom of where improvements need to be made in a company, calls need to be monitored by senior members of staff, yet their time is precious (they don’t have the time to wait on hold, unlike the rest of us, clearly) thus instead of listening in to their staffs’ calls they merely take the averages and turn this into statistics, which are often unreliable.

Call Centre Helper note the importance of realising what your customer wants and then using this information to make changes to the products and services you offer. This is where you see the real indication of what improvements are needed, rather than being focused directly on how staff handle a call and pressuring them to shave seconds off their call times. They note that “Monitoring from the caller’s perspective will give you an overall impression of what it is like to call your centre. It will demonstrate how frustrating it can be to wait in a queue and how friendly or annoying your voice messages really are.”

Perhaps it’s time to call your own company and experience a call from the customer’s point of view? If you think you could do with an update and improve your company’s image then contact us today for a quote for our professional IVR message solution. Maybe next time you’re put through to a call centre agent spare a thought for the real reasons they’re rushing and pushing!