Phone Call Forwarding: Trends in Customer Management and Retention

When Google users run into a problem with a service or product provided by the ubiquitous search engine, they soon discover that it's essentially impossible to get a live human being on the phone — unless that human being is in the sales department. Google's policy has been to route virtually all technical and customer support issues through automated systems, email exchanges, live-chat systems and public forums. For the company whose name is synonymous with Internet search, this may be a smart business endeavor. But for those entrepreneurs whose names are not listed as verbs in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, live customer service is still an absolute necessity for drawing and retaining customers.

Live Customer Service and Customer Retention

One tutorial refers to industry expert Tom Peters' claim that a full 70 percent of fleeing customers abandon a business not because of price or product quality, but because of a lack of human tact on their customer-service side. The report also cites Forum Corporation research, which revealed that 45 percent of customers fled when the customer service they did receive was of poor quality. Research shows that the most commonly cited reasons for dissatisfaction with customer service are long hold times, unnavigable automated systems, unknowledgable representatives and accent or language barriers.

Call-Forwarding Services

Unless your business has a dedicated, in-house customer service center, a call-forwarding service provides several key benefits. First, it routes incoming calls — originating from essentially anywhere — without the caller having any indication that their call has been redirected. Second, it ensures customers won't be confronted with either of the two most despised results of a customer-service phone call: voicemail and press-this-for-this automated systems. Finally, it offers flexibility for businesses of different sizes, ages and in different industries. A call-forwarding service can route hundreds of calls a day to a central call center staffed by dozens or hundreds of employees, or it can route a few calls a week to the personal cell phone of a business's sole proprietor. It is important to remember to sign up with a provider that offers sequential dialing. This service, which is often free, pushes calls made to an occupied line through to several — usually up to four — different numbers. If the first number is busy, the call will automatically be forwarded to the second number, third, fourth and so on. Customers who encounter a busy signal are much less likely to call back than those who at least reach an automated answering service.

Case Study

For a large hospice center in the Green Bay area in Wisconsin, their customer-service efforts were being hampered by several factors. They faced a large volume of calls — as many as 650 per month. Moreover, the unpredictable, frequent and often-severe storms that plague the area for much of the year rendered on-site communications unreliable. Finally, due to the sensitive, end-of-life-care nature of their business, it was especially important for knowledgeable, understanding representatives to be accessible all the time, at any given time. Some calls involved medical emergencies that required first responders. Most calls were initiated by emotionally charged clients who were concerned about a loved one. After securing the services of a call-forwarding provider, they were able to route all incoming calls — no matter what the weather or call volume — filter them by type and direct them to the appropriate employee by correlating the hospice's staff schedule with the call center's system.

There is a direct and proven correlation between live customer service and customer retention. Although secondary live options such as instant chat can provide supplementary real-time options for those who don't like to — or for some reason can't — talk on the phone, there is still no technological substitute for a live, human customer-service representative. Call-forwarding services provide a cost-effective, practical solution for businesses of literally every size to satisfy and retain their customers by being available all the time.

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