7 first call resolution best practices to cut down on repeat contacts

Madeline Jacobson

April 17, 2024

Guess who’s back? It’s another customer who recently reached out to your contact center, calling again because they realized their issue wasn’t fully resolved.

While some repeat calls are inevitable, contact centers want to have a high first call resolution (FCR) rate. Repeat calls drive up contact center costs and frustrate customers (if a customer didn’t want to call your contact center the first time, they definitely don’t want to call a second time). 

Benefits of improving first call resolution

Ask any call center leader about the metrics they care about most and first call resolution is bound to be high on the list. Here are a few reasons why implementing first call resolution best practices should be a priority:

Reduced operational costs

Reducing repeat calls can result in big cost savings, especially considering that the average 3- to 4-minute customer service call costs around $2.70 to $5.60. When you save money on avoidable repeat calls, you can reinvest those funds in other areas of the customer journey, leading to better service delivery and a better overall customer experience.

Improved customer satisfaction and loyalty

When customers have to contact your company multiple times to resolve an issue, you’re requiring them to put in high effort–which is understandably frustrating. Research from The Effortless Experience found repeat calls are the biggest driver of customer effort, and 96% of customers with high-effort experiences report being disloyal. By improving your FCR rate, you reduce customer frustration and increase the likelihood that customers will continue doing business with you.

Improved agent availability

Repeat calls drive up your company’s overall call volume and reduce agent availability–potentially leading to longer hold times and greater agent burnout as customers become frustrated. Improving your FCR rate allows your agents to spend more time assisting customers with new issues rather than ones that weren’t resolved the first time.  

7 first call resolution best practices

It’s one thing to say you want to improve your first call resolution rate, and it’s another thing to make those improvements. It’s often difficult to know where to start: there are so many potential tactics for improving your FCR, so how do you know which ones will be the most attainable and impactful for your contact center?

To help you get started, we’re sharing seven first call resolution best practices based on our experience with Tethr customers and research using our conversation intelligence platform.

1. Keep an eye on your transfer hold times

According to Don Davey, Tethr’s Senior Director of Customer Success (and a former contact center leader), many call centers emphasize speed-to-answer. An agent answers a call, triages the issue, and then places the customer on hold while they transfer them to the appropriate team. Call centers don’t always track hold times during these transfers, and that’s a problem.

Most callers will hang up after they’ve been on hold for an average of 1 minute and 55 seconds. And, because their issue wasn’t resolved, the majority will call back later, increasing your repeat call volume.

If you discover that long hold times are causing customers to hang up and call back, you might consider adapting your scripts and processes to offer a callback option for customers. Improving your self-service options (example: adding new knowledge base documentation for common issues driving large call volumes) can also reduce your hold time on transfers by reducing the number of customers who need to call in the first place.

2. Track the top reasons for repeat calls by rate and volume

To reduce your repeat call rate, it’s important to understand the top customer issues that take multiple calls to resolve. One way to do this is to review disposition codes for all initial interactions with an associated repeat contact. However, this method may cause you to miss important nuances (especially if agents can only select one disposition code per interaction).

A more reliable way to track call reasons is by using a conversation intelligence platform, which uses AI to extract insights (including topics discussed on calls) from unstructured conversation data. A conversation intelligence platform like Tethr will allow you to identify initial calls with associated repeat contacts based on the contact ID (such as a phone number). You can then look at the volumes of specific issues or topics brought up on both the initial and repeat calls to determine:

  • The top issues brought up on initial calls that had associated repeat contacts. Identifying these can help you pinpoint issues that agents may be having trouble resolving and need more training on.
  • The top issues brought up on repeat calls. Customers may have secondary issues that weren’t addressed on the first call that lead to a repeat contact. When you identify trends in these secondary issues, you can train your agents to forward-solve those secondary issues on the first call.

3. Quantify repeat call issues and share them with responsible teams

Once you’ve identified the top issues associated with repeat calls, look for the factors within your company’s control. Some of these factors may be within your contact center’s power to resolve, while others may require input from other teams. For example, if you discover that customers frequently call multiple times about a login issue with your company’s mobile app, you could train your agents on how to troubleshoot the problem. But you would ultimately want to work with the development team responsible for the mobile app to solve the root issue. 

You can help get these teams on board with your initiative by quantifying the impact of the issue. Using a conversation intelligence platform, you can track the total volume of calls about the issue, the total number of minutes spent on these calls, and the estimated cost. Showing the cost of the issue can help you make the case that resolving the issue should be a priority. It’s hard to argue with a dollar amount.

4. Re-examine your agent KPIs

In some cases, repeat calls stem from specific agent behaviors, such as rushing through a call to keep the handle time low. Bad agent behaviors may occur when agents feel pressure to meet certain key performance indicators (KPIs) at any cost necessary. For example, if agents have a goal to keep the number of cancellations they process below a certain level each month, some agents might hang up on customers who mention they want to cancel. This would help the agents meet their goal but would likely lead to a repeat call from a (now frustrated) customer.   

Take a critical look at your contact center’s KPIs to determine if any of the metrics you’re holding your agents to could inadvertently incentivize bad behavior. Your KPIs should reward your agents for positive behaviors and avoid punishing them for factors outside of their control. 

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5. Train agents to avoid powerless-to-help language

When agents use powerless-to-help language (e.g., “There’s nothing I can do”), there’s a high likelihood the customer will call back to try to find someone who can help them. And unfortunately, powerless-to-help statements may come up in customer calls more often than you think. In Tethr’s State of the Customer Experience study, we found that average-performing contact centers (those in the 50th percentile) had powerless-to-help statements in over 10% of their calls. The worst-performing contact centers had powerless-to-help statements in almost one out of every five calls.

If you discover that your agents are using powerless-to-help statements, you can start by training them on what to say instead. In situations where they truly can’t resolve an issue, they should emphasize what they can do and set clear expectations for any next steps (e.g., putting them on a brief hold while transferring them to a manager).

If you find that powerless-to-help statements come up frequently, you should also explore whether specific processes or policies are getting in the way of the agent’s ability to solve some issues. If you can reasonably change those processes or policies to give your agents more autonomy, you’ll improve their ability to solve customers’ issues on the first call.

6. Hold agents accountable for offering further assistance

Customers may call in with a primary issue in mind but have additional questions (or a secondary issue). If they don’t have a chance to bring up any lingering issues at the end of the call, they’ll likely call back later.

To ensure customers have the opportunity to bring up anything that wasn’t already resolved, your agents should offer further assistance as part of their standard wrap-up process (e.g., “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”). You can hold agents accountable for this by making it part of your QA scorecard–and you can use conversation intelligence technology to track this behavior on 100% of your agents’ calls. If you find that some of your agents aren’t consistently offering further assistance, bring this up in their next coaching session and set a goal to increase this behavior. 

7. Improve your self-service offerings

One other way to reduce your repeat calls? Reduce the number of calls you get in the first place.

You can use CX insights from your repeat calls to improve your self-service offerings. For example, if there’s an issue that frequently causes confusion for customers, better documentation about the issue in your knowledge base could help deflect calls. If you have a website chatbot, you could train it using the conversation data from your best customer-agent interactions. For instance, TwinStar Credit Union uses conversation data in Tethr to continually improve their chatbot, and since starting this initiative, they have reduce the chatbot’s unsure rate by 75%.

With self-service, customers get a low-effort option to resolve their issues. And because self-service can deflect calls about some of the most common and straightforward issues, agents get more time to focus on first call resolution.

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