How many times have you called an organisation and felt that the person on the other end of the phone just wasnt listening to you, that they werent interested or that they didnt understand the importance of your call? It doesnt matter how well-equipped your contact centre is or how fast it responds if the agent fails to engage the caller. Rapport-based routing goes beyond traditional call centre practices to match individual callers and agents based on factors such as need, expertise and demographic.

The result is a more engaging interaction, increased customer satisfaction and higher conversion rates.

Organisations love contact centres. They bring structure, efficiency and cost-benefits to the business of customer communication. They facilitate everyday activities such as sales, customer service and support. They centralise communication, making it measurable and enabling analysis which helps the organisation to continually improve its offer and its service.

Directing traffic 

How a contact centre directs calls to the most appropriate agent or department is dictated by the organisations chosen method of routing. Two of the most common approaches are queue- and skills-based routing.

Queue based routing can be successful at moving calls around an organisation but its not always the most efficient way. The customer is asked for some basic identification information, selects whether they are after support, sales or service and the call is routed to the appropriate department. 

The problem is that this kind of departmental division of labour doesnt maximise use of agent time. One department may be busy with long queues whilst another has free agents. Because departmentalised approaches tend to rely on a single product skill per agent and a single pool of resources per department, the calls cant easily be redirected or resources shared during peak times. Nor does queue-based routing take account of hard or soft skills variations within each department.

Skills-based routing gets around some of these problems by developing multiple product skills per agent, crossing departmental lines to create a shared pool of resources. However, IVRs are limited in their ability to accurately identify caller intent and as a result skills tend to be quite broad such as sales, retention and service. The result is that agents still have to pick up the phone knowing little if anything about the callers needs.

A question of effort

These challenges from an organisational perspective can magnify into a cause of significant frustration when viewed from the customers standpoint. Selecting the right menu option, navigating multiple sub-menus, queuing for agents and then being re-routed because youve ended up in the wrong department takes time and feels like hard work when all you want to do is speak to someone. Having to call back because the advice received is incorrect, conflicts with earlier information or because it fails to resolve the issue is a significant cause of customer frustration.

In 2009, a study by the Customer Contact Council, a division of the US-based best practice research and analysis organisation, Corporate Executive Board, confirmed this when it found that it Is four times more likely a customer will leave a service interaction disloyal than loyal. The report identified the most powerful driver of disloyalty as being “the amount of personal effort a customer has to put into the service experience”.

In other words, every confusing menu, delay, generic or inconsistent service response that a customer experiences via a call centre increases the effort and therefore the potential for a negative service experience.

Finding the dream date

Even if the call is answered promptly and routed to the right department where a responsible agent has all the knowledge necessary to deal with the query, the caller can still end up rating the communication as a mediocre experience if they dont “click” with their agent. A study undertaken by the Customer Contact Council showed that twenty four percent of repeat calls were a result of emotional disconnect between customers and agents. How often did you feel that the person on the other end of the phone just didn’t get along with you and made the interaction difficult as a result?

So how does an organisation route calls without imposing effort on the customer and still ensure a positive, engaging experience? This is where “rapport-based” routing comes in.

Rapport-based routing is designed to reduce customer effort and at the same time acknowledges that:

· every customer is unique
· every agent is unique and
· every transaction is unique.

It is based on the recognition that people engage with those that they like and trust. It begins with the caller being asked to briefly identify themselves and state what their call is about. The process typically takes between 25 to 45 seconds; much less than the minute or more required to navigate menus and sub-menus used in traditional routing methods.

Next, the system intelligently routes the call to the most appropriate available agent based on standard factors such as product knowledge and expertise, but also taking into account the customer profile, the demographics of both caller and agent, and the agents likely ability to relate to the customer.

Achieving this level of insight has no impact on call queuing time but it does require sophisticated back end software tools. At the minimum, these tools are likely to include computer integration, a demographic profiling tool and software to build statistical models based on customer data. 

When combined into a single solution, the tools make it possible to match-make on an impressive scale. One client in the financial services industry uses rapport-based routing to manage more than 30,000 outbound sales calls every week. Since its introduction, product sales have increased by up to 15 per cent. Average call handling times have risen by 40 per cent, indicating more successful customer engagement. In an outbound mobile campaign, matching agent to the customer helped to increase revenue per call by 45 per cent. 

Rapport-based routing builds on the lessons learned from earlier routing methods to make contact centre interactions more efficient, more cost effective and more effortless for the customer. The underlying principle is that people engage with people they like and trust. Organisations still obtain all the benefits of a dedicated, centralised customer communications centre but they can now also gain through increased customer loyalty and the attendant probability of repeat patronage.