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The Art of Deflection - Effective Channel Shifting

N.B. This article was originally published in The Good CX Guide, an e-book on the topic of caller experience best practice.  To download the guide, packed with practical advice for contact centre professionals, please click here.

To deflect, or not to deflect…that, is the question.

When it comes to encouraging your customers to channel shift, how do you do it? What are the most effective methods? Should you even do it all? Looking at the bottom line, callers that change behaviour and self-serve, save you time and allow you to deal with more complex queries, which are often better facilitated over the phone. And research shows that around 35% of British consumers prefer self-service over human contact (Moore, K 2016). So, encouraging this is a no brainer…right?

Knowing how, and when, to deflect callers is a fine art. There’s so much to take into consideration, from the psychology behind changing behaviours, to your callers’ state of mind when they do pick up the phone. Your caller demographic plays a big part too, almost as much as their actions before they actually call.

Deflecting callers to another touchpoint is usually done through teaching, leading the caller away, and showing them there’s an easier way. Highlighting the benefits of shifting channels is a great way to encourage this, saying things like, “Have you tried this online, it’s usually much quicker.” This highlights the speed benefit. But there’s danger in deflection too; in our experience most callers fall into three distinct categories:

  1. Stuck in their ways!

Generally, callers from the older demographic call because that’s what they’ve always done, and that’s what they’ll always do. Maybe it routes from a lack of confidence in technology, or simply stubbornness. Deflecting this type of caller is not impossible, but it’s very unlikely, and the more you try, the more you’ll cause frustration.

  1. Generation Tech!

They won’t call you! And if they do, it’s because every other avenue has failed them. These people don’t want to give up control. They’re happy to find the answers they need on their own terms, but the second they pick up the phone it’s because they feel like they have no other choice. Deflecting this group is highly ineffective, and as above will likely cause frustration.

  1. Don’t know - haven’t tried.

This is the Goldilocks zone of callers. They’re generally less confident in using digital channels but are open to the idea. They look for ways to make life easier, and with a little encouragement, clear instructions and highlighted benefits, they’ll deflect. It’s with these callers that a little teaching is needed – maybe they didn’t know you have an app, or think the internet is complicated? This group is where deflection is most effective.

So, how do you know which group your callers fall into? Well, unless you have a fully integrated CRM and can track your callers’ activity on your website…there’s no way of knowing for sure. And that makes deflection a dangerous game. While it’s tempting to push customers to other channels at every possible opportunity, as implied above, this isn’t always the best course of action.

When thinking about deflection, first consider the IVR and queue in its entirety. How long does it take to reach the queue; to reach an agent? Are there multiple menus beneath each option? If your caller has to navigate through multiple layers of IVR, and hear deflection messages, will they be happy? Another thing to consider is what you’re deflecting them to. There’s nothing worse than shifting channels to discover you can’t get the answers you need and end up having to call again. The Call Centre Helper article, ‘What is Call Deflection and Why Are We Talking About It?’ Priyanka Tiwari says, “Call deflection works as expected ONLY when the alternate channels are equally (if not more) effective.” (2019). Which means having an alternative means of contact is great, but it’s got to be easy, it’s got to work, and it needs to engage with customers in a similar way to your telephony channel.

Deflecting from within the IVR is tempting, but only really effective when there’s a benefit and a negative. According to a recent Interactions survey, they found that, “49% of customers named ‘long wait times’ as one of the top reasons why they find voice channels frustrating.” (Tiwari, P 2019). If your wait times exceed the amount of time a caller is willing to wait, having a statement at the top end explaining, “There’s a really long wait today, and it may be more than 30 minutes before we can get to you…” is a great start to a deflection message because you immediately set the expectations for your caller and, by providing them with all the pertinent information, you’re encouraging them to make their own choice to use an alternative channel. Staying on the phone now means the caller is actively choosing to give up the time it takes to reach an agent. Following this with an alternative, such as live chat, and an anticipated wait time for that channel, informs your caller of the benefit of positively abandoning the call. Immediately, they can see their query will be resolved more quickly, benefitting them, and you.

But what about the different caller types we spoke about earlier? If you don’t have a lot of calls, or not enough to warrant long wait messages, how do you deflect then? Subtlety, and placement is key here. As we touched on, deflection can be a dangerous game. One wrong move and you risk frustrating your caller further than they may already be. But with subtle wording, and creative in-queue messaging you can engage your caller, potentially resolving frustrations, and altering future behaviour. By removing all or most deflection from the IVR, you’re ensuring those callers that have already tried other channels aren’t bombarded with information they already know. And callers that choose the voice channel on a regular basis don’t feel as though you are trying to get rid of them. When it comes to scripting, focus on everyday scenarios - situations your callers will find familiar, consider utilising sound effects and conversational language. You’ll entertain, educate, and placate all in one.

A number of our customers shared caller deflection data with us, showing that less than 1% of callers deflect from within the IVR. This number is so small, that actually it could be attributed to outside influences and personal situations rather than the messaging they heard. Always bear in mind your customers’ journey up until the point of contact and remember – they might have already tried the digital avenue.

In the end, deflection is a powerful tool; it can make or break an interaction. Too much, and too often and you risk frustrating your caller; too little and it becomes ineffective. But done right, it can save you and your callers time and money.

N.B. This article was originally published in The Good CX Guide, an e-book on the topic of caller experience best practice.  To download the guide, packed with practical advice for contact centre professionals, please click here.

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Premier CX is a creative agency specialising in contact centres. Our award-winning team works with some of the UK's most successful brands.

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