How to improve your call handling service

February 2021

What is call handling and how can your business excel at it?

At Whistl we provide outsourced contact centre services, part of which involves handling businesses’ and the public sector’s telephone customer service, known as call handling. We pride ourselves on our personal approach to call handling. Our people are our greatest asset and, in an industry synonymous with high levels of staff churn, Whistl’s contact centre team boasts an average staff tenure of over 9 years and individual client tenure as high as 15 years. This team works across a number of industry sectors on multiple campaigns. As such, we have a unique and valuable perspective on how you can deliver truly excellent telephone customer support.

Call handling is how organisations and departments manage inbound and/or outbound phone calls. It could be to support a diverse range of business functions on an ongoing basis, such as customer service, marketing, order processing or human resources. Alternatively, call handling can be utilised on a one-off, seasonal campaign basis to support spikes in demand or customer query traffic.

When handling phone calls for commercial purposes, as a bare minimum; you need to ensure that your customers are satisfied (you could measure this with NPS and CSAT) and that you are meeting national call handling standards set by the government, and private bodies such as the Institute of Customer Service.

To truly excel at call handling you need to focus on these key areas:

  • Meeting customer expectations
  • Personalising and humanising your customer service
  • Ensuring your customer service team is happy and is driving continuous improvement
  • Determining whether to retain your call handling in-house or to outsource with a call centre specialist
  • Measuring and improving your customer service performance, benchmarking against your competitors

What do consumers expect from your call centre?

At Whistl, we interviewed 1000 UK consumers to understand how e-tailers can improve the experience their customers receive when using call centre support.

We found that waiting time and average call handling time is important; longer than 5 minutes was deemed unreasonable but people would stay on hold for 9.1 minutes and 69% would hang up after 10 minutes. We also found that consumers don’t mind if you use recorded messages, provided that they come across as personable, relevant and friendly.

For online shoppers, the reason behind them contacting a call centre varies wildly, from product and stock level queries to delivery tracking support, complaints and product returns. Optimising your call routing will ensure your customers are speaking to the relevant expert who can best help with their queries.

While this study focused solely on online retailers’ customers, in 2020 Whistl also conducted research on a wider range of sectors. We found that for companies in the TV, Internet & Telecoms sector, 48% of customers stopped using a brand or service due to a bad call centre experience, the highest proportion compared to other sectors.

Above all else, what consumers really want from your call centre is fast issue resolution and a positive attitude, from someone who genuinely cares.

How can you offer truly personal telephone customer support?

At Whistl our priority is to fully utilise clients' own systems so that they can maintain full control and visibility. While we don't integrate directly with CRM/CEM platforms (Customer Relationship/Experience Management) such as Freshdesk, we do have the flexibility to update our clients' CRMs directly, including the telephony element. By synchronising your in-house operations with an outsourced contact centre that has access to your CRM, this will ensure that your insourced/outsourced team(s) is gathering intelligence about your prospects and customers and able to serve them based on this contextually relevant, live data. Your customers and team’s time is precious, and with all parties working with a single source of truth, you will be minimising the amount of time taken to perform tasks.

In this Whistl study, we also found that just under half of the interviewed consumers have reduced their willingness to spend more with a retailer if the call centre is unhelpful, with not resolving their issue being the number one complaint. During instances where a consumer needs to recontact the customer service team, working with a specialist that has access to your CRM will ensure that the customer service agents have the correct information (such as their first name, order or delivery tracking details) to assist that customer at their next point of contact. This personalised approach can also allow the team to progressively profile your customers, ensuring the most relevant information is gathered, including their communication preferences.

How can you ensure your call centre team is happy and driving continuous improvement?

Equipping your team with the appropriate call handling skills, telephony system and CRM to deliver a ‘wow’ experience will minimise frustrations for your customers and telephone support staff, but how important is it to have a happy team? It should go without saying, but the answer is: extremely.

A study by McKinsey & Company found that engaged and satisfied call-centre employees are:

  • 8.5 times more likely to stay than leave within a year
  • 4 times more likely to stay than dissatisfied colleagues
  • 16 times more likely to refer friends to their company
  • And most pertinently for this article, 3.3 times more likely to feel extremely empowered to resolve customer issues.

But how can you ensure your team is happy? The McKinsey study found that informal team huddles, allowed for time to facilitate sharing of best practices, clarify and reinforce employee expectations, set fun team goals, celebrate peer performance and emphasise the critical roles that agents play.

Another method to maximise a call centre's wellbeing is to give them greater control, and fair yardsticks to work towards. By maintaining clear, consistent and actionable KPIs, so that the team knows where they stand. However, these KPIs must be realistic, timed and above all else aligned with your organisation's goals.

Lockdown’s impact on customer services and the need to work from home

In a lockdown world, call centre teams have had to make the shift from working in an office environment to working from home, and this has brought about its challenges. One example of this is Parcelhub, part of the Whistl Group, which help retailers outsource the delivery element of their customer service. In May 2020, during the first lockdown peak, Parcelhub’s delivery volumes increased by 250%, and the number of daily delivery tracking support tickets doubled to about 200 per customer support agent. With 60 of Parcelhub’s normally office-based workforce now working from home, Parcelhub was actually able to deliver even better customer service, so working from home in some instances has brought about a rise in productivity from call centre teams.

Should you keep your call centre in-house or outsource?

For some organisations it may makes sense to retain all, or at least the vast proportion of call centre operations in-house, but consideration for in-house staffing will depend upon:

  • Seasonality of demand
  • The type of customer support skills you require
  • Your company’s growth aspirations
  • Your technical infrastructure
  • Your campaign objectives
  • Your customers’ preferred communications channels

The benefits of outsourcing call centre services include both cost and time efficiencies. By appointing an outsourced contact centre to handle most of your customer communications, you will have access to highly trained and experienced specialists. Rather than paying one or multiple full-time employees, who will require a salary, benefits and proper training by you and your management team. With an outsourced call centre specialist, you may only pay for the time that telephone customer service is needed across all potential customer contact channels, not just call handling.

At Whistl we have been helping some of our clients enhance their customer experience for over 15 years. We provide two distinct types of contact centre outsourcing, of which call handling can be a significant element; shared resource and dedicated resource or a mix of both can be considered to produce the most cost-effective solution. Businesses receiving 50+ calls per day would typically benefit from our shared resource approach, in which the call handling is managed through Whistl’s own in-house system; this can be the most cost-effective option for SMEs and smaller mid-market businesses, For larger mid-market businesses, high street names and the public sector with higher contact volume, Whistl's dedicated resource approach can allocate an entire team exclusively to the client, in which Whistl's contact centre team have access to the client's own CRM and telephony/contact platform providing a seamless extension to your business

As your business grows, you may need to deal with customers outside of usual business hours, and as such will need to deliver a consistent customer experience across all of your communications channels. This can be a difficult and costly problem to solve when retaining your customer support staff in-house. Thankfully, some call centre companies such as Whistl provide out of hours call centre solutions to help with these types of challenges.

For some businesses, it makes sense to retain key customer service staff in-house, while working with outsourced specialists to ensure you have access to the relevant call handling skills as and when you require specialisms such as overflow call handling, customer data handling or managing seasonal peak volume.

How Whistl has helped some of our customers outsource call handling:


One other aspect to consider is which communication channels your customers prefer. At Whistl our Contact Centre team can handle inbound customer emails in multiple languages for companies such as Popsa, an established platform that allows customers to automatically create personalised products using machine learning algorithms via its iOS and Android apps.

Maria Mallaband Care Group

Another example of how Whistl has helped a business better deliver customer service through outsourcing, is Maria Mallaband Care Group, one of the UK’s largest independent care providers. This company required inbound receptions services for its 83 care homes via a team of 40 Bureau staff. Whistl’s Bureau Call Centre solution is the perfect fit for this client as it provides flexibility, removing fixed costs whilst being able to handle fluctuating contact volumes.

So in conclusion, you can excel at call handling 

When looking to improve your call handling service, you need to listen to your customers' needs first and foremost. By identifying gaps in customer service quality, monitoring feedback, setting KPIs such as average call handling time and comparing with national call handling benchmarks, this will give you a reality check as to just how good your telephone support is. If there is significant room for improvement, then considering your company’s or department’s skills gaps and contrasting them with the available outsourcing and insourcing options, then you will be able to determine the best tactical plan to pursue, to help you deliver a truly ‘wow’ experience.

Receiving more than 50 inbound calls or contacts a day? Whistl can help maximise your call handling performance.

Enquire today, to find out more.

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