Mastering Silence: Strategies for Managing Dead Air in Call Centers
In customer service, how the customer perceives the experience is everything. 'Dead air,' the awkward silence that occurs during a conversation, may seem harmless, but it can have significant consequences in a call center setting. In this blog, we will explore what dead air is, why it matters, how long a period of silence is too much, and what call center agents can do to prevent it.
What is Dead Air?
Dead air in a customer service environment refers to moments of silence or extended pauses during a conversation between a customer and a customer service agent, typically in a telephone conversation. It is a period when neither the agent nor the customer is speaking. Dead air can create an awkward and uncomfortable experience for both parties involved.
Why is Dead Air Problematic?
In a call center setting, dead air is undesirable and can negatively affect the overall customer experience. The customer may interpret it as disinterest, unprofessionalism, or a lack of engagement from the agent. It can also cause the customer to question whether the agent is knowledgeable or well-equipped to handle their issue. This can lead to frustration or impatience on the part of the customer.
In the end, dead air is all about customer perception. According to a study by Harris Interactive, 75% of customers believe it takes too long to reach a live agent, and dead air only exacerbates this perception.
What causes dead air?
Unpreparedness: Agents may face moments of dead air when they are not adequately prepared for a call. This could include a lack of knowledge about the product or service, not having the necessary tools and resources, or simply being unprepared to take the call.
Technical Issues: Issues with call center technology, such as lagging software or poor internet connectivity, can lead to dead air. These technical glitches can be frustrating for both agents and customers. However, it is the customer service agent's responsibility to minimize these issues, not highlight them by periods of silence or unprofessional commentary.
Multitasking: Agents may be juggling multiple tasks during a call, leading to moments of silence as they switch between screens or consult resources. While multitasking can be efficient, it can also result in dead air. Multitasking can be particularly challenging for new agents.
Not 'Present': There may be times, particularly near the end of the day when agents are so focused on what they are doing they forget about the customer on the other end of the line.
How much dead air is too much?
The ideal length of dead air depends on the context and industry, but generally, any silence lasting more than twenty seconds is considered too much. Research conducted by Talkdesk suggests that even 5 seconds of silence can lead to customer dissatisfaction and a drop in Net Promoter Score (NPS).
Three Key Strategies for Managing Dead Air
Best practice call centers typically deploy all three of these strategies (in order of acceptability):
Talk & Type: Experienced agents develop the ability to keep a dialogue going with the customer while accessing information on the computer. Many use this time to gather personal customer information and build rapport. For example, as they access the customer's account, they might say, "I'm just pulling up your account now. While I do that, I want to thank you for being a MyChart user. I see you are located in Florida. Have you been enjoying the heat this summer?" Help new agents develop 'talk and type' skills by frequently roleplaying common scenarios.
Keep the Customer Informed: This technique is particularly effective for new agents who may need more 'quiet time' to access and read information. If the customer knows what the agent is doing, they will be less likely to be affected negatively by the dead air. For example, "I'm just going to take a minute to read the notes on your file. Okay?" Customers are, for the most part, empathetic and will be understanding if the agent identifies themselves as being new to the job. "Mr. Smith, I want to make sure I process your request correctly. Let me review the steps one more time just to be sure." This will go a long way to minimizing the impact of dead air.
Politely Put the Customer on Hold: Many inexperienced agents find putting the customer on hold easier than managing dead air. While it relieves the agent from having to engage with the customer while doing research, it should be the last resort.
More About Putting Customers on Hold
Customers' opinions about being put on hold in a call center can vary widely depending on their individual experiences and the reason for the call. But generally, customers do not like being put on hold.
Customers often find waiting on hold frustrating, especially if they perceive the hold time as too long. This frustration can be exacerbated if they are dealing with a pressing issue or have already been transferred multiple times. They may feel abandoned as they cannot gain the agent's attention after being put on hold. They might worry that they will be disconnected or that their issue won't be resolved when they eventually speak to an agent. Customers' expectations regarding hold times can vary by industry. For example, business-to-business customers who understand the level of research required or the need for the agent to speak with a supervisor or another department may be more tolerant of hold time. The hold should not last more than 2-3 minutes without the agent checking in with the customer again with, "I apologize it's taking so long. Are you able to hold for another 2 minutes?"
Dead air may seem like a minor issue, but it can have far-reaching consequences in the context of a call center. Dead air may be inevitable from time to time, so it is important to remember that it is all about the customers' perception of what is happening – do they feel that their time is valued? Call center agents can effectively minimize and manage dead air by understanding the causes of dead air and implementing proactive measures. Remember, in the world of customer service, every second counts.
Sharon Oatway is a 20+ year veteran in the areas of Customer Service, Sales, and Relationship Marketing. As the President & Chief Experience Officer of VereQuest, she has been instrumental in helping companies of all sizes elevate their overall customer experience and optimize multi-channel contact center performance. The knowledge gleaned from analyzing literally millions of customer interactions for renowned brands across North America is the foundation of this work. Since its inception in 2002, VereQuest has provided organizations with a comprehensive range of tools specifically designed for the contact center, including well-regarded contact center quality monitoring solutions and resources, robust soft skills and coaching e-learning library, and customer journey mapping facilitation. With a unique perspective on the ever-evolving customer landscape, VereQuest assists businesses throughout North America in navigating the complexities of customer engagement.
For more information, contact Sharon directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.