Telephone Answering Service

Call Distribution Priority: Should You Be Fair or Pragmatic?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Call me an idealist. I think life should be fair. This applies to answering calls. According to my perspective, call distribution needs to be fair, too. Everyone should have an equal chance of being answered quickly – or at least subjected to the same length of hold time if they need to wait.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

The call queue in my perfect world would be classless: first in, first out. That, however, is utopian; answering services exist in the real world and face real issues.

If your answering service follows my ideal of fair, I applaud you. If you don’t, I understand. Here are some reasons you might want to forget about being fair and be pragmatic instead.

Company Lines

The speed and efficiency at which you handle your business lines (main number, sales lines, check-in accounts, and customer service) form your callers’ perception of the level of service provided to their callers.

It’s this perception that attracts new business and retains existing clients; it may be one of your best marketing initiatives, and it has a direct effect on profitability.

Account Types

Equality aside, certain account groups are more important than others.

The determining factors vary: client profession, caller urgency, dollar value of the call to the client, type of service provided, or your answering service’s specialty – that is, if your focus is medical, give those clients priority and work in the commercial accounts around them.

Chronic Complainers

This results from a natural reaction to the squeaky wheel syndrome. In theory, giving a higher priority to chronic complainers and demanding clients would seem to mitigate their criticisms about service.

While this seems clever, it’s actually self-defeating to reward clients who complain. In addition, these may be your worst clients in terms of how they treat operators or hassle your customer service and support staff.

In fact, consider giving them the lowest priority. After all, they’re going to complain anyway. Plus, when you factor in their drain on customer service resources, they’re probably your least profitable clients. If they cancel, you may be better off.

The Net Result

For each account you elevate in priority, you effectively demote another. This occurs whether or not you actually make a programming change to that account. After all, only half of your clients can receive an above-average response time – and the other half will statistically experience below-average results.

An Alternative

What if you assigned call distribution priority based on the profitability of each account?

Here’s the logic: At a busy time, some callers are going to hang up; it’s inevitable. Which call would you prefer to lose, a call that will bill $2.25 a minute or one worth only $0.49 a minute?

It’s as if someone is holding out both hands, with a dollar bill in one and a quarter in the other. If you can take the money from only one hand, which will you choose? The dollar, of course! The same should apply to answering calls: Grab the profitable ones first; don’t let them get away.

When properly staffed, some callers will hang up before you can help them. It’s a fact. So if you’re going to lose some calls, wouldn’t you prefer to miss the least profitable ones?

Implementing call distribution priority based on profitability will allow you to earn more money by doing the same amount of work.

And it you want to fine-tune this strategy even more, find out who the slow payers and chronic complainers are. Even if they’re profitable on paper, they have less value because they harm cash flow and overuse support resources.

Learn more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s book, How to Start a Telephone Answering Service.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader, covering the telephone answering service industry. Check out his books How to Start a Telephone Answering Service and Sticky Customer Service.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.