There is no surer sign of a customer service strategy gone wrong than the words, “I called earlier”. This is how to nail first-call resolution, every time.

When customers have to reconnect with a company multiple times to solve a problem or make a complaint, the likelihood of repeat or increased business diminishes considerably. This can be a challenge for a business of any size.

Small and medium businesses may lack the resources of the big players, but customers' expectations of their service and having a more personal relationship is usually higher. And if the turnaround time on a post-sale issue isn’t sufficient, the customer will probably opt for a supplier they deem more sophisticated.

The holy grail of customer service is first-call resolution (FCR) which, as the name implies, means customers only have to reach out once to find satisfaction. Here are three ways to achieve this:

1. Find the most productive total contact ownership situation

In large contact-centre environments, people may be pulled in to handle specific parts of a problem. But in some cases, there are agents who are given ‘total contact ownership’ – so the same person will see the caller’s problems through from start to finish.

SMEs are likely to work on this basis, but may not take the best approach. For example, if the person who made the original sale takes ownership, the time they spend ensuring a valuable customer relationship isn’t damaged takes them away from selling to other customers.

Evaluate your team and their eligibility to take complete ownership of a problem or query, considering:

  • Scope of role: how often are they likely to be available to not only take the customer’s call but escalate the issue as needed?

  • Subject matter expertise: the larger the organisation, the more specialised knowledge tends to become. Even if you have generalists on your team, determine if they can really cover off most problems without passing the call on.

  • Reliability: resolving an issue from start to finish requires the ability to take on responsibility, as opposed to completing tasks.
  • Grace under pressure: if members of your team aren’t ready for the pressure and time constraints of dealing with frustrated customers, they might be better off passing the call on to somebody else.

2. Conduct a first-call resolution ‘fire drill'

There’s not much point in waiting until disaster strikes to work out how you would respond to it. Instead recreate the conditions that lead up to a disaster and work out how to minimise the damage.

Take one of your most popular products or services. Look at the most common challenges or complaints. Work out what could go wrong. Now imagine yourself taking that first call and discuss with your team whether the following are in place:

  • Easy access within the CRM system to previous customer purchases and interactions.

  • Ticket information, or whatever process is used to track issues through the company.

  • Accurate and relevant content to assist with frequently asked questions or complaints.

  • Answers to internal FAQs. What can you tell your staff in advance about waiving fees, honouring warranties, promotional discounts or adjusted billing so they don’t have to route the call elsewhere or keep customers on hold while they find answers?

3. Map the road to first calls

Customer questions or complaints rarely come out of nowhere. Take a more analytical approach – some upfront thought and action will minimise the work that has to be done while a customer waits.

You should treat customer service issues as you would prospect information in your CRM. Start by asking yourself:

  • Why do certain customers tend to call in?

  • Can you form segments within your base that have common characteristics?

  • Do you have customers that could offer peer support and help self-manage their challenges in online customer communities?

Next, think about when a first call is not really a first call. Some customers may reach out initially by email or social media channels before picking up the phone. If their problems could be solved at the original point of contact, there won’t be a ‘first call’ to resolve.

Finally, make sure first-call resolution is a well-defined aspect of your business’s culture. Most companies have a mission statement that involves offering some kind of value to their target audience. Part of yours should be an agreement among employees to reduce the number of contacts customers must make to have something fixed.

An engaged, empowered workforce may be one of the best-kept secrets to ensuring first calls are resolved every time.

For more ways to improve your customer service, download our free eBook ‘7 apps to supercharge your customer service experience.’