Call Queues: What Are They and Why Do They Matter?

March 25, 2024
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Call Queues: What Are They and Why Do They Matter?

While businesses are expanding the number of methods customers can use to get in touch, like chatbots, many customers still can’t shake the habit of picking up the phone. According to 2022 data from Salesforce, 59% of customers would prefer to speak with a customer service agent over the phone, a figure that’s up 5% since 2020.

So what happens when businesses have more people calling than their agents can handle? 

When a customer can't reach an agent immediately, the system routes their call into a call queue, a line that prioritizes calls in sequence and the next available qualified agent answers them.

Getting call queuing right might seem intuitive, but it’s a delicate dance between technology, business policies and priorities, and employee performance. Let’s explore why call center queues matter and how to improve them to offer your customers a better overall experience.  

What is a call queue?

A call queue is a telecommunications feature used in many call center environments to manage and prioritize incoming phone calls. It holds and organizes incoming customer phone calls into priority lines or queues, ensuring agents handle them in a structured and efficient way.

Modern call queue systems offer features such as customizable hold music, announcements, and estimated wait times, informing and engaging customers while they wait for assistance.

How does a call queue work?

Any call made to a business contact center enters the call queue. New calls join the end of the line and get answered following a first-come, first-served principle by the next available agent. This is how a basic call queue system works.

When a new call comes in, the queue adds it to the back, and agents answer it in the order received. Call queues are essential for ensuring fairness and efficiency in handling customer inquiries so that no customer waits in line for longer than expected. 

A call queue is also vital for distributing workloads among available agents and operators, preventing missed calls, and reducing wait times for customers on hold. This improves the overall customer experience and ensures a straightforward, predictable workflow for staff.  

However, newer and more intuitive call queue systems allow for more sophisticated features, like routing by caller priority, agent availability, or call purpose. These allow for the automated collection of some caller details like phone number, caller ID, and call purpose. From there, the call queue management system routes the call into line or offers the caller the ability to receive a callback. If callers choose to wait, businesses may enable music, announcements, or advertisements for other services.

Typically, administrators configure call queues within set parameters, such as maximum queue length and timeout settings to manage call traffic effectively. If the queue reaches its maximum length or callers wait beyond a predetermined time-out, they may get redirected to voicemail or given other options to leave a message or receive a callback.

Why is call queue management important?

Nothing is more frustrating to customers than poor customer service. In fact, 90% of customers feel an immediate response is essential when they have a question they need customer service to answer. A further 44% of people say they feel annoyed or irritated when waiting on hold for a minimum of five minutes. Keeping customers waiting on hold for a long time or not answering their questions satisfactorily when they finally reach a live agent leads to a frustrating customer service experience.

While many other factors influence customer service, effective call queue management is a big one. Here are a few reasons why call queue management is so vital:

  • It enhances customer satisfaction: Effective call queue management reduces wait times and ensures agents answer calls promptly, leading to happier and more satisfied customers.

  • It optimizes resource allocation: Improving call queue productivity helps businesses make efficient use of their human resources, ensuring agents handle calls in an organized and timely manner. This improves operational efficiency throughout the call center.

  • It improves brand reputation: A well-managed call queue system enhances a company's reputation by delivering a positive customer service experience, increasing customer loyalty and trust.

  • It provides data for process improvement: Modern call queue management tools allow businesses to gather valuable data on customer interactions, enabling data-driven improvements within their customer service processes.

  • It differentiates your business from your competition: Competition between companies has never been tougher, and one of the best ways to stand out is by offering an efficient and personalized customer service experience. If your call center experience is continually poor and time-consuming for customers, you risk losing their business to a competitor. 

What causes long call queues?

Understanding the factors that contribute to long call queues ensures businesses offer the best possible customer experience. Here are some of those key factors:

  1. High call volume: An overwhelming influx of calls, often during peak business hours, can quickly lead to long queues. Seasonal trends, marketing campaigns, or unexpected events can also result in spikes in call volume that overwhelm call centers. Businesses must prepare to handle these fluctuations in demand.

  2. Insufficient staffing: Low staffing levels can quickly cause calls to pile up in the queue. When there aren't enough agents to answer calls promptly, customers wait longer, negatively impacting their customer service experience.

  3. Inefficient call routing: An inefficient and poorly designed call routing system can contribute to call queue delays. Often, this type of disorganized system leads to uneven call distribution among available agents and can even route calls to agents who lack the necessary skills or knowledge to address specific inquiries. When this happens, customers are on hold longer than necessary or shifted to multiple agents during a single interaction.

  4. Complex issues: Some customer inquiries may require more time to resolve due to complexity. When agents need to spend extended periods addressing intricate problems, the overall call queue slows down, resulting in longer wait times for other customers.

  5. Lack of self-service options: When customers have no alternative but to call for support, you're putting extra strain on your call center. Implementing self-service options like written FAQs, forum posts, or online chatbots can help customers find answers to common questions without the need for a phone call. This takes the burden off the call queue while boosting the company’s online credibility.

  6. Ineffective call handling processes: Agents may need to navigate multiple systems or documents to access the information required to assist customers, prolonging call durations and queue times. This not only frustrates customers but also exasperates employees.  

  7. Outdated technology: If your business operates with outdated technology that can’t offer customers a callback option or loses calls in the queue regularly, you create long wait times for frustrated customers.

How to improve call queue management

Now that you understand the factors contributing to long call queues, what can your business do to improve call queue management in your call center? Here are some key strategies and best practices to improve your call queue, reduce customer wait times, and increase employee productivity.   

Analyze call patterns

Before taking action, analyze historical call data to establish peak call times and identify recurring issues to address. These insights will help shape and guide your efforts as you move forward.

Optimize staffing

Once you have a clear understanding of how your call center operates, optimize your staffing to manage and track personnel and resources better. This ensures you have the correct number of agents available during peak and off-peak call times. 

An active workforce management tool can ensure appropriate staffing in your call center. It also assists your team in strategically scheduling breaks and lunches to maintain a consistent level of service throughout the day.

Implement more self-service options 

Determine the best way to remove easy queries from the call queue entirely. Self-service options like automated menus, interactive voice response (IVR), or online chatbots can help. These features are all excellent options to ensure customers can handle routine tasks without involving a live agent. Removing these simple requests from the call queue helps reduce call volume and leads to agents only handling tasks that require their expertise.

Opt for skill-based routing

Implementing skill-based call routing ensures the system directs calls to agents with the expertise to handle each inquiry. This reduces the need for transferred calls and speeds up issue resolutions for each customer. A skill-based routing workflow simplifies incoming calls for agents and increases customer satisfaction.

Establish priority levels 

When customers call in with an urgent or high-priority issue, your call queue management system should have a way of directing them to the front of the queue. Working with internal stakeholders to establish your organization’s priority levels can offer clarity for agents and ensure they handle customer issues in a timely manner.

Monitor and adjust in real time 

Setting up a call queue, engaging IVR, and establishing skill-based routing and call priority levels are essential to managing your call center. However, keeping your systems organized and optimized is an ongoing process. Once you’ve set up your call queue, use call monitoring tools to assess its performance in real time. From there, adjust staffing levels or routing configurations as needed to address sudden fluctuations in call volume.

Analyze data continuously

As you monitor and adjust your call queue, ensure you effectively analyze all data related to call queue performance. This information can help your team identify trends, potential bottlenecks, and incoming periods of high call volume. You can then use this data to make smarter, data-driven decisions on process improvements.

Reduce call wait times with Twilio

When customers call in to address an issue, offering prompt, personalized, and effective service should be your number one priority. One essential component of excellent customer service is quick issue resolution within your cloud call center. Efficient call queue management is vital to minimize wait times and optimize your internal resources. 

Twilio Flex can help. This modern tool employs features such as advanced call routing and real-time monitoring capabilities to customize your call queue, delivering a more personalized customer service experience.

In a world where phone interactions are still a key component of customer satisfaction, don’t let your call center fall short of expectations. Get in touch today to learn how you can ensure your call center contributes to positive, long-lasting customer relationships