11 ways to improve efficiencies on your helpline
Want to make your helpline the very best it can be – despite a shoestring budget? Or are you splashing the cash and not 100% sure you’re getting the right return on your investment?
At Connect Assist, we love all things helplines. We run several on behalf of non-profit clients, and offer consultancy to help organisations design the right service for their customers.
So whether you’re setting up a new helpline, or improving one that’s already up and running, we’ve got some tips for you. Read on…
1. Consider your helpline’s remit and goals
A common mistake with helplines is to make them too broad. People then phone in with all sorts of concerns, your staff don’t have the capacity or knowledge to help them – and the whole thing becomes a bit of a nightmare.It’s better to take a step back and refocus. Is your helpline aligned with your organisational strategy, and have you set the right goals?
For example, are you signposting people for further support, offering counselling, or providing an emergency response? You probably can’t do all three, unless your advisers are superhuman. (It’s tempting to think that – but see point 10.)
Take a look at the different mental health lines run by Mind and the Samaritans. The former is very clear that it’s an information and signposting service. If someone rings up in a crisis, they’ll be referred to the Samaritans.
2. Size up your resources
You really can’t do everything, and it would be a costly mistake to try. So it’s better to start off small then grow, than to overreach yourselves and have to retreat.
In an ideal world, everything would be omnichannel – but not if you’re going to be spread too thinly. And it would be 24/7 – but not if that runs your advisers ragged.
Don’t forget to factor in the savings your helpline makes, e.g. by freeing up the time of staff in other departments. If it’s allowing you to provide a more efficient, targeted service, then that’s a huge plus.
3. Analyse your data
It’s possible to glean all sorts of information about your helpline if you’re using a modern system (at Connect Assist, we use the Cloud-based contact centre platform Five9.) Call length, volume of calls, time spent on hold (for 60% of customers, even one minute is too long!)… If appropriate, you could add in feedback surveys for customers to get some qualitative data too.
Put together, these insights will guide you in where your service could make efficiencies. And if your figures prove you’re busting your targets, then that’s a great way to leverage funding for expansion!
4. Invest in great phone tech
Sometimes, you have to invest to thrive. And for helplines, that’s likely to mean the latest phone software.
Our Five9 platform integrates with customer relationship management (CRM) software and knowledge bases. It gives you analytical tools. It allows customers browsing your website to request callbacks. It makes the coffee – ok, not quite, but you get the picture.
Perhaps the cleverest thing it does it use an AI-enabled Intelligent Voice Response system to understand what customers want, and connect them to the right adviser. The result: a more efficient service, and happier customers and advisers.
Yes, the humble telephone has come a long way!
5. Maximise the potential of self-service
If you’ve got a team of highly trained, committed staff, then don’t waste their time – and blow your budget – on answering mundane queries. Make sure the info on your website is up to date.And if you invest in the tech to digitise certain tasks – such as placing orders, or making donations – then you’ll soon see returns that will convince the most sceptical of your trustees or directors.
Perhaps they might even release a tiny bit more budget for next year! If so, we’d recommend investing in an AI-powered chatbot to free up your staff to answer trickier calls where a human touch is vital. A well-configured chatbot should pay for itself in no time.
6. Choose between blended and dedicated helplines
If you’re considering outsourcing your helpline, there are two basic models.
Blended or bureau helplines are where a large team of advisers handle multiple helplines on behalf of different clients. They’re generally the more cost-effective method for small call volumes, or routine queries.
Dedicated helplines are run by a team which works solely on your account. They’re best for high call volumes, omnichannel services, or where more involved support is required.
There are pros and cons to both models. Find out which one’s more efficient for your service by reading our recent blog on blended or dedicated helplines, or giving us a quick call.
7. Consider using volunteers
Perhaps your data analysis shows you need more hands on deck – but no amount of creative budgeting will enable you to take on more staff.
Many great helplines are run or assisted by volunteers, e.g. Age UK’s Silver Line Helpline and Cruse’s Bereavement Support. It can be a win-win situation: charities drive down their wage budget, and volunteers get personal fulfilment and an impressive CV.
But beware: there are cons as well as pros to volunteer helplines. Proceed with your eyes and mind open.
8. Don’t get stuck in a silo
Your helpline advisors are the public face of your organisation. Listen to them, and include them in your planning.A common mistake is not involving them in marketing strategy. So your communications team launches a shiny new campaign – forgetting that nobody’s ready to handle the subsequent rise in call volumes. Cue many unanswered calls, and a wasted marketing investment.
Connect Assist offers overflow services to help you with peaks of demand.
9. Market your helpline to new users
If your data analysis shows your staff are twiddling their thumbs waiting for calls, you could reduce your wage bill. But if you’re sure there is a demand out there, it’s better to invest in attracting new users.
Work with your marketing team on getting the word out about your service, and you’ll soon see a more favourable cost-benefit analysis.
10. Help the helpers
Charity staff will give their all to your helpline – until the day they can’t take it any longer. Then you’re looking at hastily plugging the gap for long-term sick leave, or finding the time and the budget to recruit replacements.
It’s far better, morally and financially, to support your workers so they don’t burn out. Invest in employee assistance programmes to support their mental health; training so they can do their job properly; and support from team leaders, to help them cope with distressing calls.
11. Outsource your services
We would say this, wouldn’t we! But seriously, there’s so much to gain – and it doesn’t mean you lose control, or see a drop in quality. You can outsource out-of-hours calls, giving your staff a well-earned break. You can outsource at times of peak demand, so we pick up the overflow.
Or you can outsource completely, so you benefit fully from our great tech, decades of experience, and top quality advisers. Give us a call or drop us a line to chat through your options – we’d love to hear from you.