What Is an Abandoned Call: A Quick Primer

Phone is picked up, how to prevent abandoned and missed calls

Abandoned calls are a problem for call centers, and they can result in missed opportunities to engage. So let’s look at what is an abandoned call, what is a missed call and how we can prevent them.

What Is an Abandoned Call?

An abandoned call is one that’s been disconnected by the caller during the ring cycle. As a result, the caller doesn’t get to speak to someone nor complete an action that they set out to do. An abandoned call doesn’t include one that goes to voicemail (as the user can leave a message). You can use the abandonment rate to calculate how many abandoned calls you deem acceptable.

What Is a Missed Call?

A missed call is one where the caller has attempted to ring but the call has either gone to voicemail or has reached the limit of the number of rings allowed. It may also have been dropped by the agent due to lack of time or if they were on another call. However, this missed call meaning may vary between call centers.

Abandoned Call Missed Call
Call has been dropped by the caller Call isn’t attended by the agent
Abandoned after IVR but before leaving a reply on voicemail Call is disconnected after rings end and caller goes to voicemail
Dropped due to technical issues Call dropped by agent

Why Calls Get Abandoned

Abandoned calls are usually a result of four main factors:

  • High wait times
  • Lack of callback options
  • Poor call routing
  • Technical issues

High wait times

If your customers end up waiting to contact you, there’s a higher likelihood of abandoned calls. Ideally, 80% of calls should be answered within 20 seconds for most industries. There will be exceptions (for example, doctors’ offices are notorious for longer call wait times), but it’s a good metric to follow. Typically, customers will wait no more than 3-4 minutes before abandoning a call due to wait times. In many cases, it’ll be even less, and businesses with long call wait times will often find themselves the subject of negative comments and low customer satisfaction scores.

Lack of callback options

Many businesses have now implemented callbacks instead of forcing customers to wait. This makes it easier for call centers to spread their workload over the day, rather than primarily deal with peaks at lunchtime and common break times. Businesses that don’t implement callbacks may find their customers gradually migrate to other providers if they’re routinely busy. However, callbacks have to be handled carefully. In some cases, a callback can be even less convenient, as the person is no longer in a position to deal with a call. Good management of expectations is essential here — set a time to call back by and stick to it as closely as possible.

Poor call routing

No one likes being given the runaround. Poor call routing can mean customers find themselves bewildered by the array of options available, or they can end up going around in circles. If something doesn’t quite fit into the options available, it can also cause confusion, resulting in abandoned calls. If you have multiple layers in your call routing system, make sure that all layers have easy-to-follow logic (and test it on your employees to see if they end up in the right place!).

Technical issues

Technical issues are inevitable, especially as so many parts are involved in telephony, notably internet connections. Calls can get dropped due to unreliable SIP trunks, storms, extreme heat or cold affecting infrastructure or sometimes just bad software (bugs, glitches, unexpected logic paths).

Taking into account all of these factors, the abandoned call rate industry standard is as follows:

  • Good: Below 5%
  • Acceptable: 5-8%
  • Poor: 9% or higher

Making this industry standard for abandoned call rate more complex is that sometimes a call is considered abandoned if it’s terminated by the customer without a complete resolution, even if they’ve reached an agent. This reason is usually a result of poor training and scripts, and it’s particularly common with a second or third contact by the customer. It can also be a result of unreasonable expectations by the customer, such as asking for an action that simply isn’t possible — steep discounts, fees being waived or even just abuse or rudeness that mean the call becomes unproductive. At this stage, rather than asking “what is an abandoned call”, you may need to ask “why are my calls being abandoned?”.

The Impact of Abandoned Calls

Unfortunately, the impact of abandoned calls can be substantial. The most obvious is loss of potential business opportunities, which can be severe. If 10 percent of your customers are abandoning their calls, that’s often another 10% of business you’re losing out on.

It can have other implications, as well. Customers can end up not renewing services, or reps may miss upselling opportunities. Similarly, they can become more motivated to quit or not use services due to a negative experience. This is a direct result of reduced customer satisfaction, and it can hit your brand loyalty and reputation hard.

Worse, customers who end up abandoning calls can be upset and spread negative reviews, which then cause others to be more likely to expect a poor experience. Telecoms carriers often experience this cycle of negativity around the world.

From a management perspective, abandoned calls can result in skewed metrics — especially if the call abandonment rate isn’t properly calculated. They can increase perceptions of customer satisfaction, and they can result in inaccurate staffing levels. After all, if a call never makes it to a rep, the call doesn’t have to be handled. But if there were more reps, those abandoned calls could be handled appropriately.

Increased cost is also a major issue. Each call costs money in some way. A frustrated customer will often complain about the call issue when they get through, which increases overall call time as the agent must sit through the complaint and respond appropriately. In addition, frustrated customers are often less patient with call center staff, resulting in longer overall resolution times.

A second or third call may be required to deliver an appropriate resolution to both the original issue and the call issue. And a supervisor or manager may be needed to address that issue, resulting in even more expense. That manager may need to offer a larger discount or even a replacement due to the added frustration, just to keep the customer coming back.

It also reduces the likelihood of future services sold, reduces upselling opportunities and reduces the margin on that customer.

All of these issues either mean decreased turnover or increased costs.

Strategies to Reduce Abandoned Calls

Call center analytics are everything. Integrated ACD stats (automatic call distribution) can help you understand at what point a call is abandoned and potentially why.

Call volume stats are your friend here. Understanding long-term call volumes can help you avoid bottlenecks during peak periods, and they can improve efficiencies at the end of the day. If you see high call volumes and a corresponding increase in call abandonment, there’s not enough staff at peak times.

However, bear in mind that the various lockdowns as a result of the pandemic have resulted in skewed call volumes during 2020 and, to a lesser extent, 2021. If you’re comparing year-on-year data, it’s critical to apply a critical eye to those periods.

Trying to get enough staff for call centers has long been a problem, especially as many companies see them as an expense rather than an opportunity for revenue generation. However, a key change in mindset would view them as an opportunity to improve overall customer satisfaction, helping make future sales much more likely.

If problems with getting enough staff at peak times are causing issues, implementing solid callback solutions can help mitigate the issue. These help smooth out the peaks in traffic, and they also allow customers to get on with their day, improving customer satisfaction.

The main issue with callback solutions is that if staffing levels are too low, callback solutions can fail, leaving discontent with the process. However, even should that happen, there’s less time invested in waiting for a callback, so the level of dissatisfaction should be lower, especially in populations with very high levels of mobile phone use.

IVR is also essential in any strategy involving reducing abandoned calls. IVR is interactive voice response, and it makes it simpler for people to say what they want or use the keys to select options. With voice recognition, once the system processes a spoken response, it then provides confirmation and options for the customer to select. It can be fickle when it comes to strong regional accents or nonstandard pronunciation, however, so always allow the option to select options or speak to a real person. There are few things more frustrating than a computer unable to correctly discern what you’ve said. Famously, voice assistants had problems with many regional accents (such as Scottish and accents from certain cities, as well as nonnative English accents), and they still do. If a company as big as Apple has issues, an IVR from a smaller provider may have similar problems.

All that said, a well-designed IVR system can reduce overall contact and direct clients to easily automated tasks, such as adding money to services, checking account balances or paying bills.

Training is also an important part of reducing abandoned calls — even training them to understand what is an abandoned call! Empowering agents can help increase first-call resolution (FCR), reducing the strain on the system. Allow agents to go somewhat off-script if necessary, but make sure their good judgment is backed by effective results. This can be managed closely through good metrics and occasional live monitoring. Make sure, however, that everyone has similar levels of call difficulty and that no one is taking all the easy calls.

Call metrics are so important that they need to be mentioned multiple times. Monitoring the right metrics can heavily affect how effective your call center works. These metrics include call abandonment rate, wait times (sometimes “time in queue”), FCR, speed time of answer, occupancy rates, average handle time and service level.

If you only monitor a few of these stats, call center employees often find ways to circumvent the system. For example, those who prioritize handle time find that employees are much more likely to recommend quick short-term solutions that will result in further calls when the solution fails. Alternatively, they may place unnecessary tech callouts because that’s fast and easy, but it can cost the company much more than taking the time to resolve the issue. This approach can also exacerbate tech shortages within the industry.

This means you need to analyze and then act on call metrics. Don’t forget that calls at certain times may result in longer handle times, for example, such as late-night calls.

Finally, regularly updating your infrastructure can help significantly reduce call abandonment rates. More efficient systems, better call switching and a cloud solution with an appropriate call center solution layered on top can improve overall results dramatically.

x-bees, for example, can deliver call transcripts and summaries after meetings and subtitles during them, and it also allows you to use text and video to help resolve calls rapidly. Visitors sign in using SSO, helping you track recurring callers and ensure you’re always directed to the latest chat and call record in your CRM.

Northside Truck & Van: A Short Case Study

Northside Truck & Van sells, services and repairs commercial Mercedes-Benz vehicles across Yorkshire in the UK. It has seven depots, which needed to be connected via a reliable telephony system. The company typically receives 400 to 500 inquiries per day.

“We use Collaboration for general phoning inquiries and answering phone calls. It is also being used for chats in our user groups. We use a Wallboard for KPIs within our trade center. … On top of that we use x-caracal. The full package makes it a very powerful system in our environment.”

Piotr Brylinski, Trade Center Manager, Northside Truck & Van

The overall training requirements were minimal, and they allowed all staff to be brought up to speed rapidly. It can also handle high call volumes, and it’s easy to expand. The overall missed/abandoned call rate dropped from 25% to 8% after just 12 months of using Wildix solutions.

Cloud-based technologies make it simple to work from home where necessary and set up new locations. Training also opens up the possibility of remote training via video calls, reducing overall costs and travel time. All of these factors mean Northside Truck & Van are well-positioned to grow their business.

What Is an Abandoned Call: A Short Conclusion

Every abandoned call is a missed opportunity to sell to your customers and retain them. They reduce the likelihood of customers coming back, and those who do cost more to retain, on average. Good practices can help reduce the likelihood of an abandoned call, including setting up great systems such as IVR and callbacks.

If this is interesting, take a look at our 2018 article on how to increase call center productivity!

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