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The Journey of a Call Transfer

Each of your callers has a destination. How are you going to get them there? Join us on the journey of a call transfer to explore the best options for how to transfer a caller.

Image of a receptionist transferring a phone call

So you decide to take a bus ride from Seattle, WA to Portland, OR during the peak of summer. Good for you! Vacations are great. How long will it take you to get there? How many times will the bus stop to drop off/pick up? Will it be a cramped, hot, sweaty, miserable experience? Or does the bus have comfortable, spacious seating, air conditioning, and maybe even some Wi-Fi? Either way, you are at the mercy of the bus and its driver.

Customers that call into a business hoping to speak to a specific person or department are faced with the same risks that our helpless bus rider is challenged with. Will their call take a long time to connect? Will they be routed through multiple individuals? Will they be placed on hold along the way? Will they be subjected to loud, scratchy hold music? Do the receptionists know what they are doing?

If you operate a bus company, you need to plan your customer’s travel options well in advance. It is your job to provide safe, comfortable travel that quickly moves passengers from point A to point B. If you don’t do this, you won’t have many return customers. Business owners are faced with similar challenges. They must properly plan their customer’s call transfer experiences through their organization. When you have an important incoming call improperly transferred through your front desk it is the equivalent of sticking some poor sap on a rickety bus ride to Portland. The trip will not be enjoyable and the caller likely won’t come back. So what do you do?

As a business owner you have to think through three of the primary ways that calls are transferred through your business to the intended recipients. The same holds true if you are using a  call center partner to provide virtual reception services for you. Let’s look at three methods that are commonly used to transfer calls from point A to point B. Three of the most common call transfer processes are:

  • The Blind Transfer
  • The Warm Transfer
  • The Message Relay

It is crucial to choose which route is best for your callers. Each call transfer method has its own scenic byways. But each also has the potential to leave a caller at a dark, deserted truck stop. There are always trade-offs no matter which call transfer method you choose. So consider the pitfalls and advantages of each method so you can develop the best call handling travel plans possible. These considerations involve:

  • Cost
  • Efficiency
  • Effectiveness
  • Branding and Image
  • Customer Service Orientation

Now we will dig into each of the call transfer options for an in-depth look.

Image of a person on the phone having their call transferred

The Blind Transfer

When most folks hear “blind transfer” they don’t like the sound of it. That is because the word “blind” implies that you don’t know where you are going. It is kind of like your bus driver putting on a blindfold and saying, “all aboard!” However, a blind transfer isn’t actually all that risky if it has an intended result. But if it is an unexpected blind transfer, then you have a problem. A blind transfer is what happens when a receptionist answers an incoming call, determines where it needs to go and then simply “transfers” that call to another destination. That’s it. The blind transfer is also called an “un-announced transfer.” The person on the receiving end of this type of call transfer may not be aware that the call is coming their way. Hence, they are “blind” to fact they are about to receive an inbound phone call and they are blind to who the caller is. That is often a problem.

The issue with the blind transfer in most cases is that the person receiving the call may not be prepared to handle it. Let’s say you work in the warehouse of a busy auto parts store. Your job is mostly to be on the phone with vendors ordering parts and supplies. Your phone rings. You answer. All of the sudden you have an angry person screaming in your ear about a credit that was never applied to their account. They are mad at you because they keep calling your company and get transferred to a different department every time they calls. Now they want you to fix their bill. But you aren’t the right person to do that.

Great.

You were the victim of a misplaced blind transfer. And those are not a lot of fun. When these blind transfers happen, the calling party is left with a less-than-exceptional customer service experience. Here is another blind transfer mishap for you: You call the phone company to complain about an error on a bill, because who hasn’t had to do that? You get a “customer service” agent on the phone. You explain your situation for 5 to 10 minutes the customer service agent tells you that your call would be better handled in another department.

Oh boy. Here it comes…..

You are then placed on a “brief” hold. While you hold for far too long, you get to listen to a pre-recorded message about how great that company’s customer service is! Wheeeee! Finally, the new customer service agent answers the line and….you guessed it….has NO idea why you are calling. You get to repeat yourself and start all over again. You just got blind transferred! From a customer service perspective, the unprepared, unintended blind transfer is probably the worst way to get a call from point A to point B. Don’t let it happen in your company.

However, there are certain situations in which the calling party expects to be quickly transferred. Not “blind” transferred, but “quickly” transferred. “Quickly” is the key word here. In fact, the person receiving the call expects it. He may not know what the call is regarding but he wants his calls and he wants them fast. This is an “intended” blind transfer and it can work quite well. Answering services that provide virtual reception services use these kinds of intended blind transfers all the time.

Let’s say you have a law practice with 15 attorneys in it. This is a busy law practice and you and your attorneys get a lot of phone calls. You can’t seem to find a secretary to manage your front desk properly so you hire an answering service. The job of your answering service is to handle all of your incoming calls, determine which attorney those calls are for and then quickly transfer them to the intended party. That’s it. Your answering service is performing a blind transfer on every incoming call. But your attorney’s are prepared to handle calls in this way. To them, it is just like having the phone on their desks directly. The only difference is that a live operator transferred it there. In this situation, the blind transfer works quite well because it provides an immediate live answer (which is preferred) and then the call is quickly and efficiently transferred to its destination. In a telephone answering service environment, the blind transfer is by far the most economically efficient. It takes an operator all of 45 seconds to determine where the call needs to go and then quickly transfers it there. It may take just over a minute if caller information is gathered prior to the transfer for tracking purposes.

The trade-off here is the customer service image that the blind transfer represents. If the person that the call is being transferred to is ready and available to take the call, then all is well. But what happens if the receptionist says, “I’ll transfer you to Jerry now,” and then you land in Jerry’s voicemail because he isn’t there? You expected to get Jerry on the phone, right? But you got his voicemail instead. This is not good because that was not the intended result. Now the efficiency of the blind transfer is in question because the inbound call was not properly “prepped” prior to the transfer. The answering agent should have let the caller know that either Jerry or his voicemail would pick up. That would have solved it. So before you let everyone loose on blind transfers, make sure that the caller understands where they are going. Remember, you are designing a process that helps your callers.

Now if you are using a telephone answering service to provide efficient blind transfers, then you are probably paying them by-the-minute to process your calls. You will find that the cost per call is very low because operators are not involved for very much time during the transfer process. However, there may be a “patch” fee associated with the call after it is connected to the intended party. These fees are often billed on a per-minute or “per transfer” basis. Be sure to find out if there are patch fees, because they add to the total cost and can help you determine what kind of budget makes the most sense for you.

The Warm Transfer

Ahhh. Now doesn’t that sound nice?  A warm transfer. Who doesn’t want a warm transfer? It certainly sounds better than a “blind transfer.”

But is it?

A warm transfer is just a different kind of call transfer. But again, the decision to choose a warm transfer over a blind transfer depends on the process that you are trying to build. And it also depends on the customer service experience you are trying to develop.  A warm transfer is also known as an “announced” transfer. It sounds like this:

AGENT: “Thank you for calling Acme. How may I help you?”

CALLER: “I’m calling for Ted Bodersky.”

AGENT: “I can help you. May I have your name and tell Ted what this is regarding?”

CALLER: “Yes, this is Jerry Southerland and I am trying to get another copy of the service agreement that he sent me on Friday.”

AGENT: “One moment Jerry. Let me place you on a brief hold to see if Ted is available.”

CALLER: “Ok.”  (The call is placed on hold while the Agent calls Ted. Usually, on hold music fills the hold time. The Agent connects to Ted and….)

AGENT: “Hello, Ted?”

TED: “This is Ted.”

AGENT: “Hi Ted, this is Amy from the answering service. I have Jerry Southerland on the other line. He is calling about getting a replacement copy of the service agreement sent to him. May I connect him?”

TED: “Oh, yes! Thank you. I have been hoping to close that deal.”

AGENT: “Ok, one moment please, Ted. (Agent brings Jerry back on the line…) Jerry, I have Ted on the line. Go ahead please.” (Call is now transferred to Ted and the warm transfer is complete)

See how warm that was? The agent was involved every step of the way. Not only did Ted know that the call was coming, he knew why it was coming. This type of call takes longer to complete, but it is a call transfer that is managed from one end of the process to the other. This type of call transfer exudes “customer service!” In a warm transfer, nothing is left to chance. If Ted had not been available, the Agent in this scenario could have returned to the line, told Jerry that Ted was not available and then taken a personal message for Ted which would be transferred to him after the call by email, text, fax, or however Ted prefers.

Don’t forget the hold time consideration with the warm transfer call. In our Agent scenario above, the caller was asked to hold to find out if Jerry was available. First, the Agent has to locate Jerry’s number, verify she is using the right number and then make an outbound dial. Then the phone starts to ring. Let’s say that Jerry doesn’t pick up until the 5th ring on his phone. And is the caller listening to dead air? Scratchy classical music? The radio? The Agent relays all of the call information to Jerry and waits for his decision to either transfer the call through or take a message. All this can take up to a minute.

The customer service image portrayed here is, “If you want to talk to Jerry, you are going to need to hold for a minute or so.” Jerry is now portraying the image that he is very busy and that callers must hold first if they want to speak to him. You can see there is a trade-off here, too.  The warm transfer can become very messy if Jerry requires his service to track him down on one of several numbers. When this happens, hold times are extended and callers end up becoming quite unhappy with the whole experience. If you are going to use warm transfers, keep it simple and have calls go to one number. That’s it. Don’t add an endless list of numbers to try or the caller will just end up abandoning the call.

If you have an answering service processing your warm transfers, you need to factor in the cost of these calls. Warm transfers take twice as long as blind transfers do. These calls can require over two and a half minutes to handle properly. On a per-minute billing basis, that can add up, and don’t forget to take possible patch fees into account. But remember, you are not only determining what your budget is, you are trying to develop the proper customer service image that is best for your business. Remember, every time your calls are handled by your answering service, either blind or warm, that answering service is portraying your brand image. Every call is a marketing opportunity that either builds your image or costs you credibility and customers.

The Message Relay

The message relay option is what most answering services do with inbound calls on a 24/7 basis. The calls come in, the calls are answered by a live person, a message is taken and a message is relayed.  Nice and easy. Calls are not transferred from point A to point B. This type of inbound call handling allows for a live Agent to answer the call, for a complete and thorough message to be taken, and then a quick and speedy delivery of that message to the intended party. Call handling times are fairly short – usually a minute and a half or so. And the customer service image that this produces is consistent from call to call. Most folks are very happy that a live person has answered the phone. Then to know that the message will quickly be dispatched to the right person at the right time is all they need to be satisfied that their call is being properly handled. Plus, the caller never had to wait on a hold!

Once a complete message is taken, you can build in a very substantial message relay protocol. You can make that message relay procedure as detailed as you need it to be and have that message relayed to any number of parties in any kind of order that is necessary. Remember, the message relay happens after the live call. The calling party is not sitting there waiting for the Agent to relay the message. All of that is being handled behind the scenes. So you can “bulletproof” your message delivery and get them out to your email, your text, your SMS relay, your fax or a half a dozen people in your office simultaneously. Once the message is delivered, it is now your job to present the proper customer service image and return the call quickly.

However, a message relay does not necessarily guarantee a 1-call resolution. A 1-call resolution is when a caller dials into your place of business looking for answers and the correct information is provided – on the first call. Sometimes folks become frustrated that they can only get a message to an answering service. Some people get antsy, they get fidgety, they want immediate results. So if you are looking for a 1-call resolution support program, don’t put all of your eggs in the message relay basket.

Assessments of Inbound Call Handling

OK, now that we’ve discussed these three primary types of call handling, let’s do a quick bullet-point review of each:

The Blind Transfer

  1. Cost effective – Short call handling times
  2. Direct routing from Point A to Point B
  3. Requires that a person or extension (either landline or cell) be available to take the call
  4. Can provide a reasonable branding image with consistent results
  5. Best used in situations where you are trying to replace the functionality of a front-desk switchboard service
  6. May end up in voicemail
  7. Can create caller dissatisfaction when voicemail is reached if not properly warned
  8. Might incur call transfer or patch fees

The Announced (Warm) Transfer

  1. More costly – Longer call times due to gathering all pertinent information prior to the transfer, calling the contact, and transferring the caller
  2. Direct routing from Point A to Point B
  3. Great image if performed in a timely manner and the intended party is available for the call
  4. Intended party may not be available, which leads to unnecessary holds
  5. Intended to provide excellent branding image, but does not about half the time because of wait time and unavailability of call recipient
  6. Inconsistent call transfer results
  7. Might incur call transfer fee or patch fees

The Message Relay

  1. Take a complete message on every call
  2. Cost efficient with average call duration averaging about 1.5 minutes
  3. Allows for a huge diversity of message delivery (text, email, fax, call, etc.)
  4. Does not provide a 1-call resolution
  5. No call transfer, patch or message delivery fees
  6. No hold time for the caller

The best way to make a determination on which type of inbound call processing is best for you is to work backwards from the intended result. If your intended result is to quickly get a live call from point A to point B, then you are probably going to dig into blind transfers. If you need your service to sound and act just like your secretary does, then warm transfer is the way to go. If you are trying to get a strong, well balanced approach to live answering with consistent results, then message relay is the right call for you.

Any one of these solutions can be customized to properly represent the way that you do business. There is always a trade-off, no matter which route you choose. However, now you know where these bus rides can lead and how they get you there. It is best to keep the customer in mind at all times when you are planning. Ultimately, it is their satisfaction that should drive your decision-making process. Remember, you are building a better bus trip. Make sure that your passengers are going to want to get on that bus again and again and again.

Related Articles

Virtual Receptionist Services – What Are They and How Do They Work?

How to Develop an Inbound Customer Support Campaign

9 Questions You Should Ask when Shopping for an Answering Service: The Comprehensive Guide

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About Brian Gabriel

As the Call Center Manager for Sound Telecom, Brian is responsible for overseeing the daily operations and long term success of the company while managing a variety of inbound customer support programs. He also has a hand in taking care of the Solaxis services division. Prior to joining Sound Telecom, Mr. Gabriel held management positions with several prominent Internet Services companies including XpenseWise.com and Greatfood.com. Brian started his career in advertising and sales before moving to Washington State. He joined AEI Music in 1995 and supervised their international customer service department and technical support call centers. Brian received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism with a minor in Spanish languages from San Diego State University. Brian teaches adult education at his church and actively supports Christian ministries.