Lowering call abandonment rate in contact centers is one of the most powerful performance levers available to call center managers, and what Fonolo does best. It’s a primary benefit of our call-back software and we’ve helped dozens of companies improve their KPIs by solving their abandonment rate problems.
So you can forgive us for making this piece for being detailed.
This guide will give you everything you need to understand, measure, and reduce call abandonment in your contact center.
What is an abandoned call?
The definition of an abandoned call in a call center is a call where the caller hangs up before they speak to a customer support agent.
Most contact center software will generate a Call Detail Record (CDR). This feature displays data for each incoming call, including time before the customer abandoned the call.
The more successful your call center is – that is, the more calls you get – the more likely you are to face increased hold times and, in turn, an increased abandoned rate.
What is call abandonment rate?
Call abandonment rate is a call center metric used to measure the percentage of calls that are abandoned before they reach a customer service agent. To calculate the abandonment rate, divide the number of abandoned calls by the total number of calls, and then multiply by 100 to get the number as a percentage.
Why is call abandonent rate important?
It speaks directly to customer dissatisfaction and the negative impact it has on customer loyalty. As the experts rightly point out, it’s less expensive to keep existing customers happy rather than acquire new ones.
Understanding why abandon rates matter isn’t rocket science. Customers can only hear “… your call matters to us …” so many times before they lose patience and end the call.
Of those who abandon, a percentage will take their business elsewhere (or they’ll remember the experience when evaluating their next purchase).
Many who abandon will dial again and again, escalating queue times with each call. It’s not hard to see the correlation between the abandonment rate and customer retention.
Every contact center worth its salt already tracks abandon rates as well as other KPIs that matter. The real question is what to do with that data. What’s an acceptable abandon rate for your organization, and what can you do about it?
Abandonment is not entirely under the control of the contact center, after all. While you can affect queue times, many other factors are beyond your control. For example, the tolerance level of individual callers, service or marketing initiatives causing traffic to spike, time of day issues, etc.
Abandonment Rate and Customer Satisfaction
it’s more important to understand what’s acceptable for your customers than it is to simply know industry benchmarks. For example: according to MetricNet, the abandonment rate for service desks 8.7%. While that might be true, does it sound reasonable to expect more than 1 in 12 callers to hang up in frustration?
An analysis comparing a company’s Net Promoter Score to the number of Twitter complaints about being on hold (from onholdwith.com – a site that catalogs tweets from callers stuck on hold) found a direct correlation between the two. The bottom line here is that if you’re concerned about NPS score and customer satisfaction, then eliminating hold time should be a priority.
Using Data to Reduce Call Center Abandonment Rates
If you’re not regularly reviewing call detail reports, you should be. Know the peak periods when your customers are contacting you, how long they’re waiting (ASA – Average Speed to Answer) and how long it takes to resolve those calls (AHT – Average Handle Time).
And, if customers are abandoning the call, find out how long they’re waiting before they hang up.
Call detail reports provide you with a wealth of information and insight into your calls — including the ones that never got answered.
When you know who abandoned a call, when they called you, and how long they waited before hanging up, you can make informed decisions on how to resolve the situation.
How to Plot an Abandoned Call Curve Chart
If you haven’t already, plotting a call abandonment rate curve will help you to identify the weak points in your call-waiting queue.
The calculation is simple and you won’t have to look far for the data you need to plot the curve.
Most contact center telephone systems generate a Call Detail Record (CDR) for each incoming call. In this CDR, you’ll find all the data on the call: the number it called from, the line it came through, hold time, who they spoke to, and whether they abandoned their call before it was answered.
Here’s how to plot and Abandoned Call Curve:
- Collect Call Detail Records for the last few days or weeks, whatever is appropriate so you have a large enough data set.
- Extract the call waiting times of anyone who hung up before their call was answered
- Put it into a spreadsheet and sort it numerically — starting with the shortest wait time.
- Create time segments depending on the level of detail you want. For large data sets, this could be down to the minute but for most call centers 5-10 second intervals should be more than enough.
- Sort all your abandoned calls into each time segment and calculate the percentage of calls that abandoned during that segment. For example:
- 0:00 – 100 callers left in queue = 0% of calls abandoned
- 0:10 – 98 callers left in queue = 2% of calls abandoned
- 0:20 – 98 callers left in queue = 2% of calls abandoned
- 0:30 – 98 callers left in queue = 2% of calls abandoned
- 0:40 – 97 callers left in queue = 3% of calls abandoned
- 0:50 – 97 callers left in queue = 3% of calls abandoned
- 1:00 – 94 callers left in queue = 6% of calls abandoned
- 1:10 – 89 callers left in queue = 11% of calls abandoned
- 1:20 – 81 callers left in queue = 19% of calls abandoned
- 1:30 – 72 callers left in queue = 28% of calls abandoned
- Use these to plot your graph, with the Y-axis as Percentage of Calls Abandoned, and the X-axis as Time. It should look something like this:
In the simple example above, it’s clear to see — even without the graph — that there’s a rapid increase in abandoned calls after about the minute mark. As a contact center manager, I’d want to drill down into those target segments and try to figure out exactly what was happening during that period that made my customers abandon their call.
It may be because that’s when your hold music becomes awful. It could be that’s when a welcome message plays that answers their query. It might just mean that’s the average amount of time your customers are willing to wait to speak to you.
Whatever the cause is, your data is a powerful tool for finding ways to lower the abandonment rate in your contact center.
Changing the definition of an abandoned call
This one seems like cheating or massaging the figures, but it’s far from it. There are many pitfalls when measuring abandonment rate in a call center — one of them is too broad a definition of abandoned calls.
Here are some questions to ask yourself, to assess whether your criteria is fair:
- Are any of these calls placed outside of business hours?
- What if the call was actually a misdial by the customer?
- What if their battery or network failed?’
As this image from AirCall demonstrates, those abandoned calls aren’t always a fair reflection of your agents’ abilities:
Distinguishing between call types and intent
Another key to understanding why customers abandon calls is differentiating between the types of calls your customers are making.
Typically, customers calling for technical support with a problem are much less likely to hang up than those making a call to a sales line. Here’s a great set of charts from callcentrehelper.com that helps to illustrate this:
It may help you to split your abandonment rate into groups, depending on caller intent. This will help you identify which areas of the business are the target of these calls, as where it might be most profitable to direct your energy.
Common Pitfalls When Measuring Abandonment Rate
There are, however, a number of nuances in calculating abandonment rate. Ignoring the five pitfalls below could leave you with a misleading result.
Pitfall 1: Treating All Hang-Ups as Abandoned Calls
It is common practice to exclude very short calls from the abandon rate. The logic behind this is that someone might have dialled the wrong number and didn’t realize the mistake until after the call was connected. But how short is too short? There is no universally accepted number.
One way to find a good “short call” cut-off time is to look at a histogram of call durations, i.e. how popular are calls that are 0-5 seconds, 5-10 seconds, etc. This plot may show you a demarcation between mistaken calls and calls with true intent. There’s a good discussion on this topic at ICMI.com.
Whenever you’re calculating a rate, there is a numerator and denominator. Depending on how you think about “short calls”, they may appear in one, but not the other. This post by Sergey Menshikov looks at 4 different options of dealing with short calls and illustrating the impact of that choice.
Pitfall 2: Ignoring Short Abandons
Another issue is that if the threshold for “short calls” is too long, it can sweep legitimate abandons under the rug. It should come as no surprise that call centers often succumb to this temptation in an effort to meet management objectives. For example, see the final paragraph of this story by Call Centre Helper.
Pitfall 3: Including Self-Serve or Navigation Time
If a caller hangs up while going through a self-serve process that should not be counted as an abandoned call, but rather count against the success rate of that process.
The reason to separate these numbers is that an abandoned IVR-based process indicates a different problem from an abandoned call that was in the queue. The former might be due to unclear prompts, or too lengthy a process. The latter is almost always due to excessive hold time.
A universal rule covering this pitfall and the previous two is:
Once the caller indicates the intent to reach an agent, the call should end in success (an agent conversation) or count as abandoned.
Pitfall 4: Not Adjusting for Call-Backs
One way to lower your abandonment rate is to offer callers the option of a call-back instead of waiting on hold (sometimes referred to as “virtual queuing”). Usually, this offer sounds like, “Press 1 to get a call-back from the next available agent”. If the caller takes this option, the current call will end, but clearly this should not be counted as an abandon
Depending on the call-back solution used and the ACD there should be a way to distinguish these calls from true abandons. For example, with Fonolo deployed on an Avaya call center, these calls appear as “RONAs” (Remote Outflow, No Answer”) on the call reports.
In the video below a call center manager describes how he adapts his reporting strategy to handle callbacks properly.
Pitfall 5: Pursuing An Abandon Rate that is Too Low
It’s a worthy goal to eliminate abandoned calls as much as possible, but in a system as complicated as a call center, every attempt to optimize for one variable has an impact on other variables. It’s important to keep in mind the big picture and invest your limited time and budget on efforts that deliver the most effective improvement in customer satisfaction.
As the abandon rate gets lower, there are diminishing returns. Below a certain point, a further reduction will not improve customer satisfaction. There is a terrific exploration of this effect on MetricNet.com, which includes the two charts below.
From their post:
So why do costs go up as the abandonment rate goes down? Because more agent headcount is required to achieve lower abandonment rates, and as headcount increases so too does the cost of support. Let’s say, for example, that a service desk with 10 full time agents has an average abandonment rate of 8%.
To reduce the abandonment rate to 4% would require a full time agent headcount of approximately 13. That’s a 30% increase in headcount, for a 4 percentage point decrease in abandonment rate. Is that worth it? Apparently not, because the added headcount increases costs significantly, but produces very little benefit in terms of higher customer satisfaction.
How to Reduce Abandoned Calls in a Call Center
Now we’ve covered some ways to identify what’s causing your problem, here are some ideas on how to improve call abandonment rate in your contact center:
1. Adjust Schedules and Hire More Agents
The obvious way to lower your abandonment rate is to lower hold time, and the obvious way to do that is to hire more agents.
Though this might seem obvious, many abandonment rate problems (and many others) can be fixed by staffing based on volume.
Adjusting agent schedules to match peak calling windows can be less expensive than hiring additional agents … and both are less expensive than having to acquire new customers! According to callcenterhelper.com, 6/10 customers have ditched a company because its telephone customer service has been so bad.
If you have the budget, you can just add agents until your abandonment rate shrinks down to your target level. But of course, budgets in the real world are always constrained, so this is not usually a viable solution.
That’s especially true if your call center has occasional volume spikes. If you always staff to the peak volume, you will have a lot of excess agent capacity at other times.
2. Offer Other Channels of Communication
Already we see that 88% of all organizations are delivering a multi-channel service experience. And that’s a good thing because studies show that 77% of consumers use more than one channel when seeking service. In fact, the average consumer expects to be able to reach a company across at least 10 different channels!
By offering support over other channels, you empower your customers and you remove some of the burden on your call center; you should see fewer abandoned calls as a result.
However, you should be careful about taking resources away from the voice channel to support new channels. Research shows that the live agent conversations are still the most critical for maintaining customer loyalty.
3. Offer Customers a Call-Back
One of the single best ways to reduce abandonment is to offer customers a call-back as an alternative to waiting on hold — sometimes referred to as “virtual queuing” or “virtual hold”, or “replacing hold-time with a call-back”.
By giving callers the option to “press 1 to receive a call-back when an agent is available”, you can smooth out call volumes while lowering caller frustration.
Besides lowering abandonment rate, this can also radically improve the customer experience and reduce cost-per-call. According to Forrester, “The option to hold their place in the queue and go on to do something else is highly appealing, with 75% stating a preference for it.”
The option to hold their place in queue and go on to do something else is highly appealing, with 75% stating a preference for it.
Customers save time, companies save money. Why take the risk that your customers are going to abandon after 30, 60 or 90 seconds on hold? Offer to call them back and earn their loyalty for good.
A study by Contact Babel showed that 32% of contact centers experienced fewer abandoned calls after call-backs were added. At Fonolo, we’ve witnessed this effect many times.
Two recent examples come to mind: Stanford Federal Credit Union and Credit Union of Colorado saw a 40% and a 50% decrease in abandonment rate, respectively. Interestingly, this resulted in a $60k in savings for Stanford FCU, who were relying on a BPO to handle their overflow. Here’s a great chart from another partner, First Service Credit Union, who performed some tests to see just how big an impact call-backs were having.
Two other partners, Nationstar Mortgage and Bright Horizons, both saw a 35% and 33% decrease, respectively, in abandonment rate. These two companies have something else in common: They are both running Avaya Aura call centers. If your call center is based on Avaya, you’ll be very interested to read about our Avaya partnership and how it relates to Callback Assist.
If your contact center is struggling to reduce call abandon rate, you won’t find an easier or more cost-effective solution than call-backs.
“A call-back service is a must-have. People deserve a call-back option so they can continue on with their lives.” — Ricardo Mejia, VP, First Service Credit Union
4. Create a Better Queuing Experience
There’s only so much you can do to reduce hold time; at some point, you have to start thinking about the customer experience — however long they’re waiting.
As we mentioned above, communicating with your customers while they’re waiting on hold can improve your call abandon rates.
Another way to stop people from hanging up is to make the experience itself more enjoyable. And not enjoyable, at least not quite so painful. Here are some ways to switch it up to decrease your abandoned call metrics.
a. Increase the initial ring time
Rather than sending callers directly, you could try increasing the ring time prior to patching calls into your IVR. It may sound counterintuitive but it’s a great way of using psychology to buy a few extra seconds.
The average phone rings for about 20 seconds before going to voicemail — and most people are programmed to accept this without question. Try upping the ring time to 10-20 seconds before connecting callers to an automated message and see how this impacts your abandoned call numbers.
This is a pretty low-risk strategy that can buy you a few extra seconds. Over thousands of calls, this could save a few hours!
b. Keep customers informed
Customers appreciate honesty — even if they don’t like the message. And we all appreciate certainty.
If hold-times are an issue, consider preparing customers by placing a message in the IVR or ACD informing callers of the estimated wait time, or indicating a period of high volume.
Ever experienced that thing of when you’ve been on hold so long that, when the music abruptly stops, the customer service rep says hello and asks how they can help, you have zero idea what’s happening, who they are, who you are or what day it is? pic.twitter.com/oUTl2BUsXl
— Andrew Barlow (@barlandrew) April 27, 2020
BUT BE WARNED: repeating a vague recorded message that “your call is important to us” is more likely to annoy customers, and they will perceive the wait to be longer than it is. And if you’re playing this all the time, it will have little impact. It may even be increasing abandoned calls.
These canned messages are boring at best, irritating at worst — and usually untrue too.
If you can’t estimate a wait time, tell customers what number they are in the queue, so at least they perceive some progress.
When peak times are predictable, another option is to drive callers to call back during periods of lower call volume. For example, a message might say, “… we normally experience higher than normal call volume the first week of each month …”.
At first, this approach can encourage call avoidance, over the long term it can help lower handle times and abandon rates by encouraging customers to call during off-peak periods.
c. Change the welcome message
Is it possible that your welcome message is actually putting people off? If your Abandoned Call Curve shows a sharp drop-off at the end of your welcome message, it’s probably not a coincidence.
Experiment with your welcome message. Maybe some extra information would help to reduce abandoned calls. You could use the opportunity to answer callers’ questions in advance or offer another method of contact.
d. Change hold music
Believe it or most people actually like to listen to music while they’re on hold. But your particular musical tastes could be turning them off and hanging up, instead of vibing out while they wait.
Vibing, laying in bed listening the CRA on-hold music
— Zach (@toppsmut) April 28, 2020
Once again, your Abandoned Call Curve will be able to tell you which tracks on your on-hold playlist are trash, and which are gold.
i’ve been avoiding calling disney to adjust my pass because i knew i would have to sit on hold forever listening to disney music that would eventually break me down and make me cry about how much i miss going to disneyland
— hail (@h_lightning_) April 29, 2020
Another great way of getting feedback on your hold music is heading to social media, and Twitter in particular. For more on this one, check out this piece on What Customers Really Think of Your Hold Music.
This one is our personal favorite, for obvious reasons.
Nothing is worse than the telephone on hold music. Why can’t they just do a call back system or idk just have silence. Instead we get staticy weird beats
— Rembrandt Q. Einstein (@Stonedanime1) April 29, 2020
We should note here that onholdwith.com is another great resource for seeing what people really think about waiting on hold.
e. Change queue message frequency
Another consideration should be how frequently you’re playing recorded messages in your IVR, as this may be irritating callers unnecessarily.
Remember, most people prefer to do something else while they’re waiting on hold, and hold music is a great, gentle reminder that doesn’t draw their attention away from whatever else they’re doing.
If you can, experiment with the interval length between recorded messages (and keep an eye on your Abandoned Call Curve) so that you can find the perfect length of time between messages.
5. Reduce average handle time
Lowering the amount of time your agents spend on each call will help your call center serve more customers overall. If your agents are adept at anticipating customer needs and efficient in solving their issues, they can handle higher call volumes more easily.
6. Fix Abandoned Calls at the Root
Why are so many customers calling?
Is this something that you can fix outside of the call experience?
We’ve already discussed several elements of your telephone setup that could be causing customers to abandon their call early, but what about things that are beyond your control in the contact center.
If you’re consistently struggling with high call volume, long wait times, and abandoned calls, the biggest single impact you can have is to solve the issue that’s causing high call volume in the first place.
Your customer support team won’t typically have the resources or clout to instigate those changes, but you can add a lot of value to your business by sharing that feedback with the people and departments who can make those changes.
It is this use of the contact center that propels towards its future as the ‘Customer Experience Hub’, from which all other departments draw data and insights to improve your products and services as a whole.
Call-Backs to the Rescue
Many call centers struggle with a higher abandonment rate than they would like. Abandonment leads to higher repeat calling, which lowers First Call Resolution (FCR) and, of course, leads to dissatisfied customers.
If you need to reduce your abandonment rate the obvious move is to hire more agents so that the wait time (aka “Average Speed to Answer”) is lower.
That isn’t always the best use of resources (as we saw in the last section), if there are resources and budget available at all.
In those cases, adding call-backs to your call center is the best alternative. A study by ContactBabel reports that 32% of contact centers experienced a lower abandonment rate after call-backs were added.