Call handling is about how well (or how poorly) a team manages its inbound and outbound calls.

Do it well, and you’ll improve your customer retention, first-call resolution (FCR), and overall sales.

Do it poorly, and your team may be in a world of trouble—from missed sales opportunities and angry customers to wasted marketing spend and damage to your business’s reputation.

The stakes may be high, but when it comes down to it, great call handling isn’t all that hard to achieve. As long as you have a solid call-handling process in place that gives your agents clear direction and leverages technology intelligently, you’ll be on the right path.

What Do We Mean by “Call Handling”?

Call handling falls into two categories: the actions taken by your agents and the way your system is set up to make it easy for customers to get what they need. It includes things like call routing, FCR, call etiquette, call security processes, and how well your agents are able to handle complaints.

Keep in mind that although there’s a lot of overlap between inbound and outbound call handling, the focus and agent duties of each are slightly different.

Inbound call handling is done when customers call you. In an ideal inbound call scenario, a customer will move seamlessly through initial call routing, reach the right agent immediately, have a pleasant service experience, and have their issue handled on the first call.

Outbound call handling is done when you initiate contact with customers or leads. In this case, agents make calls, enquire politely whether a customer or lead has time to talk, follow up on any previous conversations, and work through a sales process in a way that makes the customer feel valued and excited to buy.

5 Signs It’s Time to Revisit Your Call-Handling Procedures

It’s usually very self-evident when your call-handling procedures are off––because customers will tell you, loudly and often.

If you’re seeing any or all of the following five issues, it’s time to take a pause and put some attention on your call handling:

  • Low FCR or Customer Satisfaction (CSAT). This is the quickest and easiest way to tell if something’s off with your call handling. If you have consistently low FCR and CSAT rates, or if you find that your FCR and CSAT rates start dropping out of nowhere, something’s wrong with your call handling.
  • Customers are already angry when they get on the phone. Some customers are going to be in a bad mood, and that’s just how it is. Nevertheless, if you’re getting a lot of customers who are already worked up by the time they get to an agent, chances are that they’ve had to battle through an ineffective call-handling system to get to the right person.
  • Exhausted or ineffective agents. If you find that your agents aren’t able to do their jobs as well as they used to, or you start seeing a higher-than-average amount of turnover, this could be a sign that you need to revisit your call-handling procedures. Agents may feel hamstrung by bad rules or they may be fatigued from dealing with customers who are enraged by a bad setup.
  • Marketing that doesn’t lead to sales. If you’re running marketing campaigns that don’t seem to go anywhere, check your call handling. It could be that the marketing is working great, but the sales side is dropping the ball because of bad call-handling processes.
  • Noncompliant calls. Finally, if you find that you’re having a lot of issues with agents going off-script, failing to follow procedures, or simply being rude, it’s very possible you need to address your call handling to make it easier to stay on track.

How to Build a New Call-Handling Process from Scratch

Get a Handle on the Big Picture

Start by figuring out what you actually need to accomplish with this process and how it aligns with the bigger goals of your department and organization. Think about what having a better call-handling procedure will do for you and for the business. Try to predict how you might know if it’s working well or not.

Track the Experience of Your Customers

The whole point of having a standard call-handling procedure is to make things easier for both your customers and your agents. You can’t do that if you don’t know what your customers need or how they feel at every step of every interaction with you. Talk to some customers and review old calls to gather this information, then use it to update your process as necessary.

Develop Essential Call-Handling Skills

Soft skills are just as important as hard skills in call center work, so make sure your agents are well-versed in call center skills. These include:

  • Empathy
  • Active listening
  • Good manners
  • Conflict resolution
  • De-escalation techniques

Also, encourage your agents to be creative and proactive in their work. The more engaged they are, the better experience your customers can have.

Create Scripts and Rules

Agents can’t do their jobs well if they don’t know what the rules are. Set them up for success with scripts and rules so they know what to say and rules where the guide rails are.

To make this really work, you need to write intentional scripts or rules for situations that genuinely require them. You don’t need to micromanage everything, so let your agents be innovative everywhere else.

Therefore, as you’re doing this, try to zero in on a high-level version of the rules. Think about the big picture of values and essentials that are important for your business. If you train your agents in these, they’ll be able to use their common sense to figure out what to do in unexpected situations.

Track Improvements and Review Metrics Regularly

Make a list of key performance indicators (KPIs) and track them regularly. If nothing else, you need to be tracking FCR, CSAT, and agent service levels.

If you can, you should also track your average speed of answer (ASA), average handle time (AHT), and churn rate as well.

Build in regular periods to review this data, and actually plan to make decisions and take action from it. The more you know about what’s actually going on, the better decisions you’ll be able to make.

Write It All Down

Calls can go an infinite number of ways, but most of them fall under a reasonable set of expectations.

Write down every relevant step, phrase, and nuance you can think of when it comes to your call-handling process, and distribute it to your team in a readable, easy-to-access format.

This may take a lot of time and effort, but it can pay dividends down the line.

What to Do If You Already Have a Procedure that isn’t Cutting It

If you find that your call-handling procedure isn’t working, there are many remedies for you to turn things around.


Educate your agents about first-call resolution and customer satisfaction rates, and make sure they understand that solving the issue on the first try is more important than the speed at which they get someone off the phone.

When you’re making your call-handling process, be sure to include things like soft skills and etiquette so agents know that the way they communicate something is oftentimes just as important as what they communicate.

For Angry Customers

If you’ve got customers who are coming into interactions already riled up, take a step back and look at your IVR setup. Chances are you’ve made it difficult for them to get through to an agent and unintentionally added a lot more friction to their day.

Keep your IVR short, simple, and easy to use—and always let people speak to an operator. Likewise, make sure your automatic call distribution (ACD) is working properly by routing people to the right agents. Don’t make customers work to get in touch with you.

For Issues with Agents

If your agents aren’t able or willing to do their jobs well, review the rules you have them operating under. Keep in mind that the policies you have in place should have a purpose, they shouldn’t just be there for no reason.

Try to allow your agents as much freedom as possible to take care of issues in their own way, as long as that way still falls within your organizational goals and requirements. In fact, you may even want to include your agents in the drafting of your call-handling process because their boots-on-the-ground knowledge can be invaluable for making rules that make sense.

For a Disconnect Between Marketing and Sales

Part of your call-handling process should include sharing information back and forth between the marketing and sales departments. Sales agents can’t do their jobs right if they don’t have the information they need, so start out by making sure everybody actually knows what’s going on.

Next, review your sales calls and see if you need to provide additional training to improve agent performance once they’re actually on the call. If agents are unfriendly or even overly pushy, you could end up losing sales, so make sure to address this in the tone section of your call-handling guide.

For Noncompliance

If you review your analytics and find that you’ve got some ongoing issues, double-check your call-handling process and see whether compliance metrics are clearly addressed. In many cases, you might find that people aren’t doing something because they were never told to.

Go through and clearly define all the non-negotiables for compliance and train your agents to recognize what violations look like so they can avoid them. As you’re doing this, make sure to bring up specific situations as well as general rules of thumb so they can be prepared to handle both ordinary and complex situations.

Finally, consider the possibility that a staffing change might be the solution you need. If the issue seems isolated to one person or just a few people, replacing them could be the right move.

Call Handling Best Practices for Continuous Improvement

Maintaining great practices for call handling is an ongoing process, but once you’ve got a solid first process set up, everything gets easier from there.

As you go, make sure you continue to track your KPIs, especially FCR and CSAT, and review the call center metrics you’re tracking at least once a year to make sure they’re actually giving you the information you need.

Similarly, keep up with regular reviews of your quality monitoring metrics and analytics—and remember to act on the data you get from them!

If possible, you should also make training a regular part of the job for everybody rather than something that only happens when there’s a problem or when a new product comes out. Everyone can benefit from practice, and by having people with different levels of experience train together, you can encourage people to cross-train each other, leading to a strong foundation of institutional knowledge.

Finally, do not forget to iterate—and then iterate some more. Things are always going to change, and you need to make sure your call center can change with them. Take the feedback you get and implement it to meet your customers where they’re at. It’s hard to go wrong when you do that.