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Call avoidance: What it is and how to address it

Call avoidance

For some people, making a phone call is a struggle by itself. But call avoidance isn’t about customers avoiding a phone call from your business (though that’s certainly a thing!). It’s about your customer service reps avoiding phone interactions with customers.

It’s incredibly frustrating when customer calls to your support line go unanswered. Since customers typically make calls because they have a problem, it can impact their overall satisfaction with your company. A negative experience can even lead to bad reviews (“I called, and no one answered the phone…”).

Call avoidance tactics can range from not answering the phone to transferring calls to another department. If call avoidance is an issue for your business, we’ve got some tips for identifying the root cause. We’ve also got some strategies for turning things around, along with insights from Alex Bulloch, Senior Customer Support Manager at OpenPhone. 

10 examples of call avoidance

Call avoidance can take many different forms, whether a rep is uncomfortable taking calls or intentionally avoids customers. Not every customer will complain, so if you suspect you have a call avoidance issue, you need to know what to look for.

Here are some common examples of call avoidance. 

  1. Reps put the customer on hold or mute for so long the customer hangs up.
  2. Reps take excessive breaks, especially during peak times. Calls are unanswered because no one is available, or you see repeat calls from the same customer as they try to reach someone. 
  3. Reps place personal calls at work, so they’re unavailable to answer an inbound call. They may even make personal calls look work-related.
  4. Reps quickly transfer calls to other team members rather than handling the issue themselves.
  5. Reps end the call before resolving the customer’s issue — or even before they greet the customer.
  6. Reps push the customer toward self-service options rather than handling the issue. (Note: sometimes self-service is okay! But it shouldn’t be a replacement if the customer prefers a phone call.)
  7. Reps escalate calls prematurely without trying to resolve the issue themselves.
  8. Reps have excessive tech issues they claim prevent them from working, such as being unable to log in to systems.
  9. Reps remain on the line with a customer after resolving an issue, so they’re unavailable to take other calls.
  10. Reps manipulate internal systems to make it look like they’re busy or unavailable.

In some cases, customer service reps are trying to avoid calls altogether. In others, they’re trying to handle fewer calls. Whatever tactics are used, it takes longer than it should for customers to get their questions answered — if they’re answered at all. 

How to identify call avoidance

You can’t watch every rep like a hawk, particularly if your team is spread across multiple locations or your reps work remotely. However, you can identify patterns of call avoidance by digging into your available call data. 

Check representatives’ call activity logs 

If you review call logs, you can look at how much time is spent on calls during a particular shift. If you see long periods of no calls during a high-volume time, that might indicate frequent breaks or reps spending too much time on call follow-ups (notes in your ticketing system, writing follow-up emails, etc.). While you should include some wrap-up time in the workflow, exceeding the allocated time can be a red flag.

OpenPhone analytics will show you how many calls specific reps answer. You can check the duration of specific calls by pulling call logs via data exports. 

Call avoidance: Call activity logs in OpenPhone

It’s important not to misdiagnose the reasons for missed calls, or you’ll end up trying to solve the wrong problem. In OpenPhone, the call activity shows if calls were missed due to a muted inbox or do not disturb mode — which might have been accidental on the rep’s part. You can also see if abandoned calls happen after a caller listens to the menu options (indicating that the caller got the information needed). 

Review KPIs for handle times, hold times, and transfer rates

Data doesn’t lie; you can compare a rep’s call activity to target KPIs when in doubt. For example, if a rep has short handle times, it might indicate the rep ends the calls before an issue is resolved. Longer-than-normal call times might indicate the rep is stalling on a call with a customer after resolving the issue. 

You can also watch for longer hold times or higher transfer rates, both of which would be frustrating for the customer. If you’re measuring “How did we do?” with a post-call survey, you might even see a lower customer satisfaction score (CSAT). 

Alex says you’ll want to look for patterns over time that suggest reps are avoiding calls or trying to manipulate their metrics. “There are often metrics that ‘give away’ call avoidance when most numbers look good, but one metric doesn’t line up,” he says. “A rep might be ending calls prematurely to artificially reduce their average handle time, but that would result in a lower CSAT if they’re failing to offer a full solution because of it.” 

Another example is that reps might memorize the profiles of difficult customers (like those who complain frequently) and avoid their calls to avoid bad ratings. However, this would be reflected in the metrics if a rep with a high CSAT also has a high volume of skipped or declined calls. 

“I’ve found it’s very rare that a support rep is able to manipulate their metrics without being noticed after a while,” says Alex, “So if you suspect a rep is avoiding calls but are not able to confirm it with concrete proof, then the rep likely isn’t intentionally doing it.”

Review call recordings and transcripts

If calls are short or transferred quickly, it might indicate a rep is reluctant to engage in deeper conversations or resolve complex issues.

If you review inbound call transcripts or recordings, you can look for vague or evasive responses. The rep might also give incomplete responses, resulting in a short call.

Alex suggests starting with the data before listening to call recordings or reading transcripts. You might notice a pattern of short handle times when compared to peers. The recordings and transcripts serve as a “final check” to confirm what you see in the data. 

“Before raising the issue with a rep, I would do a qualitative analysis of a random sample of their calls. Basically, I want to be certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is bad behavior before taking action to correct that behavior,” Alex says. “Nothing demoralizes a rep more than being accused of bad behavior when they’re trying to do a good job.” 

How to address call avoidance: A 3-step plan

steps to address call avoidance: Identify the root cause, show the rep data, and issue warning

If you’ve looked at the data and confirmed call avoidance through recordings and transcripts, you’ll need to take steps to correct the behavior. 

1. Identify the root cause

Even if you can prove a rep is trying to avoid customer calls, you need to understand why the call avoidance behavior is happening. 

“In my experience, it’s important to rule out any non-rep-related reasons before proceeding with a plan that involves said rep,” says Alex. Even if it is rep-related, it might be bad behavior, but it could also be burnout — two completely different issues to solve. 

2. Show the rep the data

An accusation shouldn’t be unfounded: show the rep you’ve done a thorough review over a period of time. During a 1:1 call, present the rep with the data, such as calls taken or average handle time. 

You can also compare the rep’s performance to their peers to illustrate the discrepancies in call handling. If you have specific KPIs or SLAs, refer to those to show that their way of handling calls is not meeting expectations. 

3. Issue a warning or another disciplinary action

Your final step will depend on the rep. Once you’ve made them aware you’ve noticed call avoidance, you could trust them to fix the issue on their own. Or you may want to proceed with a more formal disciplinary action, such as probation or even termination. 

If call avoidance is related to burnout, you’ll want to handle the situation differently. Our strategies to prevent call avoidance can address this issue. 

5 strategies to address call avoidance

Not all call avoidance is due to bad behavior. In some cases, reps may not be comfortable handling calls or could feel overwhelmed. They might not even realize they’re not meeting expectations until you bring it to their attention. 

A good call avoidance strategy ensures your reps feel confident answering calls and gives them the tools to do their jobs effectively. 

1. Invest in training and set performance goals

Your reps will handle calls better if they’re properly trained. Let them shadow more seasoned reps on calls so they can hear real-time troubleshooting. Or they can learn how to handle calls by listening to call recordings. You can also provide ongoing training through webinars or training manuals

train sales rep with training manuals

Caption: OpenPhone’s customer service handbook in Notion.

You should establish transparent standards for call handling and a call avoidance policy. Reps shouldn’t have to wonder if they’re meeting expectations: they should know they’re doing a good job. 

A QA program with clear metrics and a regular review cadence can identify issues as they arise. At OpenPhone, we have a robust QA team that ensures our reps handle each customer interaction with the right level of care. You can read more about our training and QA program in our guide to how we scaled customer support.

💡Pro tip: Not sure where to start with establishing performance goals? Start with your best reps. Look at their average call handle time or the number of calls handled in a shift. Their performance can become a benchmark for other employees. 

2. Reward and recognize call representatives

Many factors can lead to burnout, but sometimes it stems from feeling like good efforts aren’t recognized. It’s crucial that reps feel like their hard work matters and is acknowledged by their manager. 

Craig Stoss, Director of CX Transformation Delivery at PartnerHero, tries to create meaning for reps by setting the stakes. To motivate the support team, he helps them understand that they’re helping customers get their jobs done — which is important work. 

💡Pro tip: Stoss advises managers to “praise in public; criticize in private.” It’s easy to create a group chat to pat employees on the back or give a shout-out in a Slack channel. You could also do an “Employee of the Month” and highlight how a specific employee did a great job. 

3. Provide tools to deal with abusive callers

Your reps might avoid calls with historically difficult customers. Abrasive, rude, or angry customers can make support calls a nightmare and stressful for the rep handling the call.

Meme about abusive callers: Let me just say hello to this customer and I am getting yelled at

As a company, you should provide reps with tools and processes to deal with abusive callers. Internal tools can help reps flag difficult customers so those calls can be funneled to managers or call center leaders. Or, if a rep ends up on a call with an abusive customer, there should be a clear process to escalate the call. 

internal tools for difficult callers

💡Pro tip: You can keep track of abusive callers on something as simple as a spreadsheet or by flagging them in your CRM. In OpenPhone, you can use contact notes to identify such callers. 

4. Automate tasks and offer customers self-service options

In addition to irate callers, burnout can happen when reps are stressed or overwhelmed by their work environment. A huge workload or high call volume can contribute to this. If your reps are burned out, answering even one more call can feel like a burden, leading to call avoidance. 

If you can automate customer service tasks, reps can spend more time on high-impact work (talking to customers) and less time on repetitive or redundant tasks. For example, message templates or software macros in your ticketing system can speed up follow-ups and after-call work.

You can also free up your reps’ bandwidth by offering more self-service options to customers. A robust help center, collection of FAQs, or chatbots can reduce the number of incoming calls. 

💡Pro tip: Add a recording to your phone menu that directs callers to your help center. This can reduce call volume: callers may decide that self-service will work for them and hang up. 

5. Use smart call routing to improve efficiency

Manual call transfers fall into the category of “repetitive and redundant tasks.” Depending on your call center structure or departments, your reps may be doing a lot of manual call transfers, which can be very unsatisfying or exhausting. 

smart call routing

You can improve this part of your workflow with smart routing. IVR menu options can direct calls to specific representatives based on their expertise (like a sales rep) rather than routing all calls to the general pool of customer service reps. You can also route calls based on employee shifts. Smart routing is easy to set up in OpenPhone and protects your employees’ time — plus it gets your customers to the right representatives faster. 

💡Pro tip: Not sure which roles or departments should have dedicated routing on your phone menu? Ask your team! Reps can identify which types of calls are continually transferred elsewhere. 

Reduce call avoidance with OpenPhone

Whether burnout or bad behavior, customers have no idea why their calls are avoided. They only know that their questions went unanswered, they faced long wait times, or their calls went to voicemail. 

Don’t wait for a dip in CSAT to investigate call avoidance. You should routinely look for patterns and review employee performance metrics to ensure call avoidance isn’t creeping into your customer interactions. If you spot call avoidance, address it quickly so it doesn’t impact your bottom line.

OpenPhone can help you detect call avoidance and address some of the underlying issues that lead to it. With detailed analytics, smart routing, and collaboration tools, OpenPhone makes it easy to manage your team’s performance. 

Read our comprehensive guide on call management systems to learn how to further streamline your team’s communication.

Call avoidance FAQs

How do you spot call avoidance?

Call avoidance will show up in your call analytics. For example, a rep may have very short call handling times compared to their peers or handle fewer calls during shifts compared to other team members.  

What is an example of call avoidance?

A rep engaging in call avoidance may consistently transfer calls to another department to avoid talking to customers. 

How serious is call avoidance?

Call avoidance leads to customer frustration, which ultimately has a negative impact on the customer experience and can hurt your bottom line.

Is call avoidance terminable?

If a rep has a proven pattern of avoiding calls, a manager should take appropriate action with the rep, which may include termination.

What is the root cause of call avoidance?

Call avoidance can have several causes, including bad behavior or rep burnout. Identifying the underlying cause of call avoidance is important so you can address it appropriately.

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