Conversational AI • Last Updated 9/29/2023

Understanding inbound calls

An inbound call occurs when the customer initiates a call to a business, usually for sales inquiries, customer service or support.


By Emily Bowen

people answering inbound calls

Although email, text, and other digital channels gained popularity in recent years, according to Statista data, phone calls are still king. Salesforce found that 61% of consumers still prefer to speak to someone over the phone if they need assistance.

Voice calls are still the preferred method of communication for many customers, simply because they are just more effective for certain types of interactions. When customers need to communicate their needs and concerns in detail, voice calls allow for a more efficient and effective exchange of information than text-based methods like email or chat.

As a result, businesses should make sure that they have the resources in place to handle inbound customer calls effectively.

Inbound vs. outbound calls

Telephone calls can be generally divided into two categories: inbound and outbound. Inbound calls are incoming calls to a company or organization, whereas outbound calls are outgoing calls made by the company or organization.

Companies use contact and call centers to manage their inbound and outbound calling needs. Call center agents handle a variety of tasks, such as customer service, sales and technical support. In order for a call center to function properly, it is important to have enough customer service representatives (CSRs) available to answer inbound calls, otherwise customers will become frustrated and may hang up. This will lead to a high abandoned call rate, which is a metric that measures the percentage of incoming phone calls that go unanswered.

Elastic SIP Trunking is a product that allows businesses to make sense of the large volume of inbound calls they receive each day. It provides businesses with data about their inbound call volume, average handle time, first call resolution rate and other important metrics (more on key inbound call metrics later). Elastic SIP Trunking also offers helpful features such as caller ID and call recording so businesses can further improve their inbound call center operations.

Inbound call routing

The process of matching a received call to its proper destination is called call routing. When you set up call routing for your business, you implement rules that determine how the call is routed. Some factors to consider include the time of day, the caller's location and why they’re calling. In business settings, inbound call routing is used to direct calls to the correct department or individual within the company.

How inbound call routing works

Inbound call routing can be performed manually or automatically. To route a call manually, a person—like a receptionist or a CSR—picks up the phone, speaks to the customer, and then transfers their call to the correct person or department.

When performed automatically, inbound call routing is typically handled by a computer system known as a private branch exchange (PBX). The PBX identifies each phone by its unique extension number and routes calls made to that extension to the correct phone line. Additionally, the PBX can be programmed to route calls made during certain times of day to different phone lines. For example, calls made after business hours may be routed to a voicemail system or another location.

Inbound call routing examples

Like any customer service interaction, the way an inbound call is routed can either delight your customer or frustrate them so much they take their business elsewhere, so it’s important to get it right. In the next section, we’ll talk about what triggers customers to hang up. For now, take a look at these examples of inbound call routing and see what you notice:

Examples of subpar call routing:

  1. A customer—who isn’t able to make personal calls at work—has a question about her bank statement. Since she wasn’t able to call during traditional business hours, she calls from the car on her way home. She listens to a lengthy recorded message about bank hours, locations and other information before the recording offers her the option to “press 0 to speak to a representative.” She does, and gets another recorded message informing her that the bank is closed, and that she should call back another time. There’s no option to leave a voicemail or obtain self-service help.

  2. A customer wants to check the balance of her account. She dials the customer service number, and hear a recorded message that informs them “Your call is very important to us. A representative will assist you soon.” This message repeats, interspersed with elevator music, until the customer, frustrated, hangs up.

  3. A sales manager has been tasked with choosing a new customer relationship management (CRM) platform for his team. He’s narrowed down his options to two companies, and wants to get more information about scalability and pricing. He dials the first company’s number, and gets an automated message that asks him to “say something like ‘I have a question about my account’ or ‘I’d like to speak to a representative.’” The technology isn’t great, and it takes a few tries before the system understands him. Finally, he’s routed to the billing department, and a recorded message informs him he’s fifth in line. When he’s finally connected to the CSR, it turns out that that individual can’t answer his questions. He ends up getting put on hold and routed to another individual not once, but 3 times before he gets his questions answered.

Examples of great call routing:

  1. A customer based on the East Coast of the U.S. dials the customer service line of a national banking company late at night with a question about her account. Since the company’s East Coast locations are closed for the day, her call is immediately routed to a West Coast call center, where she’s connected with an on-duty CSR who handles her request.

  2. A small business owner recently purchased software, and is having trouble installing it. The owner dials the number he located on the software company’s website, and immediately hears an automated message that offers him 3 options: “press 1 for account questions,” “press 2 for help setting up your product” and “press 3 to speak to a representative about another issue.” He presses 2, and hears a recorded message that lets him know he’s next in line, with an approximate wait time of 2 minutes. In just 60 seconds, a CSR answers the call. He’s shocked that the individual greets him by name and asks if he needs assistance with the specific product he purchased last week. In just a few minutes, the CSR is able to assist the business owner, who now has his software fully installed.

Inbound call routing is an important part of many businesses. By properly routing calls, businesses can ensure that each call is answered by the correct person or department, which improves customer experience (CX) and internal efficiency.

Reasons customers hang up

The reason some people shy away from contacting a business via phone is that they dread being put on hold for ages or bounced between different departments in a futile attempt to get help. We’ve all been there, and it’s frustrating.

The top reason customers cite for hanging up is that it takes too long to get answers. In fact, Arise found that two thirds of customers say they’ll hang up after being put on hold for 2 minutes, and 1 in 3 won’t call back. As you can imagine, this has serious implications on customer acquisition, retention and your company’s overall success.

Another reason people hang up is because the call menu doesn't offer clear, concise options. It can be time-consuming and frustrating for the customer to get routed to a department that can’t help them, especially if they just want a simple question answered. It also impacts employee productivity. If a company has a lengthy, convoluted routing process, it can also be very off-putting to customers. They may feel like they're never going to reach a person who can help them, and they'll likely hang up.

Finally, a robotic, scripted greeting can also be a turn-off for customers. If they feel like they're talking to a machine instead of a real person, they're much less likely to want to stay on the line.

IVR vs. outsourcing

Interactive voice response (IVR) is a phone system that allows callers to navigate through a series of menu options by pressing buttons on their keypad. IVR systems are typically used by businesses to route calls to the appropriate department or extension. Call centers, on the other hand, are staffed by live operators who can provide assistance with a variety of customer inquiries. So, which is better for your business: IVR or outsourcing to a call center?

There are pros and cons to both IVR and call center services. IVR systems can be less expensive to maintain than call centers, since you don't need to pay operators to staff the phones. Additionally, IVR systems can operate 24/7. However, IVR systems can be frustrating for customers who just want to speak to a live person. Call centers, on the other hand, provide customers with the human interaction they crave. But call centers can be more expensive to operate than IVR systems, and they may not be available 24/7.

Ultimately, the decision of whether to use an IVR system or outsource to a call center depends on your business needs and budget. If you need to save money and don't mind sacrificing customer satisfaction, then an IVR system may be right for you. But if you're willing to spend a little extra to ensure that your customers are happy, then a call center may be the better option.

Key inbound call metrics

Inbound call metrics are key performance indicators (KPIs) that companies use to measure and improve the performance of their inbound call center operations. The most important inbound call metric is the call abandonment rate, which measures the percentage of callers who hang up before their call is answered. Ideally, you want your call abandonment rate to be between 5-8%.

Other important inbound call metrics include the following:

Speed of answerHow long the caller waits in a queue or on hold before being connected to a person. This varies depending on the size of the business and the industry, but a general rule of thumb is that customers become frustrated and likely to hang up if more than 60 seconds elapse.
Average wait time This metric, also called average hold time, includes both the speed of answer metric and any additional time spent on hold after the customer is connected to an agent.
Call handle time This is how long it takes an agent to resolve the interaction; it includes any time the customer is on hold after the initial connection and any after-call work the agent completes (like sending a follow-up email or logging data in CRM software). Average handle time also varies greatly depending on the industry; Talkdesk cites numbers between 1 minute 21 seconds to 6 minutes 8 seconds.
First call resolution Whether or not the customer’s query was resolved in the initial interaction, without the need for followup. Across industries, your first call resolution rate should reflect that 70-79% of calls are resolved within that initial interaction.
Customer satisfactionHow satisfied a customer is with their experience. This data can be gathered while the customer is still on the line, or from a follow-up survey or call. CX is an integral part of doing business: according to SuperOffice, customer service is the leading brand differentiator, and 1 out of 3 customers will leave a brand they love after just one bad experience.

To improve inbound call center performance, companies should track all of these metrics on a regular basis and take corrective action when necessary to improve their results.

Deliver personalized customer experiences at scale In today's competitive market, providing an exceptional customer experience is more important than ever. However, delivering personalized voice experiences at scale can be a challenge if you choose the wrong technology partner. Look for a global communication provider who can handle all your Voice API needs, offers excellent customer service, and can help to improve efficiency and minimize dropped calls.

To track and boost your inbound calling metrics, you’ll want a provider that offers Elastic SIP Trunking with in-depth monitoring and reporting tools—like call statistics, custom routing and SIP ladder diagnostics—that can be used to measure call center and agent performance. By taking advantage of these tools, your business can provide an elevated customer experience that sets you apart from the competition.

Get started with Telnyx Elastic SIP Trunking today or talk to an expert for more information.

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