What Is Dead Air Time, and How Can Contact Centers Reduce It?

Periods of silence during contact center conversations - otherwise known as "dead air time" - often damage customer engagement

What is Dead Air Time, and How Can Contact Centers Reduce It
Contact CentreInsights

Last Edited: June 1, 2023

Charlie Mitchell

60 percent of customers prefer to call local businesses instead of communicating via email or live chat – according to a 2022 BrightLocal study.

As such, the phone is seemingly still the most popular customer engagement channel.

But what happens when a customer picks up the phone, starts speaking with an agent, and suddenly runs into an awkward silence halfway through the call? Typically, rapport breaks.

Therefore, contact center leaders often coach agents to overcome these jarring holts and keep customer service experiences on track.

What Is Dead Air Time?

Dead air time is a period of silence during an interaction, where the customer is left waiting while the agent looks for information, deals with a slow system, or thinks of what to say next.

The term originates from the radio and television broadcasting industry, where dead air refers to a period of silence in which no content transmits to the audience.

Dead air time can be harmful due to several reasons:

  • It increases the anxiety that customers already face in service environments.
  • It tells customers that the company is not prepared to resolve their issues, eroding confidence and trust.
  • It causes the contact center to lose out on engagement opportunities, as they can often fill the time with relationship-building small talk and perhaps even pinpoint a special promotion.
  • It impacts contact center efficiency because more dead air translates into higher handling times.

Why Does Dead Air Time Occur?

To better understand dead air time, contact centers must investigate its causes. Highlighting these during quality monitoring sessions can work well. But, the best strategy is to use speech analytics, isolating long periods of silence during interactions and assessing these individually to cover more ground.

After running such an investigation, the contact center may detect issues such as coaching gaps, slow information retrieval from various systems, and outdated knowledge sources.

Reducing dead air time starts with addressing these pain points. Targeted coaching, IT enhancements, and a knowledge management review is perhaps the ideal tonic.

Let’s delve deeper into these remedies and highlight more strategies to reduce dead air time.

6 Ideas to Reduce Dead Air Time in a Contact Center

1. Keep Customers Informed and Updated

Agents can keep customers updated about the progress of their query, describing what they are doing so the customer understands the reason for the silence. Doing so lowers their anxiety levels.

For example, when the system is slow, agents can let the customer know they are looking for a particular piece of information rather than just putting them on hold without explanation. The customer will feel reassured that their query is progressing efficiently.

2. Review the Knowledge Management System

Agents often struggle to navigate poorly indexed or slow search systems during customer service calls, which results in dead air time.

A lack of updated information, inadequate indexing, or searchable tags in the knowledge management system may prevent agents from finding the answers they need quickly enough. Therefore, evaluating the contact center knowledge base is essential.

3. Place the Customer on Hold with Full Transparency

When the agent is stuck and must communicate with a subject matter expert via chat, estimate the time it will take to get the necessary support.

In cases where the customer waits longer than expected, agents must check in with them and make sure they haven’t abandoned their query. After all, long hold times often irritate customers and may negatively affect their overall satisfaction.

For this reason, agents must establish realistic expectations, meet them, and engage with the caller within the stipulated time.

4. Craft Small Talk Scripts

Small talk helps put customers at ease and allows agents to get to know them better. Providing guidance, such as good questions to ask during dead air time, will encourage small talk and further rapport. Some excellent examples include:

  • Are you doing anything interesting this evening?
  • Is that a dog I hear in the background? What breed is it?
  • Is the weather equally excellent/miserable where you are?

The script may also include a “thank you” and an apology. Thanking a customer for bearing with the process and apologizing for the wait help to demonstrate empathy.

5. Upsell/Cross-Sell Cautiously

Avoid this when the customer is upset. However, when they seem in relatively high spirits, agents may seize dead air as an opportunity to mention specials, promotions, or discounts. Doing so may increase customer value.

Just remember, in the case of angry customers, the last thing they are thinking of is how to do more business. As such, agents must appropriately handle discussions about promotions and incentives during dead air time.

6. Be Honest About Dead Air Time

Customers must not feel ignored during dead air. Agents can maintain trust and confidence by stating that they will go silent for a moment and that the customer can interrupt at any time to ask a question.

If the wait is a few minutes, warn the customer and perhaps offer the opportunity of a callback, highlighting that the contact center respects the customer’s time.

Reducing dead air helps to lower handling times. Discover more ideas for doing so within our article: How to Measure Average Handling Time?



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