I manage a team handling inbound calls and we are regularly facing a situation where we are missing incoming calls because our inbound volume is greater than our Tier 1 team can handle. It is greater than before because we are constantly gaining new customers, but not growing our Tier 1 team. Issues our Tier 1 team can't resolve quickly are escalated to Tier 2, who aren't in the call queue, so they can take the next call.

The obvious solution, to my mind, is A) address the factors causing the high volume (we're already working on that, but that takes time and we keep adding new customers and problems) and B) hire more staff. As you might guess, trying to get approval/funding for (B) is an uphill battle. Suggestions in articles and search results frequently mention a "callback" system as a method to handle high volume (customers can just request a callback instead of staying in the call queue) and my manager has even suggested we put in place what would effectively be a receiptionist to take calls, gather basic details as quickly as possible and get other agents to call them back.

I am trying and failing to find any actual specific advice, case studies, examples or data online to show that implementing a "callback" system is an effective method for managing a call volume that consistently exceeds capacity. Our Tier 1 FCR is around 70% most of the time, so I find it extremely difficult to believe that taking our Tier 1 staff out of the call queue to spend time on callbacks would actually result in an improvement in the customer experience or agent efficiency. We currently already offer a voicemail system where customers waiting in the call queue can leave a voicemail explaining the issue and we will call them back. We find that having to respond to these voicemails results in more calls missed while those callbacks are made because agents who could have taken calls are now on outbound calls. I don't believe our customers would appreciate always having to wait for a callback (even if it was just the 1-2 minutes it would take for the ticket to be logged and picked) so we would always have to have it on top of our normal call queue and I just cannot see how we would end up solving the issue instead of making it worse.

I can't seem to locate any resources that explain how to actually put a "callback" system into practice and I also can't seem to locate any real fora in which to discuss these kinds of approaches with other professionals in similar situations, so any comments or feedback would be appreciated.

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    Cynically, I suspect the real aim of a callback system is simply that a non-trivial percentage of people decide it's too much like hard work and just give up. Feb 17 at 13:01
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    Personally I'll give up more often when faced with waiting ages with no answer (and no callback), than when being given the option for a callback Feb 17 at 13:36
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    I think this question is outside of the scope of "the workplace". Not sure which site would be fitting
    – Sascha
    Feb 17 at 14:38
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    This site is not for questions about how to do your job. Feb 17 at 15:22
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    It's a viable solution for peaks of call volume, if there are less active periods in which you can catch up. It may use manpower more effectively and keep customers happier. It still needs adequate staff.
    – keshlam
    Feb 17 at 23:24

3 Answers 3


The problem with attempting to apply a callback process to your call center is this: your main problem is throughput, and callback addresses latency. Callback is not a technique to add capacity, it is a technique to time-shift capacity.

In fine, if you don't have the manpower to address your inbound volume, when are you going to have the manpower to address the callback volume?

Now, if your problem was that sometimes your Tier 1 was slammed and then a few hours later it was idle, then callback could help you. But that's not what you're facing. Your problem is that management is trying to grow the company without growing the company.

No amount of cleverness will compensate for your need for a more populous Tier 1.

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    "Callback is not a technique to add capacity, it is a technique to time-shift capacity." - this is golden, thank you so much. This crystallised the issue I have with the approach in a way I had been unable to articulate. Feb 18 at 23:14

Speaking as a customer: Being called back is a huge improvement over waiting on the hold queue; it lets me do other things rather than being glued to the phone listening to an endless loop of "your call us important to us, but not important enough that we have hired sufficient staff."

The ideal would be to let customers specify a time period when they should be called back; failing that, ensure that calls are retried if the customer doesn't answer the phone or says this is a bad time (and honoring that promise in turn) is absolutely necessary. If you think they're mad about waiting, just imagine how they'll feel about being brushed off.

Do it. But do it right.

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    And make sure you keep track of how many pending callbacks you have and time taken to make a callback. This will take capacity away from your Tier 1 team potentially resulting in an ever growing increase in callbacks, and these numbers should directly support your business case for more staff. Feb 17 at 14:14
  • Sorry, this just a rant but not an answer to the question.
    – Hilmar
    Feb 17 at 15:15
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    @Hilmar: Disagree, violently.
    – keshlam
    Feb 17 at 15:17
  • Good answer. I know that a big company, "AT&T Internet", actually implements this callback service, which is helpful. They do give the customers the option to "stay on the phone", but I don't think many people want that option as the waiting time is way too long. Feb 17 at 23:43

A callback system may allow you to shift many calls from peak times to off-peak times, if the problem is that demand is unevenly distributed over the day.

However, as you've found, there are inefficiencies in trying to get customers back on the phone, because whilst it is the job of the call centre staff to sit around all day ready to answer inbound calls from customers, the customer (whose employment does not consist of this) cannot or will not typically wait around all day ready to answer inbound calls from you.

Also, when callbacks are offered unexpectedly, it can be equally inconvenient for the customer to have to make an arrangement to receive a callback that he wasn't prepared to make at the outset of the call - so if he thinks he is calling about a simple issue, he doesn't have his diary or his notepaper ready. This also probably contributes to missed callbacks.

An approach with fewer inefficiencies, but a potentially similar effect, is to ensure that customers know when the peak and off-peak times are, and how long the current wait is in the queue.

Many people, myself included, end up hanging on the phone for long waits, because it isn't clear at the outset of the call how long I will be waiting, or because it isn't clear when else I could call back and get a quicker response.

Often the call is necessary to occur at some point in the near future, but not urgent at that moment, and I could easily arrange to call in at a different time.

If you find a way to provide this information to callers at the outset of their call, and publish the statistics in detail on your website, you will almost certainly find many will respond by calling at times that better suit your call centre.

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