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Cold transfer vs. warm transfer: when’s the right time to use them?

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It’s a common part of many contact center calls: the transfer. But while frequently used, transfers can be loaded with pitfalls. They have the potential to frustrate callers and associates alike – callers don’t like spending extra time on a call or, worse yet, having to repeat themselves; and associates worry about transfers’ effects on average hold times and customer satisfaction.

But transfers don’t have to be negative experiences. When done well, they get callers to the associates who can help them quickly, resulting in a win-win of better experiences for both customers and employees.

To master transfers, it’s important to know the difference between a cold transfer vs. warm transfer, and when to use which one.

In a cold transfer, the person (or automated system) answering a call transfers the caller to an associate without speaking to that associate first. A warm transfer, by contrast, provides context. During a warm transfer, the receptionist speaks to the associate who will be receiving the transfer. This way, the associate has information about the caller and the situation prior to taking the call.

The benefits of a warm transfer

Warm transfers, also known as attended transfers, tend to offer a better customer experience. Unlike a cold transfer, when a caller may have to repeat himself multiple times to various associates, an associate receiving a warm transfer already has knowledge of the caller’s needs and is better prepared to help.

Another customer care benefit of warm transfers is they ensure callers won’t be sent to an incorrect extension or an extension where no one answers.

Warm transfers also benefit associates. They’re better equipped to do their job well when they have some information about calls in advance, leading to faster and more frequent resolutions.

Certain situations always warrant a warm transfer, such as escalation calls, emotional calls, and those pertaining to sensitive subject matter, said Tracy Shearer, operations principal analyst at TTEC. Certain types of organizations, such as health care businesses, often opt to make warm transfers their standard operating procedure, she said.

Always use a warm transfer when it’s an emotional call, Shearer advised. When a caller is upset, a cold transfer will only lead to a worse experience. Also use a warm transfer when dealing with a caller who has already had to call the contact center multiple times about the same issue.

“Be human and take the time,” Shearer said of such calls. “Don’t worry about your AHT (average handle time). Be human and make an exception for that.”

If an emotional caller must be transferred, the associate should empathize with the caller – and make sure the associate receiving the transfer will be able to help.

A warm transfer also is the best way to move a customer from an online chat channel to the contact center, Shearer said. Since that customer has already waited to be serviced and explained the issue in a chat, a warm transfer – such as an associate scheduling a time to call the customer – makes sense and helps enable a seamless cross-channel experience.

Times for a cold transfer

In the cold transfer vs. warm transfer debate, there are many times when a warm transfer is better – but there are times when a cold transfer, also known as a blind transfer, is the best option.

Cold transfers can be particularly useful during an “all hands on deck” situation, said Shearer. When a contact center is facing a surge and associates are trying to service all the customers by a certain deadline, a cold transfer is the quickest way to get them to someone who can help them.

A cold transfer can also be the best approach for receptionists or associates who receive calls that are completely out their wheelhouse, such as a caller who called the wrong department, Shearer said. When that happens, tell callers they are being transferred to someone who can help.

The key to a successful cold transfer is to communicate clearly with the caller, said Tia McDougal, operations manager at TTEC. Always take time early in the call to give the caller a call-back number, in case they get disconnected or have trouble with the transfer.

Also, if callers are going to be cold transferred, McDougal recommends directing them to self-service options if any are available. In many cases, callers would prefer self-service over speaking with an associate, she added.

Don’t let transfers hinder CX

To make transfers as seamless as possible, communication is key.

“Make sure that your systems are integrated,” said Shearer. Any associate receiving a transfer should have all the information needed to help the customer. Nothing will frustrate a customer more than having to repeat the reason for the call more than once.

It’s also important to have clear, consistent policies that outline when associates should use a warm transfer vs. a cold transfer, said McDougal. Having such guidelines will empower associates to make the right decision and ensure all callers have similar experiences.

Finally, brands shouldn’t let their desire for lower AHT weigh too heavily on their judgment around transfers.

“You’re trying to get those calls handled as expeditiously as possible,” said Shearer, and cold transfers can be tempting because they seem like a quicker fix in the short term. But companies that invest the time into warm transfers often reap the longer-term benefits of higher Net Promoter Scores (NPS) and better customer satisfaction (CSAT) ratings, she said.

A lower AHT is always the goal, McDougal acknowledged, and it can be a balancing act – but there are trade-offs and benefits to taking a little extra time on the calls that warrant it.

“Don’t worry about those one-offs that you have when you have to take more time,” advised McDougal. “It will balance out.”