Setting up a call center for your business is an investment of both time and money. In order to navigate this operation as well as possible, here is a guide to help you get off on the right foot when you build a call center.
This guide will be useful regardless of the type of call center you’re looking to set up (inbound or outbound, sales or support). Some points will apply to some situations more than others, but the advice will be geared towards helping you build a call center of any type.
Coming up with a plan to build a call center
The right way to build a call center requires a bit of planning. Before you set out to bring your operation to life, there are a few questions and choices to consider. Without proper planning, you’ll likely find yourself in a tight spot. Take some time to strategize to avoid doing damage control down the line.
Set a budget
Before you make any decisions, you need to have a clear idea of the funds at your disposal to create a call center. Your available funds will winnow down your options in terms of your tools and your team later on.
Make a difference between your initial investment to build a call center and the recurring fees necessary to keep it running. This will be further explained in the next point. Outbound call centers will generate revenue in the form of leads and sales. Inbound call centers, however, have a more tenuous link between operation and profit.
It’s important to understand that even if your call center doesn’t bring in revenue in of itself (if it provides customer support, for instance), it will hopefully improve your customer’s experience, boost customer retention, and inflate your bottom line in an indirect manner.
To think of call centers dedicated to customer service as mere money drains is missing the point entirely. If you are careful and savvy during the initial setup of your call center, you can make the phone to be an invaluable tool for your customers’ satisfaction and business’ growth.
Virtual or onsite?
From the get-go, you must decide whether your call center will operate virtually or whether you will man the infrastructure. This comparison has many ins and outs but let’s try to summarize.
An onsite call center means that your business will be responsible for choosing, setting up, configuring, and maintaining all of the infrastructure, hardware, and software necessary to your operation. Nowadays, more often than not, this means using VoIP software through an IP PBX. Implementation can be costly and slow, and upkeep requires office space, upfront funds, and a knowledgeable team. In the case of downtime and disaster recovery, relying on physical hardware can either be an advantage or a drawback.
A virtual call center lets your business hit the ground running more easily. The hardware and infrastructure is the responsibility of your service provider, so all you need to do on your end is install the software and have a reliable internet connection handy. This saves on upfront costs and office space for your business, and Adding and removing users is a breeze, which is a boon for new call centers or those with fluctuating team numbers. In the case of an outage, cloud-based providers have recovery processes far beyond what an individual, smaller company could boast. However, it’s still frustrating to rely on a third party to fix a problem when you’re the one bearing the brunt of the inconvenience.
A virtual call center will also allow your team to work remotely. This means longer opening hours over several timezones, if needed. Virtual agents can be hugely advantageous to a call center especially a fledgling one.
Establish goals and define KPIs
Define the objectives of your call center early on. Depending on your focus (cold calling, lead generation, customer support, etc.), this will determine your Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs.
KPIs are quantitative measures of your call center’s efficiency, speed, and quality of service. They will give you an idea of the performance of individual agents and of your team as a whole, thus allowing you to make data-driven decisions to improve customer satisfaction and increase revenue.
There are a great number of possible KPIs, but the question is: which KPIs should you track? Monitoring all of them is not only practically difficult, but it is inadvisable as well. By tracking too many performance metrics, you run the risk of missing the forest for the trees.
Instead, select a few KPIs which are truly relevant to your goals and corporate strategy. Pick KPIs which reflect areas requiring excellence or improvement, and continuously review them for progression. Once you have a first review of your performance, adjust your monitoring strategy to focus on new strengths and weaknesses. Set precise targets to define success, and make sure they are clear to your whole team. Lastly, craft a recovery plan, should you fall short of your objectives.
Picking the right tools to build a call center
In order to perform to the best of its ability, your call center team needs to have the proper tools at its disposal. Here is a brief outline of the areas to plan for when picking your tools.
Business phone system
To build a call center, you’ll need a phone system. It is the most important tool in your belt. First, decide whether to operate onsite or choose a virtual solution. In any case, you’ll have to consider the size of your team, the strength of your internet connection, and your potential for expansion. Pick a solution which will be scaleable, as easy to implement and use as you need it to be, and outfitted with the features you require.
This subject warranted an article of its own, so here is a more detailed guide on the subject of choosing the right business phone system.
Alternative service channels
Perhaps your contact center needs to be available to your customers over multiple channels. If that is the case, developing an omnichannel strategy is a challenge in of itself. In order to stay on top of your customer’s expectations, offer only channels you can man successfully, and offer a consistent customer experience across the board.
Performance monitoring software
Going back to a point mentioned above: if you want to adequately track your call center’s performance over the phone, you’ll need to invest in monitoring software. In order to devise a monitoring strategy for your team, opt for a program which will allow you to record the calls you need and measure the metrics you consider important.
Your Customer Relationship Management software is the hub around which your client interaction is structured. CRM solutions are crucially important to managers looking to build a call center. It will assist you in streamlining your sales process and accompanying your customers along their journey. Pick a CRM solution which will mesh well with your objectives, your team’s habits, and your customer’s needs.
If your call center handles inbound support calls, you’ll need to keep track of every customer’s interactions with your team. The right help desk software will strike a balance between self-service tools for your customers and a comprehensive interface so that your team can be more efficient and reactive.
Your team will need a way to communicate with one another, to conserve both time and effort as well as work collaboratively. There exist a plethora of available tools to give your support team a boost. Pick and choose the ones best applicable to your activity.
Don’t neglect your remote agents, if they exist. Virtual agents have a great many advantages for employers, but they require the proper tools in order to be productive and fully mesh with the rest of your team.
Recruiting a team
Last, but certainly not least, your call center will need agents to man its stations. Your team should be at the center of your organization.
Crunch the numbers
From the outset, you need to determine how many agents your call center will need to function correctly. This will help you budget for space and resources. Estimate the call volume you’ll be fielding, and the eventual addition of alternative channels such as email and live chat. Consider your goals regarding wait time and average calls per agent, as well. For the purpose of estimating the size of your team and your volume of calls, it’s possible to enlist the services of an outside consultant. Also, you could use an online Erlang Calculator to tally up the necessary number of agents to answer a certain number of calls.
Don’t forget to factor in your growth to the equation. As your call center contributes to your bottom line, your business and customer base will hopefully grow, and your call center itself will need to expand. This will affect your needs in terms of office space and material resources. This is where the possibility of hiring virtual agents becomes especially attractive.
Initiate a recruitment process
Traditional call centers have a deserved reputation for high employee turnover. It is also a long and painstaking process to train new recruits. Consequently, it makes good sense to have a selective recruitment process, in order to hire people with the potential to be in it for the long run.
First, this means displaying personal qualities which will make a great call center agent. Look for people who are patient, organized, and positive. Good applicants will be attentive, eager to learn and to make the most of their training period.
If your company selects its employees conscientiously, then it will be easier to create a company culture which suits customers and team members equally well. Employees who feel empowered and at ease will be less likely to churn. The same is true for the customers those employees will service. The second step is giving agents proper training. Careful recruitment is the first step to build a call center with a crack team.
Make the training period a real asset
Onboarding your new recruits should be an opportunity to empower them and give them the tools to succeed. It’s important to make sure your agents are familiar with their objectives as well as with your product or service. Whether your team performs sales or service matters little; if they aren’t confident with their product, they won’t be able to sell it or help others use it.
Your team should also be able to use the tools at their disposal smoothly, in order to become more independent and productive. The initial training period is important, but so is the choice of the tools in the previous portion of this article. Don’t hesitate to switch things around at first, ask your team for input on their tools and the on boarding process and find the right balance.
Involving your team in the training period is key. Ask for feedback on how to improve, and keep the feedback loop going. Performance monitoring should both give your agents incentive to improve and give management ideas on how to empower their team. Continuous, real-time monitoring will give you ideas for the content of regular training sessions. These sessions should be ongoing, so that your process keeps getting better as your team reaches its objectives.