Call Centers are talked about everywhere these days – probably because they affect our lives in so many ways. Whatever product or service we may buy, on many occasions we will end up dealing with one.
So then, how does one define a call center? Let’s give it a try..
“A call center is defined as the part of an organization that deals with inbound or outbound communications with customers.”
Furthermore, a call center can be a stand-alone business or an integral unit of a larger organization. Its primary function is to handle customer contacts.
These interactions range from customer service calls, technical support calls, sales calls and the like. It can therefore be summarized that it is a unit that does business over the phone.
Call centres are critical to support the marketing and customer service functions of many large companies. Most top Fortune 500 companies has at least one call centre which employs an average 4,500 agents. More than $300 billion is spent on call centres around the world.
It is not clear when the first call center emerged. However, the year when companies started doing business over the phone can be traced. Logically speaking this is at the time when the telephone was considered as a common household device – the 70s.
Types of Call Centers
There are two types of contact centers based on its nature. The first one is captive, meaning it takes calls for its parent company. The other one is outsourced or third party. This is when a third party company takes calls for a client company.
It is thought by many that contact centers are cost centers. Operating it or outsourcing services incur costs but it is a necessary evil to keep relationships with existing customers intact.
Today, contact centers are increasingly looked upon as profit centers. This is because sales and promotion can happen anytime during the customers’ interaction with the center’s personnel. This can be considered as one of the reasons why many financial institutions prefer to operate their own captive centers.
Since banking information is sensitive, it only makes sense to entrust the data to employees who are actually part of the company. Furthermore, the people’s in-house training makes them more effective in increasing revenue by pushing add-on sales and similar upgrades.
There are some businesses that prefer to focus on their core competencies and instead rely on outsourced services. This is also a good practice provided that the center they entrust their customers with is trustworthy and reliable.
Inbound call centers fall under general categories. The two most common are customer service and technical support.
Customer service calls preserve relationships. This is because this type of contact commonly seeks to address minor problems related to billing and account management. Prior to the dominance of remote calling services, customers are required to personally drop by business offices to conduct their inquiry regarding their account and/or service. Today, this process has been simplified and made more convenient by the ability to fix issues over the phone.
The continued proliferation of technology has created a demand for product support. Although most gadgets and high-tech services come with a manual, there are some people who are not technologically wired enough to understand these guides. There are also times when the problem experienced go beyond the common issues covered by user guides.
This is when the contact center steps in. Customers need to only dial a specific number to be connected to an expert who will help him fix is problem over the phone. Major hardware problems may soon be escalated and require to have a technician personally come over the customer’s house. This used to be the common practice, but this was greatly reduced by the capacity to troubleshoot while on the phone. As a result, costs incurred due to truck rolls have been significantly lowered by contact centers.
What Defines an Effective Call Center?
An effective call center, just like any other business, needs to balance three factors: people, process, and technology.
It is a good idea to start with hiring the right people to do the job. Although the common known employee is the telephone representative or the agent, there are many other support positions that need to be filled up if the business is expected to perform effectively. There has to be effective trainers, quality analysts, supervisors, applications developers, report analysts, and managers.
Process refers to the internal procedures by which specific tasks are carried out within the organization. Every department almost has their own process and this must perfectly mesh with processes in other departments to ensure seamless operations.
Technology is important because it helps the organization in saving time, storing information, and managing relationships. One of the most important call center software is the CRM tool or the customer relationship management tool. This is where data is collected from which business decisions are based upon. Without reliable CRM software, managing interactions will be guesswork and this is not good since preserving customer relationships is a very time-sensitive matter.
The other significant call center software is the ACD or the automatic call distribution software. This is important in making sure that incoming calls are evenly distributed among staff. Without this, calls will be routed to the first few lines only making all the other agents idle and thereby resulting to inefficient call volume management.
A great contact center knows the value of balancing its top three resources: people, process, and technology. Businesses looking for third party vendors need to quiz their prospective vendor about these things to accurately gauge its effectiveness in handling your needs.
Many call centres now utilise workforce management software, which analyzes historical information together with projected information to calculate automated schedules. They may also use CRM software as part of a customer relationship management strategy, to increase customer loyalty and retention. Personnel costs have recently come under scrutiny and with the goal of driving these down, many call centers are now being outsourced or off shored. India and the Philippines have been two countries to benefit from this trend.