How to Setup a Call Center that Drives Customer Success
In business, having high-quality products and services is not the only thing that you need in order to attract customers and build a loyal customer base. There are other factors that come into play, and one of the weightiest ones is customer service.
Unfortunately, not all businesses recognize the importance of customer service. Large corporations and major players in business do, however, which is likely one of the reasons why they are the giants that they currently are in the industry. Smaller businesses and startups are not as perceptive, though, leaving a random employee to “man the phones” or “entertain customer complaints”. This is worlds apart from how bigger companies do it: by establishing a customer service call center.
Smaller businesses are likely to argue, however, that setting up a call center for customer service may be a bit too much. It must certainly cost a lot of money and even more manpower to get one off the ground and actually maintain it. That is the excuse they make for being haphazard about their customer service and refusing to set up a call center. Little do they know what they are missing out on.
It this article, we will explore 1) the basics of call centers, 2) setting up a call center, and 3) the conclusion.
CALL CENTERS: THE BASICS
The simple – and decidedly more well-known – definition of a call center is “a physical place where customer and other telephone calls are handled by an organization, usually with a certain amount of computer automation”. But there is more to a “call center” than what is stated in that definition.
Over the years, call centers have evolved. What originally started out as a company that provides answering services has now become something more encompassing. It’s no longer about just answering phone calls; it also involves collecting useful information that will be used to improve products and services and elevate customer satisfaction.
Which companies or businesses make use of call centers?
You will find that call centers are often used by organizations that make use of the telephone to reach its customers and sell its products or services. Mail-order catalog companies, telemarketing firms, computer hardware, and software help desks, and mobile money financial service providers are some examples of companies that rely heavily on call centers.
These days, there are companies that offer call center services, where they provide telephone customer services for organizations. Businesses – both large and small – can just opt to avail of their services and leave everything to them.
However, if you have the resources as well as the skills, you can set up your own call center and run it. This is actually more advantageous for businesses, since they can closely monitor their customer service, as it is in their own backyard. Many businesses also prefer to be more hands-on when it comes to their customer service, since they will have more control over it.
The Role of Call Centers in Driving Customer Success
Call centers have one major goal: to provide customer service satisfaction, thereby ensuring customer retention, inspiring customer loyalty, and ultimately guarantee the success of a business.
In order to better understand how call centers can be instrumental in achieving success with customers, let us break down in detail the benefits that they provide for business organizations.
Call centers streamline tasks and increase efficiency. Call centers are designed with varying levels of computer automation. This means that they are also equipped to handle a considerable volume of calls simultaneously. This results to reduced call times and the costs associated to it. More importantly, customer satisfaction will also be high since their concerns have been addressed quickly and efficiently.
Compare this with a single room with only two people manning the phones. During peak hours, the phones will be ringing off the hook, but there are only two people doing the job, and they will handle it the old-fashioned way: putting several calls on hold while they deal with the others first. Often, this results to dissatisfied and even angry callers and, eventually, lost customers. Call centers also allow the screening of calls, so they can be forwarded to someone who is more qualified to handle the issue at hand.
Call centers facilitate monitoring of different parameters that will help the organization evaluate its performance. Logging calls can be a pain when done manually. Thanks to the setup of call centers, this is made even easier, so monitoring will not be too much of a hassle. Whenever anyone in the organization needs information on their customer base, all they have to do is look up the call logs of the call center. Results of this monitoring will then be used for key management to make decisions on improving quality and efficiency.
Call centers save you money. Wait, didn’t you say that call centers require considerable cash outlay by the company? That’s right, but that is only when you look at things in the short term. In the long-term, the business will actually be able to save money.
For one, call centers will eliminate the hiring and training of new staff members to provide customer support. The call center agents are already your customer support representatives. You will be able to save even more money when you assign already existing staff members as in-house agents of your call center.
Call centers improve customers’ overall perception of your business. It is the middle of the night and a customer needs help. He immediately calls the hotline number of your company, and an agent in your call center picks it up. This is already a point in your company’s favor, since it shows willingness and readiness on your part to provide assistance, no matter what hour of the day it is.
Customers tend to go back to brands and companies that they know will take care of them. Having a call center will certainly give them that impression.
If we are to simplify things, it is safe to say that having a call center means being able to provide better customer service.
SETTING UP A CALL CENTER
It is a reality that a call center entails a sizable investment by a business. Setting it up and maintaining it will cost the company a lot in terms of resources. It also requires a huge commitment on the part of the organization to keep it running. However, in the long run, the business will have a bigger return on its investment, provided the call center is set up and subsequently ran properly.
Things you have to be clear about before setting up a call center
Before you can set up a call center, however, there are several things that you have to be clear about first.
- Your objectives and goals in setting up a call center. Why are you setting up a call center, and why set it up now? Determining your goals and objectives, as well as shedding light on the timing of installing a call center, will help in planning and designing the call center system. You will also have a yardstick to measure the results that will be given by the call center in the future.
- The type of call center that you will set up. There are two possible types of call centers that you can set up:
- Physical call center: This type of call center will have all the resources – computer systems, telephone lines, and agents – in one place, often a structure within the business premises, or some other location purposely set up or chosen by the business to be the site of operations of the call center.
- Virtual call center: In this type of call center, the agents will be operating remotely. They will most likely be handling customer calls from their own homes, or any other place.
- Any operational constraints that will impact the call center that you will set up. This entails assessing what you have so you will know what else you will need. The first thing you should look into is your phone system currently in place. Is it working, and if it is, is it working well? The next thing you should check on is if your existing telephone system can be integrated with your call center plan. You may find during your assessment that your telephone system is already dated and needs an upgrade. You can incorporate that into your budget.
- Your budget. Early on, it is important to establish the costs that you expect to spend on setting up and running your call center. It has already been made clear that the business will most likely spend a lot of money on a call center, and one way to avoid hemorrhaging cash on this aspect of the business later on is to have a budget in place. To establish your budget, you must have already determined the following:
- The location of the call center, or locations, if you plan on setting up multiple call centers.
- The manpower and the skill sets required to run the call center.
- The technology – telephone lines, hardware, and software – that will be used in the call center.
- Your people. You should also be able to determine the staffing requirements for the call center. How many people do you need? What are their skills and qualifications?
- Your customers. Always remember that a call center is considered to be the front lines of providing customer service and support. Therefore, you have to know your customers. The first thing you should do is to perform customer profiling, where you will identify who your customers are, their needs and preferences, and other relevant data. If you have already conducted market research involving your customers, then this will not be a difficult or tedious task. You also have to find out what questions are most often asked by your customers. This will help your agents anticipate the issues that they will have to answer.
With these issues sorted out, you are now ready to set up your call center.
Assembling your Call Center Team
1) Finding the people
If you want to have the best call center, it certainly follows that you have to have the best people on your call center team. Where will you find them?
The first place to look is within your organization. If you want to improve your sales through your call center, you should consider getting people from your Sales department. If your goal is to get more customers through your call center, then the Marketing department may have the talent you are looking for.
You may also recruit call center agents from outside the organization, but make sure that you have a stringent hiring and screening process in place. Your agents will be the “voice” of your company in dealing with customers, albeit over the phone. Therefore, you should look into their education, character, and skills.
When choosing call center agents, some of the primary considerations include their language fluency (those who are fluent in more than one language are often preferred), courtesy, and general demeanor. Naturally, you should assign a team leader that can truly lead your call center agents.
It does not end there, though. Let us say that you have managed to get together a team composed of well-educated and well-spoken individuals. Are you all set?
Not quite yet.
All the members of the team must be trained for the call center environment. Perhaps some of them already have experience, maybe some still don’t. However, call agents still need to be trained for all the potential situations that your organization’s call center is likely to encounter.
This entails knowing your customers, which was already discussed earlier. Established business may already have the answers ready, but for startups, they would have to start from scratch.
2) Mapping Out the Call Center
The layout of the call center may be best left in the hands of professional builders and decorators, but that does not mean that you do not have a say in the matter. You should keep in mind the following things when it comes to the layout.
- As in any working environment, make sure that it is conducive to working, with ample lighting and ventilation.
- As much as possible, set up a break room, or a common area where the call center agents can be comfortable in.
- Workstations must be positioned in such a way that teamwork and communication are encouraged.
- Choose ergonomic furniture and fixtures designed for comfort and convenience. Examples include adjustable chairs, computer monitors and keyboards.
- Design the area to be as far from noise as possible. Keep in mind that agents will be dealing with phone calls, so distraction from noise must be minimized, if not completely eliminated. One way to do this is to employ acoustic engineering, or installing wall fillers and ceiling masking to block or ward off sound.
3) Preparing the hardware and software
Now we come to one of the most important elements of a call center: the hardware and software.
Business can count themselves lucky that technology has now advanced greatly, so they have a lot of choices for their hardware and software. However, choosing the appropriate tools is not something that can be done randomly. Often, the help of experts will be required when “shopping” for hardware and software.
Many sources say that there are two main things that a call center must have: an ACD and an IVR. But let us not limit ourselves to them, because they are only two of the several things that are needed in a call center. Here are some of the items that you will need to set up a call center.
- A local area network, or LAN. It should be working smoothly, with no connectivity issues, so as to ensure continuous flow of work within the call center.
- Desktop computers with headsets. These are considered as the “tools of the trade” of call center agents.
- Automatic call distributor, or ACD. This is to facilitate routing calls to specific agents within the call center.
- A predictive dialer. This is for when agents have to make many outgoing calls. A predictive dialer automatically dials batches of numbers, thus saving time and effort.
B. Software or Systems
- Intelligent Voice Recognition, or IVR. With an IVR, information from callers can be collected. This is what is usually used for those recorded announcements, such as requesting callers to hold, or informing them of an estimated waiting time or their place in queue.
- A computer telephony integration, or CTI, system. This system collects data such as call information, automatic dialing, and phone control capabilities. This is another very useful monitoring tool.
- Call recording systems. These are used to monitor the quality of calls. There are also regulations in place that require calls made to and from call centers to be recorded for future reference.
4) Defining a disaster recovery plan
The final stages of setting up a call center plan require drawing up a disaster recovery plan. You never know what will happen in the future, and it is always better to have a plan in place in order to cope better. Having a disaster recovery plan will also inspire confidence among your customers since it is a sign that you take them seriously, and you will be able to deal with whatever hand your call center is dealt with.
Of course, the call center is an essential part of the business, and it should be recognized as such. All members of the organization should be made aware of the existence of the call center, and what it does. This way, they will be able to provide support for the call center, and vice versa.
Customer success is something that all organizations strive for, since it is an important factor for profitability and growth. Businesses go about providing customer service in various ways. Some methods work, others don’t. The call center is certainly one of the most successful ones. Sure, it is expensive to set up, but when the benefits start rolling in, it will all be definitely worth it.