Talk to someone about a call centre, and they start conjuring images of tight desks, spools of telephone wires crawling the floors, continuous ringing and burnt out agents, working long, odd hours and doing repetitive tasks.
While some companies still employ such models for the frontline of their customer service endeavours, new technologies are changing the way call centres are managed.
Customer-centric businesses are now adopting features of modern call centres to improve their service offerings. From seamlessly managing customer interactions to detailed reports on agent performance, call centres are now designed to help businesses put the customer first.
The need for call centres
Call centres have been in the works for over 50 years now. With landlines becoming the norm in almost every home, businesses saw a huge marketing potential in the telephone.
Thus, they started to build a team of agents, housed them in an office complex and gave them a telephone with a list of numbers. Their job? To call and sell products.
Put simply, the first call centres were mere sales tools.
It was only with the invention of toll free number services that businesses began to establish a two-way communication channel between them and their consumers.
Without being charged a penny, customers were now more inclined to give a call to the toll-free number they saw in an advertisement. Other marketing activities were also being channelled through call centres, leading to a rise in the number of calls received every day.
While telemarketing activities continued, enterprises began to set up in-house contact centres for handling customer inquiries, offering support and conducting research about the mood of the market.
With a footing with the customers, call centres began to expand on their capabilities. From being mere marketing tools, call centres began to establish themselves as a one-stop shop for all customer queries regarding a business’ product or service.
Today, call centres are becoming an industry of their own.
Better yet, dedicated service providers are offering efficient software to manage the communication aspects of your customer service initiatives. Businesses of all scales are looking at the advancements in call centre technology and implementing them in their operations.
The journey from a call to a contact centre
While call centres were adept at handling the majority of communications with customers, the advent of the Internet, and its added features, changed the game for these centres yet again.
With customers now equipped with a unique email address, customer support centres with abilities to only send and receive telephone calls began to seem outdated.
Thus, businesses began to add different communication formats to their call centres. This led to the birth of contact centres.
Contact centres were the next logical progression of the call centre setup. With innovative communication platforms flooding the market and personal communication devices soaring in popularity, businesses began to make their call centres more versatile. Agents used different mediums like email, instant messaging, chats to connect with customers where they wanted to be connected.
In contemporary times, with consumers possessing multiple smart devices, the terms call and contact centre are often used interchangeably. And, with the demand for seamless communication rising, contact centre software now adds omnichannel capabilities to their systems.
Today, almost every customer support centre has the tools to connect on multiple platforms, including social media.
Types of call centres
Now that we have understood the differences between a call and a contact centre let us learn about the different types of these setups.
Every call centre offers a unique purpose and benefits. However, before understanding how your contact centre will function or the strategies you will implement, it is vital to create a strong foundation.
And, the first step to creating this foundation is deciding on the kind of call centre most suited to your business communication needs.
Outbound call centres
Outbound call centres are focused on making calls to customers—both current and prospective—at the behest of your company.
These can include promotional calls on upcoming deals and offers, sales and cold calls, or just a general follow up with the customer on their purchase.
With the increased use of data analytics to drive business decisions, outbound call centres are also now using their services to conduct feedback and customer surveys. Agents ask customers about their purchase journey and decisions, where they got to know about the product and if it is living up to the standards set by the marketing materials.
Inbound call centres
As the name suggests, inbound call centres are designed to receive incoming calls for your business. These calls are primarily focused on providing support to customers who have engaged with your business, i.e., those who have purchased a product or service from your company.
Furthermore, inbound call centres are equipped to handle all sorts of customer inquiries, ranging from help setting up the product to issues arising through daily usage.
These centres require more investments from companies because of the need to train the agents. Customers who call into the company expect agents to solve their problems. And this is only possible if the agents are well versed with the workings of your product or service.
Apart from this, inbound call centres are also used to route customers to different departments within the company.
Also read : Inbound or Outbound? Heard about Hybrid Models?
Cloud contact centres
While outbound and inbound call centres have several offerings, today’s businesses need a system that allows two-way communication and is powered by advancements in technology. Enter—cloud contact centres!
Based on the foundations of the cloud, these centres, also known as virtual contact centres, fuse the inbound and outbound services into an all-encompassing contact centre. This allows agents to not only receive calls but also make outgoing calls to customers and prospects.
However, the true benefit of this setup comes with the technologies they offer.
Cloud contact centres can be operated from anywhere in the world. Without heavy investment in hardware and infrastructure, these centres simply connect to the Internet and carry out their work. The set-up is also easy and cheap, compared to traditional systems that drain the systems without offering regular updates.
Put simply, with cloud contact centres, your systems will always be up-to-date with the latest software and technologies.
Additionally, cloud contact centres offer a robust system to connect with your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. This allows you to better your lead management and also ease the workload for agents.
These contact centre software also come with a range of metrics to measure individual agent performance.
In-house vs outsourced call centres
It’s no surprise that any business that offers a product or a service needs a call centre to deal with customer support and queries.
However, it can be difficult to decide which type of call centre you need when setting up a business. While the types mentioned above mainly differ in the call centre’s purpose, there is another classification—based on ownership.
While outsourcing your call centre activities to third parties can get you on the road instantly, with a team that is prepped and informed of all service expectations, these centres are often outside the management of your company. Thus, quality may suffer.
However, in-house call centres, on the other hand, require you to start from scratch—assembling a team, buying the technology, training the agents, etc.
Let us look at the pros and cons of both these types of call centres:
Pros of in-house call centres
All in the family
In-house call centre agents are employees of your company. They, like you, are dedicated to working towards the betterment of your company, unlike an outsourced centre, that is merely based on a contractual obligation.
These agents hold more knowledge about your products and services, therefore, can assist customer queries quickly and efficiently.
Helps personalise support
With complete control over the functioning and processes of the call centre, managers can personalise the support based on customer preferences.
Additionally, in-house call centre agents have a better understanding and reach of the internal department, making scheduling call-backs and follow-ups much more seamless.
Integrate with own business tools
While integration is possible with outsourced call centres too, there is a better access management system for in-house agents.
This easy access to company resources and information can help enhance the customer support offered by agents.
Better data security
In-house contact centres are closed-loop systems. All the information that comes in stays within the business itself. This can be used by the banking and finance sectors that deal in sensitive customer data.
Having an in-house centre can also help in better managing errors with products. With inaccurate reports coming directly to the company, they can act appropriately to fix the issue.
Agents working for the company are more inclined to receive and relay customer information to management. This may not be the case with outsourced agents, who rely on forms to convey customer feedback.
Talking to an in-house agent is therefore comparable to talking to a direct employee of the company, making it more likely the issue gets the attention it deserves.
Cons of in-house call centres
Limited support hours
Businesses do not operate 24x7x365 days. This means that there will be times, post working hours, where customer support will be unavailable. This is a major drawback of in-house call centres.
High set-up costs
Starting from scratch entails a high set-up cost. From assembling a team to investing in the right technologies, in-house contact centres are expensive to build and maintain.
Simply hiring support agents is not enough, you also need to invest in training your staff to meet the service quality expectations. This can be a costly, and time-consuming affair due to the high attrition rates in call centres.
Even managing these centres required skill and experience, else the entire operation might come crashing down.
Pros of outsourced call centres
The biggest benefit of outsourcing your call centre operations is that you can get started almost instantly. Third-party call centres are already equipped with skilled agents and up-to-date technologies.
Licensing a particular software is cheaper than designing it yourself from scratch.
The same logic can be applied to the discussions between in-house and outsourced call centres. Companies forgo infrastructure, labour and all additional costs for a small subscription fee.
Stay true to customer demands
Service quality expectations have dramatically risen in the last decade. The modern customer not only expects quick service but wants it at a moment’s notice, all year round. This model might be difficult to sustain with an in-house set-up, making outsourcing the clear winner.
Third-party call centres continuously train their agents to have in-depth knowledge about their industries.
These years of experience are an added bonus to the operations, ensuring that your customers speak to knowledgeable and skilled agents.
Manage even peak hours with ease
Another advantage of outsourced call centres is their ability to scale up operations as and when it demands.
All you have to do is increase the number of agent subscriptions and you are set to manage incoming bulk calls.
Cons of outsourced call centres
Drop in the quality of service
Outsourced contact centres are tasked with doing the job. They have their KPIs set by their managers and must work towards meeting them.
This might sometimes hamper the quality provided by the agents to your customers.
Lack of in-depth product knowledge
While outsourced agents are well aware of the industry and its practices, they are not well versed with your company’s product. While they receive information about the product, their knowledge levels are not aligned with in-house agents. This can negatively impact the customer support experience.
Outsourced call centres are independent contractors. Therefore, it is impossible to set the same standards for your business onto these independent agents.
All in all, while both types of call centres have their own set of advantages and disadvantages, you must decide according to your organisation’s requirements.
Majorly, small businesses opt for outsourced centres and get the ball rolling, while privacy-conscious enterprises aim to set up their own call centres.
Trendy tech: What your call centre needs
The goal of every call centre is to deliver the best support to its customers. While human agents are well equipped to handle most of the communication aspects, technology assists them in doing the job more efficiently.
Let us go over six of the crucial technologies that are popular with call centres:
VoIP or Voice over Internet Protocol is a game-changer for call centres. Affordable and scalable communication, backed by the power of the cloud, VoIP offers HD quality audio to call centre operations.
With the ability to use your computer or phone to take calls, VoIP has allowed for the creation of remote call centres, drastically reducing infrastructure costs while maintaining the same, or at times, improved quality.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software
CRM software is similar to your accounting books. It keeps a detailed log of all your customer interactions between different agents at different times.
Integrating it with a VoIP-based hosted phone system allows you to view crucial customer data seamlessly during live calls. Agents can even assign tasks to a particular customer or mark one as a potential lead.
Automatic Call Distributor
Automatic Call Distributors, or ACD, is an intelligent system tasked with routing customer calls in the most efficient way possible.
Gone are the days of first-come, first-serve policies. ACD’s use artificial intelligence and predetermined guidelines set by you to analyse the best agent for a particular caller.
Intelligent Voice Response systems, or IVR’s, are now ubiquitous in customer support operations.
Giving callers the ability to navigate the service offerings using a neatly laid out menu, IVR quickly connects them to the department they need. Additionally, it is increasingly used to collect feedback and conduct customer surveys.
Like the name suggests, auto-dialler is a specialised software that automatically rings up numbers from the list of customers. With smart technologies, it can even understand if there is a voicemail on the other side and quickly connect the agent to the next customer.
All of this dramatically reduces the time between calls and improves agent efficiency.
Want to inform customers and prospects about an upcoming event or the next mega sale?
Using the cloud’s voice and SMS broadcasting tools, you can instantly send all the information you want to your customers at the click of a button.
How to measure agent performance
Cloud call centres are now equipped to present a report card for your call centre. It measures agent performance through different metrics like:
First Call Resolution (FCR)
The first impression matters the most. No customer likes to call multiple times for the same query.
Thus, efficient call centres must strive to maintain an 85-90% FCR rate to help customers in one shot.
Abandoned call rates
Customer calls that disconnect before picking up are always a bad sign for the call centre. This can mean your centre has an inefficient call management system, leading to long queues and hold times for customers.
Average Handling Time (AHT)
Customers like a quick resolution to their issues. But, call centre agents can take a long time to assist them. Thus, tracking the call time of individual agents can help improve overall efficiency.
Call transfer rate
89% of customers get frustrated repeating the same issues to different service agents. Thus, call centre agents must be trained to handle queries efficiently and transfer calls only when needed.
Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)
A good CSAT score can help you get great word-of-mouth from existing customers. Not only do customers get a chance to rate the experience, but this enables the centre to enhance its service.
These metrics help businesses define and stick to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
A more organised call centre will open the doors for better customer satisfaction and increased customer calls.
What is the future of call centres?
The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of business operations. What was done merely years ago is now seen as the older way of doing things.
This is true in the case of call centres too.
Call centres are going virtual
Thanks to the cloud, businesses could quickly get back on track after the world had gone into strict quarantines. And despite being locked inside for over a year, they did not lose out on productivity.
In fact, studies have now listed several jobs that can completely go remote, while the others can opt for hybrid working. One such is the role of call centre agents.
As traditional communication methods fall flat when compared to the cloud, businesses are beginning to take note. Rather than setting up clunky, traditional offices, the future represents a sleeker space for these call centre agents.
Moreover, with cloud services becoming industry standards, switching to a virtual call centre is only a matter of time, a short time.
Self-service will continue to rise
A study in the Harvard Business Review discovered that “across industries, fully 81% of all customers attempt to take care of matters themselves before reaching out to a live representative.”
This is in line with the demands of consumers for more self-service options.
These include AI-enabled chatbots that provide quick answers to frequently asked questions, intelligent IVR systems with voice recognition software to assist in all sorts of customer queries, and many more.
While automation has swept across almost every industry, call centres have always had a wary approach to complete automation. Wonder why?
This is because, when it comes to quality service, the human touch still reigns supreme. But, the advantages and benefits of automated tools cannot be ignored.
Thus, in a world where hybrid is the new buzzword, there will exist a hybrid model of man and machine for call centres too. This is already in motion.
AI has already eased the workload of agents tremendously by automating several tasks—call distribution, data entry, etc—allowing them to focus on more important and pressing customer issues.
All in all, we can see a clear shift towards the world of cloud-based communications.
Offering superior quality of services and offerings, at costs reasonable even for small startups, cloud telephony and its features have levelled the playing field for all businesses—new and old.
Even with a small workforce, you can commit to big goals and expand to different areas.
Karan is a communications graduate with a passion for film and writing and is on an indefinite journey to search for and capture stories from around the world. He is currently exploring the world of content marketing to bring to life the products and services we use every day. Connect with him on Linkedin