How to choose a call center: getting started

GREAT MAZE LONGLEAT © 2007 Simon ‘Kelp’ Keeping | more info (via: Wylio)
Few business decisions have as much potential to revitalize your customers’ impression of your company as choosing a call center. A great call center can quickly transform the way people think about you and your products, helping them resolve difficulties and allowing you to build brand loyalty. With so many surveys showing customer service to be even more important than price for consumers and especially businesses, you need the right call center on your side.

However, choosing the best one for you and your customers can be a real challenge. There is a dizzying mix of options available today. Do you need an in-house or outsourced call center? Inbound or outbound? Offshore or nearshore? Shared or dedicated? And once you’ve determined the type that works best for you, how do you decide which of two seemingly identical centers will be the right fit for you?

Good questions. We’ll explore the more detailed elements in another post, but first let’s make sure the basic terms are clearly understood. It’s time for some good answers…

Types of Call Centers

  • An in-house operation would be staffed by your own employees, working within your own facility. An outsourced call center, on the other hand, would be a separate company that you hire to care for your customers while using its own staff and facilities. There are advantages to each. Companies with exceptionally high security needs or extremely confidential information will often choose to stay in-house, although there are call centers that specialize in handling those situations. Also, the Total Cost of Ownership should be carefully considered; even very cost-oriented decision-makers can be surprised to discover how relatively expensive an in-house operation can be, when all related and hidden costs of ownership are factored in.
  • Inbound call centers generally accept rather than make calls, and are typically used for customer service and technical support. Outbound operations call selected people or companies, often to support a marketing or sales campaign or survey. The lines can get blurred though; inbound customer-service call centers will often call back customers to ensure they were happy with a new product, to seek feedback, or to follow up after service to ensure everything was performed satisfactorily.
  • Offshore call centers are typically located on another continent, while nearshore call centers will be in a country that is adjacent or very near yours. For example, Canadian call centers are nearshore if you’re based in the United States. Irish call centers are nearshore if you’re in Great Britain. Offshore operations in India and other developing countries offer cost savings due to lower wages and other costs in their regions, but cultural, administrative and training issues can sometimes increase costs beyond what is initially expected or budgeted. Nearshore operations focus on providing the optimal mix of these factors, but again, operating costs can be higher than expected if proper planning and call center selection are not employed. Some companies employ a mix, using offshore operations for more routine calls, but turning to an in-house or nearshore solution for more sensitive or high-priority calls.
  • Call centers with shared agents will have the same person handling calls for more than one company. Computer-telephony integration (CTI) will allow those agents to be surprisingly seamless in their work for each of the companies, letting them see which company’s call is coming in, with the proper greeting and even the caller’s information appearing on their computer screen before the call is even answered. Dedicated agents meanwhile will handle only one company’s calls. Using shared agents can significantly reduce a company’s costs, and is often the first step for a growing company that wants to outsource, but does not yet have a heavy call volume. As companies require higher levels of familiarization with their products or their callers’ needs, or require higher levels of confidentiality, they tend to move toward the dedicated model.

Knowing Your Best Options

It is of course helpful to know what you need before you start shopping around for a call center. However, there is value in seeking input from the call centers themselves. Advanced technologies and increasingly specialized call center management techniques may present solutions that are not apparent when first considering such broad options. Know your possibilities, and be open to exploring new opportunities.

There is great value in finding a call center that has experience in your industry. Their understanding of callers’ needs and the best approaches for various situations can deliver great value to you and your clients. Again though, do not restrict your possibilities. Some well-managed call centers are extremely adept at crossing industry lines to develop solutions that can be tailored to each company’s situation. Related experience is a very valuable asset, but it’s not an absolute requirement if an outsourced call center can demonstrate they know how to excel in different sectors.

Keep in mind too that communication is changing at a blistering pace, and your call center must be able to match your callers’ needs and preferences. Telephones are of course at the core of call center services, but Web chats, emails, texting, and social media such as Twitter and Facebook are all being used by some companies. Make sure your call center will be able to handle what you and your customers need. This will include not only the actual technology, but adequate monitoring and reporting processes to ensure you can track what is happening and maintain standards of service.

As mentioned at the start, the right call center can deliver exceptional value to you and your customers. Understanding your basic requirements is an essential first step, but you will of course also need to understand many of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are used to monitor performance and assess the standards of any outsourced call center. We’ll cover that in our next blog post, but of course we also invite you to contact us if you feel Tacamor Call Centers may be able to assist with your call center needs.

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