Building the Perfect Call Center

For building customer loyalty and maintaining an exceptional business reputation, call centers are a critical piece of the puzzle.  Many companies today are seeing the value in having a top-notch customer service operation, recognizing that delivering excellent service is more important than ever before due to the abundance of choices available to the modern consumer, and a growing intolerance for ineptitude.

But, how exactly do you build the perfect customer service call center?

It is certainly not an easy thing to do, which is why more and more businesses are choosing to outsource their call center operations to a dedicated customer service provider.  But regardless of whether a business wants to outsource customer care or keep it entirely in house, there are a few common components that must be in place in order to create a truly exceptional customer service call center.

1.  The Right People:  You can have all the best equipment, technology and procedures necessary to deliver great customer service, but it won’t be worth a darn without a good team of agents working the phones.  Success in the customer service field requires a specific skill set and personality type.  Agents need to be good listeners who are able to understand and diagnose problems, often with limited information.  They also must be able to deal with the occasional angry customer, with the ability to diffuse tension and get to the bottom of an issue without becoming too emotionally involved.  Most importantly, though, they should be genuinely nice people with an overall positive attitude.  A smile can go a long way in the world of customer service, even on the phone.  Finding the right type of people to hire for your customer service call center is not always easy, which is why most call centers have extremely high employee turnover rates.  However, the rewards for building a staff of loyal, skilled and dedicated customer service representatives are immense — a positive and supportive work environment, cost savings from reduced turnover, and most importantly, the ability to provide truly superior customer service that will differentiate you from the competition.

2.  Reliable Infrastructure and Technology:  While at its core talking on the phone or responding to an e-mail may seem to be relatively simple things, there is actually a lot going on in the background at a typical contact center to ensure that everything happens smoothly and efficiently.  There must be a contact management platform in place to direct calls to agents, and the equipment must be good enough to facilitate clear communication back and forth.  Downtime must also be minimized and/or eliminated, because if customers cannot get through to the support line, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will soon go elsewhere, most likely a competitor.  To keep things running smoothly, software and hardware must be regularly maintained and kept up to date, and there should be redundant power and communications systems in place to deal with blackouts, etc.  It is also important to have a skilled and reliable network administrator at the helm to oversee systems operation.

3.  A Detailed Plan:  There are many decisions that must be made in the creation of a customer service strategy.  For example, should a live agent immediately answer all calls, or should an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) menu be in place to direct calls to the appropriate department?  Because there are different ways to measure customer service, which call center key performance indicators should you focus on?  Is Average Handle Time (AHT) the most critical thing, or are other metrics like First Call Resolution (FCR) more important?  How about self-service?  Do you want to give callers the ability to manage some account functions like cancellations or bill payments on their own via touchtone keystrokes?  There are a lot of costs associated with operating a call center, many of which are not always immediately obvious.  Have you taken things like higher power bills, employee turnover costs, equipment wear and tear, software licenses, management time and energy, and facilities maintenance costs into account?  The answers to all of these important decisions should be clearly outlined in your company’s overall customer service strategic plan.  This will be your road map to success in delivering an enhanced customer care experience.

No two call centers are exactly the same, but these common elements are found in the majority of successful customer service operations.  Incorporating them into your own plans can go a long way towards building, or partnering with, the perfect customer service call center.

Is Tacamor the perfect call center for your company’s needs?  We are true customer care experts with the right people, processes, and facilities in place to deliver the highest quality customer service.  Contact us today to find out how we can help your business!

Customer Service Leadership

In order to be considered successful, a company must grow.  In order to grow, a company needs to somehow differentiate itself from the competition.  Focusing on high quality customer service in order to deliver the best possible customer experience for consumers is a particularly effective strategy that many businesses are putting into action in order to set themselves apart from competitors.

But, if there has never been much of a focus on customer care in the past, how can a company suddenly become a customer service leader?

A commitment to customer service is not something that can simply be tacked onto a business as an afterthought.  Rather, it needs to be fully ingrained into the culture of a company, and really, the only way for that to happen is for senior management to buy into that philosophy and actually put the ideas into practice.  Only when upper management fully embraces this philosophical shift and starts to demand improvements in key customer service metrics will it trickle down through middle management to the front line workers.  After all, if the CEO of a company does not care about providing excellent customer service, why should the employees care?

One of the best (and easiest) ways to become a customer service leader is to outsource call center work to a firm that specializes in providing high quality customer care.  This usually means outsourcing to an onshore or nearshore customer service provider rather than going offshore.  While a business might be able to obtain a lower overall rate through an offshore call center, the quality of customer care may suffer.  Language barriers and cultural differences often come into play and detract from the overall customer experience.  Industry consultant David Filwood indicates that, “It’s not a racist issue; people relate over the phone to people they perceive as being from their region.”

According to a recent Globe & Mail article, many North American companies that initially outsourced their call centers offshore are now bringing them back due in large part to low customer satisfaction.  Sears Canada spokesman Vincent Power recently remarked, upon bringing the company’s repair service call center back to Canada, “There’s now a higher degree of satisfaction for calls related to parts and service than there were before.”

A leadership decision to outsource call center operations offshore to the lowest cost provider indicates that customer service is simply not a priority for the company, and that they are more concerned with cutting costs than delivering a great customer experience.  Conversely, finding the right nearshore or onshore outsourcing partner shows that customer care is a high priority for senior management, and that they are willing to forego the lowest possible rock bottom price in order to keep their customers happy.

Having upper management make the strategic decision to focus on improved customer care, and then actually taking steps to implement the strategy, is the first critical step that a company must take in order to become a true customer service leader in the industry.

Tacamor specializes in providing high quality inbound customer service and level 1 technical support.  Put us to work  for your company and see first hand how we can improve your overall customer satisfaction!

Building Loyalty Through Customer Service

Keeping customers happy is more important than ever before.

The logic is pretty simple.  Receiving exceptional customer service makes people feel good about a company, which in turn makes them more likely to be loyal to that company in the future.

In fact, in many cases a good customer service team can be even more powerful for building loyalty than continually delivering a good product or service.  A study by Marketing Metrics indicated that if a company consistently delivered its product or service without any problems, customer loyalty would be approximately 60-70%; that is, existing customers would be about 60-70% likely to keep buying their current brand of product or staying with their current service provider if nothing else changed.  However, if instead the company screwed up somehow (I.e. service interruption, defective product, etc.) but fixed its mistake through excellent customer service (I.e. immediately acknowledging the problem and quickly resolving the issue to the customer’s satisfaction), customer loyalty levels increased up to 95%!

People don’t expect companies to be perfect, but they really admire the ones that care enough about their customers to admit their mistakes and provide superior service to fix problems.

But why is customer loyalty so important?

One big reason is that people are simply becoming less and less tolerant of poor service these days.  The Harris Interactive Customer Experience Impact Report indicates that 86% of consumers have quit doing business with a company because of a bad customer experience, which is up from 59% just four years ago.  This is important because losing customers is expensive!  It has been estimated that it costs about five times as much to acquire a brand new customer than it takes to retain an existing one.

The deterioration of a company’s reputation due to poor customer service is another important consideration.  According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, a dissatisfied consumer will tell between 9 and 15 people about his or her experience.  Plus, with the proliferation of social media services such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+, this number can be even higher, causing more potential damage to a company’s brand.  This trend can also work in a company’s favor, however, as happy customers will generally tell 4 to 6 other people about their positive customer experiences.

The bottom line is that customer loyalty matters, especially in our modern economy where people have more choices than ever before.  People will not be shy about taking their business elsewhere, so companies must focus more and more on keeping their customers happy if they want to remain competitive.  Delivering great customer service is no longer the exception… it’s the rule.

Outsourcing your contact center operations to a highly qualified customer service provider like Tacamor can get you on the right track towards keeping your customers happy and building loyalty.  It might even save you money, too!  Request a quote today to find out how Tacamor can help your business.

The Hidden Costs of Operating a Call Center

Many companies struggle with the decision of whether to keep their call center operation in house, or outsource it to a professional customer service provider.  Although improved quality of service is a major reason why many companies are choosing to outsource, the issue of cost remains a huge factor in the decision making process.

So, how do you compare the cost of running an in house call center against the cost of outsourcing it to a professional?

At first glance, it would seem to be an easy question to answer.  You calculate how much you are paying your current team of agents, whether per minute or per hour, and then compare it with a quoted rate from a call center outsourcer.

That’s all there is to it, right?

Well, in a word, no.

The reality is that there are a multitude of other costs that should be taken into account when properly weighing an outsourcer’s quoted rate against your own expenses.  Some of these costs are much more obvious than others.

Here are some essential costs, many of which are “hidden,” which should be factored into the equation when comparing outsourced versus in house call center expenses.

  • Payroll – This is the most obvious cost, and in some cases is the only one taken into account by many companies when deciding whether or not to outsource.  Strictly speaking, this is what you pay out to your call center staff in the form of wages and employee benefits.
  • Facilities – Your call center has to be located somewhere.  What is the cost of the building or office space?  If you outsourced your call center operations, could you put this newly vacated space to better use, or save additional money by closing it off completely?
  • Equipment – A good call center requires many different types of equipment, including computers, phone systems, wiring, furniture, etc.  In addition to a substantial up front investment to initially acquire these items, there is also a need for continual maintenance and upkeep for equipment.  Desks and chairs will wear out and need to be repaired, while computer systems will eventually become obsolete as technology improves, and need to be upgraded or replaced.  If you outsource, your company will not have to worry about these maintenance costs, since they would be borne by the outsourcer.
  • Technology – Similar to ongoing maintenance costs for physical equipment, there are also substantial costs related to keeping the level of required technology up to date.  Operating systems and software applications will need to be constantly upgraded to newer versions, and networks will need to be improved to keep up with the constant demand to be better and faster.  A good contact management platform and/or CRM system can be very costly, and often requires a certain level of technical expertise to operate effectively.  What is the cost of acquiring and implementing the necessary call center technology yourself versus letting a professional outsourcing company handle it?
  • HR Costs – In addition to payroll, there are other costs associated with maintaining a staff of workers.  How much does it cost to hire and train agents?  What about the cost of employee turnover?  Attrition rates in the call center industry are usually very high, and there can be a substantial cost associated with having to recruit, hire and train new customer service agents on a continual basis.  The cost of sick leave, employee motivation and other day-to-day HR issues should also be factored into the overall cost equation.
  • Operating Fees – Nobody likes paying expensive monthly bills.  Call centers are notorious power drainers.  How much would you save on your monthly electric bill by outsourcing your call center operation?  What about toll-free and/or long distance charges?  Do you have the appropriate insurance required for a call center operation?  How about on-site security and remote monitoring of the premises?  Janitorial expenses?  All of these things are not free, and the expenses can quickly add up.
  • Time – This is a very important cost that can be easily overlooked.  Running an in house call center requires a great deal of time and energy from upper and middle management on a daily basis.  If customer service is not your core business, and a substantial chunk of time is being diverted towards keeping your in house call center running smoothly, what is the opportunity cost associated with this lost or wasted time?  Outsourcing your customer service immediately eliminates most of the day-to-day hassle associated with call center operation, freeing up time for your star employees and managers to focus on more profitable activities that can make your business grow.
  • Customer Satisfaction – How effective is your in house call center?  Are your customers happy with the level of service they receive from your agents?  Outsourcing to a customer service professional can lead to better service levels, which can improve a company’s overall reputation and drive more sales.  This potential for increased revenue should be considered when measuring the costs of outsourcing.

The choice between outsourcing a call center and keeping it in house is a critical one for many companies.  When making the final decision, it is important that all of the relevant costs are taken into account, including the many non-obvious, hidden ones.  Only then can you get an accurate idea as to whether or not call center outsourcing makes sense for your business, and make a truly informed decision.

Does call center outsourcing make sense for your business?  Once you have calculated your total costs, get in touch with Tacamor today to request a quote, and see if we are the right call center for you!

The Different Types of Contact Centers

Not all contact centers are the same.  Just as there are different kinds of animals stalking through the jungle and different types of vehicles on the road, there are many different types of contact centers out there.

The most obvious distinction among contact centers is inbound vs. outbound.  Inbound centers are designed to accept calls (or e-mails, web chats, etc.) from customers.  People get in touch with an inbound contact center for things like customer service, technical support, ordering a product/service, or obtaining information.  Outbound contact centers, however, focus on proactively making contact with existing or prospective customers, usually for the purpose of making sales or generating leads.  An outbound contact center would be involved in activities such as telemarketing or administering surveys.

Many contact centers are dual-purpose, with the ability to offer both inbound and outbound services, while others are solely dedicated to performing one type of service.  Some call centers are very specific in what they can offer, while others are more general.  A narrowly focused contact center may specialize only in administering surveys for the health care industry, for example, while a multi-purpose center might offer everything from telemarketing to high-end technical support for digital devices.

Some call centers, such as Tacamor, choose to specialize in a certain area (I.e. inbound customer care services) but are flexible enough to offer additional outbound services to clients if required, such as callbacks, survey administration, appointment confirmations, etc.  Under this type of model, a contact center is able to offer a wide variety of services, thus expanding its potential market for obtaining new clients, while still retaining the core competencies necessary to be a true expert in its domain.

The level of technology is another differentiating factor for many contact centers.  Some contact centers operate using the simplest technological infrastructure possible.  As a result, although this may result in lower operating costs, the services these bare bones centers are able to provide are often lacking.  For example, a call center with a primitive technological setup may have the capability of accepting inbound calls only, and be unable to provide support via e-mail, web chat, social media, or other channels.  Additionally, without a solid Contact Management System in place, it may be impossible for a contact center to deliver complicated reports on key performance indicators such as Average Handle Time, Abandon Rate, Service Level, etc., which are demanded by many clients these days.

Finally, the way that agents are assigned tasks can differ from center to center.  Some contact centers use a dedicated-agent system, whereby workers are assigned to a single client account only.  This type of model is advantageous in the sense that by only working on one account, the agent becomes a true expert for that client.  Other contact centers use a pooled environment, where agents may receive or make calls on behalf of several different clients.  These contact centers tend to be more flexible regarding the volume and type of work they are able to perform.  However, quality may suffer if agents are spread too thin and assigned to too many different accounts.

The type of contact center a company needs really depends on its particular business requirements.  While there are many different contact centers out there to choose from, not all of them will be suitable for every company.  Knowing exactly what you need in a contact center is the first step towards finding the right partner and establishing a profitable and lasting outsourcing relationship.

 

Tacamor is a primarily inbound contact center offering high quality customer service, tier 1 technical support, and other contact center services.  Are we the right contact center for you?  Request a quote today to find out!

Let’s Talk Technology! (What is SaaS?)

This blog entry isn’t about what you get from a cranky youngster with a bad attitude – that’s a different kind of “sass.”

Rather, SaaS refers to “Software as a Service,” also known as on-demand software, whereby access to a computer program is provided to an individual or company on a subscription basis and delivered over the Internet.

SaaS is closely related to cloud computing.  You can think of the cloud as a computer located in some remote location, with SaaS being the software applications stored on that computer, accessible to anyone who pays for the service.

Traditionally, the most common way of obtaining software was to simply buy a copy of a program and install it on a computer.  This still happens quite frequently, but now there are also many SaaS applications on the market, whereby a program can be “rented” on a subscription basis instead of paying a large, up-front fee to purchase it.  Because SaaS applications are delivered over the Internet, they can typically be accessed from multiple locations, which can be a major advantage.

To give an example, MS Outlook is an example of a traditional software program, which is installed onto a single computer.   Gmail and Hotmail, however, function more like SaaS applications in the sense that they can be accessed and used by any computer with an Internet connection.

SaaS programs have the same basic benefits and drawbacks as cloud computing in general.  That is, reduced costs and improved accessibility, but heavy reliance on an external business partner (the cloud-based company providing the service).

SaaS is becoming an especially prevalent software delivery model for customer relationship management (CRM) systems.  More and more contact centers are recognizing the benefits of SaaS-based CRM systems, and are using them as part of their solution to deliver their outsourced customer service and technical support.

This is a growing industry, and more and more SaaS CRM packages are popping up every day.  It is important for a contact center to heavily research what is available in order to determine the best SaaS CRM solution to suit its particular needs.

How to choose a call center: getting started

GREAT MAZE LONGLEAT ...........................photo © 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…
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Call Center Outsourcing: What's the Total Cost?

What is the actual cost of owning vs. outsourcing your call center?

What is the actual cost of owning vs. outsourcing your call center?

About 20 years ago, Bill Kirwin of Gartner Group Inc. introduced Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) to the business world. It was a valuable tool for companies to better understand the actual costs of owning vs. outsourcing operations such as call centers.

Toddlers of that day are now moving into the workforce and trying to get jobs in call centers. Surprisingly, TCO is also still fighting to get noticed by many of those call centers. True, many larger corporations have employed it, but smaller operations are still only vaguely aware of it. Or they may have tried it, but seldom in a truly comprehensive fashion, and therefore had less than satisfactory results.

Still, for those companies that do try it, half using it is better than not using it at all, right? Even if there are glitches and some steps skipped, isn’t it good that those companies are at least implementing some level of TCO in their decision-making? Sadly, no, it’s not necessarily a good thing at all. The only thing worse than an obviously bad decision is a bad decision that looks like a good one.

So what’s been keeping companies from employing TCO in their outsourcing decisions? The costs of outsourcing are relatively easy to measure — most proposals itemize them in great detail. However, the costs of an in-house call center can appear to be immediately obvious when in fact they are often hidden and difficult to measure. Small companies or projects on a shoestring budget are especially vulnerable here. They will have a quoted price from an outsourcer, for which of course they would have specified that every possible price be included, to ensure that they don’t get stung on hidden costs once the contract is awarded. They then compare that price to a seemingly thorough review of the in-house costs.

The obvious cost is payroll, and that’s actually the only one that some companies use when they compare outsourced call centers to in-house. They then conclude that it would be less expensive to keep their operations in-house. But in reality that’s just the start of the costs. Other significant investments include computer and software purchases, networks, office space, agent desks/cubicles and other furniture, real estate, and parking spaces. Other in-house costs are even easier to overlook or underestimate. These include power consumption, insurance policies, janitorial time and materials, payroll, added administrative workloads, searches for qualified workers, training, retraining, sick leave, and many similar by-products of an in-house operation that seldom make it onto a comparative spreadsheet.

In-house costs can be even more difficult to pinpoint if your call center is to be multilingual. What will be the additional costs of finding those agents and assessing their language skills let alone their customer-service capabilities? Who will handle your quality control and monitor the calls in three or four or five different languages? Will you even be able to find the needed languages within reasonable distance of your call center, or will you need to look at hiring and monitoring those remote agents in other cities or countries, or working from their homes? Will any cultural differences become issues? If so, what will be the cost of that? What will be the cost of any morale shift or changes in work habits by your remaining in-house staff as you adapt to the new arrangements? And will there be any effect on the level of service your customers experience? Will people start hearing them talking about their call center frustrations? Will there be any revenue losses that should also be included in your cost analysis?

Other more “trivial” or unforeseen costs can quickly take the total even higher. Who will clean up the coffee when it gets spilled by an operator? What will it cost to find, recruit, hire, and train a skilled new worker if an agents quits halfway through a major client project? What will be the cost of that interruption to their relationship with other employees and the client? If they haven’t put a figure to these and other such costs, then they really have not calculated their total cost at all.

And so the challenge continues for TCO. It still knocks on one call center door after another, resume in hand and with high hopes of being let in so that it can show its potential. But many small to mid-sized operations still see it as overqualified, and stick with other methods and best guesses instead.

How about you? Have you seen examples of call centers that could clearly have benefited from their Total Cost of Ownership being calculated? What do you feel smaller centers can do to identify and better incorporate costs as part of their decision making.

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