Your Guide to Understanding Call Centers

When you have a problem with a product or service or wish to make a purchase or have a general inquiry, you call the number provided by the company you purchased from. If dealing with a small company, you may go through to the actual store. However, more often than not, you will go through to a call center working on behalf of the company. You have likely spoken to a call center operative, whether you know it or not. They are on the front line for a business, and for that reason, it is essential to understand how they work and how they might benefit you.

What is a Call Center?

In short, and as the name suggests, a call center is a center that receives and makes calls. Call centers staff call operators to manage each incoming and outgoing call. These representatives keep track of their customer interactions and often update shared software so the company hiring them can see their progress.

Typically, these call centers operate in one of two ways – reactive and proactive.

●   Reactive – A reactive service entails a call agent reacting to a customer’s incoming call. An existing or potential customer will reach out to the call center. From there, the customer service agent will process the case and deal with it as necessary. This type of service is also known as an inbound call center.

●   Proactive – A proactive service instructs call agents to reach out to consumers. It could be to assess consumer satisfaction, push marketing material, or generally perform market research into how to improve the service. As this type of service is the opposite of the above, it is known as an outbound call center.

Companies are often opting for proactive service. It allows them to detect an issue before it becomes too big a problem. It also helps with improving service and, thus, client retention.

What Do Call Centers Do?

There are many reasons why a company may turn to the service of a call center. As touched on above, and the most popular reason, is customer support. Customers have complaints and questions and it is the job of a call center help desk to make sure they are handled.

On occasion, call centers can serve a more specialized purpose. The operators can offer specific technical support instead of a consumer bringing a product to a location. Other after-sales care is also possible to meet customers’ needs, though the call center team will need educating before providing such support.

Finally, though not the only other possibility, call centers can act as a company’s sales line. Again, the operators do need information on the product/service. They should also have access to any other relevant marketing material.

Who Owns the Call Center?

As touched on above, companies can contract a third party’s service who will then provide a call center service. They have the infrastructure in place already, so it can provide an easy solution if a company starts getting more calls than they can handle internally. The downside to this solution is that the company offering the service is not as knowledgeable as the business contracting their service. On the other hand, some companies will opt to keep an internal call center if they have the funds to do so. They know their brand and how they want to portray themselves.

Where Are These Call Centers?

There is an image that goes with the term “call center.” A large office with individual stations that call center agents sit at with their phones. It can be loud and crowded. However, in more recent times, that is no longer the case. In fact, many call center services are performed from an individual’s home.  Some companies may use a small team and thus have them work on-site, though it is still much different from the call centers shown in movies. Through the use of cloud technology, multiple call agents working from home can access the same technology and thus share information with ease. With that being the case, it eliminates the need for a physical office. In answer to the question “Where are these call centers?” they can be anywhere. As long as there is a stable Internet connection, a customer service representative can work from anywhere in the world. This is known as remote work and has proven invaluable in the times of COVID.

The Technology That Makes Call Centers Possible

Of course, the above is only possible due to certain technology. The type of software required will depend on whether the call center operates on a business’s site or via the cloud. If on-site, the company is responsible for maintaining the software, which will be installed via the on-site data center. There will be a need for an expensive investment, though it gives a company more control. If a company opts for a cloud-based service, getting set up is easier and more affordable. Software for a cloud-service comes as SaaS, or Software as a Service.

No matter how a company proceeds with putting a call center in place, they will need a CRM system. The customer relationship management system is what allows companies to keep track of their consumers. A call agent will enter a caller’s information into the system, along with any additional notes. That way, if a different call agent talks with the same caller, they can get up to date with the situation quickly.

There may also be a need for some form of routing software. On occasion, the reason for the call may relate to a certain call agent. This will depend on a company’s level of service, though consumers prefer to deal with the same person each time. Some form of routing software, such as an IVR or interactive voice response, can get a customer to the right agent.

Finally, all good call centers need to monitor their performance. SaaS solutions often have analytics and metrics as part of their CRM. If a company is creating a call center from scratch, they need to consider how they will measure performance. What level of monitoring a company will require will define what ability their systems need. Some examples include call monitoring or feedback monitoring.

What is a BPO Company?

On your search for a call center service, you will likely come across BPO companies. The two get compared so much that the terms are often used interchangeably. This is both correct and incorrect.

A BPO or Business Process Outsourcing company handles part or all of a process for a company. There is no limit to what a BPO is willing to do, whether managing a company’sfinances, handling marketing, or acting as a call center. With that being the case, a call center could be considered a BPO. However, a BPO is not strictly a call center.

To work in a call center, a potential agent needs to have a basic understanding of computers, good negotiating skills, and excellent communication skills. For a BPO, the criteria are much more demanding. The required service of a company will dictate the necessary skill set. If a company needs social media marketing, the agents of the BPO must be experts in this field. The same is said for any other service a company might require.

Call Center Vs. Contact Center

Another term that is wrongly used interchangeably is “Contact Center.” Yes, both a call center and a contact center handle communications for a business. However, they are two different models that offer different communication methods.

What is a Contact Center?

Like a call center, a contact center can handle incoming and outbound calls. They can also handle digital means of communication, which is where one of the differences lie. Through the use of cloud service and VoIP or Voice over Internet Protocol, customers can reach out to a contact center with a variety of communication channels. Webchat, email, and text messaging are just some examples.

Typically, all these forms of communication and more come through a single platform. This allows a contact center to provide a consistent brand image to consumers, no matter how and when they get in touch. In truth, contact centers are somewhat eliminating call centers. Consumers prefer the ease of other means of communication that a call center can’t provideand a contact center is happy to fill that gap.

Is There Still a Need for Call Centers?

As stated above, contact centers are phasing out the lesser equipped call center. An integrated system with multiple means of voice and digital communication is hard to beat. However, companies are still finding a need for call centers. While many consumers prefer the ease of digital communication, there are still those that like to know they are talking to a real person. Companies can use call centers to reach out to consumers over the phone. This more direct approach can help boost their reputation. It is also easier to solve a problem via a phone conversation. Finally, talking to a customer directly allows a company to gather information better. That information can then be passed on to improve the company as a whole.

What Solution Should You Choose?

At this point, you should have an idea of what a call center is and how it will benefit your company. The question, then, is should you opt for a SaaS solution or create your own via on-site infrastructure? Unless your company is massive, with free floor space for a dedicated data center to support your call center, SaaS is always the better option. It is more cost-effective, it can be scaled to meet your needs, and if something does go wrong, you can trust the experts at the service provider’s end to fix it. Additionally, those same service providers may offer full contact center services on top of voice calls. Going digital, with the capacity to receive calls, will let you better reach your consumers. The better the customer experience you can provide, the better your customers will treat you.