Call centers are simply clusters of people answering phones for a particular purpose. It might be to provide information, as in a hotline for a recall. It could be for placing orders, for technical support, or for customer service. Call centers can be inbound, where customers are calling in, or outbound, where the organization is calling the customer, such as for sales, or to promote political candidates.
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Call centers deserve a great deal of emphasis. They are frequently the initial contact a customer has with a company. As a result, call centers provide an opportunity to create a positive customer interaction that builds long-standing customer partnership. They also provide an opportunity to sour the relationship.
Call centers range in size from two people on up to hundreds or more. The equipment can be basic phones with a queue function, or sophisticated systems that enhance call center operations with a multitude of functions. Some even link phone systems to databases for better service.
Most operators wear headsets. A piece of advice: spring for the good stuff. If you doubt the validity of this suggestion, try wearing a headset for 8 hours, even if you are not talking on it. Poorly designed headsets get uncomfortable after just a short time.
The sound quality also varies widely. Static is annoying, as is a poor microphone that has them repeating what they say. Repeating also reduces efficiency, if building morale is not enough of an argument to add expense.
Finally, decide if headsets should be wireless. Generally, they have the drawbacks of being more expensive, having more static, and needing recharging. They offer some big advantages, though. Operators can leave their work area and continue talking—maybe while getting reference material or asking a question to an associate. They can also perform other tasks during slow periods without having to run back to their workspace to answer phones.
Call centers are normally set up by function, such as ordering, customer service, or technical support. Some are temporary, such as for an event or a product release.
One big issue today with call centers is where to locate them. Many companies will have on-site call centers, or their own call center facility if they have enough volume to warrant it.
But call center functions can be also be outsourced. Be careful about making this decision. The hired company has a vested interest in making you happy. That generally is aligned with making your customers happy, but not always. Your staff might go a little further in offering alternatives or solving grievances than another company would.
You also have to consider if the responses to customers can be standardized enough to create a process for the hired company. Many operate from scripts. This implies knowing in advance what the customer will be calling about, and it requires standardization—a prime opportunity to apply Lean Office principles.
If you do use outsourcing, consider the process for escalation when a customer problem goes beyond basic scripting? Offsite call centers pose an extra challenge to this.