Evaluating Call Center Services
- byNick DAlleva
- onApril 3, 2019
- inCall Center 101
Congratulations! If you’re reading this then you’ve decided that it’s time for your business to start exploring call center services. Understanding that you can benefit from outsourcing to a call center is a critical first step. So now what? It’s the next step that often leaves businesses a bit bewildered – choosing the right call center for your small business that will give you the fastest return on your investment with as little friction as possible.
To help you on your journey, we’ll start by going over the two basic types of call center services you can adopt, then we’ll dig a bit deeper into what each type can do, and review the pros and cons of each including a quick cost analysis. If we can capture your attention until the end of this article, you should have a pretty good understanding of what type of call center outsourcing will work best for your business.
Types of Call Center Outsourcing Services
When small businesses are starting out, cost is probably the most important factor when doing anything. From what to get for lunch to what stationary to buy, how much you’re spending and on what is paramount. To that end, a lot of small businesses will think that they can handle their own inbound phone traffic. They’ll answer calls in the middle of meetings, give cell phones to employees to handle calls after hours, and forward their business phone to their home phone. If you’re not getting many calls, these methods may work. But as your business continues to grow, what used to be a cheap lead capture and customer service method will eventually take over your life.
What works for customer service and sales communication when a company is just starting out are colossal headaches if those methods are still used as a business grows. Customers end up waiting to communicate to a live person which leads to frustration. Sales prospects are left interacting with voicemail which leads to missed opportunities. Employees feel chained to the office because they’re on-call 24/7. Current business suffers and new business doesn’t have the chance to connect.
Any of the above reasons are why successful businesses look to call center service companies like SAS to consolidate their customer service and sales communication. Without getting into the on-shore, off-shore, and near-shore varieties, generally call centers come in one of 2 flavors: shared call center and dedicated call center.
Let’s jump into what a shared call center and dedicated call center are, and some of the pros and cons of each.
Shared Call Center
A shared call center is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of one agent answering calls for you, you are sharing agents with all of the other call centers clients. For example, when your dedicated line rings at the call center, your script is presented on the screen and the agent handles calls according to your protocol. The next time the phone rings, it could be from another customer where the screen will present their script and their protocols.
- There are enough agents answering the phones that your customers won’t have to wait long to be connected to an operator.
- Shared call center agents are available 24/7 which means your customers will always have a live voice to talk to no matter when they call.
- Shared call center agents can usually handle most of the same tasks your office staff are responsible for, like scheduling appointments, placing orders and troubleshooting issues.
- Depending on your average call volume, using a shared call center is generally pretty cheap.
- Since agents are answering for many different businesses, they may not have the time to learn your account specifically which could result in errors.
- Having a different agent answer all of your calls may be confusing to your callers and may seem impersonal.
- If there is an unexpected spike in volume at the call center, your callers may have to wait in a queue.
Dedicated Call Center
A dedicated call center, also known as a brand center or dedicated agent service, refers to agents that you lease from the call center who solely answer calls for your business and your business alone. These agents are able to be trained according to your nuanced protocols to make sure that customer service experience is seamless from calls answered in your own shop to calls answered in the call center.
- Dedicated call center agents are only handling your calls, so there will be no mistaking one account’s protocols for another.
- Dedicated call center agents have the ability to learn specific protocols, and would be able to log into your secure systems like a CRM platform.
- Dedicated agents can handle tasks like social media monitoring, email response and live chat management whereas a shared agent would not.
- Utilizing a dedicated agent platform is much more costly than a shared agent platform, which may not be in your budget.
- Depending on how many dedicated agents you hire, you may have more calls than people answering, which could result in hold times.
- Unless you have employed a handful of agents to work various shifts, you may not have 24/7 coverage.
Why Do Businesses Choose Shared Call Center Services?
With a much lower price per entry, it’s easy to see why most businesses initially exploring call center outsourcing choose shared agent services over dedicated agent services. But surely cost can’t be the only factor? What other reasons are there?
Sure, lower startup costs have huge appeal for any business starting out when compared to the $3500 and up monthly cost for each US agent a company may lease on a dedicated agent platform. Looking outside of cost, businesses who are using a shared call center as a Tier 1 helpdesk or front end receptionist have great success in outsourcing. Acting as either of these, businesses are able to use their own in-house team as the experts, and use the call center team as the foot soldiers with the ability to offset simple requests from reaching the next level.
In this manner, your in-house personnel are left to handle the bigger ticket items, where the call center staff handles little things. For example, for an eCommerce store, the shared call center staff can answer questions about shipping times, enter in orders, and answer inventory questions if given the appropriate software access. In this model, your in-house staff can handle escalations for irate customers who received the wrong order, or processing refunds back to the customer’s credit card.
By handling the easier requests, the shared call center model gives your in house staff the chance to focus on more complex problem solving – the type of customer service that really matters.
The notion of letting your in-house staff focus on the bigger picture also fosters growth. When your staff isn’t focusing on the daily grind of customer service contact, your resources will be free to reallocate to other essential business duties like marketing and social media management.
Evaluating Shared Call Center Services
If you’ve decided that a shared call center solution is the right type of call center outsourcing model for your business, then you’re at least one step into your journey. The next is to decide which of the thousands of call center service providers is right for you. Without looking at the providers themselves, you should start by looking at the features – i.e. what’s going to be available to you if you do sign up.
While not exhaustive, here are a few of the main points to consider:
- Scalability: A call center that is able to scale up or down with you is crucial, especially for small businesses looking to grow. For example, you may start off with a basic set up just to get the ball rolling, but as your volume increases, you may want to increase your pricing plan or customize your call handling to better fit your needs. A call center that can grow with you will be a call center worth choosing.
- 24/7 Support: One of the main reasons businesses choose to outsource to a call center is because they can’t be available to their customers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If this is the issue your business is currently facing, a call center that can offer 24/7 support is paramount. However, you’ll want to make sure there aren’t any hidden fees, like charging extra to answer your calls on holidays or weekends.
- Integrations: A call center that is able to integrate with a CRM platform or system that you’re already using is a great way to decrease the amount of work your in-house staff has to do. Instead of having your staff copy the information from the messages that your call center takes and pasting it into your CRM, your call center agents would simply capture the appropriate information, and the integration would be able to populate the respective form or record immediately afterwords.
- Web Based Access: Web based access for eCommerce companies or companies that rely on appointment setting is important. While a shared call center agent may not be able to log into a protected system using a username and password, they may still be able to access your website to place orders, schedule appointments, or fill out forms.
- On Demand Reports: For businesses that are tracking various metrics like the number of monthly inbound calls, being able to access on demand reports is important when trying to factor in important business decisions. For example, the number of inbound calls a month could determine if you need to scale your marketing endeavors up or if they’re fine where they are, or you may need to consider advertising on different platforms to increase the chances of being seen.
- Emergency Dispatching: Many different types of businesses need help solely after hours to handle any urgent issues that might come through. So, it’s important to find out if your call center offers emergency dispatching, and if they can follow your particular on-call schedule.
- Bilingual Agents: Many shared call center services offer bilingual services, which may be something you’re in the market for. However, they may not offer all of the same features like appointment scheduling or web based access. There may also be an associated fee to utilize bilingual agents, so you may want to do your research beforehand.
You’ve Nailed The Features, Now The Questions To Ask
Once you’ve decided on which platform is going to work best for you and you’ve checked a few boxes that you’ll need from the technology or operations perspective, it’s time to see what vendor is going to work best. With so many providers to choose from, which one is best? We’ve put together some questions you should ask potential vendors before you commit to any contract.
- Do you have experience in my industry? There are many call centers out there that focus primarily on one industry, like medical or HVAC call centers. These centers have specialized knowledge on the industry they serve, and may be better suited for streamlined support. However, many other call centers are capable of handling calls for a wider range of businesses. They may answer for healthcare companies, HVAC accounts, tax prep companies, automotive companies, and more. So, before you sign up with a call center you will want to find out if they can handle calls for your business, and if they’re knowledgeable about the industry they’re answering for.
- How much does the service cost? Since cost is a big factor when deciding to outsource, it’s important to weigh your options. Does the call center charge per call or per minute? Do they charge extra to answer your calls after hours, on weekends, or holidays? Is messaging included? If they offer an online portal or various app integrations, are they complimentary or are they an added expense?
- If I have a problem, what is your customer support experience like? A great customer support experience is crucial for any business. You may want to ask your call center about the different ways you can reach out. Are they only available via phone or can you email or chat in as well? Are they available 24/7 like the call center agents or are there different business hours for the customer support team? Will there be one person managing your account, or are you able to speak to anyone?
- If my volume goes up or down, can I change my plan anytime? It’s no surprise that call volumes may fluctuate throughout the year, especially for seasonal businesses. For example, a landscaping business may be busy in the spring and summer months, and slow during the fall and winter. A call center that allows you to upgrade or downgrade your plan depending on your call volume will wind up being the most cost effective option for you in the long run.
- Is setup stock or can it be customized to my needs? A call center that can customize call handling to your specific needs is going to work out better in your favor than a call center who sets every account up with a standard script. While gathering a name, number, email and regarding may be helpful for everyone, some accounts may need a bit more detail. For example, a medical practice may want to know if their callers are new or existing patients, or if they’re using insurance. An HVAC company may want to know if their callers are calling about a residential property or a commercial property. A call center that is able to customize your call handling will allow for more streamlined messages which will allow your staff to prioritize better when following up.
- Do I have to sign a contract? Before you sign on with a call center, you should find out their terms and conditions. If a call center service provider requires you to sign onto a year long contract, you may find out a little too late that they’re not the right fit, or you just don’t need service for that long a time. For example, a non-profit organization may want to outsource to a call center to help with an annual telethon, and then deactivate their service until next year. In this case, they would want to sign up with a service that offers month to month billing where they are not tied into any long contracts.
Shared or Dedicated, Invest In Your Growth
Now that we’ve educated you on what types of call center services there are, and the pros and cons of each of the two models, you’re ready to select a vendor. Using the information above, you’re well equipped to find the best call center service provider for your needs who is going to deliver the biggest ROI with the least friction.
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