Call center management: Strategies and best practices of successful call centers
Call centers employ different sets of strategies to achieve one common goal: deliver exceptional customer service experiences. To be effective, these strategies should address the many facets of managing a call center, including but not limited to:
- Hiring and training agents
- Ensuring agents stay engaged
- Allocating workload
- Analyzing customer behavior
- Using technology to streamline operations
But where do some call centers go wrong? Why do many companies outsource their customer service department? Most importantly, what makes an effective call center? Let’s dive into the complex but rewarding world of call center management.
- What is call center management?
- What makes a successful call center?
- What is a call center supervisor?
- What is a call center agent?
- So, how does a call center work?
- Call center metrics: Essential measures a call center manager should take note of
- How do you effectively manage a call center?
- Getting the right call center solution
What is call center management?
Call center management refers to the way businesses manage their daily call center operations. It covers employee hiring and training, workforce scheduling, and customer interactions, among others. How your team handles these processes contributes to your call center’s performance.
What makes a successful call center?
There’s no definitive formula that would ensure a call center’s success. But when the entire customer service team is working together and using the right call center technology, it’s nearly impossible to go wrong. Let’s take a close look at the two key roles in a company’s customer service department: call center manager (or supervisor) and call center agent.
What is a call center supervisor?
Call center supervisors are responsible for managing the call center’s operations in support of the company’s customer service goals. Their tasks include but are not limited to:
- Managing, guiding, and motivating team members
- Overseeing hiring and onboarding processes
- Promoting agent engagement and retention and helping reduce turnover rates
- Creating and maintaining a harmonious culture
- Setting goals, typically with the senior manager
- Identifying key performance drivers that affect goals
- Assigning responsibilities necessary to achieve goals
- Speaking with dissatisfied customers and coming up with satisfactory solutions
- Preparing and evaluating call center performance reports
- Identifying and resolving call center efficiency issues
- Helping optimize the call centers’ processes to improve efficiency
As call center supervisors have a lot on their plate, it’s important for you to hire the fittest, most well-rounded candidate. Here are the top skills you need to look for:
- Critical thinking - An effective call center manager needs to have an objective approach to evaluating situations and making important decisions. Critical thinking allows them to visualize possibilities, come up with alternatives, and challenge assumptions.
- Decision-making - Call center managers should have the capacity to handle difficult situations and act decisively. Above all, they take initiative instead of delegating important decisions to a team leader.
- Problem-solving - Like any leader, call center managers should be excellent problem solvers. They should have the ability to identify the root of the problem and the creativity to think of and evaluate possible solutions to eventually arrive at the most effective one.
- Interpersonal - Successful call center managers may think and act strategically, but they have the emotional intelligence to deal with all sorts of people in the team. A sense of empathy also goes a long way as it allows them to share the sentiments of customers, agents, and team leaders.
- Communication - To be an effective communicator, call center managers should not only be good speakers but also adept observers and listeners. Communication skills allow them to engage with team members and stakeholders and become a good trainer and mentor.
- Time management - With the amount of work they juggle, call center managers must have a good grasp of time. It allows them to prioritize tasks wisely, stay on schedule, delegate tasks if necessary, and understand the importance of using the right call center technology (or contact center technology if they’re running an omnichannel operation) to get things done quickly and efficiently.
Effective leaders lead by example. Actions speak louder than words, and that’s an idea many great supervisors keep in mind. They must present themselves as a worthy leader to other call center employees, especially the agents.
What is a call center agent?
A call center agent is responsible for managing inbound and outbound customer calls for a business. They operate as the company’s front-line, handling issues like product complaints, billing concerns, support requests, and more.
Call center agents may also go by names like customer service representatives, customer care representatives, telephone service attendants, or telesales agents. You’ve probably heard of the term contact center agent—contact center agents handle emails, live chats, social media messages, and other interactions via digital channels on top of traditional phone calls.
What do call center agents do?
The main duties of a call center agent are to answer and dial out customer calls. Incoming calls usually mean responding to inquiries, addressing complaints, taking orders, and troubleshooting problems. Outgoing calls, on the other hand, normally come in the form of gathering survey data, setting appointments, and relaying promotional offers.
Here’s a list of typical call center agent duties:
- Answering and/or initiating customer calls in a professional manner
- Obtaining, recording, verifying, and updating customer information and other data to efficiently handle conversations
- Identifying and escalating priority issues if needed
- Keeping records of conversations
- Finding opportunities to upsell or cross-sell if needed
- Building strong customer relationships
- Meeting personal and team targets
It’s a given that call center agents must have exceptional communication skills. Apart from that, they have to be empathetic, organized, able to retain information well, and can keep calm under pressure.
So, how does a call center work?
A lot goes into a call center’s daily operations. But as far as addressing customer concerns go, here’s a simple explanation of how inbound and outbound call centers deliver customer service:
Inbound call center
- The customer calls the company’s customer service department to raise his or her concern.
- The call center agent answers and tries to address the customer’s needs.
- If the resolution doesn’t meet the customer’s standards, the customer can make a followup call or use another communication channel.
Outbound call center
- The agent calls the customer and makes their motives known.
- The customer listens, and depending on the situation, can make a purchase, answer a survey, or simply learn about new products.
- The agent closes the call and thanks the customer whether or not their goals were met.
A call center can handle both inbound and outbound customer calls. It’s also possible to have an entire call center workforce based in different locations; in which case, it’s called a remote call center.
No matter what type of call center you have or whichever way your call center operates, your call center manager needs to have a good grasp of different call center metrics to make room for success.
Call center metrics: Essential KPIs a call center manager should take note of
A call center manager is expected to monitor customer behavior and help enhance the performance of their staff. They should be able to gather data and analyze metrics to identify trends, create reports, and refine processes—all for the purpose of improving customer experience, agent performance, and ultimately, call center performance.
Below are some important call center metrics that provide great value when you’re measuring performance.
First call resolution (FCR) rates
The first call resolution rates show how many issues were fixed at the first call. Companies use it to evaluate their service level standards. A high FCR rate (around 90%) means agents are resolving issues at the first point of contact. Customers don’t need to make followup calls or switch to digital channels like chat, email, or social media.
Let’s look at the two ways you can measure FCR:
Gross FCR is measured by dividing the number of cases resolved in a single call—those that can actually be resolved in the first call, including cancellations, upgrades, and booking changes—by the total number of incoming calls you received.
|Gross FCR =||Number of cases resolved on the first call|
|All incoming calls|
Of course, not all cases can be addressed in one call. If you don’t factor that into your equation, you might get a distorted picture of your call center’s performance. It's for this reason why many companies prefer to use net FCR.
Net FCR takes cases that can’t be resolved on the first call (e.g. support issues and hardware repair) into account. That number is subtracted from the total number of incoming calls received.
|Net FCR =||Number of cases resolved on the first call|
|All incoming calls - Cases that can’t be resolved at the first call|
To get the gross FCR or net FCR rate, you just have to multiply the quotient by 100.
Average handling time (AHT)
Average handling time refers to the average time an agent spends on handling customer issues. It also covers the amount of time a customer experiences waiting time within the call duration as well as the after-call work time, which is the time an agent spends doing administrative tasks.
You can calculate AHT by first adding the agent’s total talk time, total hold time, and total after-call work time. Then you divide the sum by the total number of calls to get the average handle time.
|AHT =||Total talk time + Total hold time + Total after-call work time|
|Total number of calls|
Keep in mind that low AHT isn’t always good. Let’s say an agent encounters an irate customer who wants to cut his video subscription. The agent easily gives in to the customer’s request for fear that his AHT would shoot up. Contrast this to a situation in which an agent who may have spent a little more time on the call but managed to calm the customer down and address his concerns.
Net promoter score (NPS)
What’s a good way to assess customer loyalty? Ask customers themselves. You do this by asking them this simple question: “On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend the company or agent you spoke with to a colleague or friend?” (If you want, you can append this with a follow-up question—“Why?”)
You can run the survey over the phone or other communication channels. Based on customers’ responses, you’ll get your quantitative score:
- 0-6 (Detractors): Unhappy customers who can potentially damage your brand using negative word-of-mouth
- 7-8 (Passives): Satisfied but unenthusiastic customers who can easily be swayed by competitive offers
- 9-10 (Promoters): Loyal customers who will keep buying from you and recommend you to other consumers
To calculate your NPS, add your number of detractors, passives, and promoters. Get the percentage of each group by dividing each segment total by the total number of survey responses. Then, subtract the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters. The resulting difference is your NPS.
A little confusing? Here’s an example. Let’s say you received 100 survey responses:
15 Detractors - 15%
40 Passives - 40%
45 Promoters - 45%
NPS (45% - 15%) - 30%
In this case, you have a low NPS. Any score above 50% is considered decent because it means you have at least 50% more promoters than you have detractors. But let’s not forget that there’s one more element to your survey question—the Why. The answers you get will give you valuable insight as to why customers are satisfied or not with your service.
Customer satisfaction score (CSat)
The ultimate goal of a call center is to make customers happy. When they’re happy, they give positive feedback and are more likely to recommend your service to people they know. A good indicator of customer happiness is the customer satisfaction score (CSat), which is given to an agent.
CSat is measured by asking your customers a question about a particular interaction they’ve had with an agent (e.g. Were you satisfied with how our agent handled your concern?). The customer is provided a survey scale they have to fill out, typically 1-10, with 10 being the highest.
The CSat score is calculated by adding all of the scores an agent received and dividing the sum by the number of surveys.
|CSat score =||Total score agent received|
|Total number of surveys received|
These are just some of the top metrics you can use to drive call center performance. As a call center manager, you’ll also deal with cost per contact, abandoned call rate, average call transfer rate, etc.
How do you effectively manage a call center?
Is your company providing the best possible customer service? Here are some call center management practices that will help elevate the way you deliver customer experiences:
Best practices for call center efficiency
Hire the best employeesCall centers need a special group of people. Apart from the technical skills, you want to go for those who have a genuine passion for customer service. Take the time to screen new employees both for know-how and character.
Provide comprehensive training and onboardingMake sure the candidates you picked are ready for the tasks at hand. It’s important to have a comprehensive training and onboarding program. This is the time to communicate your company’s standards while instilling good habits from the start. You may also improve employee weaknesses or mitigate any hiring mistakes.
With thorough training and onboarding processes in place, your new agents feel better equipped to handle any type of customer call.
Cultivate a coaching cultureA great way to empower your agents is to develop a coaching culture. What you want is an environment that promotes continuous learning and creates opportunities for growth not just for agents but also for other call center staff.
Communicate with employees regularlySchedule meetings with individual agents not only to provide targeted coaching but also to share ideas for personal and process improvements. Remember that agents are at the front-line of the call center and often have a better view of issues as they arise.
You also want to make sure your communication lines are always open. Agents and team leaders appreciate an approachable supervisor who welcomes feedback and is always ready to discuss employee issues.
Ensure proper schedulingWorking in a call center can be overwhelming, and the stress it brings can hamper agent productivity. This can be a bigger problem for smaller call centers where agents usually extend hours to accommodate their workload. They may be able to get more work done but not without sacrificing quality.
The answer is proper scheduling. Make sure to give your agents enough time to recharge so they don’t feel overworked. When scheduling, consider factors like peak hours, agent ability, and time between shifts, among others.
Balance workflow to meet demandA spike in call volume may force small call center teams to handle more work than usual. Inversely, there may not be enough work to keep everyone in larger teams occupied. Your goal is to balance everything out.
Review staffing levels so you can wisely forecast call volumes and determine how many agents you’ll need in any situation. Think about average call volumes and peak times per day, week, month, and year. You should also consider the number of agents needed to ensure short wait times.
By balancing your workflow, you’ll not only meet demands but also keep labor costs to a minimum.
- Use data to make sound decisions
Smart companies understand the importance of data. In the context of customer service, data gathered in a call center allows you to know your customers better and understand their behavior.
Net promoter score, average handling time, and first call resolution rate are just some of the important metrics that allow a call center manager to gain insight into operations and make important decisions.
Use call monitoring toolsThe importance of monitoring calls can’t be overemphasized. When you monitor calls, you’re able to see any cracks in the way agents handle calls. Your findings will boost your performance management initiatives—you’ll be able to provide quality feedback, empower your agents, and streamline your call center processes.
RingCentral offers individual quality monitoring and agent scoresheets to schedule and track coaching feedback and ensure quality performance. You also get valuable features like call whisper, which allows managers to give instructions to agents without the customer hearing it, and call barge, which allows them to take over an ongoing call.
Use customer feedback to reduce churn ratesSuccessful call centers understand their customers. They know that the metrics call center managers to keep an eye on only tell a part of the story. To get a better feel for what customers want, you have to ask them directly.
Customer feedback presents a way for you to hear the voice of the customer. Any review or opinion you get should help you make the necessary adjustments to improve customer experiences and make them stay. A good way to elicit feedback is to conduct surveys through phone, email, or social media.
- Invest in technology
Apart from the people, a strong driver to call center management success is technology. You may have a manager and agents with the best intentions and resumes, but without proper technology to complement their efforts, it could be tough for your call center to reach its full potential.
Trusted platforms, like the one offered by RingCentral, provide a comprehensive suite of features like call monitoring, interactive voice response (IVR), and skills-based routing. As a call center manager, you don’t want to miss out on anything that would enhance your overall efficiency.
You want to stay on top of the latest advancements, whether it’s the newest workforce management techniques or the latest contact center software.
All the call center management tips mentioned above deliver a positive impact on both customer and employee engagement. Add a good customer experience platform into the mix and you have a call center that’s built for success.
Getting the right call center solution
Despite the popularity of digital channels, many customers still prefer to reach companies using the phone. They want to speak with a real person, get more personalized service, and get immediate action.
As a business organization, you want to be able to serve all kinds of customers, from young individuals who spend a great deal of time on social media and messaging platforms to professionals who want fast, straightforward replies over the phone.
In such cases, a good contact center solution would prove invaluable. You want one that empowers agents, enhances customer experience, and drives successful strategies.