Most people picture call centres as a large room filled with service representatives taking calls on headsets. In reality, call centres have changed a lot in recent years.
As more companies invest in flexible contact centre solutions, call centre agents are experiencing a workplace transformation. In this article, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of a modern call centre and what it is that call centre agents actually do.
What is a call centre?
A call centre is a telecommunications contact centre that handles inbound and outbound calls. Traditionally call centres have been large offices filled with call centre agents fielding incoming calls and outgoing customer communications.
When it comes to customer service, call centres are usually carrying out one of two functions. They either target customers proactively with offers, or they support incoming queries. Targeted calling helps hold on to customers and upsell products. Likewise, excellent reactive customer service is a core pillar of any successful business.
Call centres can be internal, external, or a combination of the two. A business might outsource their contact centres to a designated communications service for efficiency or facilitate flex work for in-house call agents working from almost anywhere.
The importance of call centre agents
Call centres are serviced by call centre representatives, also known as agents. These are the employees who make and answer calls. Their responsibilities range from addressing customer queries to problem-solving, complaint management, and data collection.
Agents are the lifeblood of any contact centre. They maintain a brand’s customer service reputation by carrying out customer support, technical assistance, after-sales services, and lead generation on behalf of a particular company.
How does a call centre work?
Call centres come in different shapes and sizes. Each works slightly differently and relies on different tech infrastructure to run effectively.
1. The in-house contact centre
In-house operations mobilise dedicated teams of permanent agents to make and receive calls on integrated infrastructure. Business can guarantee top-quality communication, integrated resources, and essential insights. But this comes at a cost – training employees and maintaining infrastructure is expensive.
2. The outsourced contact centre
Some businesses will choose to outsource their contact centre workflows to a third-party. These third-party companies hire agents to handle customer services across many different businesses and organisations.
The benefits? Efficient, highly skilled agents without the ongoing costs of maintaining contact centre infrastructure. The downside? Less specialist product knowledge and a lack of personalisation.
3. The virtual contact centre
Virtual call centres are on the rise. They hire agents to work remotely using a desktop or laptop computer. This is possible thanks to the huge advances in cloud-based communications that make virtual contact centres mainstream.
Effective call centre set-ups share several essential features—for example, IVR and smart call routing help track agent availability, activity, and call lineups. Call supervision tools allow senior agents to monitor conversations.
CRM software offers call centres the opportunity to link phones to a customer relationship management system so that agents can access customer information, call logs, and files instantly.
Roles and duties of call centre agents
Inbound and outbound call centre agents communicate with existing customers and prospective clients as the company’s front line. It is their responsibility to provide top-rate customer service or effective upselling strategies over multiple channels.
Inbound agents are generally reactive (they deal with incoming customer queries). Outbound agents are more proactive (they target new customers, leads, and generate data for their company).
Both types of representatives carry out a myriad of tasks. Let’s take a look at the main roles and responsibilities of inbound and outbound agents.
Inbound call centre agent roles and responsibilities
Personalised customer service experience
Inbound call centre agents answer phone calls from customers. This includes handling customer complaints from time to time.
Customer service responsibilities can also include answering enquiries regarding company products and services, triaging requests, managing billing queries, and organising refunds.
Agents must uphold a professional and personalised service at all times to remain competitive in the wider marketplace.
Data, metrics, and survey management
Agents working in inbound call centres receive input from clients daily and are usually required to log this information for further analysis and evaluation.
This gives the company or organisation tangible insights into their customer base that can be translated into service improvements.
For companies with a technical product base, technical support is essential. Tech representatives are trained to answer a wide range of questions to troubleshoot customer issues, preventing returns.
Solving a customer’s needs is one of the main responsibilities of any call centre agent and can have wide-scale implications for company success.
Payment and order processing
Inbound agents are responsible for processing customer payments and orders. Online ordering is more popular than ever before. Representatives help customers finalise their payments over the phone, address online payment issues, and answer questions regarding monthly billing, subscriptions, and renewals.
Outbound call centre agent roles and responsibilities
Outbound agents are required to generate and qualify as many leads as possible. The main objective is to collect customer information and target client uptake opportunities that end in increased sales.
Outbound agents are tasked with generating leads in multiple industries. This could include anything from broadband deals to targeting job seekers for employers.
If you have been called by someone asking you to complete a short survey, this will have been an outbound call centre agent at work. Market research is a key pillar of any outbound call centre.
The agent gathers information about customers and the competition to improve services. Questions are designed to identify customer pain points, favourite products, and common complaints.
Outbound agents are sometimes tasked with telemarketing. This means pitching products to a list of potential clients. This helps market a product far and wide and build customers’ brand awareness.
Telesales functions in a similar way. But instead of generating brand awareness, agents close deals and make outbound sales. An outbound call centre representative usually has a sales quota that they are required to fulfil.
Telesales may have a bad reputation, but it has been reported that 70% of global consumers appreciate brands that contact them with proactive customer service notifications.
Qualities and skills to look for in a qualified call centre agent.
Working as a call centre agent is an entry-level position. It may require evidence of secondary school qualifications, experience, or – for more complex roles – a degree. Often, call centre jobs to offer some flexibility for agents to work full-time, part-time, or remotely from a convenient location.
In a classic job description, recruiters might look for speed, patience, personability, and quick-thinking.
The best call centre representatives share some essential qualities that perfectly suit this demanding role. These qualities include:
Agents need to have extensive product knowledge. Customers want solutions fast. The best reps fix customer issues promptly with precision and attention to detail. To do this, they need to know their company, brand, and products inside out by demonstrating a high level of knowledge at all times.
Customer service agents need to keep organised. Reps take calls all day long, and some will need following up over a longer period of time. Agents must log and document these calls to pull up relevant customer information quickly. Luckily, there are lots of workforce optimisation tools out there to help keep workflows running smoothly.
Reps need to be adept at problem-solving to offer customers solutions. Not all incoming queries have pre-prescribed answers. Agents should leave customers feeling heard and satisfied by responding with professionalism, understanding, and by offering a desirable solution.
Agents need excellent communication skills to maintain customer satisfaction, even when customer interactions are tense. Clients may be frustrated about a product flaw or service problem. Call centre representatives need to maintain a personable and helpful attitude. The best reps have great people skills and high emotional intelligence.
Explore RingCentral solutions for call centres
Effective call centres need great agents and call centre solutions to match. RingCentral’s contact centre solutions are designed to enhance customer support by providing real-time, reliable service for every single caller. It’s about making things more powerful – not more complicated.
- AI Skills-based routing to connect customers with the right agents for the job.
- Agent management to optimise schedules and minimise downtime.
- Real-time insights and KPIs that improve sales and service.
- Cloud-based remote functionality so agents can work from home.
- Omnichannel flexibility to connect with on multiple channels or social media.
- Collaborative tools for intraoffice communications.
- Extensive integrations with popular business tools.
Whether your company already has its own call centre or is in the process of developing one, call centre solutions can help you future-proof your business. Today’s call centres are experiencing a cloud-based renaissance with more and more agents working remotely.
It no longer matters if your business is based in the UK, the United States, or Europe. With RingCentral, any business can equip themselves with a flexible customer service department in-house, outsourced, or all over the world.
Originally published Feb 25, 2021, updated Feb 12, 2024