Operating a call center isn’t for every business. When you’re a young company just cutting your teeth in your niche, investing in a contact center can be costly.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Call centers allow your business to tap into the sales opportunities that are hidden in plain sight. Today’s consumers have access to a wide range of technology and platforms that allow them to shop from their favorite brands at any hour of the day—or night.
Investing in a call center can help you grow your small business, build lasting relationships with customers, and develop the competitive edge you need to thrive.
In this post, we’ll cover what you need to know to choose a contact or call center software for a small business. If you’re only interested in reading about the indispensable features in a call center software, you can jump right ahead to the second part of this article. But if you want a bit of a rationale on why those features are important, start with the first section:
- The keys to identifying the right call center software
- Must-have features in a good call center software
- What’s the difference between a call center and contact center?
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A call center is a super valuable business operation because it brings three key growth entities together:
And they should rank in this exact order: people>processes>technology. Experts call this the PPT framework or the Golden Triangle that helps businesses take big growth strides.2
People come first because they determine your company’s culture—the way you treat your employees will influence the way they treat your customers.
Processes are important because they give you a system to keep running the show in a predictable fashion—with a focus on making people’s lives easier. Smooth-running processes are what helps you build an agile customer service strategy.
And technology is the cherry on top (or the oil in the machine). It’s the catalyst that enables people to be productive and processes to be efficient.
If you can build a call center by completing the trifecta above, you’ll achieve a sustainable, revenue-generating business nirvana.
And that’s also the key to identifying the right call center solution for your business—it threads a needle across the three pieces to create a harmony among them.
Many scaling businesses that are looking to invest in a call center often get stuck at whether they should outsource their call center (or technical support) or have one in-house. While it’s an important decision, it’s not always the most crucial.
An efficient call center is where form follows function—it doesn’t matter if you’re outsourcing your call center services to the best call center team in Bogotá or setting up a contact center right in your office headquarters.
What matters is what tools you are giving your call center employees to function well. And that’s precisely the reason why cloud contact centers are gaining in popularity.3
It’s understandable—if they are 27% cheaper than traditional solutions, offer 35% less downtime, and come with 73% more uptime—then yeah, we can see why they’re so popular.4
If you’re thinking of setting up a call center for your business, you might want to consider assembling a remote call center team. That’s because remote teams can help you save thousands of dollars in spending and improve your agent retention rate by 80%. That’s on top of the advantages of using a cloud-based call center software.
In the next section, we’ll look at a few things to go for to help your small business call center function at its peak.
We’ve categorized the functions under the three growth areas we discussed above.
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For your people
It’s a given that you should arm your call center staff with basic essentials like laptops, headsets equipped with microphones, and high-quality internet.
In addition to that, you should give your agents tools that they can set up and control on their own—without having to depend on IT.
1. Omnichannel support capabilities
Digital customer service is no longer optional when it comes to delivering an above-and-beyond experience. Convenience is key, and that means your customers want to be able to contact you where, and when, is best for them.
For example, while younger generations may prefer to contact customer support through Twitter, Instagram, or texting, the phone remains the most popular channel of choice for customer support:
Your contact center software needs support capabilities that allow your agents to talk to customers wherever they are—from traditional voice channels to cutting-edge interfaces like the internet of things (IoT).
This point is especially crucial—and makes things more cost-effective—if you have a limited contact center bandwidth. An omnichannel customer service solution pulls in customer questions from all channels and organizes it in the same bucket for you.
Instead of scrambling all over the place, your call center agents can use that single-point interface to deliver faster, more effective support.
The same feature also allows your agents to work at the speed of light if you have an outbound call center (like a collections department or a telemarketing center).
Think of the possibility of interacting with all your customers across all possible channels like social media, phone calls, messaging, live chat, email, and business SMS—in one convenient place.
2. Built-in automation
In busy call centers, nothing moves an inch until you have efficient automation in place, especially if you have limited budget and staff. There’s just no room for manual handoffs because of the high stakes and the high margin of error involved in human-driven processes.
Automation also allows a call center for small business to delegate repetitive customer queries to self-service channels. It lets you use virtual assistants to manage a huge chunk of your customer interactions while empowering your customers to help themselves.
For example, if your customers tend to call for basic inquiries like checking their refund status or account balance, you should allow your IVR (interactive voice response) to let them find answers on their own instead of having a human respond to the same question every time.
This frees up your agents’ time and encourages customers to discover solutions at their own pace—without the need to bug your support agents.
To understand the value of automation further, imagine another common situation. A customer calls you, only to be kept on hold for half an hour because your agents are busy attending other calls.
Instead, you can use automation to embed a “virtual hold” option to call the customers back once your support lines are more free. Now that’s a much better use of your agents’—and customers’—time.
3. Workforce optimization and management
Workforce optimization (WFO) is the whole range of activities that businesses undertake to improve their call center’s speed, quality, and scope.
WFO is important because it helps your business to train your contact center agents better, sharpen your support offerings over time, and build a loyal base of customers.
Maintaining strong workforce engagement can also lead to more positive attitudes and satisfying experiences for both agents and customers.
The cloud contact center software of your choice should have WFO features like compliance call recording, speech analytics, performance management, gamification, and reporting as table stakes.
For example, one key WFO feature of the RingCentral Contact Center™ solution is that it lets you use keywords to look up call recordings and text interactions across all channels to analyze customer sentiments—like complaints or compliments that your agents have received on that day.
You can aggregate this data to fill gaps in your agents’ performance and enhance their performance for the next holiday rush, for instance.
RingCentral’s WFO feature also allows contact center teams to build schedules on their own, manage timelines, and trade shifts between agents.
Another fun element of call center WFO is gamification through activities that drive your agents’ motivation through fun games like challenges, team competitions, or other incentives (think: leaderboards and unlocking achievements in video games):
You can create dashboards, for example, for agents to compete with each other or as teams to crush through a set of obstacles or earn virtual badges, coins, and prizes.
For your processes
Processes answer the “how” aspect of contact center management. They are standard, repeatable, predictable activity cycles that help keep the ball rolling.
Ideally, your contact center solution should make your processes standard, efficient, and easy for everyone to follow.
4. Intelligent routing
Inbound call center services often suffer from the deluge of incoming phone or chat traffic—especially during busy hours of the day—that’s hard to manage if you have a small support team.
A well-built call center software lets you tackle this problem through an automatic call distribution (ACD): a process that routes customer calls to a specific agent or department if the phone is your primary channel of support.
For adopting a similar routing method across all channels, you should go with a tool that offers omnichannel routing to evenly distribute incoming customer queries based on agents’ skills, their availability, or the nature of a customer’s call.
For example, if you have a team of contact center agents grouped by their seniority level or areas of expertise (like billing, sales, or legal), you can use the intelligent skills-based routing feature to map a customer with the kind of service they are looking for:
This kind of routing brings order to call centers for small businesses while allowing support agents to offer a deeper, more contextual support.
5. Agent management
It’s crucial for your call center managers to have a set of supervisor tools that lets them monitor and manage agents and processes effectively.
This allows the custodians of your call center to minimize frequent downtimes, cut down on long hold times, and optimize the agents’ schedules based on your process requirements.
As an example, RingCentral Contact Center offers agent supervision features that make it easier to manage a contact center. The platform lets managers create customizable dashboards, set and track key performance indicators (KPIs), and know how many people to put on staff during particularly busy periods..
It even helps you train agents in real time through features like whisper coaching, observe the call quality through silent monitoring, or take over a call if a new agent isn’t doing well on the customer conversation.
6. Real-time insights and analytics
A big part of managing your business’ call center services is to measure the outcomes of your effort. It’s how you build a customer-obsessed service strategy, bring accountability to the team, and develop customer service best practices unique to your company’s DNA.
And thanks to modern call center software solutions like RingCentral, you can get up-to-the-minute data on your call center processes that can help you build a predictive pattern of customer support:
Market Force Information, a Georgia-based customer experience management company, is a perfect example of putting this in action.
The 600-people company got rid of their old contact center solution a few years ago and used RingCentral’s contact center solution since they were already using RingCentral as their UCaaS (unified communications as a service) platform.
The result—RingCentral’s powerful reporting functionality helped Market Force slice and dice their analytics data, honor their service-level commitments, and grow their call center operations:
Having good data helps you discover patterns in your customer behavior that would go unchecked otherwise. If you can get that data, use it! It’s key to building a predictive model of customer support that is ready for anything—while supporting your mission-critical business decisions.
Technology is the last piece of the puzzle in building a sustainable contact center. Plus, technology supports the other two pillars too—it’s a productivity-enabler for people and efficiency-enabler for processes.
And although technology ranks last on the list, it’s the smiling arch that completes the whole picture. Without technology, many call centers are just a group of people slogging along while being weighed down by outdated processes.
7. An all-in-one solution
The ideal call center solution software for a small business should be like a Swiss Army knife—it should fulfill all the requirements that a small contact center team has on a day-to-day basis. Why? Because the more it can do, the fewer other tools your company will end up having to buy to fill those gaps.
Your call center should offer the whole nine yards that’s typical for a support team, like IVR, call recording, omnichannel routing, call monitoring, and file sharing capabilities to communicate better internally as well as with your customers.
The file sharing feature, for example, will come in handy when you need to store and exchange files with other members on your team, or retrieve important documents for customers:
In addition to those features, it’s useful to have a call center software that connects with your default UCaaS platform—like how Market Force scaled its call center operations even more by combining RingCentral’s communication platform with RingCentral Contact Center.
Why? It allows your call center team to communicate through a variety of different channels like video conferencing and screen sharing—a quick way for your agents to reach product experts for complex or urgent questions so they can get first call resolution as quickly as possible.
You can use the video conferencing feature, for instance, to conduct daily team-wide stand-ups, offer direct feedback, and demo products while training new hires:
If you can avoid the hassle of buying five solutions from different vendors to fulfill all your contact center requirements, do it! Why pay for multiple tools when one would do the job?
Customer support isn’t an island. For that, you should think of your business and its functions like an archipelago where each island connects with the others through highways (or interconnecting roads, or flights).
And your choice of contact center solution should complement this arrangement. It should integrate with the technology stack that other functions in your business use, like sales enablement software and customer engagement software.
This not only allows for a smooth transfer of customer data and context across all functions, but also helps you enhance and customize your cross-team workflows.
Integrating these tools adds a layer of business intelligence that your contact center software usually wouldn’t be able to provide on its own.
Let’s say your call center agents are equipped with data from your CRM software, it helps them to quickly understand that customer’s journey, their past conversations with you, and how to come up with a more personalized solution for the customer in less time.
For example, RingCentral Contact Center has pre-built integrations with most popular CRM platforms like HubSpot and Zoho CRM:
This kind of cross-platform integration is important for your team’s productivity and data sanity. It puts an end to the kind of app switching that requires your call center agents to jump between multiple applications to start a video call, helps them pull a customer’s purchase history, or trace their interactions with your brand.
Have you heard “call center” and “contact center” used interchangeably in your search? It turns out, these two products are pretty different.
In a nutshell: a call center handles phone calls with your customers, both inbound and outbound. Contact centers handle phone calls and every other channel of communication your business uses for customer service: email, SMS, live chat on your website, even social media interactions.
Empower your small business call center to think big
Investing in a call center solution might look like an intimidating task, but it’s not as crazy as it sounds. In reality, it gives growing businesses a system to grow and deepen their customer relationships.
If you already have a contact center, you should be twice as careful because the marketing for call center solutions for small businesses is murky. A cheap call center software often ends up becoming a costly liability.
The employee attrition rate across small business call centers is high because such teams often suffer from a mismatch between the people, processes, and technology.
To offset that, do your due diligence and pick a reliable software that empowers your small business call center to do more with less.
Originally published Jul 08, 2020, updated Nov 19, 2021