What makes a good call center?
Quality customer service should be an integral part of any business, and it’s increasingly critical in an era where customers have plenty of choice—they will not hesitate to punish poor service by turning elsewhere.
Digital technology means that call centers can respond faster to customer service calls, although automation isn’t the answer to everything. There’s no substitute for empathetic human agents with superb communication skills who will go above and beyond for their customers.
Here, we’ll take a look at what’s involved in setting up, staffing, and managing a successful call center and the strategies and solutions that will help you offer customers a great experience.
What does a call center do?
A call center is a department or team that deals with customer inquiries and problems. Traditionally, these interactions would’ve taken place over the phone, but today’s call centers operate over a range of digital channels. That’s why they’re often referred to as contact centers.
While some call centers are based within physical premises, it’s becoming more common for them to operate remotely. This is a virtual call center or contact center, where agents work from multiple offices or their own homes. These are usually cloud-based, hosted by service providers such as RingCentral.
Call centers may be inbound, outbound, or both. Inbound call centers receive calls from customers seeking technical support, complaining about an issue, or making payments and renewals. Agents in outbound call centers make phone calls to existing or potential customers. As well as lead generation, they may offer promotions, carry out market research, or book and confirm appointments.
Inbound and outbound call centers may offer a self-service route, using chatbots or automated responses to help customers solve their own issues or sending out pre-recorded messages instead of making “live” phone calls.
What are the jobs and responsibilities of a call center agent?
Agents are of course a critical element of the customer experience and therefore the foundation of a great call center. Their responsibilities depend on the type of business, but some typical duties are involved in a call center job. Usually, an agent would be expected to:
- answer inbound calls and messages
- handle inquiries and complaints
- escalate complex issues to supervisors
- provide customers with product information and tech support
- create call logs and reports
- follow up calls if necessary.
In some call centers, you might also be asked to:
- process orders and take card payments
- upsell products and services
- make outbound sales or market research calls
- update customer records
- create recorded messages for self-service.
Agents are given training on the specific system used by their organization and often take part in ongoing development as the technology changes. It’s possible to learn how to become a good call center rep, although some personalities are better suited to the job than others—we’ll explore this further later.
Why is a successful call center important?
We’ve all heard people criticize call center customer service—we’ve probably complained about it ourselves at some point. Common bugbears include being placed on hold for ages, getting passed around the system, and encountering communication difficulties with agents.
If prospective customers complain about your center’s agents, they’re complaining about your company. Call center agents are the face (or at least the voice) of your brand, and it’s vital to create a good impression. Overall, a successful call center will:
- enhance customer experiences
- boost productivity
- improve employee retention
- reduce costs and increase revenue
These days, customers expect fast responses and resolutions. If you don’t get back to them quickly or fail to provide an acceptable solution to the issue, they can and will go elsewhere. Plus, many of them are all over social media, where they’ll gladly write negative reviews and call you out—which can seriously damage your reputation.
Whether it’s a phone call or a live chat, you need to present the right impression in all customer interactions. This is your chance to show your business in its best light, so it pays to go above and beyond by identifying customers’ needs and personalizing the service to make them feel cared for and valued.
The aim is to retain existing customers and welcome new ones, making them want to choose you over your competitors. For your business to grow, customers must love your service and your product—ideally becoming brand ambassadors and sharing positive experiences with others.
Successful call centers can also reduce costs by answering more calls and messages and solving complex issues efficiently. Automation can speed up simple tasks and offer self-service options, while freeing time for your agents to focus on more complex questions. At the same time, a unified communications platform like RingCentral helps call centers run smoothly by basing operations in the cloud and bringing all tools and channels together in one stack.
Specifically, Unified Collaboration (UCaaS) bundled with Contact Center (CCaaS), allows you to create bridges between your Contact Center and the rest of the company. Allowing the Contact Center agent to easily contact a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in the company to assist customers with more complex issues.
If your call center is well-run and uses the best tools, your employees will likely be happy in their work—which means a jump in productivity and a reduction in staff turnover. Happy agents will be more invested in solving a customer’s issue for the benefit of the business.
Successful strategies for a great call center
Great call centers have several things in common: they set the right goals, employ the most suitable agents and managers, and use the best tools for the job. They’re also committed to constant monitoring and improvement, recognizing that technology and customer behaviors can evolve rapidly. And they’re proactive in encouraging and learning from customer feedback.
Here are some tips for working in a smooth-running, stress-free call center—with benefits for customers, agents, and the business as a whole.
Whether setting up a new customer service call center or refining an existing one, business owners should decide what they want to achieve and keep these priorities in mind throughout the process.
Although one of the aims may be to increase revenue, success isn’t only about the bottom line. Just looking at the basic KPIs, such as first-call resolution (FCR) or average handling time (AHT), doesn’t give you the complete picture—and the numbers don’t necessarily reflect customer satisfaction.
Your goals should also center around factors like improving customer loyalty, perhaps reducing churn by a certain percentage. Analyze data alongside customer feedback to see where you can improve, and use segmentation and customer profiling to decide where to focus your efforts.
Make sure your goals are clear to everyone involved and keep them specific, measurable, and realistic. As well as using metrics like net promoter score (NPS) or customer satisfaction score, you could create your own customer service measurement index.
Goals should promote a sense of accountability and ownership, and you can make them fun by offering incentives to boost employee morale. Tools like RingCentral’s Contact Center Workforce Optimization (WFO) help motivate agents to smash goals through challenges and activities.
Finally, don’t silo your call center goals—they should mesh with your marketing and sales operations to improve the business as a whole.
Customer service is so essential to a business that it’s crucial to have the right people in the support team—both as agents and managers.
Many elements make a successful call center agent, and companies usually screen applicants for soft skills like attitude and aptitude during the hiring process. Although a customer service agent can acquire technical know-how and learn specific systems and processes, some characteristics and personality traits can’t be taught.
Those on the front line of a business should be natural communicators, eager to go the extra mile to solve customer issues quickly. Some of the top qualities required include:
- listening skills
- knowledge retention
- attention to detail
Agents should also be able to handle pressure and criticism and remain polite and courteous even when dealing with frustrated callers. They need to work well in a team, but also be self-motivated and able to use their initiative for problem-solving. Knowing when to ask for help, or pass a query on to someone else, is also a critical element.
It’s important to know how to speak with customers in understandable terms, so agents must be fluent in the language of the business. But they need to respond to the tone of customer calls, as well as their words.
Call center work can be monotonous, but reps should aim to provide personalized experiences for each customer rather than sticking to a script. Conversational skills are useful in building customer relationships, although agents should strike a balance between friendliness and efficiency.
If you run a virtual call center in which agents can work from anywhere, you can hire from around the world and make sure you get the best people. The virtual interview process is made easy with video conferencing from providers like RingCentral.
Once you’ve chosen people with the right characteristics, you can build on those soft skills with training and development. Even experienced agents will need to familiarize themselves with your business’s specific systems and tools, and they also need to absorb your company’s goals, values, and standards.
Customer service representatives should develop a thorough knowledge of the product and brand, backed up by knowledge bases of more detailed information. This means less time spent on hold (or waiting for an email) while an agent researches an issue.
Maintaining a quick-access database of customer information is also crucial so that the caller doesn’t have to keep giving their details or repeating their story. There may be some cases where scripts are helpful, but it’s better if inbound call center agents are trained to respond to whatever the customer asks.
In an omnichannel contact center, agents need the ability to communicate on all channels and to switch between them according to customer preferences. Keeping up with technological developments, new platforms, and the security and compliance issues involved should form part of ongoing training.
The aim is to resolve customer issues first-time, but follow-up interactions should also be made as swiftly as possible. Working as part of a collaborative team, agents will know when they should escalate a query and to whom.
Call centers typically employ large numbers of agents, and it can be challenging to ensure they’re all operating successfully—especially in a remote customer service team. That’s when managers need to use their motivational and organizational skills to get the best out of every agent.
Call center managers need the ability to support and nurture employees and high levels of efficiency. A good manager can make the workplace (whether physical or virtual) more harmonious and more productive, leading to lower turnover rates and reduced costs.
Effective communication is the key to success in a call center, so managers should check in regularly with agents to make sure they’re happy. Giving constructive feedback is essential, but so is listening to feedback from employees.
A call center manager should give agents some freedom to use their initiative—they shouldn’t always have to check with a supervisor if they want to provide a refund or make a goodwill gesture. Managers should afford them the independence to make good decisions and trust them to do so.
Supervisors can use workforce management software to maximize efficiency, such as agent scheduling to distribute calls evenly and reduce downtime, and analytics to predict peak call volume times. Hosted solutions like RingCentral give you the tools to do this and more.
Performance management also comes under a call center manager’s remit, including call monitoring and shadowing, call recording, and tracking agent performance in real-time. You could set up a quality assurance (QA) framework to collect performance data and measure the quality of service against your established goals.
Bringing the whole team together for brainstorming sessions, team-building, and social events is important to successful management, while offering rewards and incentives ensures team members feel appreciated. Using video meetings can be specifically useful when you are managing remote agents.
Good call center agents and managers may have the required soft skills, but they also need great tools to work with. The most successful call centers take advantage of technology to help them provide exceptional customer service and increased agent productivity.
There are plenty of tools to help you with all aspects of running a call center, from streamlining the workflow to offering multiple channels of communication. Automation such as skills-based routing, interactive voice response (IVR), and automatic call distribution (ACD) are handy for cutting wait times. Still, the best tools combine this with a human element.
For optimum efficiency, reliability and security, it makes sense to choose a cloud-hosted solution (like RingCentral) with all your tools and data in one place. The subscriber model means you only pay for the capacity you need when you need it—making it super-scalable for a growing business.
Unified solutions also bring all your channels together, making life more convenient for both customers and agents. They might not have time for a phone call, but they’d be happy to use social media messaging or email. It’s also imperative to be able to switch between channels to pick up a conversation later on and to integrate apps like CRM software.
As well as the software, your agents will need hardware, including desktop or mobile devices and headsets. It’s worth investing a little more in the best tools to keep agents happy, while ergonomic furniture and accessories will ensure they’re comfortable at work.
Call center technology makes it easier to operate remote or hybrid teams, as they can work from anywhere (enabling you to offer customer support across time zones). Make sure remote agents have the right equipment and know how to use it—including a fast internet connection.
While increased revenue and employee satisfaction are critical, the overriding aim of a call center is to provide positive customer experiences. That means not only meeting customer expectations but exceeding them to the extent that customers are delighted by the service they receive.
Successful call center agents get to know their customers so that they can interact on their preferred channels and offer personalized service—not just by remembering someone’s name, but by recognizing how they would like an issue to be resolved and responding accordingly.
For example, if a customer has been with you for a long time, it’s worth offering them a loyalty reward without them having to ask for it. It’s annoying when a company advertises discounts for new customers only, so make sure you keep the existing ones happy.
Generosity is always valued—you don’t want the business to be seen as miserly, so consider offering a coupon as well as replacing a defective product. Discounts and promotions can also be tailored to specific customers, using analytics and segmentation to identify behaviors and understand customer stories.
Don’t forget about outbound calls! If your agents are contacting people for sales, market research, or just confirming a healthcare appointment, they should be super-polite—even when a customer brushes them off because it’s an inconvenient time. RingCentral Engage can help you reach customers on multiple channels with efficient tools like predictive dialers and personalized scripting.
What’s the best call center software?
When it comes to contact center solutions, there’s plenty of choice. But whether your call center is inbound or outbound, physical or virtual, there are certain key features you’ll want to look out for—including:
We’ve already mentioned the benefits of a cloud-hosted solution in terms of increased scalability and security. If you choose a unified communications provider like RingCentral, then you’ll also get full functionality across all aspects of a call center.
This provides you with omnichannel communication methods for customers and teams, from VoIP (voice over internet protocol) phone systems to social media and messaging. You can set up CRM integration and merge customer profiles from different platforms to see all of your past conversations at a glance.
There are also tons of integrations with other popular apps so that agents don’t have to waste time toggling between them. Built-in collaboration tools include file sharing, cloud storage, screen sharing, and whiteboarding, while the video conferencing function is ideal for remote interviews and training.
Contact center agents can rely on automation such as speech analytics and ACD to streamline call flow, while AI-powered “virtual agents” help to handle high call volume by chatting to customers—using machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) for human-style interaction.
There are workforce and performance management features, too, such as agent scheduling, task management, coaching, and gamification tools. And the analytics function shows you real-time and historical data on dashboards and visualizations.
With seven layers of security to protect valuable data, RingCentral offers peace of mind to both businesses and customers. Tier 1 data centers are monitored round the clock, while reliability is guaranteed with 99.99 percent uptime.
What’s the key to a good call center?
We’ve looked at the key ingredients of a successful call center and shown you some strategies to help you get the best from your agents, managers, and tools. We’ve also seen how cloud-based and unified solutions such as RingCentral can improve productivity, revenue, and customer experiences.
It’s worth repeating that effective communication is a crucial part of any call center, as is employing suitable people and ensuring quality management. Choosing the best cloud call center software will enable you to meet your goals and exceed customer expectations, making your business a byword for exceptional service.
Want to learn how RingCentral can help you improve your call center? Click the “View demo” button below.