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What Exactly Is a Call Center and How Does It Operate?

Customer service is an important aspect of a modern company. Customers can contact a centralised call center for frequent customer care issues in organisations with a big client base.

A call center is a department or office where a group of advisors, generally referred to as agents, receives incoming and outgoing telephone calls from both new and existing customers. A call center operation is used by millions of businesses worldwide to handle client calls or make sales to customers.

Call Centers and Contact Centers became even more crucial when the COVID-19 pandemic limited our face-to-face interactions. During the pandemic, customer calls have increased.

In addition, call centers currently and in the future give a large number of career opportunities. In this helpful post, you’ll learn what a call center is, what its key components are, and some useful call center recommendations. The telephone is used by all professionals to interact and engage with their customers, partners, colleagues, and others, so having good phone skills is important for everyone. Inside sales, customer service representatives, call center agents and team leaders, sales managers, and those seeking call center employment should understand what a call center is, how it operates, and some of the best practices associated with it.

So, let’s take a look at what a call center is.

Call centers can be used for some things, including:

  • Customer Support and Service
  • Marketing research 
  • Telemarketing

Billing, account administration, and other day-to-day customer service duties may be handled by a call center.

Call Centers vs. Contact Centers

In most cases, call centers just handle audio calls. Other types of inquiries, such as emails, support tickets, or live chats, as well as voice calls, are handled by contact centers. Your call center becomes a contact center as soon as it handles inquiries from another channel of interaction, whether that’s email, live chat, messaging, or anything else. However, this definition is extremely old. Almost all businesses now handle both email and phone inquiries. As a result, the terms call center and contact center are frequently interchanged.

What are the Functions of Call Centers?

Customer assistance is coordinated by call centers. Customers can interact with businesses without ever having to visit a store, branch, or office. This implies that if a consumer has a question, has to pay a bill, or wants to file a complaint, they can do so whenever it is convenient for them.

Customers today have a variety of ways to communicate with brands, not simply in person or over the phone. However, this does not imply that call centers are no longer popular. When it comes to connecting with brands, the telephone is still the preferred form of communication.

Customers can call customer service and speak with a live person who can answer their questions in real-time. Customers can also phone a company whenever they have free time rather than needing to schedule an appointment.

Call centers can range in size from enormous facilities with banks of cubicles to small properties with just a few desks. Some call centers have various departments with different types of advisors handling different types of calls, while others have only a few specialized call handlers who handle anything that comes their way.

Call Centers Types

The description of three different types of call centers. These are inbound, outbound, and automated.

Inbound Call Centers

A call center that primarily (or entirely) handles incoming calls is known as an inbound call center. When a customer dials a phone number, they are connected to an agent who takes care of their request.

An interactive voice response system may be used to ask a series of questions to guarantee that the customer’s call is handled by the appropriate agent. This system might use terms like “pay a bill” or “track a delivery,” or it might ask for account numbers or other data.

Businesses that need to provide technical, product, and billing support on a large scale frequently deploy inbound contact centers. These contact center agents are taught to handle the most common requests promptly and accurately to provide the best possible service to customers.

Outbound Call Centers

Promotional campaigns, sales, and market research are common uses for outbound call centers. Outgoing calls are made from these call centers to qualified calling lists.

A company’s customer relationship management system is typically used to get a list of phone numbers to call, which is then checked to verify that only those who have requested calls are contacted.

Organisations use specialised software, like a predictive dialer, to automate the calling process, allowing agents to make a large number of calls efficiently.

Outbound call centers are subject to rules in many parts of the world that restrict how and when agents can call residential phone numbers. Modern contact centers may undertake outbound communication using a customer’s preferred ways, such as email and text. Alternative communication channels are frequently thought to be less intrusive than phone calls.

Automated Call Centers

IVR systems are used by many modern contact centers to automate call routing. These technologies can now handle several common call types without the need for human intervention.

For instance, to pay a bill, a consumer can dial a phone number and then input their account number and payment information. They can also provide their address and a tracking number to receive parcel updates.

Contact centers can take automation a step further by employing chatbots to respond to somewhat more complicated questions. Customers and businesses alike benefit from these self-service choices. If a customer’s inquiry is too sophisticated for the AI system to handle, they simply need to speak with a human agent.

Call Centers: Virtual vs Office-Based

Call centers used to be placed in real offices. People can now work from home because of the widespread availability of fast, dependable internet connections.

Virtual contact centers are made up of individual advisors who operate from home or smaller groups of advisors who work in quieter branch locations. These locations use the same technology as a regular contact center and operate as if they were one larger location. Whether the contact center is virtual or not, the end-user experience is the same.

Virtual agents can be a cost-effective solution for a small business to improve its customer service. Some outsourcing organisations provide virtual customer support, training home workers to handle calls for a variety of businesses. When a worker receives a call, a notice appears on their computer screen informing them of the company to which the call is directed. This enables them to properly greet callers and adhere to any scripts or procedures established by the customer.

Technology for Call Centers

With its call routing and telephony infrastructure, established businesses may have enormous office-based call centers. It will cost a lot of money to set up this infrastructure. Making modifications to these legacy systems can take months of planning and many man-hours. As a result, firms that rely on those systems will find it difficult to react to changing client wants and expectations.

Call center software, such as an automated call distributor, may route any task from any source, detecting calls and scanning them for information that could aid in better routing. When this is combined with APIs, businesses may provide a better client experience.

Metrics for Measuring Call Center Success

Because call centers deal with clients at various points of their journeys, from inbound sales through billing and account termination, they play a crucial role. A call center may be able to handle a high amount of calls, depending on the size of the company. As a result, it’s critical to keep track of the center’s and individual agents’ performance.

Call center metrics can be divided into three categories:

  • Real-time
  • Historical
  • Customer-focused

Managers can use historical metrics to analyze the call center’s demand in the past. This aids the team in forecasting, scheduling, and planning for the future.

Real-time data highlight the call center’s current demand, allowing management to better evaluate everyday demand and staffing levels.

Customer-focused metrics provide an indication of the overall and per-agent quality of service provided to callers.

Individual Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in Call Centers

The above collection of measures can be broken down into Key Performance Indicators. These are individual metrics that assist call center managers in identifying potential areas for improvement. KPIs can illustrate how well a contact center is operating overall or provide insight into the performance of a single agent.

In a call center, some essential customer satisfaction measures include:

  • Average Response Time
  • Rate of first-call resolution
  • Handling Time on Average
  • Rate of Transfer
  • Customer Satisfaction

Average Response Time

The Average Time to Answer is a measurement of how long it takes an agent to answer an inbound call. This metric is based on agents being available to answer calls within a certain time window, and while it includes time spent waiting in line, it excludes time spent navigating through an IVR system.

A variety of reasons could be to blame for long response times. Callers may have to wait for a lengthy period in the queue if a company is understaffed during peak hours. Longer-than-desired average response times can also be caused by poor call routing or a shortage of employees trained to handle a specific type of call.

Rate of first-call resolution

The First Contact Resolution Rate is the percentage of calls that are resolved on the first try, with no need for the customer to call back or follow up on their query in any other way. This statistic is frequently thought of on a per-agent basis. The better an agent is, the greater their first-call resolution rate will be.

However, the First Call Resolution Rate should not be used as a stand-alone statistic. Callbacks may be out of an agent’s control if they frequently deal with sophisticated questions that demand external action. Managers must strike a compromise between having acceptable average handling times and maintaining the highest feasible first call resolution rate. Using an IVR to correctly screen and route calls is one approach to handle this.

Handling Time on Average 

The overall amount of time a customer spends on the phone is known as the Average Handling Time. This indicator provides an estimate of how long it takes to resolve a customer’s issues. Customer satisfaction is expected to rise if calls are handled swiftly and efficiently while maintaining a high First Call Resolution Rate.

Favourable handle times are closely linked to caller happiness, customer loyalty, and, most significantly, customer retention. Working out what time is best for a certain type of call is one of the challenges with Average Handling Times. For example, tech support queries may have longer target timeframes than billing queries.

Rate of Transfer

The Transfer Rate is a metric that indicates how many calls an agent can handle correctly without needing to transfer the caller to another department. An agent’s ability to handle as many calls as feasible should be maximised. The first call resolution rate should be higher than the transfer rate in an ideal world.

A high transfer rate could indicate any number of problems, which would need to be investigated on a case-by-case basis. Transfers can occur for a variety of reasons, including the fault of the agent or representative, the caller’s specific request, or an improper routing of the originating call. Customer satisfaction should improve when the transfer rate improves.

Customer Satisfaction

The Customer Satisfaction Score is a number that indicates how happy consumers are with a business’s products or services. Unlike other metrics that can be obtained instantly using call center software, CSAT requires the customer to submit input.

Customers’ satisfaction is measured by emailing them a brief, one-question survey at the end of the call. Customers are asked to rate their satisfaction on a scale of one to five, with one indicating extreme dissatisfaction and five indicating extreme satisfaction. Better overall performance is associated with higher CSAT scores.

CSAT scores can be used to assess performance at both the organisation and individual agent levels.

Working as a Call Center Agent

Agents for call centers are in high demand. Working at a call center can be an excellent first job for staff to get experience or flexibility in working hours. Because of the unpredictable nature of dealing with consumers, some people regard working in contact centers to be a challenge. A well-run center that prioritises good customer service, on the other hand, can be a pleasant place to work with good customer companionship.

Customer service agent employment is expected to stay largely steady between 2020 and 2030, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics. The number of employment opportunities is estimated to be around 361,700 per year.

Customer support agents make an average of $17.23 per hour or $35,830 per year. For all industries, this is lower than the national average. Call center employment, on the other hand, is frequently available to persons with a high school diploma or equivalent, although many other jobs require a higher degree of education.

The Customer Service Advisor’s Role

Agents in call centers are responsible for a variety of tasks. Customer service personnel are both brand ambassadors and tenacious issue solvers. Most call center agents will deal with more than just phone calls, thus they must be able to provide a decent omnichannel experience.

Never presume to understand the demands of the customer better than they do. Emphasise the significance of an agent taking the time to offer tailored solutions. Those that are patient and come up with well-thought-out, detailed answers are the best call center representatives.

Always put the customer first

Agents in call centers are sometimes tempted to look for quick fixes. This is especially true in fast-paced circumstances where an agent is confronted with challenging or demanding targets. It’s tempting to present a customer with an easy, short-term answer. But it’s critical to solve for the customer’s long-term needs rather than for your convenience.

Customers will identify agents who provide excellent service and will assist to establish brand loyalty for the brands they represent.

Call Center Agents’ Must-Have Skills

Because call center agents are the company’s “first line,” they must be prepared to handle a wide range of inquiries.

Agents should have the following five skills:

  • Retaining knowledge
  • Flexibility
  • Pay close attention to the details
  • Creativity
  • Organisation

Individual contact centers will have different priority areas, therefore each of those important abilities will require more or less attention. A tech support hotline, for example, is likely to require agents with significant product knowledge. A call center that handles a wide range of call types, billing, complaints, sales, and so on would require agents that are adaptable and detail-oriented.

Agents must be friendly and have solid organisational skills regardless of the sort of call they are handling. Agents in call centers are obliged to preserve logs of their calls to assist other agents if a customer needs to call back to follow up on a question.

Working at a Call Center Has Its Benefits and Drawbacks

As the Bureau of Labour Statistics points out, call center occupations have a low entrance hurdle. Many agents are new to the workforce, and opportunities are available to those with only a high school diploma.

Call center positions provide significant experience and allow agents to learn transferable skills such as communication, product expertise, and office management.

Those who work in a call center for a long time may be eligible for promotions to team leader or other higher-level positions. Sales managers, for example, can earn up to $132,290 per year, which is nearly four times the average annual compensation of a customer care person. Even people at a lower level may be able to earn incentives or take advantage of additional benefits.

Call Center Jobs Can Be Difficult

Working in a call center comes with its own set of difficulties. These are sedentary occupations, and long shifts can be exhausting for agents. It’s critical for those who spend most of their days sitting at a desk to get up and walk about, drink water, and take breaks.

Jobs in the contact center can have a high turnover rate

Because contact center professions have a low barrier to entry, certain teams have a high turnover rate. According to Avoxi, turnover rates range from 17% to 44%. Various causes could be contributing to the high attrition rate.

Many customer service positions are filled by students who may be forced to quit if they fail their course. Those who aren’t students are likely to be early-career professionals seeking advancement or other chances. The average age of call center agents is 30 years old. Younger workers, aged 20 to 24, have a 1.1-year average tenure, whereas senior workers have a 2.4-year average tenure.

One of the difficulties managers encounter is a high attrition rate. Absenteeism in contact centers can be significant. Personal emergencies, elder and child care, on-the-job harassment, routine health or lifestyle visits, transit access, and disengagement can cause missing time at work.

Because of these difficulties, agents may find it difficult to build long-term bonds with their coworkers. Those who are fortunate enough to land a position in a call center with good training and a pleasant working environment, on the other hand, may be on the verge of launching a successful career.