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How to Choose a Customer Service Call Center for Your Business

How to Choose a Customer Service Call Center for Your Business
Find the right customer service call center for your business. / Credit: Call center image via Shutterstock

Fielding customers' phone calls is a critical component of any business, but it can be difficult to balance productivity and customer service, especially when your business is growing. To solve this problem, many businesses employ call centers. Of course, most small businesses can't afford to maintain an in-house call center. That's where third-party call center services come in. These companies offer services such as answering calls, assisting customers, performing lead generation, conducting surveys and obtaining customer feedback.

More robust call center services can also help to expand your small business's customer base through marketing, data gathering and the addition of languages to your customer service line. They can also make a business look more professional.

Call center services can vary widely. While some businesses might only need a basic answering service, others might want the most sophisticated outreach options. This guide will help you understand the variety of call center services available and determine which one is right for your business.

Ready to choose a call center service? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:

Editor's note: If you're looking for information to help you choose the call center that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site BuyerZone provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free.

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There are a few important distinctions between call center services and answering services. Knowing the differences between them is key to choosing the right service for your business.

Already know everything you need to know about call center services? Visit Business News Daily's best picks page to see our recommendations and to take a look at our call center service reviews.

Call center services are broad and general. They usually maintain a large stable of employees and tend to field a higher volume of calls. They are also able to serve almost any industry, compiling orders, offering customer support services and sending the relevant information back to their clients. These services can typically function with a general script and basic information about the client's business. Call center services will usually archive orders and interactions, and then send the information as part of a report to the client. One example of a business that might employ a call center is a retail company. [See Related Story: Best Overall Call Center Service for Small Businesses]

Answering services, on the other hand, are usually much smaller and often handle complex, specialized tasks. They generally serve specific "vertical markets" that require a more intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the client's business. Answering services are best equipped to deal with specific industries that might require critical thinking and decision making. Sometimes, answering services will engage in time-sensitive or highly personalized functions. Oftentimes, answering services will immediately relay individual calls to the client. An example of a business that might employ an answering service is a medical practice. [See Related Story: Best Answering Service for Medical Practices]

The primary benefit of hiring a call center service is to free up your staff members, so they can spend all of their time focusing on your business's productivity, rather than on fielding calls. In addition, if your business would otherwise require a dedicated call center, a third-party service can help reduce the associated costs. Moreover, call center services can be available 24/7 if necessary, allowing your customers to constantly be in touch the moment any issue arises. Finally, a call center service can add a level of professionalism to your small business's brand, without necessitating the costly creation of your own customer service team.

When you hire a call center service, you'll usually be asked to provide the company with a script and as much information as you deem necessary so that their representatives can better serve your customers. Some services will record phone calls so you can review them for quality-assurance purposes. Other services will even provide you with daily reports detailing how many calls were fielded and which issues they involved. When you're selecting a service, it's important to find out how well and how often the service intends to keep you in the loop, as you will want to monitor the company's performance closely.

Call center services might seem similar on the surface, but the details of each company's offerings can vary quite widely. Once you start asking specific questions, the differences among the companies will start to become more apparent. To find out which vendor is right for your business, here are a few questions to ask yourself and features to look for in a call center service.

A major function of call center services is to accept calls to answer customers' questions about your business's products or services. Call centers can often provide information or technical support, as well as take orders and process payments over the phone. Many will also dispatch calls to you in the event a customer needs to speak directly with someone inside the company. All of these services fall under the "inbound services" umbrella.

Some call centers also offer so-called outbound services, which include lead generation, such as cold calling and survey-data compilation. These services can also include follow-ups with previous customers to ensure their satisfaction or to further encourage a successful conversion. Traditionally, call centers were viewed as a necessary expense to preserve existing relationships, but when you consider these additional functions, call centers can actually broaden your customer base, forge new relationships and bring in more money.    

Not every business needs both inbound and outbound services, so it's important to consider your business's needs. Once you know exactly what you need, be sure to ask each call center service which inbound and outbound services it offers.

You'll want to monitor the call center service's performance to be sure it's operating as expected. After all, the call center will be dealing directly with your customers, meaning it could have a great influence on how they perceive your business. Reporting offers you a window into the day-to-day operations of the call center service you've hired.

But not all reporting is created equal. Some companies only offer basic summaries of how many calls they made or received in a given time period, while others provide access to real-time data analytics and even record the audio of calls for review when something goes wrong. Before you sign up with a call center service, it's important to know how transparent and forthcoming it will be and what you can expect from the company's self-reporting.

Another important question to ask is how often agents at the call center are available. Good services have 24/7/365 availability for your customers. Some call center services even offer disaster recovery services, meaning they can take over completely if your own phone lines go down due to an emergency. Selecting a service that is always available and very reliable should be a major focus for your business.

Some call center services have minimum volume requirements that must be met before they will partner with a business. These services might not be suitable for a small company that doesn't expect many customer service calls, or doesn't intend to make many outbound calls. However, for a larger company or one that relies heavily on phone contact with customers, these services might make more sense. Try to accurately gauge your call volume and estimate how many call center agents you might need before searching for a call center service.

Many call center services charge by the month, but some are known to charge for a package of minutes. If this is the case with the call center you partner with, you'll especially want to know how large or small your expected call volume is.

Call centers are an integral component of many businesses. Downtime can seriously harm your business if your customers are unable to get through to the call center agents. That means you'll want to partner with a call center that is dependable, with reliable redundancy and a solid disaster-recovery plan so that an outage doesn't cripple your productivity.

If your business needs to reach a bilingual or multilingual audience, you'll want to partner with a call center that has fluent speakers on staff. Many call centers offer Spanish-speaking services, and others even offer a wide array of languages to choose from. If you're in need of a multilingual service, be sure to ask up front which languages the call center can provide for you.

Editor's note: If you're looking for information to help you choose the call center that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site BuyerZone provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free.

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Ready to see our best picks for call center services? Visit Business News Daily's best picks page to see our recommendations and take a look at our call center service reviews.

Adam C. Uzialko

Adam received his Bachelor's degree in Political Science and Journalism & Media Studies at Rutgers University. He worked for a local newspaper and freelanced for several publications after graduating college. He can be reached by email, or follow him on Twitter.