Customer service can be tricky for small businesses. The staff answering the phones often wear other hats at a small business, so customer care – as important as it might be – can often delay of other necessary tasks.
Of course, you could outsource your customer service needs to a call center or an answering service, but if you want to keep things in-house you have a few options as well. Implementing call center tools and customer relationship management (CRM) software could be just the ticket to improving and streamlining your small business's customer service.
Employ an effective CRM
The first step is to select and use an effective CRM system, if you don't already have one. These software not only serve as robust contact management tools, but also help users manage sales and leads, improve their marketing capabilities, manage their vendor relationships, and keep tabs on operational data. A CRM alone is enough for small businesses with a low call volume. [Read related story: The Best CRM Software for Small Businesses]
"A business receiving less than 10 calls a day would be fine with the phone and CRM," said Orion DeVries, research analyst at Crozdesk.com.
The most sophisticated CRMs are now employing artificial intelligence to automate the data entry and maintenance processes. For example, when a contact reaches out, an AI-driven CRM will automatically update that contacts information in the system, even identifying the context of the conversation. But even simplistic CRMs that serve primarily as a manual contact management system can help your customer service agents identify who's calling more easily, and then speak to them with a clear sense of purpose.
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.
Employing a call center tool
For small businesses that receive a higher volume of calls, pairing a CRM with more specific customer service tools is essential, said Uwe Weinkauf, CEO of MW2 Consulting. By pairing call center software with an effective CRM system, customer service departments are armed with better information and a better platform from which to operate.
"Contact center software and CRM are better used together rather than apart," Weinkauf said. "They do very different jobs. While CRM manages customer accounts and sales prospects call center software provides the communications infrastructure to engage with customers. Contact center software can give CRM the ability to implement things such as call controls, transfer options and click-to-dial."
According to Nour Addine Ayyoub, founder and CEO of ZaiLab, contact center solutions provide a few major benefits that small businesses, including:
- Offering a single communications platform to manage and monitor all customer interactions (much like a CRM)
- Monitoring service levels to customers in real time, enabling companies to act immediately to resolve any issues
- Offering statistical reports and analytics of customer service provided to clients
- Improving "first call resolution" rates, ensuring customers won't have to repeatedly call about the same questions or issues
- Monitoring client service behavior to help companies improve their offerings
- Working in tandem with CRM databases to pull up information on specific customers
For call center tools, AI offers the efficiency of automation, taking repetitive or clunky tasks out of human hands to speed them up and free your staff up to focus on more important things.
"Call center software enables the ability to automate actions with AI, eliminating mundane tasks and reduce average handle time of customer issues," said Chris Bauserman, vice president of product and segment marketing at NICE inContact. "It also allows for workforce optimization by inspiring employee self-improvement, and it turns insights into results by making data relevant, easy to consume and actionable to drive measurable improvements."
Some call center tools to consider
We asked entrepreneurs to recommend some of the call center tools and other types of support software that they've used to augment their customer service operations. Here are the suggestions they came up with:
- CrazyCall, a contact center management software
- Five9, a contact center management software
- Freshdesk, a contact center management software
- Front, a multi-channel help desk tool
- Gnatta, a contact center management software
- GoyaPhone, a mobile-based CRM application
- NICE inContact, a contact center management software
- OTRS, a ticketing and customer service tracking solution
- ZaiLab, an AI-based contact center management software
- Zendesk, a CRM software
Or, if you're looking to outsource customer service operations entirely, see our reviews on the best call centers and answering services, as well as our call center buying guide to help you select the right customer service partner.
If you have any recommendations of similar tools you've worked with and had a positive experience, feel free to email email@example.com to suggest their addition in a round of updates.