- Call centers require a range of software and tools, including call center software, customer relationship managers and automatic call distribution systems.
- Call center software and tools feed data into a call center performance management tool that can help improve service and address challenges.
- Whether you're starting a call center of your own or running an internal call center for your business, consider these 10 call center tools.
Managing a call center is tough work, but it's essential to drive new sales and maintain customer satisfaction and retention. For some businesses, it makes sense to outsource the phone lines to a call center or answering service. For others, though, keeping the call center in-house is more suitable.
To effectively manage and grow an internal call center, many businesses rely on a bevy of software and other tools. These tools can help call center agents manage relationships, monitor call statistics and even improve their service quality. For call center managers, data-driven insights are critical to allocating resources where they are needed most and will have the greatest impact.
If you are preparing to launch an in-house call center or want to better manage your existing customer service and sales departments, these call center software applications and tools could be helpful. Further, if you are planning on starting your own call center service, these tools are essential to guaranteeing quality service for your clients, as well as generating transparent reports that help them understand how well your agents are performing on their behalf.
Employ an effective CRM
The first step is to select and use an effective customer relationship management (CRM) system. These software programs 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 article: 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 automatically updates that contact's 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.
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Employ 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 for small businesses:
- 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 has the ability to automate actions with AI, eliminate 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."
What is an ACD system in a call center?
An automatic call distribution (ACD) system is used in a call center to automatically direct inbound calls (as well as email, social media and live web chat messages for an omnichannel contact center) to the appropriate available call center agents. An ACD system is essentially a more sophisticated interactive voice response (IVR) tree – but instead of the caller dialing the appropriate number to reach the right agents, an ACD system uses preset conditions to properly route the call.
Depending on your specific needs, an ACD system can include several distribution methods. These include programmed distribution preset by the call center and based on criteria such as agent experience, relevant department, agent availability, and language proficiency. Alternatively, a round-robin distribution method ensures that agents handle roughly the same amount of calls by distributing inbound calls in order, much like the batting lineup of a baseball team. Finally, the idle-agent method ensures that any call center agents who have handled the lowest amount of call volume will be targeted for the next inbound call or message, ensuring no agent's time is wasted and improving overall efficiency.
Beyond simply ensuring a call gets to the right agent at the right time, ACD systems can be programmed to identify high-value callers in a distribution method known as "weighted call" distribution. The system can analyze the phone number and match it to premium subscriptions or high-paying accounts, for example, ensuring the call is given top priority. For example, priority callers can be set in the system to receive an answer in less than 15 seconds, boosting customer satisfaction among your business's most important demographic.
What is a call center performance manager?
Maintaining an in-house call center means ensuring its performance is up to par, as well as identifying opportunities for improving customer service and sales outcomes. A call center performance management tool (or call monitoring system) can support this mission by recording calls, monitoring agent quality performance, and offering coaching opportunities, serving as both workforce management and data analytics tools. Some call center performance management tools even implement gamification features to incentivize agents to pursue professional development opportunities themselves.
While quality assurance and training have long been part of call center operations, call center performance management tools capture and analyze data to help call center managers better direct resources to bolster what is working, and fill gaps where the call center might be falling short. They can support real-time monitoring as well as recorded call review on both inbound and outbound calls.
Identifying clear key performance indicators such as sales, customer survey satisfaction scores and call resolution times, then tracking them with performance management software, can give call center managers the insight they need to tackle problems before they grow.
Call center performance management tools help digitize and even automate longstanding call center quality assurance processes, going beyond the old metrics, and providing new insights that can more accurately diagnose problems and emphasize successes.
Some call center tools to consider
We asked entrepreneurs to recommend the call center tools and other types of support software they've used to augment their customer service operations. Here are their recommendations:
- CrazyCall, contact center management software
- Five9, contact center management software
- Freshdesk, contact center management software
- Front, a multichannel help desk tool
- Gnatta, contact center management software
- goyaPhone, a mobile-based CRM application
- NICE inContact, contact center management software
- OTRS, a ticketing and customer service tracking solution
- Zailab, AI-based contact center management software
- Zendesk, 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, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to suggest their addition in a future round of updates.
Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.