Customer service is a critical aspect of any business, but sometimes managing the phones can become a burden that undercuts daily operations. When answering phones, email messages and other customer inquiries becomes a hindrance to operations, it might be time to partner with a call center or answering service. These vendors enable businesses to outsource their communications management for a fraction of the cost of hiring additional staff.
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Call centers and answering services often do more than answer phone calls; in fact, many are rebranding as “contact centers” to reflect this evolution. Many vendors can manage every communication channel you have, including phone lines, email, social media and live web chat. Some also handle customer orders and engage in advanced services like customer retention and loyalty programs or market research. This guide will help you determine what kind of customer service call center is right for your business.
Before selecting a customer service call center for your business, establish your business use cases.
First, business owners should determine if they actively need a customer service call center. Some call centers require a minimum monthly call volume, so companies with smaller numbers of monthly calls may be best served by handling communication in-house. However, if you are struggling to provide adequate customer care, then it’s likely time to look for outside assistance.
Next, take the following steps when you’re first starting to look for a call center service.
After taking the above actions, reach out to your top prospective vendors for consultations. The companies should be able to provide you with clear pricing information and other essential details, like what features are included in different plans. Ask to see sample analytics and reports to decide if the service’s self-reporting capabilities match your expectations. You’ll ultimately want to pick the call center that will give you the most bang for your buck.
When choosing a customer service call center provider, keep your overall business plan in mind. Ensure that the vendor fully supports your business-use cases while staying within your overall budget.
Various call center services might seem similar on the surface, but the details of each vendor’s offerings can vary widely.
For example, some services record phone calls so you can review them later for quality assurance. Other services provide you with daily reports detailing how many calls were fielded and which issues they involved. When you’re selecting a service, it’s crucial 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.
Below are the features and services to evaluate as you research call centers for your business. Once you start asking providers specific questions about these topics, the differences among them will become more apparent.
Where your call center service company is headquartered, as well as where its agents are located, is one of the first things you should identify. Offshore call centers are often more cost-effective, but they offer fewer services and their agents typically have heavy accents that some customers might have a hard time understanding.
Domestic call centers tend to offer more complete services (for example, lead generation for building a larger customer base), but their native English-speaking agents and software-centric models often mean their prices are higher.
For some businesses, an offshore call center might be appropriate, but many prefer domestic call centers. However, if your needs are rather basic and you’re unconcerned about language barriers, an offshore call center could be a good way to keep costs down. [Having a hard time deciding? See all the pros and cons of outsourcing to an offshore call center — and learn about the call center homeshoring trend.]
A major function of call center services is to answer customers’ inquiries 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 your staff in the event a customer needs to speak directly with someone inside the company. All of these services fall under the umbrella of inbound services.
Some call centers also offer outbound services, which include lead generation tasks such as cold calling and compiling survey data. These services can also include follow-ups with previous customers to ensure their satisfaction or to further encourage a successful conversion. Some call centers conduct feedback surveys or engage in customer win-back attempts when you’ve lost someone’s business.
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, though, so consider your company’s requirements. [Listen in on some of the worst telemarketing calls ever.]
The best call center services offer both dedicated and shared agents. Dedicated agents are assigned only to your account and give your company their full time and attention. This is best for businesses with specific, detailed needs that demand familiarity and consistency from their agents.
For companies with more general needs, a shared-agent arrangement might be more appropriate. These agents handle multiple call center clients and don’t necessarily answer your business’s calls 100 percent of the time. These services are often cheaper and still effective for organizations that don’t require specific attention day in and day out.
Some vendors employ a semi-dedicated model, which blends cost-effectiveness with specialized attention. In this scenario, agents usually handle one or two accounts in addition to yours, instead of a full slate. This means that while they are not solely focused on your company, their attention is less divided. These agents are often cheaper than dedicated agents but more expensive than shared agents. This model is relatively rare, but it offers a great balance between cost and quality.
A call center will be dealing directly with your customers, so it’ll likely have great influence over how people perceive your business. Reports and analytics offer 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 vendors only provide basic summaries of how many calls they made or received in a given time period, while others give you access to real-time data analytics and even record call audio for review in case something goes wrong. Before you sign up with a call center service, it’s important to understand how transparent and forthcoming it will be and what you can expect from the company’s self-reporting.
Another vital question to ask is how often agents at the call center are available. The best providers have 24/7/365 availability for your customers. Some call centers even offer disaster recovery services, meaning they can take over completely if your own phone lines go down in an emergency. Selecting a service that is always available and reliable should be a nonnegotiable requirement for your business.
Some call center services require a minimum call volume. These vendors might not be suitable for a small business that doesn’t expect many customer service calls or intend to make many outbound calls. 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 agents you might need before you search for a call center service. This is especially critical regarding pricing, since some call centers charge for a package of minutes rather than by the month.
Call centers are an integral component of many businesses. Downtime can seriously harm your company if customers can’t get through to the call center. Partner with a call center that is dependable, with reliable redundancy and a solid disaster-recovery plan so an outage doesn’t cripple your productivity.
You’ll want to partner with a call center that has fluent speakers of multiple languages on staff, particularly if your business has international customers. Many call centers offer Spanish-speaking services, and some boast a wide array of language fluency. If you need a multilingual service, ask the companies you’re considering which languages or translation services they can provide for you. Also ask if these services cost extra; sometimes Spanish but no other language support will be included in the package, for example.
Businesses might use a call center for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they are unable to deliver quality customer service over the phone due to a growing volume of calls, or manning the phone lines is diminishing the quality of employees’ other projects. Maybe the breadth of communication channels today is spreading your team too thin. In other cases, call centers can simply do more to help grow a business than in-house staff can manage.
The ultimate benefit of hiring a call center service is freeing up your staff members so they can focus on your business’s productivity rather than fielding calls and other inquiries. Many call centers are available 24/7 if necessary, allowing your customers to get in touch the moment any issue arises. A call center service can also add a level of professionalism to your small business’s brand without the costly creation of your own customer service team.
Plus, call center vendors often offer lead generation and sales services that can help a growing business thrive while its full-time employees focus on day-to-day operations. In other words, a company stands to gain a lot without spending as much as it would cost to hire more team members to accomplish the same tasks.
According to Salesforce’s 2022 State of the Connected Customer report, 88 percent of customers believe that the experience a company provides is just as important as its actual product or services. This is up from 80 percent of customers in 2020, reflecting the growing importance customers place on good customer service.
While call centers and answering services sound similar, there are significant differences between the two. Knowing how they differ will help you choose the right type of company for your business. Note that some vendors maintain both answering and call center services.
Call center services are broad and general. These providers usually maintain a large number of agents and tend to field a higher volume of calls. They can serve almost any industry by compiling orders, offering customer support 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 usually archive orders and interactions, and then send the information as part of a report to the client. A retailer is one example of a business that might employ a call center.
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 engage in time-sensitive or highly personalized functions. Often, they immediately relay individual calls to the client. A medical practice is an example of a business that might employ an answering service.
Picking a customer service call center is highly dependent upon your business needs. Make sure you have a clear idea of your business use cases for a call center and an understanding of how these services can aid your long-term business goals. Partnering with the right service can help expand and improve customer care while allowing your in-house employees to focus on other aspects of the company. Better customer service means happier customers, and that’s always good for business.
Jeremy Bender contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.