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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

Responsive communications are an absolute must for businesses, especially in a digital world where customers expect timely and satisfactory attention. Unfortunately, manning the phones and running your day to day business at the same time can become burdensome without an in-house customer service staff, which can be expensive to implement and maintain when scaling.

When businesses can't handle customer service and technical support, or need assistance in generating new leads, many turn to call center services. These companies do more than just answer calls; call centers will assist customers, conduct surveys, and obtain feedback to find out how you can better position your company in the future. A call center can also add a layer of professionalism to your company, whether it's handling existing customers or performing outreach to potential leads. Some even offer technical support and industry-specific services.

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 in 2018.

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. 

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 their time focusing on your business's productivity, rather than on fielding calls. Many 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 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. Some call centers also conduct feedback surveys or engage in customer winback 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, so consider your business's requirements. Once you know exactly what you need, ask each call center service which inbound and outbound services it offers.

The best call center services offer both dedicated and shared agents. Dedicated agents are assigned only to your account, giving your company their full time and attention. This is best for those businesses with specific, detailed needs that demand familiarity and consistency from their agents.

For those companies with more general needs, however, a shared agent might be more appropriate. These agents handle multiple clients of the call center, including your company, and don't necessarily answer your business's calls 100 percent of the time. These services are often cheaper, but effective for those companies that don't require specified attention day in and day out.

Some companies offer a semi-dedicated model, which blends cost effectiveness with specialized attention. These agents will usually handle one or two other accounts in addition to yours, instead of a full slate. That 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 uncommon, but offers a great balance between cost and quality.

A 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. 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. This is especially important for 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 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.

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.

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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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.