Essentials of an Effective Call Center

“The more you engage with customers, the clearer things become and the easier it is to determine what you should be doing”. – John Russell

To enable customers to contact a company directly and at any time with human interaction, companies are focusing and investing heavily in call centers. Call centers or contact centers are everywhere and are the subject of many a conversation and I dare say arguments. Probably because they affect our lives whether we like it or not and if you are a customer of some product or service, you will most likely land up interacting with one. For customers to be satisfied when they call the interaction must be effective. So what are the essentials of an effective call center? The primary task of a call center is to deal with inbound and outbound interactions with customers and is normally an integral part of a large organization. An effective call center will be one that can match up to the number of calls and queries, respond and have a high first call resolution capacity and be able to handle customer complaints to advantage. The interaction that a customer has here most likely determines the buying decision and satisfaction level

An effective call center lends critical support to the sales, marketing and other service functions of a company and has been so since the early 70s when the telephone became a common device for the home and companies began conducting business via the telephone. Companies mainly operate through 2 kinds of call centers – a captive call center and an outsourced call center. The captive call center attends to customer via calls for the company that has employed them or the parent company. The outsourced one helps the customers of the company that has hired their company to take calls.

An effective call center is one that also doubles up as a profit center since running a call center and managing the huge operating costs is a formidable task. Customers would normally make up their mind about doing or not doing business in the first interaction with the company through these agents. Depending on the effectiveness and level of customer service, this can prove to be the point that a sale happens. Captive call center employees therefore have a greater sense of ownership and are preferred. Call center employees have access to sensitive and personal information on customers and an effective call center would be one that maintains the privacy and sanctity of that data under all circumstances. The employees would take on the added responsibility of being ambassadors of the company and take pride in pushing across their company’s brand.

An effective call center has many aspects and would need to have a fine balance of customer service through its people, rigorous customer focused processes and updated technology and technical support. It is not just about taking calls and answering queries anymore.

– The most critical aspect of an effective call center is the building and maintaining of customer relationships. This aspect seeks to first make customers feel special, build a rapport and engage the customer in a way that they create an opportunity to do business with the company.

– A call center would be only as effective as the people doing the job. Within the call center there are many levels and jobs that need to get done. There are trainers, supervisors, managers and the base line employees who form the front end of the interactions. Each of these staff members must have the right attitude, skills and knowledge to manage their part of the job for the call center to be effective. An effective call center will have all levels and job title working in tandem with the least amount of conflicts and job disruptions.

– The organization would have a set of processes, policies and strategies in place and within that broader realm an effective call center would be one that has its own departmental set of processes, policies and strategies that blend with the larger set and yet are unique to allow the call center to run as an independent and discretionary unit. For the call center to serve its customers efficiently employees must have the leeway to serve customers in the way that they know would be appropriate and in keeping with the brand and image of the company. A thwarted call center cannot be effective.

– Customers have now become very technologically advanced and unless the company keeps pace with these advancements the call centers would be severely handicapped. Updated technology also makes for an effective call center since it helps to gather and store customer information and manage customer relationships more effectively. Customer history and data allows the employees to be aware of the customers, their needs and their specific demands. Customers are easily offended if despite investing in a company, the call center employees cannot even remember names or do not have an idea of the customer’s history with the company. Without personalization it would be impossible to build a customer relationship and without reliable technology like CRM software managing these relationships would be like shooting in the dark.

Another technology for an effective call center is the software that allows calls to be automatically distributed equally among the call center agents. This reduces the call holding time for the customers and also reduces the pressure on the employees. Without this distribution calls would get queued up on the first few lines, drastically raising the time customers need to hold before they are attended to. Customers do not like to wait as it seems like the company does not consider them important enough. For the employees on the other free lines, there would be no job for them to do. An unequal call distribution would lead to both customer and employee dissatisfaction.

– Updated technology also means that there must be skilled and knowledgeable technical support staff to manage these high tech gadgets and services. An effective call center must have both technical and non-technical staff. It would be impractical to expect all call center employees to understand the guides and troubleshooting processes that come along with these high tech devices. Problems with these devices sometimes go beyond even the technical know-how of the technical staff that then needs to refer to more complex troubleshooting aides and diagrams to sort out the problems.

– Even for customers who face problems with the product of the company, would need to call in for troubleshooting the problem. An effective call center would have a specific number or numbers to enable customers to directly reach the technical staff to service the technical issues. This also saves time for customers and costs for a company that would need to send a support person to the customer’s premises to sort out a problem.

– Live chat agents would also be part of an effective call center. These are highly specialized agents with good communication and relationship building skills. High value customers, in terms of sheer business volume, would have access to this service for a quick and more effective resolution to their problems.

If we were to summarize the essentials of an effective call center they would read as:

– Manages and focuses on its own and the company’s business goals
– Responds to customer calls and emails swiftly
– Is able to achieve a high percentage of First Call Resolutions
– Customer complaints are minimum
– Agents show empathy and respect to customer’s and their time
– Agents know how to keep customers engaged
– Work is equally distributed rather than a few being overworked
– Is seen as a profit center and a strategic business partner for the company
– Employees are highly motivated and happy
– Achieve high scores in customer satisfaction metrics
– A well-written and maintained set of customer data
– Accurate records of customer interactions and effective monitoring of the same

A poorly run call center would be the converse of all these aspects. Running and working at a call center is a tough job since it involves dealing with tough people several times a day, every day. An effective call center is one where the management understands these compelling situations and helps its agents do their best and offer the highest levels of customer service.

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