What is a Call Center? Definition, Structure, Team Functions
Businesses are fully aware of the role that customer service and customer support play in their success. There is virtually no business that can operate efficiently and attract repeat customers if it handles its customer service and support poorly.
Call centers are tools used by businesses to provide their customers and clients with a support system that caters to their complaints, needs, and inquiries.
Millions of businesses all over the world rely on call centers to provide quality customer services and support to their customers. The COVID-19 outbreak which limited the option of face-to-face interactions with a customer service agent made call centers even more important.
So, what services do call centers provide for customers, and which technologies do they use to run their operations? What are the differences between a contact center and a call center? What is a typical day like for a call center agent?
In this guide, we answer all these questions with details, along with providing tips for dealing with angry customers, and other information about call centers you need to know.
Let’s get started.
What is a Call Center?
A call center is a department within a business or a whole business venture on its own, that exists to handle massive streams of calls. Call centers take care of both inbound and outbound calls, with the major channel of communication being phones.
Call centers are generally designed to take care of business issues surrounding customers. They take care of inbound calls for inquiries or support and outbound calls for business activities like marketing or surveys.
The satisfaction of customers is one of the most important aspects of running a business. Call centers help businesses improve their relationships with customers which helps increase their customer lifetime value (CLV). They have proved to be very important instruments, especially for large businesses and enterprises who have multitudes of customers to attract, please, and keep happy.
Call centers have witnessed developments over the years. One of the most popular developments is the use of automated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems.
Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems help businesses to delegate minor issues to an auto-respondent and provide customers with efficient self-service options. With this, businesses have more time on their hands to handle complex issues and other important areas of growing their business.
Nonetheless, this is not everything call centers are about and there are still a lot of things to know.
Types of Call Centers
Although the types of call centers can be characteristic of a single call center, there are still distinctions between them. There are majorly three types of call centers differentiated on the services they provide and where they reside. They are inbound call centers, outbound call centers, and virtual call centers.
1. Inbound Call Center
As the name implies, an inbound call center is a type of call center where the agents are employed solely to receive calls originating from customers or external parties. These call centers are usually given the responsibility of assisting customers who have contacted a business to solve their problems.
Inbound call centers typically serve the main purpose of taking care of as many customer complaints as possible and in the most efficient of ways.
Customers are the main determinants of the number of calls you receive and, consequently, how busy an inbound call center is. Servicing inbound calls as quickly and effectively as possible is, therefore, very important. They are more important than outbound calls when aiming to increase customer satisfaction.
2. Outbound Call Center
An outbound call center, on the other hand, is a type of call center where the agents are employed to place outgoing calls. Calls are usually promotional in nature and placed to potential customers or existing customers.
Rather than receiving calls from customers, outbound call centers mainly focus on contacting customers to improve sales, promotions, and execute customer surveys.
Outbound call centers have a peculiar and tricky standing with customers. Placing outbound calls is not the most straightforward thing to do as clients may not be at the most comfortable of places to pick up or willing to listen to what you have to offer.
3. Virtual Call Center
A virtual call center, also known as a cloud-based call center, is a type of call center where the agents are geographically dispersed rather than being situated on-premises. Call center activities and agents are only interconnected through the internet.
The activities of inbound and outbound call centers can be merged with virtual call centers and customers or clients only need an internet connection to access the services.
A virtual call center offers you more than its alternative counterpart. You have access to more advanced communications features and integrations with important software for CRM, sales, and marketing, among others.
Contact Center vs Call Center: What is a Contact Center?
Differentiating a call center from a contact center is not an easy task. The two terms are repeatedly used interchangeably but, on the contrary, are differentiated on several grounds; the most apparent being the scope of communication channels used by each.
We have made mention of what a call center is. To know how much it differs from a contact center, you need to know what a contact center is made up of.
A contact center is just like a call center, the major difference being that it offers your communication system omnichannel contact solutions.
Rather than just making use of only phone calls to relate with customers, a contact center includes additional contact mediums like VoIP telephone services, email, text, social media, fax services, and voicemail, among others.
A contact center keeps customer relations more convenient. It includes a diverse range of contact mediums, giving customers a chance to communicate with your business in any way they feel comfortable.
Now, a contact center is not just limited to receiving and taking care of customer complaints. Other activities like telemarketing and customer billing services can be executed through it.
Features of a Contact Center
The three main features of a contact center are advanced call routing, flexibility, and real-time analytics.
1. Advanced Call Routing
A contact center, just like a call center, is characterized by intelligent and automated call routing capabilities. With an automated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, information can be received from customers about the nature of the complaint, and calls are then routed according to the skill-set of agents. This allows you to keep the most skilled agents for the most difficult of tasks.
A contact center possesses a very flexible structure that allows businesses to ensure maximum customer contact efficiency as needs arise. Apart from the very dynamic mediums for communication, team members in contact centers are easily managed to achieve the most productivity.
3. Real-Time Analytics
Another advanced characteristic of call centers is the level of analytics and reporting generated from customer interaction. Businesses can monitor the performance of agents and the level of customer satisfaction from the interaction through contact mediums.
Contact centers help to generate a large volume of complex and non-contextual analytics data. However, you get to decide which is important for your business objectives by focusing on certain key performance indicators (KPIs).
These are only a few of the advanced features contact centers make use of. Call centers also offer these features but only through phone calls.
Drawbacks of Contact Centers
Contact centers are characterized by remote working teams and this could be a problem. They deal with omnichannel communications and where proper orientation is not given to each team member, there could be a lag in communication. Finding solutions to customer issues that require interdepartmental collaboration then becomes a problem.
Considering the possible barrier in language between remote team members, things could become a whole lot complicated.
Asides from this, the automatic queuing system of contact centers could make customer wait times longer than they would like.
Overall, contact centers and call centers provide you with virtually the same features and tools. However, while call centers optimize these tools for only phone calls, contact centers implement these over multichannel communication mediums.
Which Services Do Call Centers Provide
Call center services are teleservices that include everything from answering the phones to handling product recalls. These services aim at reaching into new markets, providing stronger customer support, and even retaining your existing customers. They also extend to activities in the sales process: from marketing to sales.
However, for more clarity, the services which call centers provide would be split into two categories: inbound call services and outbound call services.
1. Inbound Call Services
The service upon which other types of inbound call services are built around is telephone or cell phone answering. Call centers answer calls from external parties like customers, clients, and partners, among others.
Customer support is the next service call centers provide your business. This is the most common use of call centers when dealing with inbound calls. Customers typically call to make complaints and call centers, either in-house or outsourced, professionally take care of these and keep customers happy.
Call centers also take care of order processing operations for businesses. Of course, where the call center is outsourced, there is a need for close collaboration between the third party and your business.
Operating a help desk to assist customers with minor hurdles also falls under inbound call services. Businesses can use the best help desk software to provide omnichannel support and increase customer satisfaction. Call center agents stay on standby to make customers more familiar with a business's provisions, provide technical support, and act as virtual receptionists.
Call centers also provide hotline services for businesses that receive very critical calls and need fast responses. In answering calls, call centers help to provide services like disaster response, dispatch services, and emergency call center services, among others.
Inbound call center services also include loyalty programs. With this, customers that call in are offered incentives after issues are taken care of to keep them satisfied.
2. Outbound Call Services
Outbound call services are important for lead generation and the overall sales funnel of a business. They have the main purpose of increasing a business's popularity with contacts.
Phone numbers that have been collected through different mediums are contacted. Contacts are then properly introduced to the service provider of a business. Customers who just start using a business's products or patronizing its services are also contacted with welcome messages.
One other common type of outbound call service is the setting up and management of appointments. Where, for instance, the contact information of customers or clients is available to businesses, outbound calls can be made to set up either virtual or physical appointments. They can also be used to manage appointments, for example, placing calls informing external parties of a reschedule.
Outbound call services also include market research. Survey calls are sent out to collect information about certain customer preferences and other factors affecting customer behavior as relating to a business.
Apart from collecting information from customers, call centers also place outbound calls to execute direct marketing. Telemarketing is also one of the most common forms of outbound call services provided by call centers to businesses.
Call centers also place outbound calls to provide some form of payment protection by requesting confirmation of payment activities. Contacts can also be registered for events through outbound calls.
Moving away from inbound and outbound call services provided by call centers, your business and customers enjoy important automated services. These include services like automated appointment reminders, holiday greetings, Interactive Voice Response systems, and online scheduling, among others.
Call Center Structure and Team Functions
Contact centers are organized with a structure or operational framework made up of teams. Different team members have different roles they play and having an effective call center team is very important.
An effective call center team is not just made up of different individuals with specific obligations. It is made up of individuals that can streamline their specific work descriptions and interact with others for efficient customer relations.
Some of the important personnel and teams that make up a call center include the call center agent, call center team leader, workforce management (WFM) lead, quality management team, management information system teams, and contact center manager.
1. Contact Center Agent
A call center agent is personnel that handles incoming or outgoing customer calls for a business. Also called a customer service representative (CSR) or a telephone sales representative, this personnel handles the phone or device where inbound and outbound calls are received and made.
While managing inbound and outbound calls, a call center agent performs functions like following communication scripts when speaking to callers, customer engagement, identification of customer needs, answering questions, and providing solutions or alternatives to issues.
A call center agent also up-sells products and services when possible and builds sustainable customer relationships. He or she keeps records of all conversations organized, and builds product knowledge in customers, among others.
2. Call Center Team Leader
A contact center team leader is also a call center agent but has the duty of taking up customer conversations that are becoming too difficult for regular agents to handle.
Call center team leaders are, like they are called, leaders. They ensure that the correct customer contact procedures are followed by agents and regularly give directions to agents on what to do and how to improve.
When an agent needs help dealing with a customer's concerns, a call center team leader steps in to offer advice or take up the entire conversation.
3. Workforce Management (WFM) Lead
Workforce management (WFM) lead is personnel that ensures that the company's contact center staff are as productive as required. This personnel performs functions such as effectively forecasting labor requirements as well as creating and managing staff schedules.
Some other functions performed by a workforce management (WFM) lead include employee performance management, monitoring of employee compliance with certain standards and requirements as well as payroll administration, among others.
4. Quality Management Team
A quality management team plays an advisory role in the call center structure. They work side-by-side with every call center department to create standards that have to be followed to meet business goals.
This team monitors specific customer interactions, prepares standards, and recommends agent training if agents are lacking in some areas. They also recommend corrective actions that may affect the whole call center framework.
5. Management Information Systems (MIS) Team
An MIS team creates information systems that deal with different areas of data management. They are responsible for compiling, storing, searching for, and analyzing important call center data.
These MIS team members provide a company with accessible data to engage in proper trend analysis, strategic planning, goal setting, business performance comparison, and easy problem identification, among others.
6. Contact Center Manager
A call center manager is responsible for the overall management of the contact center. Call center managers set objectives, analyze call center data, ensure that the company and staff meet goals, and make sure that the call center provides reliable and efficient support to callers.
These call center personnel hire, train, coach, and lead other call center representatives and staff in the performance of their duties.
A Deeper Look into Inbound Call Center Operations
An inbound call center focuses on receiving and taking care of incoming calls from outside a company. Inbound call center agents receive customer calls and provide various professional inbound customer service typically aimed at solving problems faced by customers.
The main goal of an inbound call center is to improve caller satisfaction and, consequently, keep customers and increase brand loyalty.
Inbound call centers have a definite structure and process of taking care of their operations. There are three major steps that inbound call center agents are trained in answering calls, speaking to callers, and closing or ending calls
1. Answering the Call
This involves activities around a call center agent picking up incoming calls. Call center agents usually and briefly greet callers with a welcome message and introduce themselves before moving to the main body of the call.
2. Speaking to Customers
The second part of inbound calls involves the interaction between the caller and agent about the main purpose of the call. A call center agent makes sure he or she listens well, understands the customer's issue, and addresses it appropriately.
The call center agent does this while taking proper care not to escalate the whole situation in case of very angry customers. This main body is where the whole benefits of inbound calls are obtained.
3. Closing the Call
After taking care of the main issue with the caller, a call center agent provides a thank you and nice farewell message before wrapping up the call and adding any important notes gotten from the conversation.
Services Provided by Inbound Call Center Operations
Call centers provide various inbound call center services to customers or callers. Some of the most popular of these inbound call center services include tech support, order and payment processing, appointment scheduling, and inquiry management.
1. Tech Support
Technical support is the most common service rendered by inbound call centers. Inbound calls are typically placed by aggrieved customers and call center agents help them deal with various tech support issues.
These technical support services cover a wide range; from basic technical issues like simply changing a password or updating account information to more advanced and complex technical issues.
2. Order and Payment Processing
With e-commerce having grown to the size it is today, the services of call centers have grown to accommodate the needs of buyers. An inbound call center handles incoming calls to provide timely order and payment processing.
Some online shoppers prefer to purchase items through the telephone where this option is available to them. Calls could also be placed by customers experiencing issues with online payments. Inbound call center services cover these needs.
3. Appointment Scheduling
Another important service provided by inbound call centers is appointment scheduling. Rather than speaking to representatives on the phone, a lot of customers prefer to speak to a company representative face-to-face.
However, due to the possibility of a lot of customers preferring this method, companies need to provide customers with appropriate appointment dates. Appropriate appointment dates where customer issues are directly addressed and fixed help businesses and customers save time and energy.
The Covid-19 pandemic has only made this more of an important service. A lot of companies need to keep the population in their premises as minimal as possible. Appointment scheduling services through inbound call centers help achieve this.
4. Inquiry Management
An inbound call center representative also guides customers or potential customers through the description of products, services, and purchasing processes.
From these services and many more, businesses enjoy a lot of benefits from effective inbound call centers. They can achieve better customer satisfaction, save costs by outsourcing call center services, and maintain productivity amongst employees.
Which Technology Do Call Centers Use to Run Their Operations
Call center technology includes all the tools used by contact centers to execute all their inbound and outbound call services. This technology includes a blend of both hardware equipment and software. Activities like call routing, call recording, and call distribution have been easily executed by call centers thanks to various call center software and phone systems such as Talkdesk, Zendesk, CloudTalk, Freshdesk, and Zendesk alternatives.
The hardware technologies used to run call centers operations include PBX and SIP trunking.
A Private Branch Exchange (PBX) is a business phone technology that takes care of the call routing operations of a call center. With it, multiple phones share the same network and inbound calls are appropriately directed to the right line.
Traditionally, these systems are large on-premises equipment installed in an office room and controlled by dedicated employees. However, now, there are cloud-based PBX systems that are easily controlled through the internet by any authorized employee or SaaS provider.
2. Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) Trunking
A traditional PBX may be expensive to manage but, thankfully, SIP trunking serves as an integrated technology helping to reduce costs. It involves the integration of VoIP in place of traditional analog telephone lines into an on-premises PBX system.
SIP trunking offers multi-channel calling through an existing internet connection. Some of the best SIP trunking providers include Twilio, Nextiva, RingCentral, Plivo, Vonage, and Bandwidth.
The software technologies used to run call centers operations include VoIP, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems, Auto Dialer software, Automatic Call Distributor (ACD), and CRM systems
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is the use of the internet to facilitate voice and video calls. It has become one of the standard forms of communication among the popular business phone services in contemporary years.
A lot of businesses and dedicated call centers have opted for the use of VoIP over traditional analog phone lines. With VoIP, businesses can maintain a traditional phone setup using VoIP phones or download a VoIP app on computers or smartphones for more flexibility and mobility (I.e. VoIP softphones).
These VoIP call center technologies help businesses and dedicated call centers greatly reduce costs without sacrificing any bit of functionality.
2. IVR Systems
An Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system is an automated phone system technology that provides incoming callers access to effective self-service options. It is an automatic voice response system with pre-recorded messages that gives callers access to services without having to speak to an agent.
This system typically utilizes keypad number selection or speech recognition to interact with callers. With it, your customers quickly get access to the services they need and you get to save your agents for more complex and technical customer issues.
3. Automatic Call Distributor (ACD)
An Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) system automatically categorizes callers using certain factors and automatically directs them to the appropriate call center agent or department.
For instance, calls originating from Canadian phone numbers can be automatically routed by the ACD system towards call center agents specialized in Canadian products or services. An ACD system helps call centers to respond to customers faster and more appropriately without having to manually and slowly sort out queues.
4. CRM Systems
CRM systems have become very important software technologies for a lot of call centers. This is especially because they are optimized for the crucial function call centers serve, which is dealing with customers.
A CRM system serves as a central platform where call centers store customer and prospect data, track past and present customer interactions, and analyze this information for beneficial use.
Call centers get to effectively manage relationships with customers with the use of CRM systems. Some of the best CRM software tools and systems that help businesses manage their call center needs include HubSpot, Salesforce, Freshworks, and other Salesforce alternatives.
5. Auto Dialer
An auto dialer is a software that automatically dials numbers from a contact list for call center agents, and then plays an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) or connects the recipient to an available call center agent when the call is answered.
Some of the best audio dialer software include CloudTalk, Five9, ChaseData, CallHippo, Velocify, RingCentral, and CallHub.
A Typical Day When Working in a Call Center
Considering how fast contact centers are being accepted today, you may think that preference towards call centers would begin to dwindle. This is not the case.
According to Oberlo, a whopping 76% of customers still prefer talking directly to an agent through phone calls. This large percentage means call centers remain as busy as ever and call center agents have a lot of work to do.
With a designated call center, agents work on shifts, so the period when work resumes depends on the shift of the agent. Work could be hectic and one call center agent takes up to an average of 50 calls a day within an average 8-hour daily work shift. The number of calls could be even more, depending on the service rendered and the nature of the call.
For a call center representative, a typical workday plays out like this: where made available, a company cab or bus picks call center agents up from home or bus stops and transports them to the call center. Upon arrival, agents input login details into the systems and resume work.
The typical peak hours for call centers are between 9:30 am and 3:30 pm. During this time, inbound call center agents, for instance, receive a barrage of calls from customers and repeatedly talk on the phone.
With over 75% of all calls received during peak hours, they are typically fast-paced and require agents to manage a handful of different responsibilities. A call center agent that works the day shift works harder, except there are a lot of other employees to receive calls.
Non-peak hours are a little more comfortable for call center agents that have their shifts in this period. Calls come in slower, compared to peak hours, meaning the average calls received are generally reduced.
A one-hour break is also given to call center agents and it could be split into different times; typically two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch or dinner break ( depending on the shift). Agents may also need to signify in the system anytime they go on breaks.
After a work shift, agents end their shift by logging out of systems. Agents could work for an average total of 40 hours per week.
Tips on How to Manage an Angry Client Call
Especially for inbound call centers, there is a thin barrier keeping a customer from getting angry (if the customer is not angry yet). A lot goes into keeping the situation as watered-down and de-escalated as possible and a wrong move could seriously hurt a company's reputation and customer satisfaction levels.
Even though a majority of customers tend to be reasonable while making complaints, angry and rude customers appear every day. Here are a few tips to help you properly manage an angry client call.
1. Remain Calm
Allowing your behavior to be affected by what an angry customer says is never a good way to start. Angry phone calls are not personal, so the best thing to do when dealing with them is to stay calm.
Remaining calm helps you maintain a clear head. Think of things to say to de-escalate the whole situation and keep things from getting worse.
2. Pick The Right Words
Saying the wrong thing, especially to an angry customer, is a trigger for worse things to come. For instance, saying something like “Alright, cool down, dude!” sounds like it will most definitely worsen an angry customer's mood.
You should, therefore, address customers appropriately and with words, you like to be addressed with. Considering the customer’s personality type on the other end of the call helps you use the best language suited to the scenario.
Nonetheless, generally, it is important to respond to callers using empathetic language. Phrases like, “I’m sorry you feel this way”, “May I suggest …”, “I’m so sorry to hear about this”, or “I will action this for you right away” are great for de-escalating situations.
The customer, according to every customer service book or information, is always right, and dealing with an angry customer is particularly hard. Keeping your language empathetic, apologetic, and positive helps in calming the situation down.
3. Allow The Customer Talk
Listen, listen again, and continue listening. A lot of times, an angry customer just wants to get every grievance off his or her chest immediately when the call is answered. Call agents must avoid interrupting customers venting out their anger.
No one likes being interrupted or second-guessed, especially an angry customer that feels the outrage is justified. So just let them get their points across.
Avoid arguing with a customer over the phone. Listening even helps you pick up the inaudible things customers may say over the phone and know every grievance the customer has.
4. Avoid Putting Callers On Hold
This is another tip you should keep at the back of your mind at all times. With angry callers, it is understandably very tempting to place them on hold. However, this could easily escalate the whole situation.
Some call agents may think putting a call on hold gives callers some time to cool off. This is never the case. Placing angry callers on hold rather makes them feel like they are being ignored or talked about in the background.
Rather than putting them on hold, call center agents can keep the call open and occasionally give assurance and information about what they are doing to deal with the problem. As call center staff, it is your job to offer callers support no matter the intensity of the situation.
Other methods that may help to de-escalate an angry call situation include being honest with customers and making use of scripted conversational templates.
Call Center FAQ
A good call center is majorly determined by the structure and management of personnel that make up its workforce.
One characteristic of a great call center is the employment of employees that have a natural ability for customer service, good listening skills, effective communication skills, an excellent memory, and an enthusiastic attitude.
Proper call center management activities are very important for any call center. Simple things like effective scheduling, regular employee engagement, and collection of targeted employee feedback are only a few activities that define a good call center.
Another important element of a good call center is language proficiency. A call center should have agents that can fluently communicate with the caller or receiver of a call in the appropriate language. This helps in adequately understanding and offering solutions to customer problems. Outbound call services are also more effective with this.
Integrated systems for advanced call center functionality are also characteristic of good contact centers. These help to track, analyze and store call data for improved future communications with customers.
There is not really another word that can be accurately and wholly used in place of call center. Other popular names like helpline, customer service, answering service, technical support, after-sales service, and information center are only descriptions of the various services offered by call centers.
The closest term to a call center is a contact center and both terms have also been differentiated. Call centers provide services through phone calls while contact centers employ omnichannel communication mediums.
Although a lot of companies prefer to maintain the maximum amount of control over all their activities, outsourcing call center operations offer you crucial benefits.
Firstly, you enjoy reduced costs. You get to avoid spending capital investment on facilities, equipment, operations, and staffing. With a lot of clients and a “shared-agent” approach, outsourced call centers help you to reduce costs-per-call and idle time.
With outsourced call centers, you also enjoy flexibility and scalability with your communications systems. These call centers have enough staff and manpower in place to easily match up with an unexpected spike in call volume. They also offer your business specialized call center services to effectively deal with both inbound and outbound calls.
What's more, outsourced call centers help your business maintain 24/7 call center services, give you a chance to focus on other areas of your business, and help with crucial data collection and analysis.
A few of the important skills a call center agent should possess include effective communication skills, speed, creativity, knowledge retention, and attention to detail. The call center agent should also have good organizational skills, flexibility with interaction, friendliness, and calmness under pressure.