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The Complete Guide to Call Center Services

What you NEED to know about the different call center services available to you

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Introduction

As companies grow, their needs change. The transition starts slowly then grows exponentially until the solutions that worked one year are not going to meet your objectives the next. For instance, when your company was just starting out, you probably hired a bookkeeper. That was enough for the early years but as you grew, that one bookkeeper turned into an entire department. You hired expertise and trained others until your needs were met.

The alternative would have been to hire an outside party to handle your bookkeeping – to outsource. This person or company would have handled everything for you. They would have expanded as you needed more people to work on your behalf, they would have hired people and purchased equipment for them to use. They would have trained them as well.

The outsource company would stay on top of changes in accounting practices and alerted you to new requirements, emerging trends and better ways of doing things. When the bookkeeping software needed upgrading, they paid for it, not you. Part of what you benefit from is the sharing of expenses across the outsource client base and their expertise in the accounting space.

Understanding Outsourcing

Outsourcing is one of the most powerful tools companies have. It lets them run their businesses more efficiently because they don’t need to hire someone full-time when they only need help some of the time. Or it frees them up to focus on their core business and not try to be experts in all areas. Outsourcing also saves companies from the expense of trial and error. Third-parties who devote themselves to a specific job function, activity, or industry have specialized knowledge that takes years of experience to acquire. Many companies find that outsourcing can save them time and money, but the decision to outsource – often referred to as "Make vs Buy" – should not be taken lightly.

Choosing to Outsource

Make no mistake. The decision to outsource is a BIG one. Whether or not it is right for your company will depend on two things:

1. Is it a commodity?

2. Is it something that you need done, but doesn’t impact your strategy?

If the task is a commodity, that means that any provider can do it and you’ll probably be happy with the results. Shipping companies often fall under this category. As long as the item gets there on-time, at the price upon which you agreed, it doesn’t matter whether FedEx, UPS, USPS or even Uber delivers it.

The second one is a little trickier. Let’s say your company makes sweaters and you make the best sweaters in the world. You know everything about the wool to use and how to size them for a perfect fit each time – those are some of your core competencies. Building a website to sell those sweaters is NOT one of the things you do well. While you could teach yourself to make a website, outsourcing that task to a web designer how creates online storefronts for a living is a more efficient use of your time, energy, and money.

Outsourcing Call Center Services

Call center services are often not a core competency either. Talking to customers and making sure that they are satisfied may be easy for a handful of customers, but not so much when you are receiving thousands of calls a day. If that sounds like you, looking at outsourcing your contact center services makes sense. In general, you want to look at the following factors:

1. High Volume and Seasonality (or Cyclical Needs)

2. Liability

3. Availability of Labor

High volume is when that customer demand outstrips your original company workforce. Or for some, they never want to manage that workforce.

Seasonality or cyclical needs means that your need for help varies by time of year or some other event. For example, if you have a utility company, your core competencies are providing electricity, but on occasion, you may have a spike in calls, like after a power outage. In this case, it may not be cost effective to have call center staff available all the time, so it’s good to outsource all your customer service or at least the overflow portions. Let the contact center manager figure out how to staff it effectively.

Liability is another issue. Depending on your industry, your company might need to handle customer information very carefully or your communication is highly regulated. Finance, healthcare, banking, utility, and insurance are good examples. Outsourcing in this scenario puts the responsibility on your outsourcing partner, so you never have to worry about compliance.

Finally, there is the availability of labor. Depending on your market, you may not have many people in your area who can do what you need doing. Or your area may have high wages relative to other parts of the country. Outsourcing gives you access to a larger pool of talent or a less expensive workforce, local or not. In the case of call center services, you have access to agents who are already trained on how to provide good customer service and managers who know how to get results. There is the added benefit that they do work for other companies. Plus, the overhead costs and call load of all clients can be shared.

What are the Different Types of Call Center Services?

Call center services include recruiting, vetting, staffing and management of the team. They develop the shifts, set the schedules, track adherence and deliver on the service levels set by the client. But that’s only the beginning. They are also in charge of training agents on customer service,  soft skills, compliance, and the use of the PC, phone and other systems. Industry and client unique training is provided to make them subject matter experts for the call types they will handle. Plus, many contact center providers offer non-voice services too, such as data entry, fulfillment, chat, email, video, monitoring, and self-service support and more.

Call centers are adept at providing somewhat repetitive services done in a workstation environment. Often call center outsourcers will also provide consulting, training and analysis service to help others improve their centers.

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Types of Services and Service Model Options

There are many ways to structure a contact solution that fits the client’s needs. There are many different types of service and service model offerings. In this section, we will explain some of the different options available to you. Take your time reviewing each one, but don’t panic if, in the end, you are not sure. Part of our value to you is in working to understand your situation and crafting the solution that meets your needs.

Call center contractors can do more than provide agents to answer your phones. In fact, some outsourcing companies offer a range of business services. You might be surprised that there are so many services and service model options available.

In general, there are four types of work that contact center companies provide:

1. Communications

 

2. Staffing Management

3. Consulting

 

4. Training

Let’s go over each one to develop a better understanding of the role that outsourcing call center services can play in your company.

Contact Center Outsourcing

Contact center outsourcing certainly involves answering the phones and delivering the expected customer experience for you. However, that is only a portion of the services available to your company. Many contact center outsourcers handle other forms of communications too. Depending on your industry and the demands of your customers, this is vitally important. In addition to offering IVR systems that can provide better routing and immediate answers to common questions, contact centers can offer email support as well as live chat. Social media monitoring and response intervention may also be a possibility. You will need to carefully consider your customer demographics and the level of support needed. That will help you determine the communication channels you would like to offer your customers and when.

Contact center outsourcing companies can take on a primary role, or you can use those agents to support in-house efforts. For some companies, this will mean dedicated help desk support while others really only need help with specific call types, like product support, returns or sales. Another company may only need help during seasonal or promotional spikes or for disaster recovery. By having the right partner team in place, you can meet your customer needs and manage the cost of your solution.

Staffing Management

Staffing management is another possibility.

With GCS, Staffing Management is NOT the same as a simple staffing model. With Staffing Management, we hire people to be to your customer service agents and then manage them for you. We manage all the advertising and recruiting for job applicants. We conduct screening, interviews, and background checks. We do it all for you. A simple staffing model puts the people in the seats, but you are left running the center. A call center services company who offers staffing management is NOT a staffing company. They offer a lot more.

What they do is different; staffing management is incredibly involved.

If you are just a personnel services company, you are handing people to your client to manage. That’s the end of your involvement with the company or with the people who work there. Staffing management companies take responsibility and accountability for any staff they (or you) hire. It doesn't matter if you already have a roster of agents or you need to start from scratch. You can also use staffing management to expand your forces – and we don't have to do the hiring unless you want us too.

Staffing is part of what GCS provides, but we do more than hire people. The main function of the staffing management company is to MANAGE.

Our approach to managing your contact center is to start with the best practices learned from doing contact center work for decades. This knowledge allows us to oversee operations from a personnel perspective, meet performance measurements and provide continuous improvement.

There are three types of staffing management services that your company could choose.

On-site at the Workplace

Staffing management services can provide services on-site at your existing workplace. Under this arrangement, you own the facility and the equipment. Your outsourcing provider recruits the staff you need and manages them for you. This has the benefit of having the contact close by if needed.

If you are new to this model and already have staff you want to keep, the staffing management company will work with you to assume any qualifying existing staff.

 

Off-premise at a Dedicated Site

The most common model is to have the outsourcer manage your agents off-premise in a dedicated or shared facility. In this scenario, you typically do not own the building and equipment. The employees may or may not be dedicated full-time to your work.  The answers to these questions will depend on your needs and goals. For instance, finance and healthcare companies might need to have a dedicated, secure location or section of the building. A retail organization may not have such requirements. Talk to the outsourcer. They are often flexible with many models.

 

Shared Site with Many Different Product Offerings

If you are OK with a shared facility, the call center outsourcer will hire and manage your agents for you. Your agents will typically be grouped on the call center floor, adjacent to agents working on other projects. The advantage here is that your operations can be scaled as needed. Agents may be permanently assigned to your program or float between programs on a preplanned schedule. The benefit is you only pay for the agents when they are working on behalf of your company.

Consulting

Some contact center services companies also offer consulting services.

Too many companies look for contact center consulting services when something is wrong. They need help fixing a problem or they want a change. But, call center consulting has other valuable applications. Getting advice from an industry expert before downsizing or relocating is smart. There are significant differences, both positive and negative, between off-shore, near-shore, and re-shore locations. A consultant will help you understand the nuances and provide information to use in weighing your options. They can help you decide whether outsourcing makes sense for your company. They can help prescribe the best model, location and technology.

Here's how it works. Usually, it is a two-part process.

First, the consultant evaluates your existing contact center and needs. They work through likely future changes in your business model and how that impacts your needs for a center. They bring in subject matter experts to look at the key areas of processes, technology, culture, and performance. Experts in financial modeling also get involved, while others look at communication skills. Then, they make a list of the opportunities your call center has for improvement. Think of it as an itinerary of everything that needs to be fixed on your contact center journey.

Next, your consulting team develops a set of recommendations. If step one is the itinerary, step two is the map and directions. They provide advice about how you can improve your call center operations. They will detail how you could change your policies and procedures to be more effective. They might also suggest how to adjust your company culture to help increase customer satisfaction, lower call time, or improve the first-call resolution.

Training

Some call center companies provide training services too. Call center services providers that specialize in training are often doing more than giving an orientation seminar to your new recruits and teaching them how to use the equipment.

While every outsourcer is different, contact center training is normally a highly-involved process that continues throughout the life of your call center. First, there is an initial training to orient agents to your project. This training focuses on turning each agent into an official representative for your company. At GCS, we take whatever time necessary for the agent to internalize your company culture and understand your products or services well enough to sell or service them. Depending on the amount and complexity of your information, the training time can range from days to weeks. Then, there are on-going coaching and refresher courses to help agents improve their knowledge and skills.

At GCS, we use a two-prong approach to training. We like to start with live classroom training sessions with role-playing and feedback. Then, we provide online training for agents to learn new concepts and reinforce ideals. We also offer a separate soft skills training that is endorsed by SHRM and AGCCP, because we believe that empathy and patience make good agents great.

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Implementing Call Center Services

Once you know which call center services you need for your company, you are ready to start implementing them. While your outsourcer will help you transition to their services, let’s go over some of the best practices for implementing call center services at your company.

Start Early

The best time to consider outsourcing is when you don’t have to do it. If you were moving your call center, you wouldn't start looking for call center outsourcing when your lines were down. You'd want to plan ahead and have those services in place BEFORE you needed them, right? So, start looking at suppliers BEFORE you really need one. Being proactive also gives your company the time it needs to carefully look at the different options available.

Start now examining what your call center needs to look like and evaluating how you can safeguard your operations with a contact center provider. Think about your labor needs, core competencies, call frequency, and seasonality. Once you have an idea what services you want in a call center partner, you can issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) and let call center services companies tell you how they can help.

It is not uncommon to test the waters before making a switch. This can be done by enlisting a new center to manage a portion of your outsourcing needs. Suppose you outsource 300 seats to one call center. You can test a new provider by sourcing 50 of those seats with them. Prove it out before moving everything.

Another option is to consider a Champion/Challenger situation. In the example above, you might give each center 100 seats, and allow the extra 100 seats to “float” to the center doing the best work over time.

Creating a Short List

Online training is call center training that happens via computer. It may be on-site or outside of the center. It is convenient. Employees could complete their training via mobile phone or a laptop from home just as easily as at work. It may also be self-directed. This means that employees would be tasked with completing the training in their own time. In some cases, this type of call center training is used to help agents who are struggling on a particular concept or skill.

On-line training is great for smaller centers where the manager or supervisors are often tasked with the trainer. The online courses can provide the baseline concepts and teach the expectations to a new agent. That frees the manager or leads to focus on the subject matter material, once the basic concepts of soft skills, communications, and customer service are complete.

Normally, there is some level of gamification involved in the training. Features like scoring and screens that say “well done” help keep trainees more engaged. The learning is rarely in a lecture format. A good training video is often accompanied by worksheets, quizzes, and assessments. Our online courses even provide coaching tips for the team leaders to use with their group to re-enforce the learned concepts.

 

Knowing What You Want

Ask yourself what you want your call center to do for you. Or better, for your customers. Knowing what you want is important and more you can define it, the better.

Let's say you might want a call center services provider to accept your customer service calls. And you never want a customer to wait for more than 30 seconds. This has a definite quantitative value, so it is easy to measure performance.

You might also decide that you only need call center services sometimes. That's okay too. Instead of daily service, you may need seasonal help for a few months out of the year, maybe around the holidays or at specific events.

Next, look at what you need from your agents. Typically, you want the agents doing high-volume repetitive work, like answering questions about your products or processing a return. Many companies leave the specialized knowledge to an in-house team. But even specialized work can be outsourced.

For example, if you want someone who can help your customers install a new engine in a lawnmower over the phone, you will need to have an expert for that knowledge. If the knowledge can be trained or broken down in a knowledge database, it can be done by an outsourced agent. At some point, either the knowledge is too specialized or too infrequently used to require a pool of agents to handle it.

Many companies prepare a Request for Proposal (RFP) or similar document to document their requirements. They will send the RFP to multiple call center outsourcers to have them respond with their proposal and pricing.

 

Deciding on a Call Center Management Company

Once you have an idea of what you need, you will need to select your a call center provider. Start with your short list that seems to meet your requirements. Then do your due diligence and reference checking..

If you only want someone who knows your industry, you are going to limit yourself. You may miss out on some process experts who aren’t experts in your field but could help reach your goals anyway. Some call centers are adept at learning any business and then apply the right processes to meet your goals. It can be harder to take a company that gets your industry but is not an expert in the processes you need to achieve your results. The bottom line is you don’t have to be a call center expert to enlist the help of an expert call center contractor. Likewise, the call center contractor doesn’t have to be an expert in your industry to deliver expert call center services for your organization. Both of you excel in your core industry and help each other learn what is needed to work together.

Also, look at what else the contractors on your shortlist have to offer. Workforce management will help you get the most bang for your buck because your agents will not be idle. Look at cross-training opportunities and Key Performance Indicator (KPI) results too. These will also help your call center be as efficient and effective as possible.

Culture matters as well. For example, when the online shoe and fashion retailer Zappos wanted an outsourcer to help with overflow and after hours, they didn’t choose an outsourcer that already knew about shoe sizing or even online retail. They could teach that. Instead, they wanted a team of call center agents who had the right personality. They needed people who could represent the company in a seamless way. To do this, they prioritized soft skills in their search for a call center services partner.

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Breaking Down Call Center Services Costs

Cost is always a big factor in deciding whether outsourcing your call center services is right for you – and there is nothing wrong with that. You SHOULD be looking at costs versus benefits. It also helps you to understand why contact center companies and business services cost what they do. Once you know what goes into pricing call center services, you can make more informed decisions about your contact center outsourcing and how to find a value proposition that works for your needs.

In this section, we are going to go over each of the four types of call center services and explain the cost drivers behind them.

Contact Center Outsourcing

The pricing for contact center outsourcing will depend on the labor you need and the work those people will be doing.

Price Up

Several factors can drive the price of contact center outsourcing up.

  • Higher complexity: In general, the more complex services you need your agents to provide, the greater the cost is going to be. It takes more training and more oversight to operate a higher-complexity call center. It may take a higher level agent as well. Example: Online shoe retailer wants agents who understand shoe sizing, styles, color differences, and materials.

  • Industry compliance: Compliance is really a type of complexity. Certain industries require agents to process information with additional security measures to protect customer data. Like higher complexity, preventing privacy concerns is much more involved. Compliance may require additional staff and closer supervision or QA.  It might even require a separate facility. Example: The influence of HIPAA in the world of healthcare or the additional care needed when handling financial information and personal identifiers like social security numbers.

  • Required licensing or certifications: When you need your agents to have a specific licensing or certification, the cost is typically higher. There is a cost to obtaining those certifications and once certified, those agents may be more costly than others. You have to account for the extra cost. Example: You might need agents to have a license to sell insurance.

  • Scarce resource: Scarce resources also come with a higher price tag. In the case or agent scarcity, individuals requiring advanced training are more costly. Advanced beyond what a contractor can reasonably accomplish and the skill has to be hired, often at a higher wage rate. Example: Shortage of nurses for telemedicine organizations or requiring special language agents.

Drive Down

Several attributes can help drive the cost of contact center services down.

  • Simple interactions: If agents do not require much knowledge about your company or its products to provide the customer service you need, the cost is going to be lower because less training is required. Example: Agents on a help-line simply taking down customer information so they can be the first notified of a new product’s release.

  • Don’t require critical thinking: In some cases, the interactions your agents will have with your customers may not be simple, but they don’t require critical thinking or problem-solving skills. This also reduces the cost of your call center services. Example: Helping customer check on order statuses.

  • High volume - low expectations: You might also find that you don’t need the best customer service or the most empathetic problem-solvers. You just need someone to answer the phone. This situation can happen when you are expecting extremely high call volume and you just need to make sure those customers are heard. Example: Opening a complaint line after canceling a concert,  customers calling in after a power outage, or recording donation transactions during a telethon.

  • Location: The location for your call center services can influence its pricing as well. Using a shared facility and shared agents will cost significantly less than outfitting your own dedicated facility. Likewise, at home agents may lower your price.

  • Self Service: Call types that can be managed partially or in full by self-service channels, like the IVR can help lower your cost as well. The right outsourcer can recommend changes to call types and call flows that may lower your price using these tools.

Staffing Management

Providing staffing and management on-premise requires the use of experienced professionals in the industry. Your costs here are going to be tied to how much manpower you need to operate your contact center correctly. The best ways to drive down your staffing management costs are:

  • Establish procedures. When your call center has established business rules, policies and procedures in place, it will reduce the number of management resources needed to run your operation.

  • Create consistent processes. Also, try to be consistent in the way that you do things. Use common language, descriptors, and layouts across systems. You don’t want some of your systems to list customer first names last while others list customer last names last. It’s just confusing and leads to errors.

Eliminate errors. Inconsistent processes can lead to errors that someone needs to correct. If you can eliminate the errors, then you can reduce the number of people you need to oversee your processes. Example: using military time in some of your systems and standard time in others, then going through and adjusting everything at the end of the day (Actual example from a past client)

Consulting

Experience trumps everything – and, as a rule, it doesn’t come cheap – but that doesn’t mean experienced consultants aren’t worth every penny. While they may cost more per hour, they might not need as much time to do the job as a less experienced professional would. More importantly, the experience often means the advice will lead to a bigger impact. In the end, you most likely will get what you pay for.

Cost Savings from Experience

Experienced consultants don’t take long as long because they have been doing it for many years. They already know the metrics that matter for your company and they understand which factors impact those KPIs. Thanks to experience, they also know the best practices that could help you improve your operations.

Costs Increase with Inexperience

When consultants are inexperienced, they need time to learn the language of your industry and how to prioritize what’s important and what’s not. There is a learning curve, and your company could be on the hook to pay for the time it takes them to “get” it.

Training

Your training costs are going to depend on a few fundamental factors:

  • How many agents need to be trained?

  • Do you need training conducted in different locations?

  • Do you have effective training material or does it need to be improved or created?

  • What is the current agent skill set?

  • How are the soft skills of your agents, compared to where you want them to be?

  • How long does want training need to be?

  • How many hours of ongoing training is reasonable for the position?

You will also need to think about how much hands-on support you will need. If you have a strong team, you may be fine with a  one-and-done presentation. If your team is already overbooked you may want additional on-site support to actively change the culture or reinforce teachings. Some clients even have us appraise their team members and provide remedial training, or if needed, find new replacements.

Any change in behavior is going to take time. At GCS, we find regular feedback and training is critical to contact center success. All of our agents receive daily coaching and refresher courses. We also require our agents to complete a special soft skills training. The idea is to keep your agents continually becoming better, more informed and more empathetic with your customers.

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Choosing to Outsource

Now that you understand the different types of call center services, what implantation looks like, and which factors contribute to the cost of contact center services, it's time to decide.

While outsourcing contact center services are the best thing in the world for many companies, some will find that it is easier than others. Let's go over some of the different factors that could influence the success of outsourcing your call center services.

Risk Tolerance

There is a risk to outsourcing your contact center. You might not like the approach your outsourcing partner takes, or you might feel like customer service is being sacrificed in order to reach performance goals. While you can forestall these issues through a detailed RFP process and good communication with your outsourcer, there is always some risk present. You need to acknowledge that and work to minimize it. There are many good centers capable of producing solid results. The best thing is to set clear expectations and keep the lines of communication open.

Before you make a decision about call center outsourcing, think about your tolerance for this risk. Compare your perceived risk to the potential reward that using a contact center services partner can provide. If the reward is greater than the risk, choosing a call center services provider is in your best interest.

Timeframe

Also, look at your timeframe and personal bandwidth. Do you have the time and the energy to go through the baby steps it takes to start outsourcing? Do you have the stomach, resources to be able to go through this process?

Large contact center programs are not built overnight. Your call center services provider may need to create an entire call center facility from scratch. They will need time to d integrate with your customer relationship management (CRM) system and establish the procedures the agents will follow. Then, they need to recruit agents (internal and external) and train them.

Asking for Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many companies choose to have a third-party on-hand to help guide the process. It’s okay to find someone who is an expert that can see you through the first 6 months of something that you are hoping will last you the next 60 years. Think of it as protecting your investment.

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Conclusion

Outsourcing your call center needs can revolutionize your company, but you have to be smart about it. Know what you need and get exactly what you want.

Be cautious, some outsourcing providers take over your program. You tell them what you need and they adapt an existing program better suited to their needs than yours. They don’t take the time to learn your language or even get a full understanding of what you do at your company. And they never get close to embracing your culture. They have a singular goal and a product that they believe can get you there. While that might work for an answering service, it does not well serve a more sophisticated customer base.

Don’t do it. While building off of best practices is always a good idea, copying and pasting business services solutions to your contact center needs is not smart.

 

GCS agents can talk the talk and walk the walk.

GCS makes a point of learning our clients’ language and becoming a partner instead of just an outsourcing provider. We work with you to understand your business and your needs as well as what makes your company unique. We embrace your culture and can train our agents to truly work on your behalf. We help them internalize your company culture and beliefs so that they can become a true extension of your brand and build a relationship with each customer - on every call.

Let GCS help your company do more.