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The Complete Guide to Contact Center Solutions

Everything you need to know about the different contact center solutions available to you.

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Introduction

Whether you have an established contact center, or you just want to support your customers’ needs more effectively by offering call center services, this guide exists to answer your questions. Here, you will learn about the different contact center options available and the process for starting to use those solutions. We will also break down the costs for call center services and explain how you can figure out what is going to work best for your needs.

Think of this guide as a primer that will explain everything you need to know before contracting for contact center solutions, including questions you didn’t know to ask. At GCS, we have worked with businesses and government organizations, both large and small. We have helped firms staff and manage their own contact centers, provided agents in our centers and been there to rescue things when another supplier missed the mark. The Complete Guide to Contact Center Solutions shares our experiences learned while working with those clients. We can help you create a call center that fits your individual needs.

Let’s get started by defining what we mean by “contact center.”

What is a Contact Center?

A contact center is a central point of contact your customers can use to ask questions, obtain information, and get support. There are many types of contact centers. They may be operated by an outside company (supplier/outsourcer/contractor) or run in-house. They can be remote on-site, or distributed (like At Home agents.  It often can support different communication channels. (Voice, chat, email, text, video, etc.)

Contact Center vs. Call Center

The words “contact center” and “call center” are often used interchangeably, but the two terms are very different. Call centers provide a central point of contact for all phone-based support while contact centers offer several ways for your customers to contact your company, such as phone, IM, or web chat.

What are Contact Center Solutions?

Contact center solutions are a way to communicate effectively with your customer by providing a central point of contact. However, the best solution for you begins with identifying your core competencies. Decide if you want to spend your energy and resources on an internal center or would you be better off outsourcing it.

 

Ideally, you will find a way to provide support in your customers’ channels of choice and at their time of need. However, you will need to find a balance between your customers’ needs and preferences and what is cost-effective for your organization.

Part of the decision is based on if your call center is a profit or cost center. Profit centers, selling products and services, should be structured to support themselves. Cost centers, providing support or building the customer relationship, need clear objectives on what should be spent

Your Needs May Change

That said, there really is no long-term answer for what a contact center solution will mean for your company because your needs will change.

When you are in the incubator stage, you are going to stay close to your resources. As a company, you are still figuring things out, and you will probably want to have more control over the process. Own that for now, but as your company matures, be ready to evolve. Continue to assess the cost-benefit of an in-house, often fixed expense, versus more of a variable expense with an outsourced partner. There are many pricing optionsOften it is advantageous to move the cost of the contact center and other back-office services from the balance sheet to the income statement. Uber and Google are good examples. In their early days, neither company needed a contact center. They handled any phone-based or email-based support in-house and simply made do when call volume was heavy. As those companies grew, things changed. Offering a contact center for issue resolution became part of their respective business models, and the need was large enough (and repetitive enough) that they could outsource those functions. As their contact centers grew, customer interaction also increased, and the cost per call shrank.

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Breaking Down the Different Types of Solutions Available

When you choose to use contact center solutions in your company, you will find that there are many different configurations available. Contact center solutions are NOT a one-size-fits-all approach. You can choose varying levels of support, various communication channels, and expected wait times. It all depends on your business needs.

In addition, you can also opt to outsource contact center support only at specific times of the year or for a set time. This works well when your needs are seasonal, or you are rolling out something new, like a unique loyalty program or product offering, and you want to free up your staff to focus on your money-making operations.

There are three general types of contact center solutions available.

In-house

The first is an in-house contact center. The name refers to how the facility is managed – not where it is located. You can locate an in-house facility at your present location or build a new contact center. Under this configuration, you own and manage the whole thing, making it a fixed cost.

That said, there are several ways to get there.

Different Options

Deciding you would like to manage your call center in-house is only one of many questions you will need to answer. Some organizations want to have the primary control of the staff. They may hire all their own full-time employees to staff the facility. Another option is to use an outsourced contact center staffing company. In this latter configuration, your outsourcer would recruit, hire and train the staff for your contact center. Often this staff is managed by the contractor, typically for a set period of time. After that time, they can be hired to join the client’s team. It depends on your arrangement.

Outsourcing

If you would rather not staff and oversee a contact center, outsourcing may be the better option. In this configuration, you would hire a contact center outsourcer to handle all of your customer service and back-office communication and support needs. These suppliers would be in charge of the entire process, from hiring to training and management. All you have to do is set the expectations through service levels. Your supplier will take care of everything for you.

This arrangement is often the best thing for your company if you have never managed a contact center before and are unwilling to hire employees with the skill set to oversee those operations. Contact center contractors have years of experience in overseeing different communication channels. They also know industry best practices for providing the best customer care possible, making sales, or handling whatever you need – and they may have even pioneered some successful approaches themselves. There is no harm in letting go of the reins on your contact center so that you can focus on your company’s core money-making activities.

Understanding Outsourcing Options

Further, keep in mind that outsourcing is not an all-or-nothing idea. You can outsource the whole thing or only outsource different parts of the organization. Some companies use a contractor on a multi-year contract. Others employ an outsourced contact center only during peak call volume times. You choose what you need.

You can also choose to have a contact center in a different place. This way you can cover time zones more easily, take advantage of lower costs in some regions, or get a specific skill set or language. Unless your service needs are very small or consistent throughout the day, working with an outsourced contact center can be more cost-effective while increasing the level of customer service. Especially in a shared environment. H3: Blend

There is no one-size fits all. It all comes down to finding what fits right for you. We can help you in “right-sizing” your contact center plan.

Right-sizing is finding that value medium where you have an appropriate number of agents, realistic hours and service levels, and the right mix of communication channels to match the demand of your customer.

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What is the Process to Start Using an Outsourced Contact Center?

No matter what format you choose for your contact center, there is a process to selecting the contact center partner. In this section, we are going to go over each step so you can begin to understand some of the choices your company will need to make as you move forward. The order in which you make these decisions doesn’t matter, but make sure that you complete each step.

Step 1: Determining Exactly What You Need

In general, you should start by defining ur specific needs. Think of the types of calls and tasks. How complex are they to complete. The more repetitive or similar the work, the easier to get consistent results. Not every contact center contractor can provide the same level and type of service, so do your research before you begin short-listing outsourcing companies. Pay attention to any back-office functions they offer, as well as how they manage the process.

Provide structure to your objectives, but allow latitude for the contractor in meeting them. If you over prescribe or penalize excessively, it often drives up your cost and leads to less innovation. Keep in mind that the process is where it all comes together. For your contact center to be a success, the agents will need to provide a consistent customer experience. Either putting standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place or working with a contractor adept at developing and using SOPs, it should be a requirement. Your SOPs become the how-to guide for how your agents are supposed to handle specific actions. For instance, you might have an SOP for how to help a customer who lost his or her password.

To create SOPs, you usually need to have knowledge of the subject matter as well as some input from people who work with your customers directly. Your contact center outsourcing partner can get you started and help you think of all the different workflows that are going to be part of your program.

Step 2: Functionality

As you look at each SOP, business rules management issues, staffing matters, and more, you will start to see a sort of workflow develop. That’s a great start, but you also need to look at the functionality. Specifically, you need to answer two questions about each entry in your list: who is going to do it, and how are they going to do it.

Step 3: Aesthetic

Next, think about how you want your employees to feel. This is going to determine the type of work environment and could impact your costs. In general, people are happiest when they have lots of room, personal space, a quiet work environment, and a well-lit window They also appreciate nice breakrooms and spaces for meetings as well as plants, nice art, and warm colors.

If that sounds like a lot, it is. You won’t be able to make everyone happy, and you definitely need to keep an eye on cost when meeting those “needs” Like everything else in business, there needs to be a trade-off, but it helps to consider aesthetics as you plan your contact center. After all, happy employees are more productive and deliver a higher level of customer service. They also tend to burn out less frequently.

Step 4: Technology

Consider the technology you will use as well. The right tools and equipment can make a real difference in the quality of customer care your agents can provide. While the quality of phone systems is important, there are three primary considerations regarding contact center technology.

Customer Relationship Management System

Having a customer relationship management (CRM) system that integrates into your contact center software is paramount. This is the king of best practices in communication because it provides a single point of reference for all customer information, contact, and issues. CRMs let your call center agents provide service based on the most up-to-date information; there is never an issue of someone not updating something. Also, if the issue requires a second (or third) contact, the next agent who handles the situation can see at a glance what the problem is and what steps had been taken to try to remedy the matter. This is important because it helps your customers feel like each contact is the continuation of a conversation instead of a frustrating experience that requires them to recap the details to a new agent every time.

You have the option of creating your own CRM or plugging into an existing system. In some cases, your contact center partner will be able to set you up with a customer relationship management system as well.

Performance Tracking

Look at performance tracking too. Dashboards help you visualize key performance indicators (KPIs) for your business and see at a glance how your employees or agents are doing., it may be possible to have multiple dashboards in play so that floor managers see more specific information than what your CEO or CIO would see.

ACD - Phone System - IVR

Finally, there is the technology that powers the communication channels.  Generally, these systems fall into two categories: on-premise or cloud-based.

On-premise systems give you more control over the way data is stored and may be more appropriate for companies that use secure information. In contrast, cloud-based systems work well when you may need to scale, your call level changes, or you want to offer agents the ability to work from home. Again, a good outsource partner will often have a system or be able to recommend one.

Step 5: Preference

Even after you go through each of the previous four steps, you still may not feel you have the solution.  Don’t fret. You will at least know what you need to determine. Every company has its own preferences, go with it!  Speak with a trusted outsourcer who can help you find a happy medium between your preferences and what is best for your business needs.

Think about what is right for you. In-house operations, outsourcing, and blended solutions are all possibilities. No matter what situation you choose, take the time to find the right partner. Even if you do not want to outsource your contact center operations, consider hiring a consultant to advise you on the best practices in the industry and help you get started.

Also, keep in mind that if you’re going to outsource, you may want to consider an RFP (Request for Proposal) process to find the right contact center supplier. The RFP process will help you more closely compare from several companies. Having the ability to compare and contrast contact center solution offerings from several contractors will help inform your buying process so you can make the best possible decision for your business.

But don’t overdo it. Find the one that has a culture and approach that makes you most comfortable. This should be a long term relationship.

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How Much Will My Contact Center Cost?

At this point, you may be wondering what contact center solutions actually cost. The exact figure is going to be different for every company. Like any business, pricing variations happen all the time because of regional differences, the quality of service provided, and the level of customization you need. However, some factors are going to predictably impact your cost to include certain solutions in your contact center.

Let’s start by looking at the primary cost drivers in call centers.

Understanding Call Center Cost Drivers

Coverage and Communication

As you price out contact center services, the first thing you will notice is the number of live agents needed and the number of hours for which you need coverage are the two biggest cost drivers. In addition, the number of communication channels agents are expected to cover may influence the cost. Some channels, like email, can be combined with voice. Others, like text or chat, are often with dedicated agents because more than one session can be managed at a time. Overhead items, like basic connectivity, CRM, supervision, quality monitoring, and facility costs are often included in the agent cost.

Call Handling

Look also at the speed at which you want your calls handled. Some companies do not want their customers to wait long on hold before reaching an agent. The faster the Speed of Answer (SOA), the more agents need to be available during peak times. This will add to the overall cost, especially if your business is prone to peaks, cycles, and seasonality.

Usually, you will specify the Service Levels you want the outsourcer to meet. For example, answer 80% of the calls within 30 seconds. The more precision you need, the higher your cost. For example, if you want 100 percent of your calls answered within one minute, you could spend multiples of what it would be to have 98 percent of your calls answered within the same time limit.

Skill Sets

There is also a matter of the skills you require of your agents. A skill is a trait, competency or knowledge. Examples of skills include languages, product or technology certification or license. And there are degrees of each. For instance, a bi-lingual English- Spanish speaker will cost more than someone who only speaks Spanish. If the skill is scarce, like the ability to speak in Singhalese or tech support, the cost is even higher.

Training also factors in. Your cost per agent needs to include the time and cost of training as well as the retraining that will be required in the future to keep the agent’s skills up-to-date. A good outsourcer will have ways to improve your training, often while lowering the cost. They can help you to skill route, or tier, your calls by complexity to reduce the number of people you need to train to handle higher level issues.

Regulations and Certifications

Similarly, you can expect to spend more on your contact center services when you have to meet requirements for certifications. Obtaining PCI or HIPAA compliance, insurance agent licenses, and other such regulations require additional training and administrative time and may add to the cost.

Required Redundancy

Pay attention to the level of business continuity or the amount of redundancy you need as well. In some cases, if the call center cannot be reached for a few hours, it is ok. For others its not. Then you will want to have some amount of duplicate processes and systems so that your contact center can stay up and running even if you lose power, experience bad weather or have a technical issue.

Location, Location, Location

Location matters too. The cost of qualified labor can be very different around the country and even more so around the world. But the skill set or availability of the labor will vary too. While locating your contact center to one of these lower labor cost locations may have its own complications, it could pay off in the end.

Self-Service and Other Tools

Finally, consider the tools you want to have in place to handle calls more effectively. Self-service features like Interactive Voice Response (IVR) will help you improve your workflow. In many cases, you may be able to use the outsourcers system and only pay a small setup fee and a price per call.

Average Amount (Domestic Pricing)

In general, domestic contact center services can start in the low $20 per hour for simple tasks. You should expect to pay at least that for in-house services, and it will be a fixed cost because those people work for you. Often with overhead and benefits, in-house costs are a lot more.

If you outsource, most suppliers bill on a per hour basis, which is nice because you only pay for what you use. While pricing starts in the low $20s many centers are $30 or more. For functions requiring complex tasks or higher skill sets will easily exceed $60 per hour. A short conversation with a good outsourcer can nail down a budget range for you.

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Which Solution is Right for Me?

Contact centers come in many forms. What works for one company may not work for another – or at least, not work quite as well. Plus, technology is changing. What worked with consumers a year ago may not work so well today. The evolution of tech is also breaking down some barriers. Some features that may have been cost-prohibitive to your business model a few years ago, may now be a cost-effective alternative to your current setup. As such, even if you have an existing solution, it is a good idea to keep looking around and asking questions.

How will someone be able to know what they should use?

So, how will you know what you should use? By honestly answering a few questions. Is customer service central to your success? Do you have a reputation to protect or improve? Are the tasks repetitive enough for others to learn? What can you afford and is it better to reflect on the balance sheet or the income statement?

Many companies will find that their key assets are better spent on product development, improving their services, or growing their markets.  Having a reliable outsourcer deliver outstanding customer service on their behalf is a great investment. It all depends on your business model and how you want to differentiate your company from your rivals.

Find someone else that’s like you and see what they’re doing

A good rule of thumb is to find someone else that is like you in your industry and see what they are doing. If your competitors are pulling out all the stops to offer multiple communication channels, convenient times to call in, and technology that makes the process as easy as possible, you could limit your ability to compete effectively if you don’t “keep up with the Joneses.”

In general, nothing in the contact center world is ground-breaking. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. To be successful, you just need to hire people with contact center experience and use advisors that have been where you are. You might also want to leverage knowledge from other centers that might not be in your industry. Ideas for best practices can come from anywhere. Your contact center supplier can help you here because they likely have the long-term experience they can use to create a valuable contact center model that works for your needs.

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Conclusion

Contact centers are popular, not because the customer cares who answers their call, but they care how it is handled. They care about connecting with your company when most needed. Having the ability to get help or ask questions via voice, email, text, web chat, as needed, fits with the way they like to live their lives – and it demonstrates how you understand and value them enough to provide the services

An answering service or local receptionist can work for small organizations, but as your company grows those approaches may not provide the expected level of consistent service. If your customers sense that their satisfaction is not your main priority, why should they keep coming back? Today's customer EXPECTS their needs to be your priority.  Set yourself apart by demonstrating how easy it is to do business with you. Show your customers how their business matters to you by making your customer service a priority.

Contact center services can be more than a commodity, it can be your differentiator. Make it your specialty. Offer contact center services that go beyond the traditional call center to become champions of your company culture and brand. Create a WOW factor for your customer . You just need the right partner.

Let's Talk!

GCS can help you find the value from your contact center approach. We are happy to discuss your situation and offer options that meet your expectations and budget. Let us help you deliver the WOW factor that your customers won’t forget.

Contact GCS about your Contact Center Needs