Customer service has changed. Technologies and other conveniences have elevated both customer and employee expectations, and service centers — like call centers — are expected to follow the tide.
It's no surprise that customer expectations are higher than in the past, and customers are also smarter and more informed than ever.
Customers have a plethora of channels they can use to research reviews, compare products … and contact companies and their service teams.
But, when it comes to service, the one channel that hasn’t budged from popularity and efficiency is the phone. Most consumers will admit that, when they're in a bind, they’d rather talk to a real person than chat with a bot or skim a knowledge base article.
This isn’t to say a multi-channel customer service presence isn’t important (and we’ll talk more about this later), but this still stands to show how important call centers are to customer service — and customer retention.
That’s why we created this guide. Call centers remain a crucial ingredient in the customer service recipe, and by the time you finish this article, you’ll know exactly how to run one that supports both a successful business and your customers.
What is a call center?
A call center is a dedicated office of representatives set up to receive and field a high volume of phone calls from customers and potential customers. Customer service call centers provide information about and support for a company’s products or services.
Call centers can be organized to serve a number of business purposes, including inbound and outbound calls for sales and marketing, lead generation, customer service, IT support, and more.
Despite the rise of digital service and support channels, call centers continue to be integral to companies worldwide. Why?
For one, almost 75% of customers prefer voice communication — via a phone call — over any other customer service channel. This is especially true when customers are dissatisfied.
Additionally, 73% of customers “fall in love” with a company because of experiences with friendly customer service representatives. (On the flip side, over 82% of customers have taken their business elsewhere after a poor customer service experience.)
Call centers are extensions of your brand and present more opportunities to interact and attract loyal customers. They’re also extensions of your marketing — 72% of customers will tell at least six other people about good customer service experiences. Now that’s word-of-mouth marketing if I’ve ever heard it.
Nothing quite replaces chatting with a human, especially when you have a pressing issue.
As helpful as live chats, knowledge base articles, and forums can be, offering your customers the option to talk live with an expert can make the difference between a sporadic customer and a loyal one.
In the next section, we’ll expand on how to run an efficient, effective call center.
How to Start a Call Center
- Establish your purpose
- Prioritize your staff
- Organize your processes
- Implement technology and equipment
- Understand your impact and reporting
Call centers involve more than a room full of phones and people to answer them.
Effective call centers that contribute to your company’s bottom line require a balance and blend of many important components, most of which will require constant development. Let’s review these components below.
1. Establish the purpose of your call center.
Before you dive into hiring, training, and technology, start with this simple question: “Why?”
Setting your mission and goals ahead of time will help you address any changes and issues that may arise in the future. Ask yourself and your team these questions.
- What’s the purpose of your call center? What does your company need from it?
- What are your goals and objectives?
- What does success look like, and how can you measure it?
- What’s your mission, and how does it align with the mission for your broader team and business?
These answers will serve as a valuable blueprint as you scale your call center team, hire new representatives, and measure your business impact (which we’ll talk about later).
2. Prioritize your call center staff.
A company’s customer service is only as good as its customer service staff. Therefore, in order to prioritize the customer, your call center must first prioritize your staff. Here’s how to do this.
A high-quality call center team starts with hiring. While you can’t always avoid turnover, you can establish a seamless hiring process that makes it easy to add new agents and staff to your team when needed. Before we go into that process, let’s review the different types of staff needed to run a successful call center.
- The call center manager oversees the call center and serves as a liaison to the broader customer service team and the rest of the company. They are responsible for establishing the mission and vision of the call center and makes sure the team meets its objectives and performance goals. They also work with the team leader to establish call center processes, policies, and strategy.
- The team leader manages teams of call center agents and representatives and serves as a liaison to management and the broader customer service team. They manage the day-to-day call center operations and ensure that agents stick to the established processes, policies, and strategies. Team leaders are also literate on company products and services in case they need to field calls or receive direct inquiries from customers.
- The representatives (or agents) receive and field customer phone calls per call center processes and objectives. They can be specialized in product support, technical support, or other components of customer service. Representatives are also responsible for verifying customer information and logging any and all interactions in the software. (We’ll talk more about call center technology later.)
- The call center trainer manages new call center representatives and is responsible for training new staff on the call center objectives, policies, and processes. The trainer could be a veteran representative or team leader, or companies may choose to outsource their call center training process. This person is also responsible for keeping call center teams up-to-date on customer service and technology trends.
- The call center analyst, like the trainer, is well-versed in the customer service process and can scrutinize call center performance to identify where and how it can improve. The analyst may forecast customer demand and report on anticipated call volumes, determine what specific resources are needed to receive those calls, and provide other statistical feedback on call center activities. The analyst helps call centers meet performance goals and objectives.
Regardless of position, all call center employees must possess excellent communication skills. They must also be able to retain and explain information about products or services and display exceptional patience and discipline. Watch for these skills when recruiting and hiring for your call center.
👉🏼Consider for 2019: A remote call center team. Technology has allowed for more virtual call centers — cloud-based platforms (like HubSpot Service Hub), live messaging tools (like Slack), and other technologies keep employees connected to customers and each other. Additionally, remote teams reduce overhead and allow you to employ talented folks from all over the world (who can better serve your customers from all over the world). Of course, this requires greater discipline and self-accountability and can make it harder to build a cohesive team, but we’ll talk more about how to combat this with training and team-building techniques.
Hiring is critical, but it’s merely half the battle. To build the best call center team, you must invest in training, too. Working in a call center can be difficult, and turnover can be detrimental to consistent, high-quality service. It’s no longer enough to hire good employees; companies must work hard to train and retain them, too.
Customer service and support training can be a lengthy process, but it’s well worth it to develop and motivate your employees.
- Start training your staff before they start working. Upon hiring each new staff member, send along your call center handbook or online training videos so they can be prepared when they walk in the door their first day.
- Practice with role-playing and fake calls. This gives new staff a chance to test their customer service skills and knowledge of your products or services.
- Assign new staff to an existing representative or team leader. Encourage staff to shadow live calls, take notes, and eventually receive calls from real customers.
- Repeat your training regularly to keep your staff aligned and up-to-date.
Once trained, how can you incentivize your call center staff to work hard and stick around? Here are some ideas.
- Encourage staff to maintain their mentor-mentee relationships beyond training.
- Prioritize team morale. Sponsor team-building activities and consider providing a regular lunch or another opportunity for your team to bond outside of their day-to-day jobs.
- Provide targeted coaching that develops specific skills and addresses individual problems. Schedule weekly one-on-one meetings so your staff can express their needs and grievances in private.
- Gamify daily activities and incentivize staff when they hit goals and objectives. Display leaderboards or goal charts so employees can share their wins and encourage each other.
- Clarify each employee’s potential career path once you hire them. Explain how they can progress in their role and at your company.
Training and retention is an iterative process. We recommend testing a few methods to see what works best for your company needs and team structure and goals. As always, include your call center staff as they can provide valuable feedback about what’s working and what’s not. After all, they are your priority.
3. Organize your call center processes.
So, you’ve established your call center mission and hired an amazing team. You’re ready to start answering calls, right?
Not quite. Like we said above, call centers involve more than phones and people. Successful and efficient call centers run smoothly because they follow an established process. Processes reduce wait times and help solve issues quicker — which leads to happier customers.
Your call center process is comprised of the internal procedures and practices that your team will follow each day. Here are some questions that your process will answer.
- What will happen when the phone rings? When your representatives answer, what will they say?
- What will happen if a representative can’t answer a question? Who or what will they turn to?
- How will representatives track each customer inquiry and whether or not it was answered?
- What will happen after a call is complete?
- How can you ensure your day-to-day procedures satisfy your overall call center objectives?
First, establish how you’ll receive calls. Use our guide on building an inbound calling strategy here. Determine how your customers can contact you and how your representatives will field those calls, and how many they’ll receive.
Once you’ve established that strategy, build your call center scripts. Scripts are pre-written prompts that your representatives will follow when talking with a customer. Excellent scripts are:
To build successful scripts, work with your entire team — from managers to representatives — to outline relevant, on-brand language. Ask your representatives to weigh in on what they’d like to say and practice the scripts by reading them aloud. Avoid creating robotic, unnatural language … your customers will recognize it immediately.
Also, notice that we said excelled scripts are flexible. As important as call center scripts are for providing consistent, thorough service, they can’t always predict what customers will say or ask. Encourage your team to go off-script if necessary and ensure they know all about your products and services in case a question or issue can’t be addressed in the scripts.
If your representatives can’t answer a question (or a customer asks to speak to a higher-up), outline a process for how representatives can escalate an issue. Make sure this process is communicated to your entire team and conduct a few practice runs to work out any snags or gaps in service.
(Also, be sure your team is aware of your company’s other self-service options, such as your knowledge base, FAQs, videos, and forums, and have them share these with customers.)
Lastly, establish a process for how your team will record calls and customer inquiries. Whether you use manual or digital process (which we’ll talk about next), be sure your team is aligned and consistent in your tracking process. Consistency is key when reviewing performance, understanding business impact, and analyzing where your call center can improve.
👉🏼 Consider for 2019: Call center outsourcing. If opening a call center is outside your budget, consider outsourcing your call center. If you determine it’s a good fit for your business, outsourcing can save resources and offer more flexible customer service options.
Call centers can’t operate without modern technology — and we’re talking about more than just telephones. Today’s most successful call centers equip their teams with multiple software and equipment options to ensure they’re operating seamlessly and providing the best possible service.
Make your team comfortable with equipment like computer monitors, keyboards, comfortable headsets, and ergonomic chairs. Also, technology like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems, automatic call distributor (ACD) systems, and interactive voice response (IVR) systems help representatives easily receive and conduct customer calls.
What sets excellent call centers apart, though, is exceptional customer service software — like the HubSpot Service Hub.
This kind of software can …
- Keep your team connected, especially if you have a remote workforce.
- Help your team personalize customer inquiries and avoid repetition by accessing recently tracked calls and detailed customer profiles.
- Track your team performance and help you identify what’s working and what’s not.
- Your customers to help themselves instead of relying on your call center — thus relieving pressure from your team.
Consider investing in dedicated customer service software for your call center. Once you hit a certain amount of call volume, not having a CRM to track engagements or productivity tools to maximize your team’s output will ultimately lead to a bad customer experience. Also, this type of software provides tools that keep your employees happy and customers happier.
👉🏼 Consider for 2019: Omni-channel engagement and updates. Whether a customer contacted you via live chat, email, or phone, customers don’t want to repeat themselves … they expect service representatives (just like salespeople) to be familiar with any and all touch points. Sound difficult? HubSpot Service Hub can help.
Customer expectations are always changing, so, to provide the best possible service, your call center should always be evolving. What works one quarter may not work the next. How can you know what and when to change? By routinely evaluating your call center performance and goals.
Create a process for your team to consistently track important call center metrics, like customer satisfaction, contact quality, and abandon rate. (Hint: Customer service software can help tremendously.)
This will uncover important trends and patterns that will show you what’s working and what’s not. Almost 80% of businesses use customer satisfaction metrics to analyze and improve their own service.
- 90% of calls should result in a satisfied customer. [Customer Satisfaction]
- 70-75% of issues should be resolved during the first call. (Note: “Resolution” is subjective depending on how your call center team defines it.) [First-Call Satisfaction]
- Call centers should have 80% of calls answered within 20 seconds. [Contact Quality]
- Only 5-8% of calls should be dropped before resolution. [Abandon Rate]
Another way to monitor performance and understand the impact of your call center is to ask your customers. People don’t hesitate to share their customer service experiences — in fact, a UK study found that 57% of customers will give negative feedback to a business, and 37% will share it on social media.
Make it easier for your customers to share their experiences by offering a customer service survey. Conduct the survey over the phone or via email. Not only will this help you monitor your call center performance, but it will also help your customers feel like they’re being heard and respected.
Collecting first-hand feedback (like your Net Promoter Score®) puts your customers in the center. It completes your flywheel loop — turning customers into promoters that effectively market your business for you.
Put Your Call Center to Work
The call center is a timeless customer service vehicle. Even as additional customer support channels arise, they’ll never replace the immediacy and authenticity of a phone call.
Successful call centers can also support your business’s overall brand and bottom line. Representatives are extensions of your company brand and have the ability to turn your customers into promoters and marketers.
Use this guide to build and run an efficient call center that keeps your customers happy. And, remember, as long as you prioritize your people and processes, you’ll keep your customers at the center.
Originally published May 22, 2019 7:30:00 AM, updated December 16 2019