Once you've delineated your basic needs and have decided on the type of hosting you require, you'll want to specify the added features you'd like to have. Try to identify those you definitely require, those that will be advantageous but not critical, and those that are unnecessary.
Some basic features can make a big difference when it comes to running a call center, such as being able to measure the time operators spend on calls or which operators take the most calls. Here are some of the most useful and common features available in call center systems:
- Automatic Call Distribution (ACD). A form of ACD is now a must for a typical call center. Having a system in place that automatically routes callers to relevant individuals cuts down on wasted time and resources. ACD systems distribute calls according to user-specified criteria, such as sending the call to a phone that is idle, or sending calls about billing to the accounting department, etc. Nearly all call center systems have some form of ACD. They vary from simple push-button virtual operators to those that use caller ID or voice recognition.
- Call Center Monitoring and Analytics. This is an essential feature for most call centers. Being able to scrutinize call durations, costs, and other useful metrics can help supervisors and managers make informed decisions on issues such as employee performance and staffing and training needs. Some of the best systems allow real-time statistics, letting you know what's going on in the call center second by second. Historical reporting allows you to compile hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and annual statistics for detailed long-term analysis.
- Call Recording. Useful for training and monitoring, call recording allows supervisors and operators to record and store phone calls as audio files on the server. However, the storage requirements for call recording can be quite large. Third-party hosted systems and cloud-hosted systems are better suited for this function because it's easy to upgrade the size of your storage space without buying new hardware.
- Call Transfer and 3-Way Calling. Being able to transfer a caller to another department, or permit access to a third party, is essential for virtually all call centers. Few systems are sold without this feature, but it's worth checking just in case.
- Contact Management. These systems enable different calls to be tagged and stored with relevant information attached to the call file. This permits better management of customers, as it provides historical records of all calls by an individual account holder.
- Computer Telephony Integration (CTI). CTI systems use desktop PCs as telephone systems. These software packages enable a desktop computer to serve and display all call-related functions-from providing caller information, routing calls to other workstations, and controlling the phone system. Most call center systems utilize some form of CTI. Usually a simple USB headset is all that's required to turn a standard PC that's running CTI into a complete call center workstation.
- Workstation Recording. Understanding the needs of your operators is another way of streamlining a call center and making it run more efficiently. Workstation data recording enables you to make a movie of what's happening on an operator's screen. The recording can be analyzed to learn how operators are using the system, what tricks they know that could help others, and what problems they're having that could be addressed.
- Interactive Voice Response (IVR). IVR uses voice-recognition software to allow callers to route themselves to specific departments. IVRs vary in sophistication-from the very basic, which enable simple routing functionality, to systems that allow customers to access their accounts. At the high end, IVR empowers customers to serve themselves, reducing the workload on human operators.
- Live Call Coaching. This allows a third person to interact with an operator without the caller hearing, thereby enabling training and mentoring.
- Performance Evaluation. By monitoring an operator's performance, you can identify gaps in training and areas where operators need improvement. This type of evaluation can create reports, graphs, and other data while scoring an operator's performance.
- Predictive Dialer. For call centers that make a lot of outbound calls, a predictive dialer enables a list of phone numbers to be called simultaneously. Operators are connected only when someone picks up. These systems can save a lot of time and prevent operators from having to wait for a call to be answered. Predictive dialers also monitor the availability of operators to ensure that calls aren't made when there are no operators available to route the call if someone answers.
- Speech Analytics. This is a sophisticated system that can analyze customers' voices and interactions to identify whether they meet certain specific business criteria, such as being genuinely interested in an offer or merely being polite with no intention of buying. These systems are less than reliable, but some call centers that have used them have had success identifying the most promising leads.
- Technical Support. This is a given for a system hosted by a third party, but for self-managed and cloud-based systems, technical support can be anywhere from nonexistent to extremely generous. Ask about 24-hour phone support, 24-hour Web chat support, and virtual management, where technicians fix problems remotely.