What Are Call Centers?
Call centers are centralized offices that send and receive a large volume of calls. They are used for dispatching technicians, receiving customer support calls, or fielding calls asking for technical help. Some call centers primarily place outgoing calls. Examples of this type of call center include debt collection companies and telemarketing agencies. Typically a call center has a large, open or partially-cubicled workspace for call center workers, who are each provided with a computer and a telephone headset.
What Industries Use Call Centers Most?
When most people think of call centers, they think of the places they call when their computer malfunctions or when they find a problem on their bank statement. Industries with the heaviest reliance on call centers include:
- Computer hardware and software
- Transportation and travel booking
- Finance, banking, and credit
- Medical and pharmaceuticals
With call center technology firmly in place and an expected part of the customer experience, today's trends in call center technology are starting to focus more on efficiency. In other words, call centers want to reduce the cost per contact for each customer contact. That's where VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) technology comes in.
How VoIP Is Transforming Call Centers
VoIP allows the creation and expansion of virtual call centers, which are more flexible than traditional PBX-based call centers. The traditional call center is constrained by location and floor space, but VoIP helps enable distributed call centers and remote agents. This helps cut down -- or even eliminate -- physical floor space requirements, as well as back-up power, break rooms, and infrastructure associated with traditional call centers. But one of the main breakthroughs that VoIP-based call centers provide is greater flexibility in hourly staffing, which can cut down drastically on the costs associated with idle labor.
VoIP's Effect on Call Center Infrastructure
VoIP call center solutions reduce infrastructure complexity by allowing more virtualization. This means that businesses can get a full PBX-style call center solution with as little as one server. Businesses can use VoIP to let call agents work at home, or they can add smaller call centers in dispersed locations. At-home agents and dispersed call centers save on real estate costs and are "greener" because they cut down on worker transportation needs.
VoIP and Device Flexibility
Many VoIP systems support a nearly-unlimited number of devices. Just about any accessory with a speaker and microphone can be used as a phone, and many VoIP systems allow administrators to add and configure smart phones and cell phones using simple smart phone apps that can be used anywhere. What's more, many VoIP systems are interoperable with existing PBX systems, and this makes it easy for businesses to test drive VoIP systems under a trial license before committing.
Freedom from Local Constraints
Because VoIP can connect to dial-up networks and make phone calls from just about anywhere on the globe, they allow processes that are difficult or impossible for traditional call centers. For example, if a company has three call centers in three different time zones, a VoIP system allows creation of a routing plan that follows local time zones and makes use of employee time more efficient. And extending an existing call center network no longer requires the addition of PBX infrastructure, just adding VoIP to agents in a new location.
Integration with Data Systems
Since VoIP calls are digital, they can be easily hooked up to the call center's data handling system. It's easy to annotate, store, and route calls with VoIP, and VoIP systems can help coordinate calls with existing data. For example, an inbound call can trigger a pop-out screen with information on the caller and options for recording or even transcribing calls through speech-to-text software. Session Initiation Protocol, or SIP, is being widely adopted by VoIP vendors because it makes it so easy to develop new services. SIP lets call centers offer novel technologies like the ability to stream a troubleshooting video directly into a user's handset.
Tomorrow's Call Centers Today
The concept of VoIP replacing call centers is more like a rapid evolution than a complete razing and redoing of traditional call centers. Today's business phone systems rely increasingly on VoIP technology. But VoIP is rapidly being integrated into many of today's existing call centers and is becoming the technology of choice for call center expansion and for outfitting new call centers.