There are plenty of options out there for outsourcing the customer service department of your small business. You could use a live answering service, an internet answering service, an automated answering service or a call center. Even within the category of call center, do you need inbound, outbound, 24/7 or daytime work hour service? A 24/7 call center can serve your customers around the clock, which could greatly improve your business's reputation. Let's take a look to see if your small business could benefit from a 24/7 call center.
In basic terms, a 24/7 call center is a customer service or support call center that operates 24 hours a day and sometimes every day of the year, including holidays, said John Moss, CEO of English Blinds.
How do I know if I need a 24-hour call center?
It can be tricky to determine if you need a 24/7 call center versus one that runs on normal business hours or for only 12 hours a day. It largely has to do with the type of business you run and who your target audience is.
"It all depends on your call volume and the responsibilities of the individual answering the phone," said Todd Spodek, managing partner at Spodek Law Group P.C. "We have a number of offices and need dedicated receptionists to just deal with this issue. They don't do other admin tasks, and I don't want callers having any delay in speaking to a live person, so it's key for us."
Here are a few signs that your business's customer service might need to be available 24/7.
"It should be an effect of a prior-proved need," said Jakub Kliszczak, marketing specialist at Channels. "If you have customers that have, prior to that hire, requested help when you weren't available, then it's probably time to hire a 24/7 call center."
Large volume of calls
Certain industries see an influx of calls at certain times of the year or if something particular happens with a product a business sells. While your business can't always account for unexpected events like product recalls, you can prepare for peak times like holiday seasons, when you will have more calls than usual.
Diverse market or clients
"If you're essential for another business – e.g., [if your product is] sales CRM software – it's likely that someone will want to contact you when your software goes down," Kliszczak said. "And it won't matter that it's 11 p.m. – they need you to be available at all times. The same goes for companies that serve worldwide. Different time zones mean that you need a 24/7 call center to resolve issues from all of your clients."
Technical or time-sensitive customer needs
"Usually, this is a big company that has utility-related services like telecommunications, electricity, or tech, or if a company is currently experiencing high web traffic 24/7, like some e-commerce stores," said Karla Singson, country manager at Scalewind.
Need for full-time customer support, but lack of resources
"Small businesses should hire a 24/7 contact center if they do not have the resources to hire a full-time customer support team but require the services of one," said Alex Azoury, founder and CEO of Home Grounds. "Companies that provide nonstop services without disruption are the perfect candidates to hire such a service."
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Pros and cons of a 24/7 call center
There's positives and negatives to just about any service option, and call centers are no different. Some of these pros might be cons for your business and vice versa, but it's best to have all available information before you choose to hire a call center.
Pros of a 24/7 call center
- You'll have round-the-clock staff. Having customer support staff available for your customers every day, including holidays, could be the difference between someone choosing your business or your competitor.
"No one likes waiting, and if you can solve your customer's problem right here, right now, it'll be highly beneficial for your brand," Kliszczak said.
"In addition, the longer you work with [the call center] and cooperate, they become an extension of your business and can convey information with confidence," Spodek said.
According to Moss, 24/7 call centers also help spread out inquiries and calls more evenly, so they're less susceptible to pressures such as an avalanche of calls as soon as the phone lines go live in the morning.
- You can gather more leads. If your focus is outbound calls, call center agents working for you around the clock will mean you can reach people outside of your own time zone and gain as much lead information as possible for your business, suggests Johell Aponte, founder and acquisitions manager at Move On House Buyers.
- Multiple types of support are available. Azoury listed email, phone, live chat, onsite, frequently asked questions, social media and customer self-service as options for 24/7 customer support. With all these channels, not a minute goes by without your customers having some way to get in touch with a representative of your business.
- You can promote it in your marketing. If you have call center agents ready and waiting to serve customers 24/7, it can be a huge selling point that pretty much markets itself. Potential customers appreciate extra service features like this.
"Companies can use the 24/7 support as a leveraging feature to make their services more appealing to the eyes of consumers," Azoury said. "Customers perceive businesses with full-day assistance as more reliable and trustworthy compared to services that don't [offer it]."
Nikola Baldikov, digital marketing manager at Brosix, also said that customers see a 24/7 call center as a huge benefit and feel that they can rely on the service they are purchasing. They are much more likely to be satisfied when they can call at any time and receive support from an agent.
- It can be more cost-effective. Azoury noted that 24/7 call center services are a better deal (in terms of price per hour of service) than service providers that do not offer after-hours customer support.
Cons of a 24/7 call center
- It highlights any lapses in service quality. If you offer 24/7 support and your nighttime support is not as good as your daytime support, customers will notice. Singson said that if you suddenly have a surge in nighttime call traffic, that might be a pickle as well.
- The cost might not be worth it. Businesses have to make the cost of the 24-hour contact center make sense from a revenue perspective, Singson said. "If they're committing to round-the-clock service, that's at least three shifts of support representatives for each person who can probably handle, at most, two concurrent support tasks." If your business doesn't need that many representatives at one time, a 24/7 call center might not be right for your business.
- The service is usually less personalized. With rotating staff working for the call center, Aponte said, you'll have to keep the scripts simple so any agent can manage the call and take a message without confusing your prospect or having to know much about your business. This will inevitably be a dip in service quality from representatives more familiar with your business and customers.
- Questions will still linger. In the back of your mind, Moss noted, you might always wonder if those calls could have been handled more effectively or at a lower cost during business hours.
How to choose a 24/7 call center
1. Compare budget and service value.
"Not all 24/7 contact center service providers provide their services as the same price point," Azoury said. "Business owners must carefully pick a call center service that offers the help they need at the most economical price point amongst the competition."
Some companies, like Virtual Work Team, will work with you to come up with options to stay within your budget. [If you think outsourced customer service might be right for your business, compare our picks for the best call center and answering services.]
2. Choose the right type for your business.
As Azoury noted, there are various types of after-hours call centers. He said it's best to consider every option available and weigh the pros and cons of each to find the one that is most suitable for your needs.
3. Evaluate the needs of your primary customer base.
"Ensure that the agents speak very clearly and understand the language for your primary customer base," said Shilonda Downing, founder of Virtual Work Team. "If your customers don't feel understood, or if they can't understand the call center agents, frustration often leads to lost business."
Examples of 24/7 call centers
"A small business, doing well, can scale tremendously with a 24/7 call center," said Downing. "They'll garner additional sales and customers with a 24/7 call center. Small businesses risk losing clientele to a competitor if there isn't a live person to answer questions at all hours. Customers and clients work and shop at different times, so having a 24/7 call center offers a noticeable advantage over a call center with a very strict schedule."
How much does it cost to outsource a 24/7 call center?
There are various factors that determine how much you pay for an outsourced call center. One of the main considerations is the location of the call center. According to Cloud Task, U.S. call centers charge an average of $25 to $65 per hour to manage your call center. An offshore call center has lower rates, with an average cost of $8 to $18 per hour. The lower rate is due to the lower cost of living amounts in countries outside of the United States.
Other factors for which you may pay separate, additional fees include:
- Agent productivity time (This is any time you are charged for that involves follow-up by the agent after the call is completed.)
- Supervisor fees
- Equipment, including the workstation and a headset
- Agent training
Call centers may charge:
- Monthly: You pay a set monthly fee regardless of the number of inbound call levels. The fee is calculated by how much per hour you’re paying an agent to answer calls on your behalf.
- Per minute: This pay rate is when you use a shared service, where agents answer a variety of calls for clients. This type of setup is ideal for companies that have fluctuating call volumes and don’t want to pay an hourly wage for slow periods.
Be sure to read our review of the best call centers, which lists the various prices call centers charge.