Customer service is crucial to keeping customers satisfied and bringing in new customers. To manage communications, business owners could hire an in-house customer service representative. Sometimes, though, it's easier and more cost-effective to outsource, and that's where call center services come in.
When it comes to whether or not you should go with an outbound or inbound U.S.-based call center, it depends on the needs of your business.
"The main difference between the two call center types is dependent on whether outbound calls are the more frequent occurrence," said Jonathon Wright, management consultant at The QA Lead. "For outbound call centers, agents are the ones that call customers more than 50% of the time, while inbound call centers receive calls from customers more than 50% of the time."
There are plenty of U.S.-based call centers to choose from, but how do you know which one is the best one for you?
Benefits of U.S.-based call centers
Wright outlined multiple benefits for hiring a U.S. based call center:
U.S. call centers comply with federal security and privacy concerns.
Businesses based in the U.S. comply with the federal regulations set by the government, whereas overseas call centers do not. If your business or industry is required to follow certain regulations regarding communications (such as HIPAA), these concerns should be top of mind for you.
Agents understand the culture and linguistics.
Domestic call centers have agents with firsthand knowledge of American culture and language.
"Having a U.S.-based call center will alleviate frustration with customers," 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 loss of business. This lengthens the time it takes to get issues resolved and may cause customers to patronize your competitors. Many customers also appreciate a business that gives jobs to candidates in the U.S."
Pricing is transparent.
U.S. call centers follow federal regulations (such as from the Federal Trade Commission), so businesses employing their services get a transparent breakdown of pricing before the start of the partnership.
You do not need to train staff for customer support roles.
When a business is in its early stages, chances are high that staff and management are still getting up to speed on proper customer support. Call centers based in the U.S. can save your business time and effort by training their agents for you.
Drawbacks of U.S.-based call centers
One downside of hiring a U.S.-based call center versus an offshore one is that U.S. call centers tend to be more expensive. You may have to provide agents with certain software licenses that are specific to your business to deliver the best possible customer service. On the other hand, if you consider the potential gains you're receiving from working with a U.S. call center, paying a little extra money could be worth it for your small business.
A second concern is that with a U.S. based call center, a business loses a certain amount of control it has versus if it hired in-house customer service agents. As the business owner utilizing a call center, you aren't there every day to hear the conversations that are taking place and provide feedback. You are putting your trust in the call center to follow your desires.
Additionally, it takes more effort on the part of the business owner, or the individual tasked with the responsibility, to keep the call center in the loop when changes happen within the company. Things like target audience adjustments, product recalls, and staff changes should all be relayed to your call center as soon as they are discovered so the call center has as much detail, and lead time, as possible when dealing with your valued customers.
Costs of hiring domestic call centers
According to PriceItHere.com, the average cost to hire a U.S.-based call center is 75 cents to $1.50 per minute. As a general rule, the price per minute goes down as you purchase more minutes. In practice, this typically translates to around $1,000 a month.
The average pricing is useful to know, but call center outsourcing is a little more complicated. There is a contracted service charge that bills you for the amount of work the call center does on your behalf. This is the per-minute charge. These some other common fees:
Depending on how much time the call center has to devote to your business, it may have to start up a new call bay or facility. The company will charge you startup fees to cover this, and they tend to sit in the ballpark of $10,000. This is often just a one-time fee, but it might reoccur if you experience significant call growth.
Usually, a business can save money by purchasing call center minutes in bulk. As an example, TeleDirect is a major call center service provider that sells a minimum package of 1,000 minutes at a price of $1.10 per minute. Its largest package covers 20,000 minutes at a price of 75 cents each.
You may find that you need more service from the call center than you initially purchased. Much like cell phone providers, call centers can charge overage fees. You'll typically be billed per additional minute, and the amount will depend on the contract: Some providers charge the same for overage minutes as package minutes, while others hike the price on overages.
The importance of call center security
Perhaps one of the biggest issues business owners should consider when deciding whether they should hire in-house staff or outsource their sales or customer service is security.
"Some of the greatest benefits of hiring a U.S.-based call center include high-quality privacy and security for all users to prevent any type of cyberattack or information leak," said Ludovic Rembert, founder of Privacy Canada. "With many security tools being used for call centers, companies are able to provide a safer and more reliable service by honoring systems that protect individual privacy."
Rembert also noted that small business owners should think about the software that a U.S. call center is using and what security benefits that software/tools has to manage the information of the business.
"By learning about this, leaders can then have full control and responsibility of the situation to gain trust from users. Call centers tend to be an easy place to hack for people who are looking for specific data, so maintaining privacy and security must be the No. 1 goal," Rembert said.
Just like consumers entrust businesses with their data, a small business should also require that from the call center they hire.
"The most crucial thing to consider is the reputation of a U.S.-based call center service provider," Wright said. "Remember that on paper, all service providers look good in the eyes of potential clients. However, that's often misleading, because not all can live up to their claims. Because of that, small business owners must consider the reputation of U.S.-based call centers as the main deciding factor."
Wright added that technology plays an important role. "Ask if the provider comes equipped with the latest and fastest technology available. In doing so, it reassures you that they can give your customers the best and most premium experience."
Why hiring a U.S.-based call center doesn't have to be hard
According to Downing, the hiring process doesn't have to be complicated. It is as simple as starting with an online search.
"Look for client references, and ask to speak to customers who currently utilize the call center," Downing said. "Before you contract or make the hire, ensure that the agents speak very clearly and understand the language for your primary customer base. Make sure you're hiring a company that is not a flight-by-night establishment.
"A company that has been around for years with excellent client references is your best bet," she added. "Outline your needs and requirements very clearly. You should then communicate this in writing and include key points in any contract you need to sign. It's also a good idea to suggest a trial period to ensure you're happy with the call center and that it's a good fit all around."
Wright also suggests asking your network for recommendations and reading reviews on established websites.
List of U.S.-based call centers
These seven call centers are all based in the U.S. and offer outbound and/or inbound services:
- Global Response: This call center was founded in Fort Lauderdale in 1974 by Herman Shooster and his wife, Dorothy. In addition to answering incoming calls, Global Response can assist companies through email, chat, and social media channels as well.
- Five Star Call Centers: Based throughout the midwestern United States, Five Star Call Centers has locations in South Dakota, Kansas and Oklahoma.
- Signius Communications: In business since 1929, Signius has 12 locations across the U.S. in Texas, Illinois, California, Indiana, Florida, Alabama, New York, Arizona and Maryland.
- Specialty Answering Service: Operating in King of Prussia since 1985, Specialty Answering Service has multilingual call centers spanning various industries.
- Stericycle: Developed by Dr. James Sharp in 1989, Stericycle launched its communications sector in 2010 and today works with medical practices and healthcare companies.
- Contact Communications: Contact Communications has been around for over 20 years and works with many industries, including veterinary, real estate and small e-commerce businesses.
- Virtual Work Team: Since 2006, Virtual Work Team has helped companies with everything from customer support to social media management.
Outsourcing your small business's customer service department to a U.S.-based call center may be your best option for several reasons. Ultimately, you need to determine your business's most important needs and research multiple U.S. call centers to find the right fit for your company.