If you and your staff can’t handle the high volumes of inbound calls you’re getting from customers, a call center service could be the answer. Businesses of all sizes employ answering services and call centers to manage their phone lines in a variety of ways. Some companies work with call centers only if call volume increases momentarily, while others contract with them for regular, around-the-clock answering.
Whether you need someone to capture overflow calls or to represent your brand, there are a few things you should know before hiring an outsourced call center.
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What does a call center do?
Inbound call center services include taking messages, forwarding calls, answering frequently asked questions, and even taking and processing orders.
Set your phone to redirect to the call center when someone rings in. Calls will automatically be transferred to an agent who uses either a script or set guidelines relevant to your business when speaking to your customers. You can choose to transfer all incoming calls or just calls when all lines are busy.
Many call centers now offer more than just basic inbound services. Some also offer email and social media monitoring and management, as well as top live web chat services. Some call centers also provide outbound services, which can help your business drum up new leads or reach out to existing ones.
>> Learn More: Features of Call Center Systems
There are also many bilingual call centers or multilingual call centers that can help businesses cater to international clientele. The most common languages call centers support in the U.S. are English and Spanish, but many cover a range of languages. In some cases, when multilingual service is unavailable, a call center might partner with a translation service.
Regardless of the services you need, though, call centers should be transparent and communicative, ensuring you have access to all caller information so you can follow up as time allows.
If all you want is someone to answer calls and take messages over the phone for your business, a virtual receptionist may be a more suitable choice.
What’s the difference between call centers and answering services?
Answering services and call centers are similar in many ways, but there are some important differences.
Answering services are often more suitable for smaller, niche providers in fields that have specialized needs. For example, many of the best answering services provide industry-specific services, working for clients like these:
- Law firms: Handling client calls about legal matters often requires added security or a personalized touch, which a legal answering service could provide.
- Healthcare providers: Medical answering services are experienced in communicating with patients and scheduling appointments. They’re also equipped to handle healthcare-specific regulatory considerations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Answering services’ focus on specific industries and markets means they have built in a degree of flexibility. So, instead of just answering phones and taking messages (which answering services certainly do), they do well in situations where more complex customer interaction is required.
While answering service providers can customize their approach to individual clients, call centers tend to be more general in their method and often have the capacity to manage larger call volumes.
They’re also more likely to provide these kinds of outbound services:
- Lead generation: Connect with your customers more often to generate more sales leads from them.
- Market research: The most effective market research campaigns help you understand what your target audience wants and how to improve your products and services to deliver client satisfaction. Speaking to customers and target clients is a great way to get this information.
- Cold calling: Tell your provider your target audience, and the service will source the data it needs for your campaign.
Many call center service providers have rebranded as “contact centers” or “business process outsourcing” companies to convey that they do more than just handle phone calls. To deliver a better customer experience, many of these services now interact with the clients’ customers in real time across email, social media, live chat and even SMS text messaging.
At overseas business process outsourcing companies, staff get training on American culture to overcome any potential cultural barriers.
How much does a call center charge?
Generally, in the call center industry, rates are based on the amount of time an agent spends handling your account. Most call centers charge per minute, sometimes associating your rate with a monthly minimum requirement. Some offer “pay as you go” plans for businesses that have small call volumes or that need infrequent coverage.
Monthly fees and usage charges vary from company to company, but what you pay for call center services will reflect several factors:
- Services requested: Basic inbound services, like message taking and order processing, cost less than outbound services, which require dedicated agents. To keep costs down, select only the services you need.
- Call volume: The more traffic you put through a call center, the less likely you are to pay per minute.
- Incremental billing: If a call lasts five seconds but you’re being billed in per-minute increments, you’ll pay for the whole 60 seconds. The most common increment period seems to be six seconds, but you can save money by finding a call center that bills per active second.
- Fees and additional costs: Many call center services impose additional charges, such as account setup fees or holiday and overage fees. Some offer additional services for added costs. For example, many call centers will set up an interactive voice response (IVR) tree (e.g., “Press 1 for sales, press 2 for customer service,” etc.) at a separate rate from inbound calling services.
- Agent work time: “Agent work time” refers to the time an agent spends on your account, regardless of whether they are on the phone. Some call centers do not charge for agent work time but rather for the time an agent is actually on the phone.
To avoid any surprises, request a breakdown of all pricing from any company you are considering before you sign up for the provider’s services. Ask the representative to include any setup fees, monthly minimum fees and additional costs in the proposal they send.
If you are unable to obtain or decipher an itemized list of costs, that’s a red flag that the call center isn’t dealing with you in good faith. A business’s relationship with its call center must be based first and foremost upon trust. If you cannot establish trust in the discovery phase of your buying process, then it’s best to look elsewhere.
What companies need a call center?
If inbound calls are going unanswered, you should consider partnering with a remote call center to bolster your customer support resources. This guideline applies to both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) companies, despite their very different customer service needs.
However, even if you have your phone lines covered internally, a contact center can still offer key support in these other areas:
- Email and social media channel management: Especially on social media, customers judge businesses by their speed of response. [Read related article: Why Twitter Is an Excellent Customer Support Channel]
- Live web chat conversations: Customers are increasingly using web chat as their first point of contact.
- Data cleansing: Have a contact center staffer comb through your existing database of leads and ensure the information is up to date and accurate. This means you won’t have to divert an in-house employee away from their standard responsibilities to get the work done.
Answering services are best suited for certain companies, generally those that operate in niche market segments or require more advanced work from agents. These companies may include those in the following industries:
- Information technology
- Real estate
Of course, answering services are not limited to the above industries. If you feel your business has specific needs or you want a more flexible agent picking up the phones on your behalf, consider an answering service instead of a call center.
Are there call centers for startups?
Many call centers offer services that startups might find valuable. They help startups manage customer service and support internal operations in areas such as recruiting. For example, call centers ask pre-interview questions and administer preemployment tests for job candidates.
Outbound call centers with experience selling for their clients can benefit a startup by generating additional revenue. While finding a call center that offers lead generation services, such as cold calling, isn’t always easy, there are call centers that would like to hear from you.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of hiring a call center?
While you are researching call center prospects, consider the general pros and cons of using a call center.
- Cost efficiency:You don’t have to pay to hire, train or staff the call center. Costs are often much lower for hiring a call center than for setting up your own call center system because the costs are shared among all of the call center’s clients.
- Infrastructure: Call centers require specific infrastructure investments in order to operate. Your contractor already has that infrastructure in place. They can handle your volume and reliably scale with it.
- Consistency: An established call center can often guarantee nearly 100 percent uptime (although its operating hours won’t necessarily be 24/7). It can take time to match that level of consistency if you keep everything in-house. Outsourcing provides that consistency immediately.
- Customer satisfaction: Contracting with a call center creates a new layer between you and your customers. No matter how good your provider is, they may not be able to resolve customer issues as well as you could, which could hurt customer satisfaction.
- Security: You may need your call center to process customer information and other sensitive data. While outsourcing often mitigates risk, you need to be confident about the call center’s security measures.
What else should you know before hiring a call center?
There are many good reasons for a small to midsize business to partner with a call center. However, take your time and do your research into each company you are considering.
There are a lot of call centers out there, but some charge exorbitant rates and pile on hidden fees, driving up your costs to an untenable level. Others might charge low rates but provide poor service, which could reflect badly on your brand, harm customer satisfaction and ultimately lose you business.
Trust should be your first consideration, because the call center you choose will represent your brand to your customers. Sign up with a call center only when it has demonstrated that it is transparent, considerate and honest. Anything short of that could leave your business picking up the pieces.
Although it is important to proceed with caution and do your due diligence, there are many excellent answering services and call centers out there. Most are capable of scaling with your company, so once you find a partner that works for you, it’s easy to maintain the partnership as your company grows. A good call center service will be instrumental in the growth of your business and serve as an invaluable partner as your business finds success.
Adam Uzialko contributed to this article.