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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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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
While you are researching call center prospects, consider the general pros and cons of using 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.