Successful Call Center Utilization

By Matt Harless

Today’s businesses are stressed out. Economic realities have created yet another new business model. It’s more necessary than ever to devise ways to stretch fewer resources into higher profits. Today’s mantra is, “Do more with less.” In addition, today’s customers, the engine driving profits, expect more for less. In exchange for their continuing business, they want the best product and service at the best price. They want it fast and they want to feel valued. Where does a company find harmony?

The call center is a solution more and more organizations are utilizing to drive the full customer experience. The call center allows organizations to become intimate with customers. It creates a bond deft at surviving blips on the radar screen and forges connections that fuse relationships into cross-selling and up-selling opportunities. The call center is the central hub, a communications channel that links customer and organization together. Call centers are the proven tool in preserving and growing sales, as well as providing an essential pipeline of market intelligence.

If you’re already on board with the value of a call center for your company, what is next? How can you hire a call center tomorrow? Where should you begin? The following five steps are central to adding a call center for your organization:

1. Step back and identify what the call center can do: Think big picture. Shifting trends make it increasingly difficult for companies to maintain and upgrade their corporate infrastructures. Internal resources are diverted to extinguish the flames of crises rather than proactively growing business. Accountability, speed, and reliability are pushed to the side to keep up with the daily demands of business.

The call center is a proactive instrument. It frees internal resources to concentrate on core competencies. From new sales to customer care to cancel and save programs, the call center has the flexibility to serve your organization 24/7, via the telephone and the Internet. It’s the difference between stellar performance and merely surviving.

2. Crystallize your objectives: Establish, with clarity, what you want to accomplish with your call center. Identify performance metrics and benchmark goals. Let’s assume the essential qualities, such as providing seamless interaction between call center staff and callers, retaining a call center team that is both efficient and professional, delivering the ultimate customer experience through proven processes, and winning new customers while keeping the current customers happy.

What are your core objectives to differentiate yourself from the competition? It may be an incremental increase in sales or market share. You may run a direct marketing campaign and need full-time support. Maybe it’s maximizing sales through cross-selling or up-selling. Call centers can also increase efficiency and accuracy, provide real time account management, and marketing data, as well as implementing consistent policies and procedures.

Begin with clearly defined objectives and build your call center with the intent of fulfilling those goals. Once objectives are defined, match goals to event driven timelines. Build in adequate ramp up time to implement the mechanics and delivery and hold to the objectives.

3. Outsource or build an in-house call center? Think commitment. Does a long-term obligation make sense for your type of business? Consider whether the need is consistent enough to warrant the fixed cost of staff, equipment, and training. Build in adequate time and budget for training, hiring, and set-up. Remember that a good call center is far from turnkey. A call center must stay up and running consistently. Outsourced call centers easily accommodate seasonal demand by leveraging scalable operations while eliminating fixed costs that could adversely impact company profitability.

If you decide to outsource, selecting the right service provider is critical. Look for proven technology, as well as capacity and reach that will accommodate business growth and take your organization to the next level. Outsource advantages include reduction of capital costs, acceleration of time to market, and added capacity while leveraging costs. It’s a more flexible approach to utilizing a call center and an easy way to test market the validity of such an entity for your business. An outsourced call center may be good at one competency, such as outbound sales, or many, such as a blended mix of outbound, inbound, email, and instant messaging.

Should you find yourself ready to contact an outside call center, the next step is devising a request for proposal (RFP). A strong RFP will outline your objectives, deliverables, and time frames for accomplishment. By focusing on objectives, aspiring companies are able to apply their knowledge and expertise to devising solutions as to how to best accomplish the stated goals.

Research on the front-end will smooth the process on the back-end. Visit call center trade shows and conferences prior to making a final decision.

4. Manage the process: Once a call center has been selected, their success is still determined by how well they are integrated with your company. To be most successful, it’s critical to understand that the call center still must be managed in order to facilitate smooth integration between your company and theirs. The better the management, the better the call center will reflect your organization.

In order to facilitate the most painless transition and quickest time to market, designate someone in your organization to orchestrate the selection and integration of the call center. If no one is available, or if your staff lacks experience with call centers, hire a consultant to spearhead the process. The time saved in using his/her knowledge and expertise will be well worth the investment in ramp up and reduced learning curve. Do not make the mistake of hiring or starting a call center and then letting it go. Stay on top of their performance.

5. Don’t forget the “T” word: Technology will drive your call center environment. Twenty years ago, it was the people. Now, it is the people blended with the best use of technology. All call centers should have a minimum standard. Inbound centers employ IVR (Integrated Voice Response), and ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) packages, and outbound centers drive calls with predictive dialer systems, but how the organization utilizes the complete CRM program makes the difference.

Consider technical solutions based on track record and proven performance. When making a decision on the technical component of a call center, consider worst-case scenarios. Run these scenarios and devise action plans that address problems before they occur.

A good call center will have the technology and people to put your company ahead of the game. Doing the groundwork ahead of time will ensure a smooth transition and integration.

Conclusion: Many organizations have discovered their best bet to providing their customers with a full “customer experience” is through the use of a best practices, state of the art call center. Leading edge companies thrive on providing the channel of communication that makes business easy for customers. The call center is one solid first step in the right direction.

Matt Harless is Vice President of Sales for PhoneWare, located in San Diego, CA. PhoneWare is a service agency with expertise in outbound and inbound sales and customer care campaigns. Contact Matt at 800-243-8329.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2005]

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