What is a call center?
A call center is a centralized facility or department designed to handle a large volume of inbound or outbound phone calls for a business. They’re frequently used by retailers, telemarketing companies, service desks, polling services, fundraisers and other large organizations to sell products and services, gather information, or assist customers over the phone.
Call centers began appearing in the 1960s, once businesses could route a large volume of phone calls through a computerized automatic call distributor (ACD) to multiple agents. When multiple people called a business number, the ACD automatically filtered and assigned calls to available and appropriately skilled agents, eliminating the need for human switchboard operators. Call center momentum picked up in the 1990s because of the popularity in toll-free numbers, digital signaling technologies, and websites that listed a central phone number for sales, customer service and technical support. By the early 2000s, many large companies began transferring domestic customer service departments to call centers overseas to control costs. As cloud-based call center solutions emerged, companies could employ virtually located or home-based agents instead of requiring them to sit together in a physical office.
Many call centers, which only used telephony, have evolved into digital connect channel contact centers. Contact centers allow enterprises and their customers to engage with each other through the available and most convenient communications channel—email, text messaging, social media, mobile app, virtual assistant, chatbot, video and web chat—instead of establishing a linear customer journey reliant on phone-only conversations. Contact centers also can help distribute calls and allow multiple agents to share contacts and customer information in near-real time across channels—so that businesses have a holistic view of their customers, and customers receive consistent and fluid service. Verizon Enterprise Solutions has contact center tools that help enterprises close the gap between their employees and customers, regardless of location, through services such as web conferencing and voice over internet protocol (VoIP).
What are call center services and solutions?
Call center services and solutions are hardware, software and services designed to improve inbound and outbound agent performance when handling large call volume, and subsequently drive a better customer experience. Contact center solutions also help enterprises optimize their workforce and increase productivity by allowing call center managers to schedule an appropriate number of agents to:
- Manage call volume
- Provide agent training
- Work toward performance goals
- Capture customer-agent interactions
- Inform agents about caller information by integrating with customer relationship management solutions
- Analyze historical and real-time data
- Identify and understand data correlations and trends to improve the customer experience
To accomplish those tasks, call center solutions may include some or all of the following:
- Automated dialer – Software used in outbound call centers that automatically dials telephone numbers. Once a call has been answered, the automated dialer plays a recorded message or connects the caller to an agent.
- Automatic call distribution (ACD) – Technology that automatically filters and assigns each incoming call to an available agent. The ACD can also track call volume, number of calls handled, average call time, wait time and other data.
- Call barging – Allows managers to join live calls to assist the agent and customer, such as when the customer wants to escalate a call to a manager.
- Call control – Basic call handling features, including hold, mute, conference, transfer and hang up.
- Call feedback – Allows customers to provide direct feedback about their experiences with agents to give enterprises insight into satisfaction levels.
- Call monitoring – Allows call center managers to listen in on live calls without the agent or caller knowing, to help with agent training and performance.
- Call recording – Allows the enterprise to save call conversations so that they can be played back at a later date. Recordings can help managers provide agents with feedback and training, and can help agents get up to speed on the status of a problem if a resolution requires multiple conversations with the customer.
- Custom application programming interfaces (APIs) – Allows an enterprise to integrate customer relationship management systems with other data management and reporting tools.
- Gamification – Call center services that use video game mechanics to encourage agents to stay engaged and reach their performance goals.
- Intelligent contact routing – A managed network-based solution that applies business rules, routes contact center communications through a universal queue, then directs each customer to the best available agent. Intelligent routing works whether the contact center is in a home office or remote location.
- Interactive voice response (IVR) – A popular call center software feature that answers calls and uses speech recognition to identify, segment and route callers to the best available agent, to voice mail or to pre-recorded messages for support.
- Multichannel communication – Having multiple ways to connect with customers, such as through the telephone, email, text messaging, social media, video and web chat.
- Predictive dialing – A feature built into outbound call center solutions to help contact more people in less time. While an automated dialer will just place one call after another, a predictive dialer will call multiple contacts at a time. Once a caller answers, the predictive dialer will place the call in an agent’s queue so that there is always an active call waiting once the agent is done with the current call.
- Real-time and historical reporting – Data reports that allow managers to monitor agent performance, such as average abandonment time and average wait time. Reports are typically viewable on a centralized dashboard.
- VoIP – Converts analog voice signals into digital signals. This makes location a nonissue, allowing calls to be made from anywhere with an internet-enabled device.
- Whisper coaching – Allows managers to join calls and speak to agents without the caller knowing, so that the agent gets live training without disrupting the customer experience.
- Workforce management – Allows an enterprise to build schedules based on historical and forecast data, to ensure the right number of agents are available to handle communication volume.
How does a call center work?
In an inbound call center, customer calls typically come from toll-free numbers. The IVR answers the call and uses speech recognition to address customer inquiries by responding with a recorded message or transferring the call to the ACD. Agents log in to a special telephone or agent desktop application to signal to the ACD that they are available to accept calls. If the call needs to be transferred to an agent, the ACD delivers the call to the best available agent based on skill, time and place, to reduce average call handling time and improve call resolution. Parameters can be established by the enterprise to help prioritize types of calls, such as who has been waiting the longest and type of service needed. If agents are accepting multiple call types, the call center application alerts them to the type of call being answered. During calls, call center managers can coach agents to provide better customer service.
In an outbound call center, an agent can originate a call from a computer or phone. The call is typically made with an automated dialer. Once the call is connected to a person, the ACD transfers the call to the best available agent, who then gathers information or attempts to sell products and services, such as in telemarketing.
Through a centralized dashboard, contact center managers can monitor agent and call data, and view past interactions. Insights on conversations can help enterprises improve channel performance, call efficiency and the customer experience. Once the call is complete, the ACD system delivers another call to the agent.
How can a call center help my business?
Organizations often look to outsource call center services and solutions because hosting a contact center in a third-party location reduces the need for on-premises hardware and technology upgrades, and increases organizational agility. Third-party call centers can help improve agent efficiency and control infrastructure costs, such as when businesses don’t have the resources or manpower to manage a full-time in-house call center or when employee resources are stretched between managing daily responsibilities and customer calls. Pay-per-seat, new software subscription models and services based on the number of concurrent users allow enterprises to quickly and affordably deploy and scale services on demand.
With their data gathering, tracking and analytical capabilities, contact center platforms and solution components provide enterprises with a holistic view of their customers and their challenges—to deepen customer relationships. Contact centers also allow enterprises to meet their customers in their preferred channel, and take proactive steps to provide personalized support as needs grow.
Cloud-based call center solutions like Verizon Virtual Contact Center are popular because they give enterprises flexibility to scale services with demand and have predictable costs. For example, a retailer that anticipates more call volume during the holiday season could add and pay for extra call center services to handle more calls only during the months that it needs additional help. Cloud-based providers typically charge for staff, access to applications and storage based on the actual services used.
Contact center solutions allow you to stay connected with customers across channels, capture their voice and behavioral trends, and use those insights to improve your business. Because call center solutions gather a lot of information about your customers and their interactions with your company, it’s important to work with a provider that can offer security and network reliability to keep your call center data protected and services up and running. Expertise like Verizon Contact Center Professional Services can help, and can also provide assistance when selecting the services you need at the moment and as your business grows. A robust contact center solution that provides access to the latest tools can make a difference in improving the customer journey and improving business results across your organization.