How to Set Up A Call Center
Processes involved in setting up a Call Center.
Indian corporates are realizing the importance of call centers for a strategic and competitive advantage in sales, marketing and customer support. In the year 2000, about twenty leading companies had set up call centers for customer support and service.
Call Center Performance Parameters
Call centers are defined as operational centers set up to utilize telecommunication and computer technologies to automate various high-volume inbound and/or outbound telephone activities and services. Inbound call centers are typically characterized as cost centers. Outbound call centers are generally characterized as profit centers. These days, call centers are becoming both inbound and outbound by taking advantage of blending technology and hence their characterization into one of the categories is becoming increasingly difficult.
Captive call centers are typically mixed mode centers used for customer support and service. Two primary reasons why captive call centers are implemented are cost reduction and enhanced customer service.
Step 1: Technology Choices
There are two kinds of technologies available for Call Centers—Traditional EPABX based and the Next Generation Server based technology.
Traditional EPABX Based Call Center
Historically, call centers evolved from being a place with just telephone lines landing on agent desks. Then a PBX was added to distribute calls coming on common lines. Over time Predictive Dialers, IVR systems and CTI were added to create a full-fledged call center.
Server Based Call Center
A server based call center integrates all the components of a call center into one server as software components. Server based call centers offer three main advantages:
Dramatically Lower Cost: A server based call center now costs far less, the total cost of ownership being up to one fourth of the traditional architecture (see Table: Total Cost of Ownership). There are two main reasons for this:
Standard hardware and software components rather than proprietary systems.
Call center components are software modules on a common platform thus eliminating expensive and difficult integration due to the need for integrating proprietary systems from different vendors.
Superior Functionality and Smooth Scalability: Server based call centers provide far superior features. The most important aspect of the server based call centers is the flexibility they provide in increasing the scale of operations.
Web Integration, Multi Media Contact: Most of the information delivery is moving towards the web and hence web integration becomes very important for providing good access to customers. The multimedia handling capability of server based systems will become crucial in the coming years as communication will be through rich "Hypermedia", which will seamlessly integrate video, voice and data.
Step 2: Equipment Sizing
Both telecommunication and computer equipment must be sized appropriately to handle call loads projected for a call center. A certain number of incoming PSTN trunks will be required to handle a specific load. PBX/ACD and IVR units must have an appropriate number of ports to receive incoming trunks and additional ports to handle internal agent lines. Computer networks must handle an appropriate number of network connections. Appropriate sizing of each of these components is essential for efficient call center implementation and operation. The figure below provides a schematic diagram of typical call center components and the relationship of performance parameters. Incoming calls land on the call center through one of the P ports and are handled by the call center. From the call center queue the calls can be sent to any of the I IVR ports, back to the queue and to any of the N Agents as desired. Server based call center architectures are generally non-blocking, hence the complexity is reduced to estimating the call load, which is used to derive the number of PSTN ports required. A general rule of thumb is that the ratio of PSTN ports to number of agents for effective agent utilization should be between 1.5 to 2.
Telecommunications equipment is generally sized based on peak loads and desired performance levels. Various formulas and queuing algorithms are used to determine line and port configurations for incoming call center operations. These models are based on performance parameters including:
Blocking levels – the number of callers who get a busy signal in a specified period of time
Queue times – the length of time a caller is held in queue prior to connecting with an agent
IVR time – the length of time required to complete an IVR portion of a script
Agent time – the length of time required to complete an agent portion of a script
Re-dial rates – the percentage of blocked callers who re-dial within a peak hour
Average number of calls per month
Number of calls during a peak hour
Call Center Performance Parameters
Peak call volumes are traditionally used for equipment sizing. However, forecasting these peak call load conditions is an art as well as a science. A number of peak load situations may actually occur in an operation, all of which must be considered when developing loading models.
New Call Center Sites: Lack of Call Data
In case existing call center data is not available, then three general approaches to estimating and sizing the call center are used, all of which are necessary to make informed decisions.
Forecasting: Forecasting involves getting data that will help predict what may happen, frommarketing forecasts to experiences other organizations have had.
Modeling: The second approach is modeling or running "what if" scenarios. This involves calculating the resources required to handle different possible workloads and the range of resources at stake when making these decisions.
Contingency Planning: If the workload turns out to be much less or much more than you predicted, well…what can you do about it? And how fast? What price will you and your customers pay if you’re overstaffed? Understaffed? What downside are you most willing to live with?
How to Set Up A Call Center
Step 3: Call Center Location—Telecommunications Issues
There are some telecommunications issues to be considered when deciding upon acall center location.
PSTN service provider support and availability of current technologies
Does the local exchange provide digital links or just analog? This may be an important issue when scaling up the operation.
Possible use of existing equipment
In case there is a sizeable investment in PBX and telephone lines then can they be effectively used in the call center environment?
Potential for redundancy in the network
Can the PSTN service provider give routing from two different exchanges to increase reliability? This is critical in the Indian environment where exchange failures happen, and the snapping of links is a daily phenomenon.
Two important issues, which are often not given due importance in equipment selection, are Agent Computer Monitors and Agent Headsets.
Step 4: Operational Issues
The operational issues in a call center include facility design, staffing and workforce management, employee motivation and training, performance management and utilization for cross selling.
Call center development will, in many cases, require the design of new facilities or redesign of the existing facilities. In either case, it is important to create a well thought out facility plan, with process work flows and employee satisfaction being two important criteria in the design.
Staffing and workforce management
Managing staffing may be particularly challenging in an incoming call center. Periods for peak claim loads may generally be identified through call volume statistics. However, the exact volume of calls that might arrive at any point in time is unknown. Optimizing the number of staff available to deal with these unknown volumes, particularly during peaks, is critical.
Employee motivation and training
Several issues are associated with employees and human resources during call center implementation. Employee satisfaction with working conditions and environment must certainly be considered in order to retain a motivated, well-trained workforce.
Tracking call center performance
It is essential to establish and track call center performance. Criteria that should be benchmarked and measured are: abandonment rates, numbers of calls handled by each call center agent, average speed of answer and/or wait times, average time of each call (by agent) and percentage of blocked calls (busy). Although these goals should be closely monitored, it should be stressed that quality customer service is much more important than achieving these goals.
Cross selling services
Call centers that consistently cross-sell at every opportunity can quickly become a profit center as opposed to a cost-center. Eachtime a call center agent successfully resolves a customer issue is the time to probe for a cross-sell opportunity.