In today’s omnichannel world of live chat, social media, email, and more, it can be easy to overlook the critical role that phone support still plays for many customers. In fact, phone is still the most common way that customers prefer to contact customer service at a company, according to Benchmark data.

Likewise, the phone also remains an important tool for sales departments at many companies, letting salespeople make outbound calls to deliver the fast, friendly service that turns prospects into customers.

To deliver the high-quality, personalized service that customers expect on the phone, many companies employ a call center.

What is a call center?

A call center is a business operation, either at an on-site location or managed remotely, that is equipped to handle high volumes of customer support or sales calls.

There are two types of call centers, inbound and outbound call centers. A call center may be focused on answering an inbound call for technical support, placing outbound calls to prospective customers, or a mix of the two, depending on the needs of an organization.

A person who works in a call center is known as a call center agent, call center representative or customer service representative. These staff are professionals who are trained to represent their company, or in the case of call center outsourcing, an outside organization.

Call center vs. contact center: What’s the difference?

While a contact center is structured to provide support across multiple channels (phone, email, social media, chat, etc.), a call center operation or call center service is exclusively focused on helping customers on the phone.

A call center representative can work on-site at a company’s facilities, remotely as part of a virtual call center, or as part of a separate organization focused on call center outsourcing. This is commonly known as a business process outsourcer (BPO).

Person wearing a headset with various shapes surrounding

How a call center works

In customer service, call center agents are trained to swiftly manage a large call volume, answering customer questions as they come in, routing them to other individuals or departments, or escalating them for more immediate attention.

A call center agent is often the first person to hear about a customer issue, so they play an integral role in managing customer satisfaction. A successful service representative will focus on solving each customer issue quickly, while following essential call center etiquette techniques that makes customers feel appreciated and cared for. From listening to customers’ problems, respecting their time, and keeping the discussion positive, there are many ways agents help the organization keep customers happy and promote customer retention.

Agents also take advantage of thoughtful scripts that anticipate customer needs and take the guesswork out providing great service and support. The best call center scripts are flexible enough to allow agents to respond and adapt to a customer’s unique needs and situation while arming them with specific ways to reframe negative situations in a positive light or to empathize with the customer.

These customer service skills are critical to the long-term success of the business. As the value of these skills is becoming more widely recognized, the narrative on customer service jobs is changing. More people are making a career in customer service, or using call center jobs as a jumping off point to explore other avenues within a company.

4 steps to build a successful call center

Call centers are complex operations with many moving pieces, but a well-run call center can enhance your customer experience and keep customer satisfaction levels high.

Below are a few steps that can help when setting up a call center operation.

  1. Define your call center structure and team functions

    Managing a call center starts with hiring great people to staff your call center and keep it running smoothly. How you structure your call center will depend on the type of organization and size, but there are a few basic functions that will likely be represented in some capacity, such as call center agent, call center team lead and call center manager. Write clear job descriptions for each role, so you know who is responsible for what on a typical day as well as in a crisis.

  2. Establish key performance indicators (KPIs)

    There are dozens of metrics that companies can use to understand how efficient well its call center is performing, whether it’s answering customer calls, or making outbound calls to prospects. A few of the metrics that a company can consider when managing their call center include hold time, average handle time, and cost per call. By drilling down into the metrics that matter most for a company’s business, a brand can fine tune it’s operations and constantly improve their customer experience.

  3. Improve efficiency with call center software

    Companies often use call center software to not only collect and analyze these metrics, but to make their teams more efficient and productive. Call center software helps agents track and categorize incoming calls, so organizations can look back at the data to make decisions about staffing based on call volume and performance metrics. Many companies also use call center software to let agents tap into other company systems like customer relationship management databases, help desk software, billing systems, and more in one dashboard.

  4. Support your call center employees

    A well-managed call center will also have mechanisms in place to provide ongoing feedback, training and professional development for each call center agent. Using call center software, you can help them understand how they are performing on calls with customers and where they can improve. You should also invest in agent training that helps develop skills like attention to detail, organization, flexibility, creativity, and ability to clearly communicate, all of which can help build a solid call center resume and help them in their career, in the call center and beyond.

Two individuals walking while talking on cell phones

Dial into your customers’ needs

Every phone call matters. Every time a customer service representative responds to an incoming call about a customer issue, and every time a salesperson makes an outbound call to a prospect, you need to show your customer why they should keep doing business with you. The good news is that with the right people, the right processes, and the right tools, it's possible for companies to dial into their customers’ needs and keep them coming back.

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