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What is a Call Center? A Modern Primer

Call centers are offices staffed with representatives who either make or receive phone calls.

Call centers employ many staff in customer service, sales and support functions.

Call Center Introduction

A call center is an office where a company’s inbound calls are received, or outbound calls are made. Call centers are increasingly popular in today’s society, where many companies have centralized customer service and support functions. Call centers employ many staff in customer service, sales and support functions.

Call centers are often large offices staffed with representatives who either make or receive phone calls. Depending on the size of the call center, a single office could have anywhere from a few dozen to hundreds of telephone staff. Depending on the needs of the company, call centers can make either incoming or outgoing calls, or both.

Some call centers focus on answering inbound calls, such as a bank that gives out a toll-free number for customers needing assistance. In that case, call center representatives can give account balances and take loan applications over the phone. Other call centers focus on outbound calls, such as a survey company. In that case, survey representatives make outbound calls to ask people to answer survey questions over the phone.

Almost every company or enterprise has a need for call center. Call centers provide a number of advantages to companies. By centralizing telephone-based service and support in one location, companies can easily adjust staffing to match call volume. Call centers can be located almost anywhere, allowing companies to take advantage of time zones and cheaper labor rates in different states and countries. Call centers also centralize the technology needs of companies, allowing major telecommunications setups to be installed in a small handful of call centers instead of a number of smaller offices, making upgrades and training easier to complete.

Inbound and Outbound Call Management

Many call centers use a number of different technologies to help improve performance and customer experience. Inbound call centers often use automatic call distribution (ACD), in which incoming calls are assigned to representatives on the order they are received, or assigned based on their skills.

Inbound call centers also use a technology called Interactive Voice Response (IVR), in which an automated recorded voice presents a menu to the caller to choose from by dialing numbers or speaking the choice.

Outbound call centers may use Dialer technologies. Dialers can automate the outbound dialing for representatives in which a list of telephone numbers are entered into the Dialer, and Dialer will dial those numbers automatically either after the agent has completed the previous call, or continue dialing the numbers on the list until a number answers and while the representative is waiting, in which case the Dialer automatically connects the answered call to the representative.

Workforce Optimization (WFO) and Workforce Management (WFM)

Call centers usually utilize call recording and monitoring (WFO), in which customer calls are recorded and monitored by quality assurance staff to ensure that phone representatives meet customer needs. Quality assurance and agent performance scoring are critical functions in improving the performance of call center representatives. There are software technologies and applications, called workforce management (WFM), used to effectively schedule call center agents based on the volume of calls during the day, week or month. This schedule management will prevent over- or under-staffing the call center.

Other technologies, such as Performance Management (CCPM), are available to call center managers to define their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), measure, report and manage the performance of their agents and call centers. In recent years industry vendors have provided to call center software technologies that can perform speech and/or text analytics. Analytics technologies can assist in automating and optimizing work required to monitor, measure and qualify call center transactions and/or agent interactions with customers.

The collection of all of the above technologies, called Workforce Optimization (WFO) and Workforce Management (WFM), can be used to automate and optimize the call center transactions, functions, customer interactions and quality-compliance management. Call center technology evolves constantly, helping call center staff assist customers more efficiently and effectively.

Hierarchy of Call Center and Enterprise Technologies

Multiple categories make up today's complex call center environment.

From connecting to the outside world, to customer support programs, call centers are a vital part of modern business.

Call Center Outsourcing

Call centers have been increasingly popular as outsourcing increases. With outsourcing, companies contract out some functions to other companies. As it can be expensive to maintain call center equipment and staff, some companies choose to outsource their telephone functions to an external call center. In this case, external call center staff can be trained to answer phone calls from a number of different companies.

 

Evolution of the phone: Why the phone lies at the heart of business

 

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Contact Center and Teleservice Money Saving Tips

Contact Center Agent

High attrition rates in the contact center are a major concern.

There are many ways you can save money in a contact center environment. The tools available today that can lower costs have a profound effect on your bottom line. Workforce Optimization (WFO) solutions have been around for a while, and along with implementing technologies such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) into your contact center, they can really save you money. Here are a few money-saving tips to consider.

Save on Contact Center Telecom Costs with VoIP

Many companies are investigating VoIP to save on telecom costs. VoIP can help eliminate conventional landlines, and it is significantly cheaper than placing your calls through traditional telephone service providers. Overall, implementing VoIP can be relatively simple if you’re looking for a hosted service. VoIP providers handle all the infrastructure offsite, delivering calls to your phones and software clients.

The alternative is to implement a self-hosted, on-site VoIP system. No matter which option you choose, an IP-based, VoIP-friendly version of the PBX phone systems that many offices use is required to route your calls to the appropriate phones on your network. Vendors such as OnviSource can help you decide on the correct configuration for your needs such as a device called a PSTN (public switched telephone network) gateway. The PSTN gateway sits between the IP-PBX software and the analog signals of the PSTN and converts calls to and from digital signals. The benefits of both VoIP options are lower costs and easy configuration management.

Managing Your Contact Center Workforce

One of the biggest cost centers for any company is its labor force. The contact center is no different and having the right staff in place at the right time is not only cost efficient but also contributes to a better overall customer experience. Implementing workforce management (WFM) software allows you to plan more accurately and develop a positive work environment for your agents by taking into account their availability, skills, level of seniority and earned time off. This contributes to a drop in absenteeism and retention rate improvements. WFM has a direct impact on lowering the attrition rate and can also improve agent inefficiency, and minimize idle time.

Workforce optimization software is another essential and money saving contact center tool that has been around for a long time. The basic starting point when using workforce optimzation is call recording. Call recording is a valuable component because it can help you get the most out of your human resources by evaluating and optimizing the performance of your people. Monitoring their daily customer interactions ensures a consistent message and adherence to internal call processes. Call recording can be used as a real world training tool.  Evaluating and playing back recorded calls helps teach and assist new or low performing agents in proper call handling and policy adherence. Call recording may even be mandatory as many organizations are required to record all transactions including telesales, debt collection, finance and banking.  As regulations and consumer demand continue to increase, this requirement will become even more necessary and valuable.

Recording calls isn’t enough. You need a tool to help you evaluate them for quality assurance, making sure your agents are doing a good job. Listening to every call is near impossible if your time is limited, especially if you operate a contact center with many agents. Using a software tool for Quality Assurance (QA) allows you to regularly monitor, support, and give your agent’s with feedback and training to assure and maintain high standards. Bonus and incentive programs can be based on QA scores based on how agents handle calls and their overall performance.

Of course automating the entire QA process will not only save you time, but also eliminate the need for additional personnel engaged in the QA process. When you have the ability to measure and score every interaction, agent performance can be actively measured.

Automated analytics is one of the fastest growing segments of the contact center technology market. Speech analytics and other analytics tools are appealing because they allow companies to take action using unstructured data from customer interactions to gain new insight about their customers.

When used to evaluate agent performance and adherence to internal and external policies and processes, analytics software can give you a significant competitive advantage. A realistic return on investment (ROI) for a speech analytics solution can be as little as six months (up to 18 months).

Voice Messaging can also lower costs by reducing the need for live answer. For example, by front ending calls with voice mail, basic inquiries for information such as office hours can be answered automatically. Voice messaging can increase productivity, improve internal communication, enhance customer service, and reduce message-taking costs. Using a voice-message system ensures accurate messages, reduces the need for live message taking, and frees users from time zone dependency. A properly implemented voice messaging system can leave a positive first and lasting impression on callers.

Improving Contact Center Cash Management and Flexibility

Finally, contact centers of all sizes can improve their cash management and create flexibility by using a vendor with varied payment options. Leasing can help businesses preserve cash flow by making predictable and affordable payments, freeing up capital that would otherwise be tied up. For example, a large contact center chooses a three-year lease instead of purchasing IT and office equipment. Instead of paying $100,000 up front, the company will pay $85,000 over three years. By working with a vendor that is accustomed to lease agreements, purchasers can obtain leases that are structured to preserve their cash and create financial flexibility.  Lease to buy programs are also potential money saving options worth investigating.

Every business has unique operating circumstances, so make sure you select a vendor that can offer multiple payment options and delivery methods. This should include premise based, software and equipment purchases, cloud based solutions and even outsourcing services.

Leading Reasons for Call Center Agent Attrition

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