Customer service is a critical aspect of any business, but sometimes managing the phones can become a burden that undercuts daily operations. When answering phones, email messages and customer inquiries becomes a hindrance to operations, it might be time to partner with a call center or answering service. These services enable businesses to outsource their communications management for a fraction of the cost of hiring additional staff.
Call centers and answering services often do more than just answer phone calls; in fact, many are rebranding as "contact centers" to reflect this evolution. Many of these services manage every communication channel, including phone lines, email, social media and live web chat. Many will also manage customer orders and engage in advanced services like customer retention and loyalty programs or market research. This guide will help you understand the variety of call center services available and determine which one is right for your business in 2019.buerbey
Answering Services vs. Call Center Services
While they sound similar, there are significant differences between call center services and answering services. Knowing the differences will help you choose the right type of company for your business. Note that some companies maintain both answering and call center services.
Already know everything you need to know about call center services? Visit Business News Daily's best picks page to see our recommendations and take a look at our call center service reviews.
Call center services are broad and general. They usually maintain a large number of employees and tend to field a higher volume of calls. They can serve almost any industry, compiling orders, offering customer support and sending the relevant information back to their clients. These services can typically function with a general script and basic information about the client's business. Call center services usually archive orders and interactions, and then send the information as part of a report to the client. One example of a business that might employ a call center is a retailer.
Answering services, on the other hand, are usually much smaller and often handle complex, specialized tasks. They generally serve specific vertical markets that require a more intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the client's business. Answering services are best equipped to deal with specific industries that might require critical thinking and decision-making. Sometimes, answering services engage in time-sensitive or highly personalized functions. Oftentimes, they immediately relay individual calls to the client. An example of a business that might employ an answering service is a medical practice.
Why Employ a Call Center Service?
Businesses might employ a call center for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they are unable to deliver quality customer service over the phone due to a growing volume of calls, or maybe manning the phone lines is diminishing the quality of employees' other projects. In other cases, call centers can simply do more to help grow a business than in-house staff can manage.
The ultimate benefit of hiring a call center service is to free up your staff members so they can focus on your business's productivity rather than fielding calls. Many call centers are available 24/7 if necessary, allowing your customers to get in touch the moment any issue arises. A call center service can add a level of professionalism to your small business's brand without the costly creation of your own customer service team. Finally, call center services often offer lead generation and sales services that can help a growing business thrive while its full-time employees focus on day-to-day operations.
When you hire a call center service, you'll usually be asked to provide the company with a script and as much information as you deem necessary for its representatives to best serve your customers. Some services record phone calls so you can review them for quality assurance. Other services even provide you with daily reports detailing how many calls were fielded and which issues they involved. When you're selecting a service, it's important to find out how well and how often the service intends to keep you in the loop, as you will want to monitor the company's performance closely.
What to Look for in a Call Center Service
Call center services might seem similar on the surface, but the details of each company's offerings can vary quite widely. Once you start asking specific questions, the differences among the companies will become more apparent. To find out which vendor is right for your business, here are a few questions to ask yourself and features to look for in a call center service.
International vs. U.S.-Based Call Centers
Where your call center service company is headquartered, as well as where its agents are located, is one of the first things you should identify. Offshore call centers are typically more cost-effective, but they offer fewer services and their agents typically have heavy accents that some of your customers might have a hard time understanding.
Domestic call centers tend to offer more complete services (for example, lead generation for building a larger customer base), but their native English-speaking agents and software-centric models often mean their prices are higher.
For some companies, an offshore call center might be appropriate, but many prefer domestic call centers. For that reason, we've focused on domestic call centers in our review. However, if your needs are rather basic and you're unconcerned about accents, an offshore call center could be a good way to keep costs down.
Inbound and Outbound Services
A major function of call center services is to answer customers' questions about your business's products or services. Call centers can often provide information or technical support, as well as take orders and process payments over the phone. Many will also dispatch calls to you in the event a customer needs to speak directly with someone inside the company. All of these services fall under the umbrella of inbound services.
Some call centers also offer outbound services, which include lead generation, such as cold calling and compiling survey data. These services can also include follow-ups with previous customers to ensure their satisfaction or to further encourage a successful conversion. Some call centers conduct feedback surveys or engage in customer win-back attempts when you've lost someone's business. Traditionally, call centers were viewed as a necessary expense to preserve existing relationships, but when you consider these additional functions, call centers can actually broaden your customer base, forge new relationships and bring in more money.
Not every business needs both inbound and outbound services, so consider your business's requirements. Once you know exactly what you need, ask each call center service which inbound and outbound services it offers.
Dedicated and/or Shared Agents?
The best call center services offer both dedicated and shared agents. Dedicated agents are assigned only to your account, giving your company their full time and attention. This is best for businesses with specific, detailed needs that demand familiarity and consistency from their agents.
For companies with more general needs, a shared agent might be more appropriate. These agents handle multiple clients of the call center and don't necessarily answer your business's calls 100% of the time. These services are often cheaper and still effective for companies that don't require specific attention day in and day out.
Some companies offer a semi-dedicated model, which blends cost-effectiveness with specialized attention. These agents usually handle one or two accounts in addition to yours, instead of a full slate. This means that, while they are not solely focused on your company, their attention is less divided. These agents are often cheaper than dedicated agents but more expensive than shared agents. This model is relatively rare, but it offers a great balance between cost and quality.
A call center will be dealing directly with your customers, meaning it could have great influence over how they perceive your business. Reports offer you a window into the day-to-day operations of the call center service you've hired.
But not all reporting is created equal. Some companies only offer basic summaries of how many calls they made or received in a given time period, while others give you access to real-time data analytics and even record the audio of calls for review in case something goes wrong. Before you sign up with a call center service, it's important to know how transparent and forthcoming it will be and what you can expect from the company's self-reporting.
Call Center Availability
Another important question to ask is how often agents at the call center are available. Good services have 24/7/365 availability for your customers. Some call centers even offer disaster recovery services, meaning they can take over completely if your own phone lines go down in an emergency. Selecting a service that is always available and very reliable should be a major focus for your business.
Minimum Monthly Call Volume
Some call center services require a minimum call volume. These services might not be suitable for a small company that doesn't expect many customer service calls or intend to make many outbound calls. For a larger company or one that relies heavily on phone contact with customers, these services might make more sense. Try to accurately gauge your call volume and estimate how many agents you might need before searching for a call center service. This is especially important for pricing, since some call centers charge for a package of minutes rather than by the month.
How the Company Handles Outages
Call centers are an integral component of many businesses. Downtime can seriously harm your business if your customers can't get through to the call center. You'll want to partner with a call center that is dependable, with reliable redundancy and a solid disaster-recovery plan so that an outage doesn't cripple your productivity.
Particularly if your business has an international audience, you'll want to partner with a call center that has fluent speakers of multiple languages on staff. Many call centers offer Spanish-speaking services, and others even offer a wide array of languages. If you need a multilingual service, be sure to ask upfront which languages or translation services the call center can provide for you. Ask if these services cost extra; sometimes Spanish but no other language support will be included in the package, for example.
Ready to choose a call center service? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:
- Best Call Center Services
- Best Overall Call Center Service
- Best Inbound Call Center Service
- Best Outbound Call Center Service
- Best Call Center Services for Low-Volume Businesses
- Best Answering Service Overall
- Best Answering Service for Medical Practices
- Best Pay-As-You-Go Answering Service
Editor's note: If you're looking for information to help you choose the call center that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our vendor partners provide you with free information.