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A Call center is an area where several customer service representative agents are located to manage a bank of telephones and computer terminals. These agents are specially trained on telephone etiquette, the type of customer queries, that may arise and on how to respond to these queries in a quick and efficient manner.
A Call center can also equipped with an automatic call handling system like an Interactive Voice Response system (IVR) so that all routine, repetitive queries can be answered by the system with out the customer having to speak to a CSR agent.
Call center has tremendous impact on business. Call centers for selling goods and services, as well as call centers for providing customer care, is going to become a familiar part of the business of virtually every person.
Call centers also pioneered the development of self-service via the telephone, using interactive voice response technology. It is providing a richer and friendlier environment for self-service transactions than the tone telephone.
Location, Hardware and software
A BPO is a set -up around Information Technology and Manpower. Therefore, the pre-requisites for BPO business are different from typical land, building and machinery required for a traditional industry.
The following are the pre-requisites for setting up a BPO business unit.
A proper area like an office (air-conditioned) which has basic set -up like workstations (tables-chairs et c. ) and electric connections with proper lighting. A rough estimate for space needed is to have average 45 sq. ft. per employee. Computer and Server set-up including various software.
Call Center location should be
Local and long distance carries support and availability of current technologies.
Possible use of existing equipment.
Potential for redundancy in network.
Current telecommunications infrastructure.
Distance from corporate computing systems.
These are key equipment and would need to be set -up as per specifications of the customer. This would include desktops, servers, routers, switches, racks, data storage and firewalls. The software would include operating systems, process soft ware and database systems. The server will need to be kept in an air-conditioned and secure server room. Broadband Connectivity, preferably a leased line. It is imperative t o have continuous connectivity to get her with a back-up in case the main like goes down. Generally, a leased line is the main set -up and back is provided with Broadband.
It is necessary to have continuous availability of power to run the business. At least one IT technician/engineer for each shift Since t he set -up would be fully based on IT systems, it is critical to have availability of IT engineer full time so as t o reduce down time as much as possible and also to maintain the set-up in proper condition.At least one person wit h managerial skills (Senior Team Leader) for each shift.
The key to success lies in managing the teams of people which will have issues of working at odd hours, pressures of performance and monotony of t he work being done. Therefore, a senior person wit h leadership and managerial capabilities is needed to manage the business.
Educated workforce young people ready to work in shifts. Without educated workforce (higher secondary school, at least ), no process can be carried out. Therefore, availability of such manpower and t heir willingness to work in such an industry are critical. Also, t he success of business is dependent on t he t raining and therefore people wit h basic education are required so that they can be properly trained. In most cases, English language skills, at least good reading and writing skills in English language. Most of t he out sourcing comes from US & UK and therefore the language of process is English. It may be necessary t o t rain t he employees in t he language before t hey go for training in t he computers or t he out sourced process itself.
Answering Service Software:
Answering service software is software that provides answering service systems to customers
Telephone Answering Service Applications includes
IVR Outsourcing Services
Customer Surveys & Loyalty Programs
800 Service Voice Mail
ACD (Automated Call Distribution)
ACD facilitates controlling the distribution of telephone calls coming into the department. ACD systems are call routing utilities for incoming calls and can be even used to route calls originated by the predictive dialer to the next available agent. The staff log in/out of the ACD system as they are available, and the system answers the calls and distributes them. When staff are unavailable, the ACD systems holds a call in queue and then forwards it to the first available staff member.
Automatic call distribution is ideal for areas where multiple staff answers a high volume of calls e.g.
Properly managing calls can be key in providing excellent customer service, and the ACD system provides the tools needed to optimally manage incoming calls.
Some of the tools an ACD systems offers are:
â€¢ Call Type Priority
The organization can customize the way its staff answers calls using several variables, including the caller's location (on-campus or off-campus, local or long distance) or the purpose of the call (help assistance, appointment scheduling).
â€¢ Customizable Queue
The organization can record Custom Announcements that callers hear when their call is answered or while they are waiting in the queue. It can also add the Music on Hold feature.
â€¢ Training Supervision
Supervisors can monitor calls to support employees and evaluate performance.
â€¢ Call Metrics
The system can capture call statistics (e.g., call volume, length of calls, time in queue, etc.) on a scheduled or an ad hoc basis, allowing further managing the staffing and calling flow.
Almost any business can benefit from an ACD system but they are particularly useful to customer service centers, inbound service bureaus (that may be handling infomercials or direct marketing campaigns) and government agencies.
Call Center PBX
PBX is an acronym for polymer bonded explosives. It is also called private branch exchange. It is a small telephone system within a call center that switches calls between call center agents on local lines allowing all users to share a certain number of external phone lines. The main purpose of the PBX system is to save the cost of requiring the number of telephone lines used in an enterprise.
Telephone trunk (multiple phone) lines that terminate at the PBX
A computer with memory that manages the switching of the calls within the PBX and in and out of it
The network of lines within the PBX
Usually a console or switchboard for a human operator
Features of PBX
Even load distribution
Skill based call routing
Self managed agent presence
Call waiting signals
Custom on hold information
Real time monitoring
Functions of PBX
PBX performs three main functions:
Establishing connections (circuits) between the telephone sets of two users.
Maintaining such connections as long as the users require them.
Providing information for accounting purposes
Call Recording & Call Monitoring Solutions
Call recording and monitoring solutions help to train the agents and improve customer service. They are designed to be a complete call center solution including Predictive Dialing, ACD, IVR, and Digital Voice Recording.
Call recording plays a significant role in the call centers and help monitor agent performance while performing quality assurance tasks. Order entry verification and confirmation can be easily accomplished when the calls are recorded. Call centers can thus, record and retrieve phone conversations in real time. The recording can be customized to meet virtually any set of business rules.
The call recording and monitoring systems are very scalable and flexible Windows-based voice recorders live monitoring and archiving systems. Besides being fully prepared for all current and future needs, they offer superior voice recording quality and huge recording capacity by effectively using this software system the organizations can manage:
Complete contact management
The features of call recording and call monitoring can also be added to the Computer Telephony (CTI) Soft phone and API library, allowing application programmers to embed call recording and retrieval features in existing PC, Linux/Unix, or Web applications. Call recording can thus, be a standard feature within any existing application that requires a phone interface.
Features of Call Recording and Monitoring Solutions
Call Center recording, logging and monitoring
Quality and service assurance
Verbal transaction recording:
agent training and efficiency improvements
follow up information
Financial and stock dealing
Telephone order applications
Superior voice recording quality
Encrypted and access secured voice file storage and playback
Fully configurable recording parameters
Built in phone book with import facility for your relational database
Local and/or LAN/WAN call playback and monitoring
Advanced user, application and security / access management
Automatic multiple hard disk content and capacity management
Extensive search, filter and storage marking capabilities
Call Track Software
Call Tracking Software is software that automates the process of receiving and responding to customer phone calls.
Benefits of Call Tracking Software
Effectively eliminate calls from falling through the cracks and reduce the number of unresolved calls
Log calls easily through a Windows interface or Web interface.
Increase service levels by resolving calls faster.
Decrease the number of calls received by your call center.
Provide 24/7 customer support.
Automatically escalate issues or notify agents of important changes or details.
Provide faster response time to customer calls.
Communication software is software that makes it possible to send and receive data. It is also called AT Command Set. It is a powerful software infrastructure solution that offers end to end communication needs.
It coordinates the information flow between interconnected components in the multitude of networks that are ubiquitous in life: the Internet, the telephone network, wireless systems and pagers, banking networks, distributed databases, etc. It also allows call center agents to operate efficiently through convenient and reliable Internet access to the information and applications they need.
Communication Software includes:
Instant messaging is the act of instantly communicating between two or more people over a network such as the Internet.
Electronic mail, abbreviated e-mail or email, is a method of composing, sending, and receiving messages over electronic communication systems.
Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) is the advanced technology that serves as the focal point of the working of modern call centers. It integrates the organization's computer and telephone systems and the facilitates effective applications to make every phone call, inbound and outbound.
Features of CTI Software
Launch PC/WEB applications - Specific PC, Unix or Web applications can be automatically launched using the telephony software based upon data provided by your phone system.
Caller Identification (Caller ID or ANI) - Information from the existing caller database appears on-screen when the telephone rings and remains on the screen during the call.
Called Number Identification (DNIS) - With each call, special campaign information can be displayed from the application based upon the number dialed by the caller.
Vital information collected by the phone system from the caller can be passed to the application. The computer telephony integration software manages this process and free agents to be more productive.
Any phone number can be pointed or clicked in the computer database or Soft phone. The telephone then dials the call - a must for maximizing the productivity of outbound telemarketing or call center service desks.
CTI software system allows to generate real time reports and graphs. This important measuring system helps you observe and control the performance of call center and phone system with clear and meaningful displays. Graphs and charts of operational statistics let you measure the effectiveness of each user and campaign. Reports and graphs include both inbound and outbound statistics.
I.T and telecom linkage and network architecture:
People, competencies, Training and development
Ongoing staff development and training
Ongoing training is an important part of achieving best practice within a Call Centre. Adequate time should be given for ongoing training, which ultimately leads to the delivery of service excellence and maximum customer satisfaction. As an example, Maroochy Shire Council allocates one day per week to training, with sessions varying from a half day to a full day depending on the subject matter. Ideally, at least half a day should be spent on the training of staff every two weeks. Refresher training also needs to be considered as part of the ongoing training strategy.
Key areas for ongoing training should include:
â€¢ Customer service;
â€¢ Negotiation skills;
â€¢ Product knowledge and systems training;
â€¢ Policy and procedures;
â€¢ Call handling techniques;
â€¢ Stress management.
Team leaders, in particular, need to develop specific Call Centre management skills in quality assurance, performance management, staff motivation and the efficient use of technology.
It is important that Call Centres critically re-examine the success of the overall training strategy on a regular basis, to determine whether they have achieved the desired results.
While training is often considered a cost, its importance in maintaining quality standards within a Call Centre cannot be overstated. Best practice Call Centres regard regular, ongoing training as a high priority.
Industry trends now focus on moving Call Centres towards competency-based progression. This is an important part of the process of ensuring that overall performance and service standards are maintained. The progression of a Customer Service Officer (CSO) to the next salary level is contingent upon the acquisition of skills appropriate to the position. The added skills acquired by the CSOs result in a multi-skilled staff. Competency-based assessment is necessary for competency-based progression to be implemented. The assessment is generally carried out through observation of calls (monitoring / double jacking), efficiency tests such as keyboard assessment and accuracy of inputting and the achievement of positive ratings for call quality assessments and call handling.
The move away from employing full-time, permanent staff is another key trend in Call Centres. Employment options include the use of permanent part-time and casual staff. A pool of genuine casuals will also provide a Call Centre with greater resourcing flexibility, particularly during peak periods or unplanned events. Call Centres also need to be aware, however, that regularly using casuals for specific times and days of the week may imply permanency. As a guide, hours of employment for casuals should always vary.
The employment of casuals can ultimately lead to offers of permanent employment, based on the casual staff members' performance and their suitability for permanent positions.
Recruitment and selection enhancements
Once an initial recruitment and selection process has been designed and utilised, the effectiveness of the process will need to be reviewed. Indications that a recruitment and selection process may need refining include selecting staff unsuited to the specific environment, a lack of team harmony, poor levels of productivity and staff turnover levels in excess of 20 per cent.
To improve the recruitment process more specific role-play tests may need to be developed, the selection pool of candidates may need to be widened, and profiling of candidates may need to take place through the use of structured tests to assess the extent of a candidate's customer service orientation.
In addition, exit interviews can be used to provide a profile of those staff who leave the Call Centre to compare them to high performers who remain, using an established customer service inventory with recognised validity and reliability levels. Information obtained from exit interviews can be used to improve current workforce management practices.
Performance Measurement and Reporting
Two groups of measurements should be considered in analysing the relative efficiency and effectiveness of a Call Centre. These measurements are call metrics and customer satisfaction levels.
Industry standards for call metrics within Call Centres are as follows:
â€¢ 80 per cent of calls answered within 20 seconds;
â€¢ Average call wait time is 20 seconds or less;
â€¢ Call abandonment rate of less than five per cent;
â€¢ 99 per cent overall CSO availability;
â€¢ 95 per cent first call resolution at first contact.
Comp Standard Productivity Measures
â€¢ First-call completion rates;
â€¢ Average speed of answer;
â€¢ Percentage of calls answered within X seconds;
â€¢ CSO talk time, wrap time;
â€¢ Percentage of time CSO is on calls, on hold, on idle, and available;
â€¢ Total number of calls handled for the day, week, month, year;
â€¢ Number of calls transferred;
â€¢ Number and percentage of calls abandoned.
The main focus of these productivity measures is to ensure that call transactions are handled efficiently, which ultimately contributes to excellence in service delivery. Too often Call Centres focus on productivity measures without considering the qualitative aspects of service delivery.
Two other important performance measures are cost-per-transaction and revenue-per-CSO (if applicable). Many Call Centres are unable to identify accurately the cost-per-transaction because of organisational reporting practices. The use of activity-based costing will enable a Call Centre to identify both fixed and variable costs that are directly applicable to the operation of the Call Centre.
Individual performance management
Measuring individual CSO productivity is a cornerstone of effective service delivery, but care must be taken that excessive performance management does not lead to staff perceptions that they are merely battery hens producing results in an automatic fashion. Performance measures are important, but they can also have a negative impact on staff morale and overall CSO productivity.
Call Centres often focus on measuring individual productivity by analysing the average number of calls per hour and per day, a threshold percentage of clerical work in relation to actual calls, and average call transaction time (talk time and after work wrap up time). However, call monitoring can also provide a good indication of the overall quality of customer interactions taking place on a one-to-one basis.
Call-back evaluations, customer surveys and call monitoring, as well as monthly statistics, will provide CSOs with direct feedback about their performance.
Furthermore, both progressive and annual staff appraisals should be linked to performance-based pay. Annual bonuses for teams and individuals that are linked to the achievement of Call Centre KPI's should be considered.
Other performance indicators
There are other performance indicators a Call Centre should track that can indicate additional issues relating to performance. Such indicators include staff turnover, average length of tenure, absenteeism levels and staff satisfaction levels.
Obtaining feedback on staff satisfaction levels (commonly known as organisational climate surveys) can be achieved by developing structured questionnaires tailored to suit the Call Centre's specific environment. This type of survey can indicate staff satisfaction levels with management practices, such as performance feedback, supervision levels and the overall effectiveness of the rewards and recognition program.
Improving CSO performance
Improving individual performance can be achieved through the use of various training strategies, including one-to-one on-the-job training.
Many telephone systems now have remote (silent) call monitoring facilities so assessors can listen to calls without the knowledge of the CSO, in order to assess the quality of service provided by the Call Centre. This facility helps reduce the bias normally associated with the process of monitoring known as double jacking, where the call assessor sits side-by-side with the consultant.
Double jacking can be a useful tool in training new staff. It requires the use of a double headset so that the coach or team leader can also listen to the calls. The coach or team leader generally sits next to the CSO and observes at least five to 10 calls. Feedback is given after each call, to help CSOs improve their call-handling techniques. Further training issues may also be identified during the double jacking session.
Regular double jacking, perhaps one hour per month, along with call quality observations, can lead to increased service standards.
An important part of overall performance management within a Call Centre is to report on what has been achieved. The KPI's that are set when a Call Centre is first established will provide a benchmark to help analyse performance. Over time, an improvement in performance should be noticed.
Call Centre performance against KPI's should be recorded on a weekly and monthly basis. The standards set should be reviewed quarterly to determine whether the standards are still relevant or need adjusting.
The importance of setting realistic performance measures and attainable targets cannot be stressed enough. If targets are set too high, there will be frustration in not being able to achieve them. If targets are set too low, then complacency and over-confidence may diminish results. The challenge is to find the right balance between call quality and call quantity.
Quality Assurance and Performance Management
Industry trends suggest that Call Centres are focusing much more attention on implementing quality assurance practices within their Call Centres, so that customer satisfaction levels remain a primary focus.
Specific quality assurance practices are identified that will contribute to the overall achievement of service excellence. Specific practices discussed include call monitoring, customer call-backs, mystery calling, benchmarking and processes and procedures.
Many Call Centres have introduced call-monitoring strategies to ensure that quality standards are maintained when providing appropriate information to customers and to measure the quality of customer interaction. Given the increasing use of part-time staff and the hiring of new staff, call monitoring can assist in the identification of specific training needs.
The actual process of call monitoring can be carried out either through double jacking, silent call monitoring or the use of automatic call recording equipment.
Call monitoring is a useful tool for coaching staff to improve performance. However, if it is used as a disciplinary or negative performance management tool, it may result in feelings of mistrust and suspicion by staff. The primary purpose of call monitoring should be its value as a development tool. This must be clearly communicated to staff.
The Call Centre manager and team leaders should carry out 10 call observations a month for each staff member.
The following table presents a checklist of key dimensions that can be used as a basis for call monitoring.
Checklist of Key Dimensions for Call Monitoring
1. Initial greeting;
2. Customer acknowledgment;
3. Use of courteous statements;
4. Displayed empathy;
5. Kept customer informed when keying in;
6. Listened effectively;
7. Quality of voice tone and pitch;
8. Effective use of questions;
9. Use of positive words;
10. Reaffirmed call outcomes / action;
11. Ending of call - additional help / thanked;
12. Call resolution / outcome;
13. Overall professionalism.
Whether the Call Centre is service orientated or sales orientated or a combination of both, effective ongoing cost management is required. This section addresses the major operating costs, potential cost impacts, equipment upgrades and strategies to reduce the cost of transactions.
Operational budget requirements
One of the most significant operating costs of a Call Centre is staffing, which tends to be about 65 per cent of the overall budget. Other expenses include network costs (18 per cent), equipment costs (eight per cent) and facility costs (seven per cent) (Gartner Group, 1997).
The significant ongoing expenditure on staffing includes recruitment and training (estimated to be approximately $12,000 per seat), and salaries. In addition to base salaries, there are on-costs of about 30 per cent (superannuation, leave etc.).
Potential cost impacts
Once operational budgets have been established, unforeseen events may occur that will require increased resources. Organisations need to recognise the impact that major operational issues have on the overall operating budget.
Such examples include:
The introduction of a new or upgraded computer system;
â€¢ New marketing campaigns;
â€¢ Crises events or unpredicted demand;
â€¢ System issues;
â€¢ Relocation due to Call Centre growth.
These events typically lead to increased expenditure in staffing, network and training costs. In particular, the costs involved with relocation can be considerable when the fit out, upgrade of furniture and equipment and the planning and coordination of the move itself are taken into account.
Future capital requirements for the Call Centre also need to be considered. Capital investments in more sophisticated technology will require a business case that outlines the potential cost savings to be achieved, efficiency gains and an overall return on investment.
In addition, the cost of depreciation of capital equipment must be considered. Normally, capital equipment is depreciated over a three-year period.
Call Centre must take into account the possible introduction of new technology in their annual planning processes, since the rapid technological changes taking place within the industry can lead to greater efficiencies,
Organisation need a planned approach to capital investments on a planning cycle of approximately thee years for system upgrades and new technology. Vendors and internal Information Technology (IT) departments tend to focus on enhancements and upgrades to telephony equipment and information systems over a two-year cycle.
The decision to upgrade or introduce new technology should be made after a thorough industry appraisal of what is available in the marketplace. Benchmarking and attending industry events can assist in this process.
Strategies to reduce the cost of transactions
Once a Call Centre has been operational for 12 months or more and the establishment process is complete, many organisations look for ways to reduce the overall cost of service delivery. The use of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) units, voice recognition, rostering software, automatic call monitoring and sophisticated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) databases are examples of advance technologies that can lead to greater efficiencies.
Utilising alternative contact methods, such as Web-based transactions, facsimile services and the outsourcing of non-core transactions can also assist in reducing costs.
Business Continuity Planning
Once a Call Centre is established, a major operational issue is the ability of the organisation to provide a continuing service. Call Centres can be subjected to a variety of both major and minor interruptions, such as:
â€¢ Power failures (UPS);
â€¢ Information system shut downs, slow downs, upgrades;
â€¢ Crisis events - bomb threats, fire, security breaches;
â€¢ Avalanche traffic or unpredicted call demand - power outages / hail storms / environmental disasters.
A number of different strategies can be utilised to overcome these unplanned problems. A business continuity plan should be developed to address events that might affect overall service delivery. A range of alternative strategies is required that can handle even the most severe situation. Such strategies should be clearly documented and ready to be implemented should the need arise.
A primary requirement would be redundancy in both telephone systems and information systems. Often, organisations will establish a secondary site that can be utilised as either a training facility or an emergency Call Centre. For unexpected avalanche traffic beyond the capacity of the Call Centre, the ability to send overflow calls to an outsourced bureau should also be considered. The outsourced bureau can take the initial calls until the Call Centre becomes fully operational again or is able to handle the avalanche traffic.
The process of effective contract management was discussed in the Establishment Guidelines in Section 2.4. Using an outsourced bureau for overflow calls during peak periods or after hours also requires regular contract management reviews to ensure that the arrangement is working effectively and in accordance with agreed service level parameters.
An extremely effective method of handling significant volumes of calls is the use of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) units. This has a recorded message that informs callers of the current situation or what action to take.
Another key aspect to business continuity is the ability to deploy staff rapidly to assist in the management of significant (unpredicted) call volumes, such as during an environmental disaster or power outage. Employment strategies that lead to the development of a casual pool of staff who are trained in all aspects of Call Centre operations are a critical component to the rapid deployment of staff.
Annual testing should be carried out to gauge the relative effectiveness of the business continuity plan. This involves simulating various scenarios that require a rapid response. Escalation to a full scale shut down of the Call Centre and redirection to an alternative site should also be a part of the simulation process.
This final section considers the need to deal with the future development of a Call Centre. The constant focus on achieving operational efficiencies, driving down the cost of service delivery and improving people management and customer satisfaction will continue to drive changes in the industry.
Developing the Call Centre into a full-scale Contact Centre
Once a Call Centre becomes an accepted service delivery channel, the logical progression is to integrate other customer contact channels into a total service operation from the one centre. Call Centres, because of their high levels of voice contact, can readily integrate other contact channels into their service delivery strategy, such as facsimile, IVR and Web-based channels. The seamless integration of multiple channels of access requires a high level of planning and coordination as it would for any new technology acquisition.
This requires clear performance indicators that will demonstrate the effectiveness and efficiency of the multiple channels of access. In addition, regular reviews of various customer service strategies need to be considered. All key Call Centre personnel should participate in planning these enhanced strategies.
Call Centre managers must keep up with the new technological advances in customer contact strategies. The need to invest in the latest technology in order to achieve further cost and contact efficiencies is an accepted industry practice.
As access to the Internet continues to grow exponentially, advanced technologies such as Web agent connectivity, will need to be considered. This facility allows customers to be connected to a CSO directly from the Web page, either through text or voice. Currently, very few Call Centres within Australia have such technology in place.
Sophisticated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems are also available that can identify customer transactions, including responses to advertisements, complaint tracking, identification of key customers and the tracking of conversion rates.
Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) with Calling Line Identification (CLI), using a customer identification number or a telephone number to bring up caller information, can also produce significant efficiencies in call presentation.
One of the latest developments in call-handling strategies is the use of natural language speech recognition. This allows the voice recognition system to provide or record basic information. for simple transactions, such as TAB betting and transport
Adopting more advanced technologies can lead to problems. Experience has shown that unless the technology is a proven application that is already fully operational, the extent of customisation and debugging required will be considerable. In certain circumstances, it is far better to wait. This will ensure that expensive customisation and debugging do not add to the installation costs of the new application
Future-proofing Call Centres
The ability of a Call Centre to respond to a changing environment is contingent upon the relative sophistication of the Centre and its overall strategic importance to the agency. No Call Centre can be completely future-proofed, as changes within the industry are rapid and require considerable capital investment to keep up-to-date. However, agencies do need to factor in a planned approach to capital investments, such as system upgrades and new technology acquisition on a planning cycle of approximately three years.
Interestingly, many existing Call Centres are currently in a state of change because of the realisation that more efficient practices can generate even greater efficiencies than are currently being achieved.
No organisation that operates a Call Centre can afford to become complacent, as today's state-of-the-art Call Centre is tomorrow's dinosaur. Constant assessment of changing trends, customer needs and advances in the industry are a prerequisite to service excellence.
It is also likely that at times a Call Centre will undergo a period of change brought about by events such as increased staff turnover, business growth and upgrades to various operating systems. The ability of a Call Centre to respond to these changes and to meet new demands is contingent upon the development of best practice principles in their operation.