What Is a Call Center? An In-Depth Guide
Call centers are a staple customer service resource for businesses large and small—and demand is growing.
In the US alone, there are hundreds of thousands of call center jobs. When you take into account that in 2020 around 60% of consumers stated that they contacted customer service within a month of their purchase, it’s apparent that the traditional call center isn’t going anywhere.
But what is a call center? And how can you find the right one for your business?
Now what really is a call center?
A traditional call center focuses primarily on voice calls. While some call centers may offer some multi-channel customer support, the organization of a call center usually involves individual agents, sitting in a row, taking calls.
Call centers are a traditional way to fulfill customer expectations. When a customer picks up the phone to contact your business with a problem or a question, there will be someone on the other end to speak for your brand, provide solutions and give them the resources they need.
Alternatively, calls can also be handled by interactive voice response (IVR) systems that enable customers to get answers to common questions or concerns on their own, without the help of an agent. This can be most helpful when customers have simple questions such as in-store hours, checking a balance on their account, reserving a table for dinner, making or updating an appointment or more.
Of course, sometimes customers need to speak to a human agent to answer more specific, detailed questions, resolve a concern or address specialized needs. When they do, having warm, customer-obsessed call center associates is the perfect way to provide an exceptional customer experience and develop long-term brand loyalty and retention.
Functions of a call center
Call centers can provide a variety of services and fulfill a variety of functions on your team. What type of call center and the services you need will depend on the current pain points you’re addressing, the goals of your business and, of course, your current needs and priorities.
Some of the main services a call center may offer includes:
- Provides (potentially 24/7) customer service by phone.
- Provides consistent customer support and branded messaging.
- Can focus on customer service, technical support, and/or marketing/sales.
- May be either inbound or outbound, or both.
- Collects & analyzes customer data to improve customer experiences.
- Frees up internal teams to focus on other tasks.
Some call centers may also provide some multi-channel support, such as email, social media, web chat or other capabilities. However, a call center’s primary goal is to provide exceptional telephone support.
Call center benefits
With so many different types of call centers, there’s a lot a great call center can do to alleviate pain points within your business.
You might need to consider a call center if:
- you’re struggling to keep up with the demand of customer service calls
- you have a highly technical product that requires customer support
- you’re struggling to grow your team at scale
- you’re struggling to follow up with the amount of leads your business has
- you need to do extensive market or customer research
- you’re looking for a human-centric approach to drive sales
A call center can help these pain points by providing a fully managed call center team that can manage all of your customer calls and outbound call marketing.
Types of call centers
So what exactly are the differences between all the types of call centers?
If you’re feeling confused and not sure which is right for you, let’s break down the most common types of call centers.
Traditional call centers: A traditional call center handles voice calls, either inbound or outbound. Individual agents answer calls from customers, or may make outbound calls to prospective customers. Traditional call centers typically focus on customer service and technical support.
Inbound call centers: Inbound call centers focus exclusively on inbound customer calls. Inbound call centers are most commonly focused on customer service, technical support, inbound sales calls or product upgrades, or other general inquiries.
Outbound call centers: Outbound call centers focus on sales and marketing calls, managing outbound calls to current or prospective customers. They are often highly automated, and may provide everything from telemarketing and sales to lead generation and market research.
Hybrid call centers: A hybrid call center model combines an inbound and outbound call center within a single, centralized team. A hybrid model streamlines communication and provides a smoother experience to customers across the entire customer journey.
Multi-channel vs. omnichannel call centers
Multi-channel call center: A multi-channel call center, as the name suggests, manages many channels, not just voice calls. Multi-channel call centers may also provide support via email, web chat, mobile app, text, social media and more.
Omnichannel call center: An omnichannel call center is better named an omnichannel contact center, as it combines the advanced technology and centralized benefits of a contact center with an omnichannel approach. Omnichannel contact centers provide tools to manage customer communications across any channel through one centralized platform, streamlining customer service and providing exceptional support.
Inhouse vs. outsourced call centers
In-house call center: An in-house call center is one that is staffed and managed completely within the given company. The company itself must hire, train, manage and perform all call center activities.
Outsourced call center: An outsourced call center is a call center partner outside of a given organization that works with the business to perform call center functions, including staffing and training a team, performing call center activities, and so on.
Onshore call center: An onshore call center is an outsourced call center that is still located within the same country as the given business. It’s not necessarily in the same time zone, though. For example, a company in Nevada may have an outsourced onshore call center in Chicago.
Offshore call center: An offshore call center is an outsourced call center that is located in a different country as the given business. For example, a company in the US may have an offshore call center in India.
Nearshore call center: A nearshore call center is an outsourced call center that is located in a different country as the given business, but one that is nearby, perhaps in the same time zone as the business. For example, a company in New York may have a nearshore call center in Canada or Puerto Rico.
Selecting the right call center
So, how do you decide which type of call center is right for you? Selecting the right call center comes down to a variety of factors, including your goals, the services provided, flexibility and culture, location, security and more.
Let’s walk through ten areas to consider when selecting a call center.
Similar businesses or brands
When hiring a new team member, you’d never hire without checking their experience, right?
The same is true for call centers.
Look at what types of brands or businesses they’ve worked with in the past, and what industries they’re familiar with. Has this call center worked with brands or businesses similar to yours?
Perhaps more importantly, has this call center worked with businesses who’ve had similar goals or pain points to yours? Knowing your industry is important, but so is an understanding of your pain points and a proven strategy for solving them.
Further, the history of a call center is a great way to look into the experience of the call center.
How long has the call center been in business?
What are the reviews of other businesses who have worked with this call center?
Do they have proven experience getting results?
Check the website of the call center for reviews, case studies, white pages, general history or other details that will give you insight into the history and experience of the call center. It’s a good idea to look for call centers that have:
- been in business for a sufficient amount of time
- offer case studies or white pages that demonstrate their experience and results
positive reviews from other businesses
Understanding how the call center has performed in the past will give you a helpful idea of if it’s a call center that can meet your goals and needs at this time.
While this is probably the most obvious consideration to make when choosing a call center, it’s one that deserves ample time and attention.
The call center or contact center you choose should be able to provide management of any communication channels you need, as well any other services you need.
If you’re looking for in-store support or field support, the omnichannel contact center you choose should offer that support. If you’re looking for more ancillary services as well, like sales, retention or loyalty programs, look into a call center or contact center that can manage and optimize for these programs or goals as well.
Some of the services you may want to look for include:
- voice calls
- inbound and outbound calling
- multi-channel or omnichannel models, to manage web chat, email, social media and more
- customer analytics and data
- advanced technology to streamline customer support
- field support or in-store support
- multilingual customer support
The team at Global Response provides services across all communication channels, from call centers focusing on voice calls to web chat, social media and more. If you need additional support for sales, retention or loyalty programs, that’s also an option. Need multilingual customer support? Our teams can cover it. Looking for field support or store support? That’s also an option.
From digitally-powered technical solutions to brand specialists who will make sure your customers have a superior experience, advanced analytics and data to true omnichannel support, Global Response can help your business cut your costs, boost conversions, and power your growth.
This goes for call centers as well as many other things. Have they worked with customers in your geographic area?
Further, it’s important to understand the differences between offshore, onshore, nearshore and homeshore call centers, as well as the benefits and challenges of each. If you’re looking for an onshore call center, then location may be less of a concern.
However, for nearshore or offshore call centers, location becomes more important.
Some questions you may want to consider include:
- What time zones will you be working across?
- Will there be any language barriers that need to be addressed between your target market and the call center?
- Will it be difficult to contact managers and leadership?
Speaking of leadership, this is another key area to consider when deciding which call center is right for you.
The leadership of a call center determines many things, from the strategy and models the call center uses, to the employees who are hired, the quality of the services, the quality of communication and data you receive from the call center partner, the ease (or difficulty) of the partnership, the kinds of results you’re able to achieve, and more!
Ultimately, good leadership at a call center can make or break your service and experience with them—and in turn, the service and experience your customers have with your business.
It’s important to look for a call center with experienced leadership, as well as one that has leaders who are involved not only in the day-to-day operations of the call center, but also in your partnership.
Some questions you may want to consider include:
- How experienced are the leaders? Do they have demonstrated management experience?
- What are their methods for including and attaining QBRs?
- How accessible is the leadership for your questions and concerns?
- How involved is the leadership in the call center and call center processes?
Flexibility & scalability
Your business is growing fast.
Not to mention, with exceptional customer service, you’re expecting growth and sales to grow even faster.
As such, you need a call center that can keep up with your growth—and grow with you. It can be difficult to grow a team at scale, internally or externally. An outsourced call center is a great way to grow your team at scale, and at a lower cost than managing a call center internally.
For businesses in e-commerce or retail spaces, you may want flexibility to scale your call centers and customer management resources by seasonality. You may need to scale up or down in certain seasons, for new product releases, or for big promotions. Your call center should provide the flexibility you need to scale appropriately in different seasons for cost-effectiveness and ongoing customer support.
Some questions you may want to consider in this category are:
- What options do they have for scaling in the future?
- Are there any concerns that you might outgrow them in the next 1, 3 or 5 years?
- How flexible are they in terms of service packages and offerings?
- How flexible are they in terms of scaling throughout the year?
- Will they be able to support you if your needs and goals change over time?
Your brand speaks a specific language, has a certain culture and aims to deliver exceptional experience.
Shouldn’t your customers’ experiences with your call center be a natural fit to your brand?
While often overlooked, making sure your call center’s culture matches your brand or business culture is an important consideration. If you’re looking for a call center for a financial corporation, for example, you’ll need to make sure you find a call center with a high level of professionalism, security and technology—things consumers expect from their banking solutions.
However, if you’re a retail or consumer-focused brand that’s aiming to build connection and loyalty through perks and products, you’ll want a call center that not only cares about your customer as much as you do, but also serves as brand specialists.
At Global Response, our employees aren’t just customer service associates—they’re brand specialists. They know your brand inside and out and are ready to walk alongside your customers every step of the way. We match our brand specialists with brands they care about, so that their excitement and passion shines through in every interaction.
Obviously, technology is an important consideration when deciding which call center is right for you.
You may want to ask questions like:
- What technological solutions does this call center offer?
- Does their tech stack integrate with our current operations?
- Are they using top-of-the-line solutions?
- What services and solutions can they provide through their tech stack? Does this align with our goals?
Some of the technological solutions you should look for in a call center include:
- IVR (interactive voice response)
- automated outbound dialers
- omnichannel contact management
- cloud-based omnichannel contact solutions
- advanced data security
- robotic process automation
- WFM (workforce management) tools
- social media management platforms
- CRM software
- cloud computing services
Of course, not every business will need every technology available, and you may need others that aren’t mentioned here. Considering your technical needs and goals and partnering with a call center who is able to align with those is most important.
If you’re looking for a human-centric call center with advanced technology that can integrate to a wide number of platforms and systems, Global Response offers all of the services and technologies listed above (and more!). From cloud-based omnichannel contact management to advanced data security and WFM tools, Global Response can help take your customer experience to the next level.
Call centers handle a lot of customer data. If you’re using a contact center solution with a centralized CRM or customer communication source, there’s even more data to keep track of.
Customer data is important for any business, of course, but it’s even more important for financial and banking institutions, automotive businesses and healthcare providers.
Is your customer support team ready to handle it?
One of the most important considerations when it comes to choosing a call center is making sure they have the tools, processes and know-how needed to keep your customer data safe. Some questions you may want to ask:
- How is this call center team handling security?
- What experience do they have with businesses like yours who need a high level of security?
- Is this call center up-to-date on compliance standards and policy adherence?
- Does the call center have systems in place to meet HIPPA requirements or other data privacy requirements?
Whether or not your industry has specific privacy standards, it’s important to make sure your call center has rigorous data privacy standards to protect your customers’ security.
Reporting & Analytics
Last, but certainly not least, when choosing a call center, it’s important to spend some time understanding their reporting and analytics capabilities.
You may want to ask:
- What KPIs and metrics this call center tracks
- What reporting capabilities they have
- What reports and data they’ll share with you
- If they offer configurable data and metrics reporting dashboards
- Which data and metrics they find the most important
- How they’ve used data in the past to make changes and improve
Your own goals as a business are unique. While it can be helpful to read case studies from a call center about other businesses they’ve worked with, it’s also important to make sure this call center will be able to track, analyze and implement results from data and metrics that are important to your brand and goals.
Not sure which metrics you should be tracking? There’s a few important call center metrics & KPIs that every call center should be tracking.
13 questions to ask before choosing a call center
In short, before you choose a call center, make sure you ask yourself these 14 questions:
- Does this call center have knowledge of my business’s industry?
- Has this call center worked with businesses like mine?
- How long has this call center been in business?
- Does this call center have proven experience getting results for pain points similar to ours?
- Where is this call center located? Does this align with our needs?
- How experienced and involved are the leaders at this call center? How accessible are they for our team’s questions and needs?
- What services does this call center offer? Do these services meet all of our (and our customers’) needs?
- Is this call center solution scalable?
- What are the values and cultures of this call center? Do these values match our own?
- What technological solutions and tools does this call center use? Will they integrate with our current operations?
- Does this call center have proven experience maintaining customer data and security? Can we trust them to keep our customer’s data secure?
- What reporting capabilities does this call center have?
- What KPIs and metrics is this call center tracking, and do they align with our current goals and needs?
For a full-scale call center that can meet your business needs and supercharge growth, Global Response is here to help. Connect with a customer service consultant today to get your call center questions answered.