Article

How to start a call centre (without breaking the bank)

Starting a call centre can be an intimidating undertaking. We've broken down the process into a few simple steps, so you'll be up and running in no time.

By Bryce Baer

Published May 20, 2020
Last updated November 27, 2020

Phone support and sales aren't going anywhere any time soon. According to the Zendesk customer experience trends report 2020, 66% of respondents use the phone for support, the most prevalent channel of any age group.

That's a big part of why call centres still play such an integral role in building great customer experience. Consumers still expect call centre agents to be knowledgeable, helpful and patient on the phone. Your call centre needs to maintain a high level of customer service at all times to nurture customer relationships.

However, building your own call centre is a big project that requires careful planning, and it's easy to trip up along the way.

Here's a step-by-step plan that'll help you confidently create the best call center for your company.

Set goals

Determine the main goal(s) of your call centre

Before you dig into the real meat of running a call centre, start by asking yourself why you need one.

Once you've clearly defined the main goal(s) of your call centre, consider what you'll need to run a successful call-centre business.

Your main goal(s) will depend on your specific business requirements:

  • If you run a small business or start-up, perhaps the main goal is to increase lead generation and get new customers or streamline payment and order processing
  • If you're responsible for a larger business, perhaps your main goal is customer satisfaction and offering better overall support

Once your main goals have been set, you'll need to use call centre metrics that can serve as key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of your call centre services.

Common call centre metrics

  • Abandoned in queue: The total number of customers who hang up while waiting to speak to an agent.
  • Average handling time (AHT): The average length of contact for a customer on a call.
  • Average talk time: The number of minutes and seconds between an agent answering the phone and hanging up.
  • Average speed of answer (ASA): The time it takes a customer to reach an agent once they've been routed to the right department and placed in the queue.
  • Declined call: An unanswered call that was actively refused by an agent.
  • Missed call: An unanswered call that was not answered by an agent in time.
  • Transfer rate: The percentage of inbound calls that agents transfer to other team members or departments.

It's also important to bear in mind that the goals of your call centre are likely to differ from those of a contact centre.

  • Contact centres use multiple channels (email, social media, live chat, etc.)
  • Call centres focus exclusively on offering service via traditional telephone lines

A call centre has to work more efficiently because everything is happening in real time, and there's not always time to mull over an answer. In fact, expectations are higher for phone support than any other channel – roughly 50% of customers expect a response in less than five minutes.

Decide on the budget

Decide on a budget for your call centre

Before you choose the type of call centre that's best in line with your type of business, you'll need to come up with a budget.

Work out how much money you're realistically able to spend on starting a call centre. This can help you determine details about how your call centre will operate, such as:

  • The number of employees
  • The size and location of facilities
  • The type of technology and tools required

When deciding on a budget for your call centre, you need to start by compiling your monthly income sources, fixed costs and variable expenses to get a better idea of how much money you can spend.

You may find that building an on-site call centre isn't feasible financially – this will help you decide on a strong remote-workforce option.

Identify the type of call centre

Identify the type of call centre you want

Determining the main goal(s) of your call centre will help you decide which type of call centre would fit your business plan best.

There are a few different types of call centre to consider, each with unique benefits, depending on your requirements.

Inbound vs outbound

Are you cold-calling potential customers with telesales offers? Or are you more focused on resolving customers' problems?

The answers to these questions will help guide you towards setting up an inbound or outbound call centre for your business.

Inbound call centres receive incoming calls and are generally run by customer support teams. These teams help customers solve any problems that they're having with your product or service.

This type of call centre is generally ideal for:

  • Product and/or tech support
  • Payment and order processing
  • Upgrade and renewal enquiries

Outbound call centres make outgoing calls to people. They're generally run by sales teams that want to sell a product or service, or compile market data that is in line with larger business ideas.

This type of call centre is generally ideal for:

  • Making appointments
  • Lead generation
  • Telemarketing
  • Telesales
  • Market research

There's also the option of using a hybrid call centre that provides both inbound and outbound calling. Some companies prefer a hybrid model so that they can create a consistent customer experience from one call centre.

On site vs virtual

Does your call centre require in-house staff with plenty of office space or are you looking for a remote, cost-effective solution?

Both options are now possible for business owners and they each have their unique benefits.

On-site call centres are physical facilities where employees make or receive customer calls. The entire team and all of the equipment are in one location.

Some of the benefits of an on-site call centre include:

  • Fast, in-person communication between employees and managers. Everyone is in the same building, so it's easy to contact one another and resolve any employee- or customer-related issues.
  • Technology updates and training are easier to carry out in real time. You can explain the nuances of different types of technology clearly and in person.
  • No Internet connection is required to make phone calls. There's no worry that a call will be dropped because of an unreliable Internet connection.

Virtual call centres are cloud based with no physical facilities. Team members work remotely and can be anywhere in the world, as long as they have a stable Internet connection.

Some of the benefits of a virtual call centre include:

  • Having access to the most qualified candidates from around the world. The best candidates don't always come from your own country. It can be valuable to look at international candidates with more experience.
  • Having employees in different time zones, allowing flexible call centre hours. Your customers can rest assured knowing that they don't have to sneak out at lunchtime to make a support call – they can make the call whenever they have time.
  • Saving money on facilities and investing more in call centre software and employees' salaries. By keeping your facility and office supplies to a minimum, you can keep your team happy by offering things like company laptops and better pay.

Again, there's the option of using a hybrid call centre that has both on-site and virtual components. This can also be a good option to offer employees – the flexibility to work from a remote location, as well as an office space, depending on what employees prefer.

Build your team

Build your call centre team

Now that you know what type of call centre you want to build, it's time to put together a team that can help you make it a success.

Find the best staff for your call centre

Finding the most qualified candidates to work for your call centre is easier said than done. You need to start by having a very clear understanding of your requirements.

Create a list of the attributes that your ideal support rep should have:

  • Do they need to be able to work flexible hours?
  • How much prior experience should they have?
  • Should they be good at small talk or get straight to business?

Answering questions like these will help you get a better grasp of the type of candidate you want to bring in for interview.

You should also be very clear about your must-haves vs your nice-to-haves in a call centre CV. Many recruiters struggle to find good candidates when they add too many must-have requirements. If there are things that you think may be valuable, list them as nice-to-haves and take stock of the things that you can train your employees to do after they've been employed.

Train your employees

Make sure that your employees are fully equipped to fulfil their roles by providing training as part of your call centre setup.

To do this, you can train people at an off-site location, such as in another call centre, online or on site.

Train agents on the headsets and phone systems that your company uses. In a virtual call centre, agents should receive support to set up their remote workspace, and be up to speed on all the necessary tools and software used by your company. Guide them with any training tips that you can offer.

Make sure that agents are also trained in proper call centre etiquette, and consider creating a call centre script to help newer employees and to keep brand messaging consistent.

Consider a BPO call centre solution

Business process outsourcing (BPO) refers to outsourcing some of your company's operations to an outside vendor or service provider. In the context of a call centre, BPO means outsourcing inbound and outbound services to agents who don't actually work for your company.

This is an ideal solution for companies with limited bandwidth that need immediate support. If call volume is beyond what your staff is able to support, it may be worthwhile considering a BPO call centre solution. You'll be able to get the high number of calls under control without having to hire and train new employees.

Inbound BPO call centre services include:

  • Handling support questions
  • Order processing
  • Dispatch

Outbound BPO call centre services include:

  • Telemarketing
  • Telesales
  • Market research

BPO call centre solutions are ideal if you have a staffing problem and don't have the ability to hire and train a group of new employees. Generally speaking, these are call centre agents who already have industry experience and excellent customer service skills.

Digital resources

Supplement your call centre with these digital resources

At a minimum, our in-house and digital call centre agents will need high-speed Internet. There are also other tools and software that you may need for your call centre.

Here are some digital resources that you can introduce to strengthen your call centre without breaking the bank.

VoIP

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is technology that allows you to make calls via a data network versus an analogue phone line.

Zendesk Talk

The beauty of using VoIP software is that it reduces the overheads tied to traditional phone lines. This translates to lower equipment costs for your call centre.

VoIP software, such as Zendesk Talk, gives your team the flexibility to take calls whenever and wherever they want. All they need is a stable Internet connection, and your company is only charged for minutes used.

Knowledge base

The one thing that customers and employees always have in common is questions. They want, or need, to get further information on a particular issue or topic to make sure that they understand it fully.

Knowledge bases function as a library of information for your customers and employees. They're empowered to resolve their own problems, so support reps have more time to resolve complex tickets.

Examples of knowledge-base resources include:

  • Education, academies and training programmes
  • FAQ content
  • Forums
  • How-to articles and tutorials
  • Webinars

Zendesk Guide offers knowledge-base software that helps you build these resources for your customers and employees easily.

Knowledge base example

Knowledge base for Slack

Internal help desk

Internal help desks are digital hubs that help your employees get all the support they need to do their jobs. Support reps not only help customers, but employees as well.

Internal help desk example

To make this internal communication easier, you can use help desk software to:

  • Answer questions
  • Address incidents
  • Service requests

Zendesk's internal help desk serves as a one-stop shop for employees to get all the help they need whenever a challenging scenario arises.

Maintain a supportive call centre culture

Working at a successful call centre can feel overwhelming for everyone involved, with so many calls taking place over the course of a single day.

This is why strong leadership and management are so important when it comes to how your call centre functions.

To make your team feel supported:

  • Maintain a calm demeanour when handling problems with employees
  • Stay in touch with them on a regular basis to see if they're facing any challenges that you can help with

Doing this goes a long way towards keeping call centre agents feeling happy and supported when faced with a flood of calls on a busy day.

Once you have all your call centre pieces in place, make sure that your call centre is a supportive place in which to work. That way, you can retain your best employees and continue to bring on new ones who will help add to its success over time.

Learn how eight companies deliver exceptional customer experience at scale