When you think about call centers, you probably don’t have the kind of happy thoughts that can make Peter Pan fly. In fact, most people tend to associate call centers with unsolicited spam that always comes at inopportune times.
Nevertheless, when a company has a call center, it usually means there’s a phone number you can call to get immediate customer service—and a lot of consumers appreciate this. According to HubSpot, for example, almost 70% of consumers are willing to pay more for services from a brand that has a reputation for providing excellent customer service.
On the flip side, it is typically a letdown when a customer has an issue worth calling about only to discover that there’s no way to talk to a real person. As a result, the lack of a well-managed call center also translates into a lack of human touch—which is something that can otherwise enhance a company’s brand presence.
Call centers come in different shapes and sizes, but they also have various ways of attracting and serving customers, too—so keep that in mind when looking for the best kind for your business.
1. Offshore Call Centers
Offshore call centers don’t necessarily have to be across an ocean. Instead, the term typically refers to when a company’s operations are in a different country or even just a different time zone. In other words, “offshore” conveys moving your call center’s activity to a location outside of the company’s principal operating area. This means that agents who aren’t on the premises will handle customer inquiries and support requests with little contact with the main business.
Offshore call centers are usually inbound call centers that pick up customer calls and field queries or complaints—but they can also be outbound or blended centers depending on the needs of a given business. At the end of the day, what primarily sets them apart from other types of call centers is their geographical location, not their internal system.
Likewise, the main difference between offshore and outsourced call centers is that offshore call centers are necessarily based in another country. Meanwhile, although outsourced call centers can be domestic or international, they are necessarily run by a different company.
Of course, outsourcing and offshoring can overlap, but it’s still possible to go offshore without outsourcing. Many automakers already do this for their manufacturing.
Key features of offshore call centers
- Geographic location: The most common locations for offshore call centers are India, the Philippines, and a handful of countries in Eastern Europe. These places are typically chosen by U.S. businesses for offshoring services because of their significantly lower labor costs. Meanwhile, call centers established in countries such as Costa Rica have also led to the term “nearshoring” because of its closer proximity to the United States.
- Lower cost: Offshore call centers often offer cost advantages due to lower labor and operational expenses. They are commonly installed in countries where there is a large labor force and a less developed economy. These conditions allow companies to offer competitive salaries and hire a larger team while keeping labor costs in check, making attracting and keeping talented employees easier.
- Multilingual support: Offshore call centers can also cater to customers in various languages, expanding the company’s reach to a global customer base.
- Time zone coverage: Operating in various time zones enables offshore call centers such as Helpware to offer extended customer service availability by way of round-the-clock support. If you have an emergency with a product at midnight in New York City, for example, it would be too late for someone in the U.S. to take the call. Meanwhile, an offshore agent in India could be picking up the phone a bit before noon in Bangalore.
Where are offshore call centers commonly used?
Offshore call centers are a very suitable option for companies with a global customer base that operates in various time zones and languages. They can provide significant advantages for businesses in a few key sectors, such as the following:
- Tech: Global companies such as software or hardware providers often utilize offshore call centers to handle technical support and troubleshooting. This is especially convenient for offshoring to India, as the country ranks extremely high in software service as an export.
- Ecommerce: Online retailers with international customers can benefit from offshore centers to manage order inquiries, shipping, and returns. Ecommerce businesses can also expand into new markets by offering support in multiple languages.
- Travel and hospitality: Airlines, hotel chains, and travel agencies frequently rely on offshore call centers to handle reservations, ticketing, and customer inquiries. Tourism is a highly demanding and obviously global industry, so offshore call centers are useful to provide phone support at all hours of the day regardless of location. Even Booking.com (a company so web-browser-centric that it keeps the .com in its logo) has a 24/7 international call center.
Main benefits of offshore call centers
Beyond cost savings, multilingual support, and time-zone flexibility, offshore call centers come with some additional perks, including:
- Access to a skilled workforce: Offshore locations often have a pool of skilled and qualified professionals. Countries such as India, the Philippines, Croatia, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Nigeria are common exporters of top-level service talent.
- Scalability: Offshore call centers can quickly scale operations up or down based on business needs, allowing for flexibility in response to fluctuating call volumes. This is especially helpful during busy periods, as it maintains effective customer service without straining resources.
- Focus on core competencies: Managing call center services offshore allows businesses to focus on their core activities and strategic objectives while leaving customer support to specialized professionals. Think of it as a working mom hiring an experienced babysitter.
- Global market presence: Offshore call centers help businesses extend their presence worldwide by offering support and services to customers across the globe. This can be a key addition to your value proposition when procuring investment.
Drawbacks and risks of offshore call centers
It’s not all roses for offshore call centers, so it’s important to know what hurdles you may encounter.
- Language and accent challenges: Although it’s becoming less of an issue than it has been in years past, differences in culture and language can sometimes result in miscommunication or misunderstanding of customer needs. This does not always reflect well on the company.
- Data security concerns: Offshore call centers usually handle a large volume of sensitive customer data, such as credit card numbers, addresses, and phone numbers. This can be very tempting for cybercriminals. Additionally, offshore call centers can also be located in countries with more or less flexible data privacy laws and regulations. Thus, there’s an added risk when your company’s information is not under your full control.
- Potential reputation issues: If not managed effectively, offshore call centers can face negative perceptions due to language barriers, accent issues, or cultural misunderstandings. Frequently, people who call to receive customer service are not in the best mood, so adding comprehension issues might lead to deeper dissatisfaction.
How do people set up an offshore call center?
There are five basic steps for getting an offshore call center up and running:
- Location selection: Identify countries with a suitable talent pool, language proficiency, and cost-effectiveness. There’s a go-to shortlist of typical countries, but your business might fare better with something more specific or innovative.
- Infrastructure and technology: Set up the necessary hardware, software, and communication tools to ensure operations start as soon as you sign the contract. This won’t be necessary if you outsource. If you’re going offshore, get in touch with local experts. This will make the process much easier.
- Recruitment and training: Hire skilled agents who are proficient in the required languages and train them on product knowledge, customer service protocols, and cultural sensitivity. Give them a clear script with the different outcomes.
- Quality assurance: Implement your typical quality assurance process to monitor and maintain service standards.
- Data security measures: It’s important to establish strict data protection protocols, so be sure to set up secure information handling, encryption, and compliance with applicable data privacy laws.
2. Inbound Call Centers
Inbound call centers are the most prevalent and basic option. They are there for representatives to answer calls from customers and field their inquiries. Agents of inbound call centers do not call people to promote a product or service. Instead, they remain passive, limited only to receiving incoming calls from customers seeking assistance, information, and support.
Key features of inbound call centers
- Issue resolution and general interaction: The primary goal of inbound call centers is to solve customer issues and provide information. Agents take a reactive approach rather, making sure that any customer who calls gets their problem addressed as soon as possible.
- Skill-based routing: Inbound centers generally require representatives to have problem-solving skills and knowledge of the company’s products or services. These skills are not the same as the ones necessary for making sales calls. Agents must be able to deal with frustrated customers by listening patiently and attentively.
- High call volume: Inbound call centers often handle high call volumes, requiring efficient call routing, queuing systems, and trained agents to manage diverse consumer needs. Of course, as a purely reactive system, there’s no real way to control the call volume over time—unless you improve your company’s products and services, or if you improve the ways in which customers can find their own solutions.
- CRM integration: CRM integration involves linking your customer relationship management software with other third-party applications, such as how Fastcall integrates with Salesforce. This gives agents access to customer data and helps customers avoid the frustration of having to repeat the story of their problem over and over again.
Where and when are inbound call centers used the most?
Inbound call centers can work for businesses of all sizes, and they are mostly used for providing information, converting sales, and resolving issues.
- Customer service: Once again, inbound call centers are especially designed for taking customer requests, queries, and complaints. This can also extend to providing information such as store hours and company policies.
- Technical support: Inbound call centers are used by technical support teams to assist customers with problems with a product or service. (For example, if you can’t be bothered to help your grandma reset her router, the least you could do is help her find the customer service number to call.)
- Sales: Inbound call centers are used by sales teams to jump on inbound leads, qualify prospects, and make sales. An airline, for example, can sell tickets over the phone.
- Appointment scheduling: Inbound call centers can also assist in arranging customer appointments, whether for administrative visits, service requests, or whatever else.
Main benefits of inbound call centers
Inbound call centers come with a handful of advantages, including:
- Customer satisfaction: Customers are happy when they can call a real person and have their issues resolved promptly. This can lead to greater brand loyalty.
- Improved brand image: When customers are satisfied with the help they receive, it can lead to a more positive view of the company, increasing the chances of doing business again.
- Increased sales opportunities: Skilled agents can often convert general inquiries into sales opportunities—though many call centers will transfer these callers to a dedicated sales team member.
- Valuable customer insights: Inbound call centers are like a direct line to the customer’s thoughts and feelings. This feedback can lead to insights into improving your company’s products or services.
- Cost-effectiveness: By addressing concerns and sharing necessary information in a single call, companies can reduce the need for subsequent follow-ups.
Drawbacks and risks of inbound call centers
If managed poorly, inbound call centers are at risk of a few common issues, such as:
- Customer dissatisfaction: Just as a good service experience can lead to a happier customer, a bad experience can lead to a not-so-happy customer. This can happen if customers have to wait too long to speak to an agent, if their issues are not resolved after many attempts, or if they are treated poorly by service representatives.
- Agent burnout: Despite being an imminent risk to all types of call centers, agent burnout can be especially likely for inbound call centers if the representatives have to deal with highly disgruntled customers. This can be disruptive both for employees and for the company because it could lead to higher employee turnover.
- Data security: Handling sensitive customer information increases the risk of security breaches if proper measures aren’t in place. If your company has a high volume of customer data, a breach could be very detrimental.
How to set up an inbound call center?
There are six steps you should keep in mind when setting up an inbound call center:
- Define your goals and objectives: Make sure you know what you want your inbound call center to achieve. For example, if it’s to improve customer satisfaction, increase sales, reduce costs, or all of the above, you should know before starting.
- Choose the right call center software: Various call center solutions are available, so deciding on software that meets your specific needs and budget will depend on your company size and objectives. Consider factors such as the number of agents you need to support, the features you require, and the ease of use.
- Purchase the necessary hardware: In addition to call center software, you must have the necessary hardware, such as headsets, phones, and computers. If you’re also setting up a new VoIP system, keep in mind that some providers loan out their hardware.
- Hire and train call center agents: Call center agents are the front line of your inbound call center, so hiring and training qualified agents is just as important as having good executives. Ideally, your agents will be highly knowledgeable about your products and services so that they can help customers with ease.
- Develop call center scripts and procedures: Call center scripts and procedures can help to ensure that calls are handled consistently and efficiently. This will not only create a replicable process, but it will also make it easy to identify trends and problem areas.
- Test your call center: Before you launch your inbound call center, it is vital to stress test it. The last thing you want is to find out that your call center will fall apart when you experience high call volumes. You also want to be sure that your call center can grow with your customer base.
3. Outbound Call Centers
An outbound call center is the type that initiates calls to existing and potential customers, which means it’s also the one most closely associated with spam. Agents of outbound call centers do not wait to receive calls from customers. Instead, they dial numbers from in-house sales and marketing lists.
These centers often have advanced telecommunication systems, customer databases, and automated productivity tools that help them run campaigns.
Key features of outbound call centers
- Proactive engagement: Employees of outbound call centers typically have to apply an extra or different set of skills than customer support representatives. Since they’re the ones doing the actual calling, agents are tasked with getting people interested in the products or services of the company.
- Telemarketing and sales revenue: Outbound calls often involve sales pitches, lead generation, and market research. For businesses that can turn cold calls into purchases, this is an added revenue stream.
- High call capacity: Outbound call centers aim to reach as many customers as possible, which means the company will have far more control over the total call volume.
- Scripted conversations: Agents typically follow a predetermined script to ensure consistency and compliance. This often leads to better results, since the scripts can be tweaked and updated over time for improved performance.
- Performance metrics: Outbound call centers track metrics like call duration, conversion rates, and sales targets—all precious insights for the business strategy.
When and where are inbound call centers used the most?
Outbound call centers are often associated with large B2C organizations such as cable TV or internet providers. They place calls during (and after) work hours in an attempt to attract new customers, upsell existing customers, and convert customers away from the competition.
Outbound call centers are not limited to B2C companies, however, and they can be used for several purposes. These include:
- Telemarketing campaigns
- Political outreach
- Upselling and cross-selling
- Lead generation and qualification for B2B companies
- Customer surveys and market research
- Appointment scheduling and reminders
- Debt collection and payment reminders
- Customer retention and loyalty programs
Main benefits of outbound call centers
Apart from reducing idle time and gathering customer insights, outbound call centers stand out in two areas:
- Lead generation: When an outbound call center successfully initiates contact with potential clients and customers, it turns into a major driver of the company’s overall success. It can play a key role in generating leads and starting relationships with high-revenue clients. As they reach more new people, outbound call centers can build momentum and lead to a lot of growth.
- Campaign flexibility: Since outbound call centers have full control over their campaigns, it’s easy for them to adjust strategies, scripts, and call lists to suit specific goals or targets. At the end of the day, the calls your representatives make depend on your business strategy.
Drawbacks and risks of outbound call centers
There are a few things to watch out for when setting up an outbound call center, including:
- Poorly handled calls: If call center representatives are inexperienced or lack proper training, it can lead to negative customer experiences and damage your business’s reputation. In many cases, unpleasant calls can leave a lasting impression that could cause existing customers to consider leaving in the near future.
- Compliance and legal risks: Outbound call centers must adhere to various regulations, such as telemarketing laws and data protection regulations. Keeping up with these rules is key to avoiding legal trouble and preserving consumer trust.
- Low contact rates: Thanks to call screening and spam filters, getting in touch with potential customers is a lot harder than it used to be. When contact rates are low, it can make generating leads less effective. Depending on your ideal customer profile, these call centers could not work out for you.
Setting up an outbound call center
The steps to set up an outbound call center are roughly the same as for an inbound call center, only this time you ought to pay special attention when defining your target audience. Be sure to identify the specific group or groups of people that have the highest chance of converting right away or in the near future—because if you place thousands of calls and completely miss the mark, the fallout can be super costly.
4. Blended Call Centers
Blended call centers take a hybrid approach, combining aspects of both inbound and outbound call centers. This means representatives of blended call centers answer incoming calls and place outgoing calls—doing everything from fielding customer questions and providing support to making sales and conducting follow-up surveys.
Key features of blended call centers
- Multi-skilled agents: Representatives in blended call centers are trained to handle both inbound and outbound calls, so they need to be flexible, adaptive, and (hopefully) charismatic.
- Call routing efficiency: Sophisticated call routing systems ensure calls get to agents who are ready to help, making the best use of resources and cutting down on caller wait times.
- Backed by call scripting software: Blended call centers often equip representatives with intelligent call scripts that guide them through conversations. This is a step up from the typical PDF files used by representatives in other situations.
- Integrated technologies: Blended call centers make the most of tech like automatic dialers, CRM software, and call recording systems. These tools help smooth out operations and improve efficiency as a result.
When and where are blended call centers used the most?
Blended call centers are particularly prevalent in a few key sectors:
- Ecommerce industry: Online retailers commonly use blended call centers to handle customer inquiries, process orders, and proactively engage with customers for sales and promotional activities.
- Financial services: Banks and financial institutions utilize blended call centers to assist with account inquiries, resolve issues, and offer financial products or services.
- Healthcare: Medical facilities employ blended call centers to schedule appointments, follow up with patients, and provide telehealth services.
Main benefits and drawbacks of blended call centers
Blended call centers experience most of the pros and cons of their underlying inbound and outbound characteristics.
One added benefit is increased agent productivity due to how representatives handle both inbound and outbound calls. This is good for reducing idle time, turning inbound calls into sales opportunities, and keeping a lean staff.
One additional drawback is workload balancing because of how challenging it can be to balance priorities between inbound and outbound call volumes. This can lead to fluctuations in agent workloads and the quality of customer service offered.
5. Omnichannel Call Centers
Omnichannel call centers combine multiple communication methods (such as VoIP phone services, email, live chat, social media, and SMS) into one platform. By funneling all types of customer communication together, omnichannel call centers can do a lot more than just placing and receiving calls. This makes them a more complete customer service solution rather than a mere call center.
One of the main reasons why omnichannel platforms are trending across B2C sectors is the human touch aspect that they can bring to every point of contact with customers—from direct messages on social media to live chats on the company website. Whichever method of contact your customers prefer, an omnichannel approach allows you to meet them there.
Key features of omnichannel call centers
- Integration: Omnichannel call centers integrate multiple communication channels in an all-in-one platform. This enables customers to switch between channels without losing a beat, giving them the flexibility to connect with companies however they want.
- Contextual awareness: Agents can access customer information from various channels, enabling them to understand the customer’s history and preferences, which leads to more efficient and personalized interactions.
Where are omnichannel call centers commonly used?
Omnichannel call centers find applications across many of the same industries and sectors as the other call center types, so it’s common to see them used by companies involved with ecommerce, banking, finance, travel, and hospitality.
Sometimes, the more sophisticated the organization, the more likely it is to use this kind of call center.
Main benefits of omnichannel call centers
Beyond the typical advantages of enhanced productivity and cost-efficiency, omnichannel call centers can add:
- Improved customer satisfaction: Omnichannel call centers allow customers to interact with businesses through the communication channels of their choice, which leads to a more personalized and convenient experience. In turn, this can lead to improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.
- Increased visibility into customer interactions: Omnichannel call centers collect data from all customer interactions, regardless of the channel used. This data can be used to improve customer service, create more targeted marketing campaigns, and develop new products or services.
Main drawbacks of omnichannel call centers
There are several complexities of omnichannel call centers that you should keep in mind:
- Hard to outsource: While omnichannel call centers are thorough, they are hard for third parties to operate due to all of the login credentials required for each official channel of communication. In many cases, if you give access to your omnichannel contact center for phone calls, you may also be giving access to your company’s social media accounts.
- Customer expectations: Omnichannel call centers can set higher standards for customer expectations. If customers anticipate being able to connect with your business through a wide variety of their preferred channels, it may be hard to maintain a consistent experience across all of them.
- Complexity and cost: Implementing and maintaining an omnichannel call center can be complex and costly—especially when it has to integrate with various systems like CRM, customer support, and marketing automation software.
- Data security and privacy risks: Omnichannel call centers gather substantial customer data that must be securely protected from unauthorized access, and businesses must also comply with all relevant data privacy regulations. Sometimes this can be trickier to do in one place than it is to shore up each sector individually.
- Training and support: Representatives of omnichannel call centers require training to work with the various systems and channels effectively. Moreover, agents themselves may need more support when resolving intricate customer issues.
If you’re looking to implement an omnichannel call center, be sure to do the following for the best results:
- Start small and scale up
- Invest in training and support
- Communicate with customers
- Monitor and measure results
As long as you’ve determined your company’s communication preferences and goals associated with a call center before you get started, making the right choice should be easy.
If you only want your center to answer questions and resolve customer issues, then an inbound call center is all you need. If you only want your call center to find leads and try to make sales, then outbound is the way to go.
Of course, for a little of column A and a little of column B, a blended center can be worth the extra trouble—and you can always go all out with an omnichannel approach if it aligns with your goals, needs, and budget.