Yes—and having one is becoming more and more common.
Gone are the days of stuffy call center offices where desk phones and cubicles stretch as far as the eye can see. Instead, busy companies are turning to centralized, cloud-based communications software solutions with remote customer service agents who can place and receive support calls using VoIP phone services.
In short, companies like having virtual contact centers because they provide several ways to cut costs and improve the customer experience, and employees like virtual contact centers because they come with flexible and remote working opportunities.
That said, getting one up and running with live agents is easier said than done, but once you get things going, you can reap a lot of benefits.
Setting Up a Virtual Contact Center
Setting up a virtual contact center starts by finding a good software vendor—because unless you’re an IT genius, you probably won’t want to rig one up on your own.
Some early considerations to keep in mind at this stage include the following:
- The software should have all of its communication channels in one seamless software, so agents don’t have to bounce back and forth between different platforms.
- The interface should be simple enough to boost productivity for agents, and in turn, lead to higher levels of customer satisfaction.
- A good vendor will also handle all security concerns. Vendors have to compete to win business, and since security is a huge remote work concern, many vendors will work to outdo each other in security features.
The beauty of working with a third-party vendor for your virtual contact center is that you won’t need to be super involved with any gnarly backend processes. As far as your agents are concerned, a simple account sign-in is all that’s needed to start working.
New setups vs. migrating from old ones
Migrating away from an existing in-person contact center can sometimes be a pain in the motherboard, so you may need to do some serious planning before making the move to the cloud.
Every software is different, and the ins and outs of the migration process are usually specific to the software you’ve been using or the one you’re transitioning to. In any case, there are many things you can do in preparation for the jump.
- Lay out each step beforehand so there are no surprises
- Ensure strong security protocol during the migration
- Avoid customer service disruptions while moving to the new system
- After the migration is completed, test the entire customer service process from beginning to end, making sure everything runs smoothly with no hiccups.
If you’ve ever undergone a software migration, you know how easy it can be to underestimate how long it will take and how complex the process is. You may have to account for years and years of data records, and all of that needs to be exported and moved to the cloud.
Instead, you may find that setting up a new virtual contact center is much easier since you don’t have to deal with any existing data or processes. Of course, that means many other things will be harder—like starting from scratch and building new customer profiles. You may also need to deal with veteran agents who are used to the old system and will put up a bit of a fuss.
Fortunately, whether you’re migrating or setting up a brand-new contact center, a good vendor should be able to do most of the grunt work for you. Some vendors even include migration as part of the software itself, while others sell it as an additional service.
Provisioning Virtual Contact Center Employees
Onboarding starts by familiarizing your agents with the platform you chose. This can take multiple training sessions for your agents to learn to use all the snazzy new features. It also may require tutorials on any relevant or new company policies and procedures.
At this stage, it’s probably best to avoid “just checking the boxes” by scheduling a few mass training meetings or lectures. Instead, try to go over the new software in smaller group settings where your agents can simulate what using the platform is like in realistic situations.
Providing access and training on the new platform is just the start. You may also want to purchase new equipment, such as headsets or even company-issued smartphones.
In general, this can be a way to ensure that all of your agents have the high-quality hardware that allows them to do their jobs better—especially when it means your customers won’t have to listen to an agent’s voice as it struggles to make it through a crusty old microphone. Plus, many agents will be more willing to change to new software if you give them shiny new toys.
Of course, even brand-new phones won’t perform very well on terrible internet connections, so you may want to incorporate some kind of speed test during the hiring process. A poor internet connection is not a reason to reject a candidate in and of itself, but it’ll at least prepare you for what can happen down the line. If they’re really good at what they do, you may even decide to invest in getting them a faster setup.
The requirements really aren’t crazy, though. If your customer service is entirely audio-based, 0.15 megabits per second is all that’s needed. If there’s a video or screen-sharing component to your customer service, then you’ll need at least 3 Mbps. That said, a good rule of thumb is to put a 20-30% safety margin on top of the minimum needed internet speed.
Advantages of a Virtual Contact Center
By abandoning your on-site contact center in favor of a virtual one, you’ll have access to a number of benefits.
The most obvious benefit to your company will be the cost savings. If you can reduce your office space, you can also cut back on many costs, including:
- Rental/lease/loan payments
- Property taxes
- Maintenance and repairs
These savings can quickly make up for the initial investment of starting a virtual contact center. Over time, even small cost savings can lead to substantial sums of money that your business can set aside for a rainy day or to venture into new growth opportunities.
If your company grows and needs more customer service agents, having a non-virtual contact center means buying more office space and paying all of the associated costs. At the same time, if you ever have to downsize rapidly, you’ll be stuck paying for office space you no longer use.
This means changing sizes in either direction can be problematic for your budget—unless you’ve got a virtual contact center. In that case, all you need to do to keep up with rising or falling demand is sign up for more or fewer agents with your provider.
Employee flexibility and satisfaction
Agents may prefer a remote working arrangement because it means they don’t have to commute.
If a virtual contact center provides them with that, it can lead to a domino effect of employee satisfaction. Maybe they get more sleep, are happier with the work, become more loyal to the company, and ultimately work harder. All of these things can help your business by cutting your recruiting and training costs, and it can lead to increased output from your business.
Ultimately, this can all lead to happier customers as well.
Wider talent pool
A physical call center limits your talent pool to a specific geographic area. Even if that area is heavily populated, it’s still limited.
A virtual call center expands your hiring options to essentially the entire world. This offers you far more options and helps you find the best customer service talent out there.
Plus, you can serve a broader range of customer demographics. For instance, if you serve customers who speak different languages, you could hire multilingual agents to serve those customers better.
Tradeoffs With a Virtual Contact Center
No new technology is perfect. When you upgrade to internet-based tech like virtual contact centers, you’ll naturally lose the benefits of a physical call center—which do exist.
The good thing is, if you’re smart about it, you can reduce the downsides of virtual contact centers, making the move as smooth as possible.
In fact, many of the issues that come with virtual contact centers also have ways to fix them.
Virtual contact centers can become attractive targets for data breaches, cyberattacks, and other threats due to the sheer volume of customer data they deal with.
On top of that, managing security among a remote, dispersed team can be a lot harder to pull off than when they’re all under one roof. This means that extra planning may be necessary to strengthen your security.
On the company side, agent security and privacy can become worrisome as well. With agents working from home rather than from a common office, they could face cyber threats to their home computers or jeopardize aspects of their personal privacy—such as their addresses.
To minimize security woes, look for virtual contact center solutions that advertise top-notch security. Features to watch for include:
- End-to-end encryption
- Strict access controls
- Secure data transmission
- Multi-factor authentication
Additionally, you should run regular audits and penetration tests to find and fix weaknesses right away, while also training employees on cybersecurity basics and teaching them what potential threats to security look like.
On the agent privacy and security side, it’s important to have clear processes and procedures for handling sensitive data and information.
For example, two-factor authentication is great for preventing unauthorized access to remote employee workspaces. Also, make sure to use secure, encrypted communication channels—and consider implementing virtual private networks (VPNs) as well.
Like security concerns, technical challenges threaten smooth daily customer service operations. If something happens to the software or hardware, no agent can help customers until things are restored—and for all businesses, that’s a total nightmare.
Even further, individual agents may lose internet connection if their home loses power or some other random issue occurs. While not as bad as the software itself crashing, this shifts the burden to other agents and potentially hurts the quality of customer service.
Look for virtual contact center solutions with highly rated tech support teams. Ideally, the software’s tech support should be available around the clock—especially if you have remote team members in different time zones.
Another good idea is to put redundancies in place, such as backup internet connections. You can also set up non-internet communication channels—yes, we’re talking about landlines—if possible. This won’t allow the same level of productivity, but it can at least reduce the impact of outages and ensure teams can continue communicating in worst-case scenarios.
Offering a home office stipend and urging employees to invest it in a good internet connection can pay off. You’ll reduce the chance that slow or unreliable internet hampers their work.
Lastly, training your agents on common technical issues can also help you offload the burden of troubleshooting issues with them or for them. In theory, well-trained agents will be able to solve issues themselves, reducing their personal frustration and enabling them to continue working without you or your IT team needing to get involved.
Less employee socialization
Humans are social beings, so one of the upsides of working in an office is having the option to be around people. Spending office downtime with coworkers can foster a sense of camaraderie and make everyone feel like they’re part of a larger goal.
Thus, although remote work saves time on commuting and offers employees flexibility that many would swear by, it can also create feelings of isolation. Your agents may lose a feeling of connection to the company and other coworkers, causing their overall morale and job satisfaction to drop. This can lead to drops in morale, satisfaction, and productivity.
To combat these, it’s important to find ways to encourage agents to interact with each other so they establish a sense of togetherness.
Scheduling regular check-ins with employees is a great place to start. You don’t have to evaluate their work performance—just ask them if everything is going well and if there’s anything the company can do to make them enjoy their work more.
Having face-to-face video meetings whenever possible and relevant is another good idea. This goes for work-related matters and other downtime as well.
Virtual contact centers offer tons of benefits—from cost savings and productivity gains to a wider talent pool and more scalability.
Naturally, there are some trade-offs when it comes to potential technical and security issues (among other things), but proactive steps can be taken to mitigate these issues.
Thus, if you go about it the right way, a virtual contact center can be a game-changer for your business. Just be sure to find software with top-notch security and tech support, invest in high-quality training and hardware, and facilitate a more social remote work culture at your company.