Build Your Own Call Center: Advise From the Field
The purpose of a call center is to receive and transmit large volumes of requests by telephone. The ‘inbound’ services it can provide includes administration of incoming product support or information inquiries from customers. Telemarketing and debt collection are the more common forms of ‘outbound’ services a call center provides.
All call centers share the same basic fundamentals: business need, processes, people, technology and a place to house them all. By now, you will agree that there is market opportunity for outsourced call center services. However, to capture that opportunity, you must first build a call center.
Though seeking a prime location for the business address is not critical, a secure and well-developed infrastructure is. The center should have stable electricity source, broadband connection, and convenient access to public transportation. Because you will be operating at hours when normal shops will be closed, a pantry stocked with basic food and drinks is a must.
No one should underestimate the impact good technology has on the delivery of service. In fact, technology plays a critical role in ensuring that every call is are efficiently processed, communication is monitored and the entire service-delivery procedure constantly improves.
The typical call center has a number of workstations that include a telephone set/headset connected to a telecom switch, and one or more supervisor stations. Inbound traffic is routed via Private Branch eXchange (PBX) and Automated Call Distribution systems. Predictive dialers automate call outs of potential customers and distribute the calls to available agents. A CRM solution is needed to track each lead (opportunity). As you increase the number of agents, you will require a workforce management solution to manage recruitment and staffing. Agent performance analytics can help keep agents aware of how they are performing and maximize compliance to client expectations.
Table 1: Technologies* available for Call Centers
Source: Enterprise Innovation 2006
The best run call centers maintain a lean organization. Outside of the executive manager, members who will contribute to the success of the call center include the agents, a team leader (1 per 10 agents), and IT manager (1 per 30 PCs). The call center is a people business and communications is the heart of it all. A top priority of management is to ensure that agents undergo regular training since competent and engaged agents are critical to building satisfied customers and successful campaigns. Like most other services, word of mouth will help bring in new business.
Breaking the investment bank
Call center owners have varying opinion on the right proportion of spending on different call center elements. A start-up call center business with five agents will have its investment budget allocated as follows: 20 percent on hardware and software, 10 percent on communications, 55 percent on people, 10 percent facilities, and 5 percent on business development. As the business matures, the people cost (including recruiting, training and compensation) will account for 65 percent of the business.
Most small call centers start their business with one or two referrals. As expertise grows, the company will begin marketing itself through memberships in industry associations and chambers of commerce. Regular visits to the target market helps to break into new markets.
In Asia, call centers frequently run campaigns travel (special tour packages and time sharing facilities), financial services (insurance, mortgage and investments), consumer product sales (ranging from luxury goods to low-value and high volume products).
About 70 percent of the business comes from US, Europe and Australia. Domestic opportunities account for 20 percent and the remaining 10 percent is from regional clients.
Telemarketing (outbound calls) represents the greatest short-term opportunity for most call centers. Most campaigns are short-term (3-6 months) and payments are usually bi-weekly. Because these are sales transaction driven, the returns are faster compared to inbound contracts (a common type being helpdesk service provisioning) which are contracted at one to three years.
It is relatively easy to set up a call center. Start-up capital can be small provided you do your homework. Selecting the right technology from the start will ensure that you don’t waste time and resources identifying the right solution to use. Having good agents who are properly incentivized is important. Because it is a people business, you need to ensure that your agents and team leaders get regular training on best practices in customer engagements. It is a common-sense business.
As a manager and investor, put yourself in the shoes of the potential customer. If you like what you hear from the calling agent, chances are you will not mind continuing the engagement.
The financial rewards are real for those who make the effort on due diligence.
Ed Saldajeno, managing director, Alva Pacific Franchise Corp.
Juni Pama, country manager, Philippines, Five9
Paul Martin, director, Application Services, HP Services Asia Pacific
Tom Cheong, managing director, ASEAN, Avaya
Wilfred Tan, managing director, ASEAN, Genesys Telecommunications
Nigel Hewett, managing director, Asia, Witness Systems
In the next issue, we tackle the harsh reality of making your call center a business after the euphoria of the first campaign is over.
About the Author
Jose Allan Tan is a technologist-market observer based in Asia. A former marketing director for a storage vendor, he is today director of web strategy and content director for Questex Asia Ltd. He also served as senior industry analyst for Dataquest/Gartner and was at one time an account director for a regional PR agency.
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