Whether it’s providing customer service and support or making sales to increase the number of your clients, if you’re a small business owner who frequently engages with customers you’ve likely thought about starting a call center.
If your small business has grown enough that you need to hire agents dedicated to fielding inbound or outgoing calls from or to customer service or sales, you should skip a traditional call center and consider starting a virtual call center using call center software. That way, you can hire the best talent from across the globe, and you will save money.
Starting a traditional call center instead of a virtual one means you are falling behind. Gartner predicts that cloud contact center agents will outnumber on-premises contact center agents and that there will be a 60% increase in remote-working and full-time agents by 2024 (full content available to Gartner clients). This increase in virtual call centers means an increase in the technology being developed that will be focused solely on supporting a remote call center.
Don’t worry, we’re here to help you figure out how to start a virtual call center. If you follow these four steps, you’ll be well on your way to getting your very first virtual call center up and running in no time.
Before you begin anything else, you need to decide on the type of virtual call center you want to set up. This will be your North Star when deciding on what type of equipment and virtual call center software you will need (more on those later).
First, you need to decide whether you are going to focus entirely on outbound call center services or just respond to incoming calls to deal with customer support and service issues.
Inbound call centers focus on incoming requests. An agent waits for customers to contact them in order to assess and answer any customer experience questions or concerns. Inbound call centers offer customer service, technical support, and/or inbound sales. If you’re in the healthcare, financial services, or retail industry, you might want to consider an inbound call center.
If your business relies on nurturing customer relationships, providing a seamless customer experience, or offers product support, you might be looking to start an inbound virtual call center.
Outbound call centers focus on outgoing calls. These types of contact centers typically emphasize sales more than customer support. An agent in an outbound call center might reach out to customers to nurture leads, talk about your product, and/or convince current customers to upgrade to better service. Lead generation, customer retention, and market research are some of the most common types of outbound call centers.
If your business relies on making sales, nurturing client relationships, and upselling existing products, you might be looking to start an outbound virtual call center.
The key thing to remember during this step of starting a virtual call center is having a clear goal in mind. Too many businesses start call centers without knowing what they want their call center to accomplish which is costly and, potentially, business ending.
What industry are you using the call center for?
Do you need to focus on inbound or outbound calls?
Are you focusing on answering short-term customer concerns, or do you need to nurture specific customers long-term?
Now that you know what your virtual call center is going to focus on, it’s time to decide on the equipment your agents will need to succeed in a remote work environment. At the bare minimum, an agent will need a computer, a headset, and a trusted internet connection.
One of the largest benefits of running a virtual contact center is the relatively low cost to get started compared to a traditional call center. With a traditional call center, you need to rent expensive office space, buy furniture, a costly VPN, and have an extensive network that needs to be maintained and updated.
Virtual call centers, on the other hand, only require the few things we mentioned above. That said, you should ensure that the headsets you provide your agents are of decent quality. They should at least have enough sound dampening to prevent the person on the other side of the call from hearing your agents typing or any other background noise.
After all, your agents will most likely be working remotely, so there might be pet noises, children, or construction that an office environment might not have.
A laptop with the latest operating system
A headset that’s comfortable and has sound dampening capabilities
External keyboard and mouse
A separate monitor
Any dongles required to operate the peripherals
A reliable internet connection (at least 10Mbps)
Imagine yourself as a call center agent and experiment with the technology. Get everything you think you’ll need to comfortably succeed given the nature of your contact center. Once you’ve tested out the different types of headsets and peripherals, you’ll know what equipment to send your new virtual call center employees once they start.
Virtual call center software is perhaps the most necessary component of starting your virtual contact center because it helps your remote agents manage their incoming and outgoing calls.
Call center software can be deployed either on-premise or cloud-based. However, you’ll want to focus on vendors who provide cloud-based virtual call center software because your agents will be working remotely. One of the greatest advantages of going with a cloud-based call center software solution is that the provider is responsible for keeping it updated and maintained.
Additionally, cloud-based virtual call center software often comes equipped with VPNs and other security measures like two-factor authentication. This will give you some peace of mind and save some dollars in the initial cost of starting your virtual call center.
Automatic call distribution
Computer telephony integration
Intelligent call queues
Interactive voice response (IVR)
For more information about what these features are and how they can help your call center, check out our Call Center Software Buyers Guide.
We recommend looking for virtual call center software that has a usability score. Software that’s more user-friendly will help make training remote employees easier, which can often be a pain point when onboarding new agents. The more intuitive a piece of software is, the more quickly your agents can get up to speed and begin operating at maximum efficiency.
Once you have a handle on the types of software features you need and want out of your virtual call center software, you can begin narrowing down your list of potential software candidates. Use GetApp’s software comparison tool to compare features between your software shortlist. Look at user reviews to see if other call centers are using the software in a similar way.
Virtual call centers provide a variety of benefits which include the ability to hire the best talent no matter their location. But you don’t want just anyone. You want agents who are focused on providing a seamless customer experience to your retail customers, or who can sell anything to anyone. Getting the best agents for the job will require you to be more discerning in your candidates.
The flexibility that comes with looking for agents across the globe means your pool of potentially awesome call center agents gets bigger.
To hire the best talent regardless of their location, you want to look for candidates who possess a few desirable traits:
Can self-manage and work independently
Are great communicators both verbally and written
Will ask questions proactively whenever they see a problem or are unsure of things
One of the most important things when starting a new virtual call center is to keep your scope and scale small. You might want to come out of the gates fast, but it’s better to start with a small group of dedicated agents who are committed to helping you grow your business.
If you hire too many agents right off the bat, you might run into budgetary constraints that can hinder the growth of your business. If you hire too few agents, you might not be able to handle every incoming or outgoing calls flowing into and out of your call center.
By knowing exactly how many agents you need to hire, you can develop a hiring and training strategy that will make scaling easier in the long run.
It’s going to take a lot of time, dedication, and thought to figure out how to start a virtual call center. The single best advice we can give is to start slow and be deliberate with every single decision you make along the way during the planning process.
Be conscious of the type of call center you need to start. Do you need to focus on inbound calls or outbound calls? Is it somewhere in between?
Know what type of equipment your agents need to comfortably perform their duties. Is it simply just a laptop and a headset, or will they need additional peripherals like an extra monitor so they can be better equipped to handle customers?
Research the software features that are most important to you. Which features aren’t as important? Narrowing down your must-haves, nice-to-haves, and don’t need features is crucial when forming your call center software shortlist.
Have an idea of who you will hire now that your hiring pool is larger. How many calls do you take a day? Knowing the exact capacity you expect will help you hire the best talent. Start small and grow from there.
The fact that you’re in a position to start a virtual call center in the first place means that you’re succeeding. We’ll be here to help you continue to succeed with great resources:
The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.
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