How to set up a call center for success

Familiarize yourself with the steps to set up a successful call center – from choosing a call center software to performance reporting and tracking

In 2015, David Borrie and Mikey Hammerton founded a recording studio in an abandoned police station in Bristol. Their time-sharing concept instantly struck a chord with musicians who, otherwise, had to spend huge sums of money on rehearsals and production studios. In just four years, they outgrew the police station and expanded to 21 locations across two continents. Today, Pirate Studios cater to 50,000 musicians, globally.

Initially, they were outsourcing their customer service operations. But as their business scaled up, they realized that this was negatively affecting customer experience. So, they hired their own team, signed up for a call center software, and set up their own call center for customer support. Now, how did this help them? Their agency used to maintain an Average Speed of Answer (ASA) of 90 seconds. They were able to bring it down to 3 seconds, and this was just one of the many improvements they achieved.

Setting up an in-house call center

Businesses have traditionally had more than one reason to outsource their call center operations, especially for customer support, instead of setting up their own. Call centers were seen as cost centers, the infrastructure costs were prohibitive, maintenance required skilled personnel, hiring talent was hard, training even more so, and attrition hit the hardest. Providing localized support, globally, was something only enterprise companies could dream of in their philosophy.

Call center for businesses

However, this situation has dramatically changed in the past few years, and two factors have contributed heavily to this.

1) The perks of customer retention

Firstly, business owners are increasingly recognizing the link between profit and customer service, and how it’s governed by the economics of loyalty — as most of us now know and have experienced, it is 5x to 25x more expensive to acquire new customers than retaining existing ones. Companies are not just building their own customer support teams but also supplementing them with customer success functions to reduce churn and increase recurring revenue.

2) The rise of cloud telephony

Secondly, the advent of subscription-based (SaaS) call center software, has removed the dependency on infrastructure and premise-based phone systems. It has also made call center operations location-agnostic, making customer support at a global scale feasible for small businesses too.

Setting up a call center is not rocket science (anymore). Hosted cloud phone systems and VoIP phone systems have also eliminated the need for an in-house maintenance team. So, if you are planning to set up a call center with a call center software, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind to ensure that you enjoy success, and also win your callers over.

6 key steps to set up a call center

The fundamental setup you need to have in place can be built by following these steps: 

  1. Choose a call center software
  2. Buy or retain your business phone number
  3. Add your team and assign roles
  4. Route tour calls and decide your call flow
  5. Identify bottlenecks (and iterate)
  6. Report and retrospect

Let’s look at each of them in detail.

1) Choose your call center software

Your call center software is the foundation of your call center setup. There are several types of cloud phone systems with different sets of specialized features — some cater to call centers, others are used for business communication or intra-office communication, a few cater to all. So, it is crucial to make the right choice.

One of the easiest ways to identify a call center software from the different kinds of phone systems is to look out for the following must-have features:

FeatureFor which type of call centerWhy you need it
IVR InboundTo route callers to the right team or department
Call queues InboundTo make sure that calls ring to the right department
Live dashboardInbound/OutboundFor supervisors to get a live overview of calls, callers and agents
Integration with helpdesk softwareCustomer supportTo convert calls to tickets
Integration with CRMSalesTo convert calls to leads or append information to deals
DialersOutboundTo automate dialing
Call center reportingInbound/OutboundTo easily assess the health of your call center, track agent performance, and also understand call volume trends
Call recordingInbound/OutboundFor documentation as well as agent training

While these are must-have features for your call center software, here’s a set of additional features you need if you want to provide the best user experience to your callers:

FeaturesFor which type of call centerWhy you need it
Service level monitoring InboundTo make sure that all your calls are answered within an agreed-upon time limit
Transferable call notes Inbound/OutboundTo ensure that callers do not have to repeat their issue or query when they are transferred to a new agent or rep
Custom greetingsInboundTo welcome your callers and guide them through your call flow
Call maskingOutbound To mask your business number with a mobile number or local number. This helps in providing a localized experience and also in improving your hit rate.

Beyond these capabilities, a good call center software can also provide you with the phone number of your choice or it lets you use your existing business phone number.

2) Retain or buy phone numbers

Setting up a new call center need not necessarily mean that you have to change your existing business phone number. There are two ways to retain your old number:

  • Port your number(s) to the new call center software, if you are okay with switching your carrier
  • BYOC (bring your own carrier), if you’d like to retain your carrier as well

With number porting, your calls will be charged based on the call rates of your new call center solution. BYOC means that you’ll continue to pay the same call charges you were paying to your existing carrier. You can make your choice depending on which is more beneficial for you. Often, this choice is dictated by the geographies of your business.

On the other hand, you can also use call masking to mask your new numbers with your existing phone number, or vice versa.

Go global with Virtual Phone Numbers

If you are buying a new phone number within your call center software, you have the following options to choose from:

a) Local phone numbers: 

Local phone numbers allow you to provide a localized experience to your callers and also keep your call rates in check. Even if you are an inbound call center or an outbound call center, local phone numbers are key contributors to cutting your costs associated with your call center.

b) Toll-free numbers:

Yes, toll-free numbers will be more expensive than local numbers. However, it will make your business more accessible to your callers. It also helps in creating a perception that your business is customer-friendly since you are opening up a no-cost channel (for your caller) to reach you. Businesses often use a combination of local and toll-free phone numbers for their inbound call centers.

c) Vanity phone numbers: 

Vanity numbers (1-646-FLOWERS, 1-347-HELPYOU) are phone numbers that can act as a branding platform for your business. Their digits reflect some aspect of your business on the dialer/keypad, enabling easy recall and associations. They typically cost more than your local phone numbers.

Buying a new number
Buying a new phone number

Once you have your phone number(s) purchased or ported into your call center software, you are ready for the next step. 

3) Add a team, assign roles

As always, technology is only one part of the solution. In order to make sure that your call flows are correctly set up in the present and your call center can be scaled up in the future, you need to add your team to your call center software, and assign them roles. Roles are of the following types:

  • Admins

Call center admins typically set up the call center software, make decisions about pricing plans, decide if add-ons are to be purchased or users are to be added. They are responsible for the initial setup and also the scaling up of your call center to match the growth of your business.

  • Supervisors or managers

Call center supervisors or managers will be immersed in the day-to-day monitoring and management of the call center and their agents or reps. They are also responsible for training, assigning business hours to agents, and performance reporting.

  • Agents or reps

Call center agents or reps will be making or receiving calls in your call center. They will be your frontline, constantly engaging with callers or customers.

Adding agents
Adding agents

You can create teams from the users you have added. Once you have your team and team-structure in place, you can focus on how your incoming calls will be routed.

4) Route your calls and design your call flows

The teams you just created should now be mapped to call queues. A call queue is nothing but a setup to line up your incoming calls so that the next-available agent can answer them. Based on your requirement, you can also introduce IVR menus to your call flow.

As soon as a call is made to your call center, you can choose to send your caller to an IVR menu or a call queue. If you have multiple teams, you can start your call flow with an IVR menu, the caller can then choose (by pressing 1, 2, or…) which department they need to be put in touch with. In this case, each department or team (let’s say, the support team for APAC) will be associated with a call queue.

Sending a call to an IVR or call queue
Sending a call to an IVR or call queue

One of the cool things that you can do with IVR menus and call queues is that you can set up your own custom welcome messages to delight your callers.

You can also set up fallback options if the assigned agents do not answer the calls. Some of the common fallback options in call centers are

  • Send to voicemail
  • Offer a callback
  • Send to another queue

You can also choose to simply hangup without setting up a fallback option.

Creating call flows
Creating call flows

Call routing also depends on your office hours and holidays. To make sure that you are aware of all incoming calls to your call center, you can set up

  1. Business hours routing to handle calls that come during your office hours
  2. After-hours routing to send calls to your fallback options like voicemail, once your office hours are over
  3. Holiday routing to handle calls that come on holidays

Once you have these rules and flows in place, you can test how calls are being received by your call center and if they are reaching the right person.

5) Identify bottlenecks

Supervisors play a key role in identifying bottlenecks in the call flows that you have set up. They can do it using a live dashboard that lets them monitor calls that are in conversations and calls that are in queue.

Some indicators of bottlenecks are:

  • High number of abandoned calls
  • Service level breaches
  • Increase in hangups
  • Phone calls that are taking longer than the average time expected

Once these bottlenecks are identified, you can try reducing them by 

  • Reducing the number of IVR menus if you have multi-level or nested IVRs
  • Joining calls (call barging) where an agent requires inputs from the supervisor
  • Introduce custom messages that assure the caller that their call will be answered soon
  • Announce their position in the wait queue, and so on

These rectifications are, of course, not one-off. You’ll need to keep monitoring and performing these tweaks in iterations. Soon, you’ll be able to notice the improvement in your call center performance.

6) Report and retrospect

The next and final step after monitoring is reporting — a retrospection of the outcome of everything you have set up and everyone who is part of your call center’s journey. While monitoring helps in identifying real-time problems, reporting is key to understanding the trends taking place in your call center, over time. Here are a few basic reports that can help you get started:

  • Call center health report

A call center health report will show you the total calls – answered, missed, abandoned, callbacks, sent to voicemail, etc. — over a period of time. It will also tell you the average wait time for your callers and also the average handle time of your agents. 

  • Call volume analysis

Call volume analysis will show you call volume trends on a monthly, weekly or daily basis. This will help you perform agent allocation on days when your call center is experiencing high traffic. Call outcome trends are also typically reported in call volume analysis.

Call center reporting
Reporting call volume in your call center
  • Agent performance report

This will show you how many calls are being answered by your agents, their average handle time and also the time they spend in after-call work. By looking at these call center metrics you’ll be able to optimize the productivity of your agents and also appreciate them for their good work.

You can build these reports using your call center software. In Freshcaller, these are readily available as pre-built reports.

So, there you go. You currently have the recipe to setting up a successful call center. While it may not be as simple as mixing sugar, spice, and everything nice, it definitely can help you start from scratch and have your call center up and running in a week, if not days. If you’d like to take step 1 — choosing a call center software — you can start by comparing phone systems, right here