Brief Description of a Call Center and Their Role in a Business Phone System

Call Centers and Their Role in a Business Phone System – Chapter 6

This is chapter 6 of a multiple chapter learning exercise for those looking to buy a phone system for their business.

If you want to read chapter 5, you can find that here: Features of a Business Phone System

Any book on VoIP, or phone systems has to include a brief description of a call center. Call center is synonymous with the term ‘Automated Call Distribution’, or sometimes called ACD.

brief description of a call centerThe term is often misunderstood. Often times I will ask a client if they need a call center, or if they operate a call center in their current operations. Most often the answer comes back as a “no”. Therefore, I will do a little digging and ask questions like:
Does your company answer the main lines with a receptionist, or do you answer with an automated attendant?
Does your receptionist ever get overwhelmed by the volume of incoming calls? If the answer is yes, then where do those calls go?

A call center can be used even in the scenario described above. Essentially, a call center is a mechanism that allows calls to hold for the next available operator. So, let’s look at the following real-life scenario that I just described – we will call the company ABC.

Side note: the following example is for a small center of eight people, but, the same principals, problems, issues…and solutions are applicable regardless of whether the call center has eight, eighteen, or forty-eight agents.

Company ABC has a bilingual sales department where the calls can be handled in an equal distributed fashion among eight sales people. Five of those people speak English only, and three are bilingual. The calls are managed by a supervisor that looks at the volume of incoming calls, and at times will themselves help out as well. The supervisor is responsible for the people in both offices – eight sales staff in the Toronto office, and four in the Montreal office.

Call Center employees

Currently ABC has too high a volume of calls, and all of those call back up at the reception desk. Moreover, believe it or not, Mary, the receptionist, doesn’t even speak French, despite the fact that close to 20% of the calls coming into the offices are in French. Since the owner of the company wants every call handled “live” by the receptionist, given the sometimes high volume of calls, Mary gets completely overwhelmed resulting in two bottlenecks. The first is at the reception desk where the calls ring and ring until Mary can answer. Reception will often answer and manage to say “Company ABC. Please hold”. Then, if the person speaks French, the reception knows how to say “Un moment si vous plait” and then transfers that caller directly to one of the bilingual reps.

Once reception manages to get to the caller, if the person asks to speak with Bob Smith in the accounting department, reception will of course just transfer the caller to Bob. Incidentally, 85% of the people calling ABC know where they need to get to – either to an individual directly, or to someone in the call center.

Invariably however, what happens at ABC is that reception gets overwhelmed. Here is why. Not only is every call handled through reception directly, but when someone wants to speak with an individual in the sales department, reception will put that caller on hold, page for someone in the sales department to take the call and hope that someone picks up the call. Since the call center is quite busy, often reception is paging three calls at the same time. After seventy-five seconds, the reception’s phone rings back, and reception either tries again, transfers the caller to voice mail, or takes a message. Incidentally, all French calls can only ever go to voice mail since reception doesn’t speak French, and when the caller presses ‘0’ in the French mailbox, the caller goes to one of the other French employees. There is no sense sending the caller back to reception since reception doesn’t speak the language.

Needless to say, the customers calling into ABC are extremely frustrated. They express their frustration to Mary many times, often screaming at her. She is of course polite, but can’t do more than she is already doing. They also express their dissatisfaction to the sales people as well, although they are also quite powerless.

This is where I often come in and start asking questions. The owner, IT Manager, or CFO, is often somewhat disconnected from these types of issues. Therefore, when I ask whether a call center is needed, believe it or not, I often get a big “no”. The owner doesn’t like automated attendants. The owner wants every call handled by a human.

Sounds fine until I get a chance to meet the supervisor of the call center, or the receptionist. I can’t tell you how many phone systems are purchased without ever consulting with the supervisor of the call center, or the receptionist for that matter.

Anyway, I digress. ABC clearly has a problem. I can see that they have a problem, but not only does the owner not like the automated attendants, “they like good customer service!” but the IT manager, or owner, doesn’t want to involve others in this decision. A well-designed call center would clearly help ABC. Moreover, it did. Here is what happened at ABC.

After quite a bit of insistence, I managed to bring not only the IT manager and owner in for a demo, but also the manager of customer services and reception as well.

Here is what we did to solve the problem.

All incoming calls to the main number are now handled with an automated attendant that sounds like this:
“Thank you for calling ABC. Pour le service en francais, appeuez sur le ‘1’. For customer service please press ‘2’. If you know the extension of the person you wish to reach, please enter it now. Press pound for a directory, or hold for reception.

A simple, quick greeting. And EVERY call gets handled by a live person when they press ‘0’ for reception, or ‘1’ for service. Moreover, because Mary isn’t handling nearly as many calls, she can now provide much better service to those people that really do need an operator. In addition, since a small call center was installed, all calls are now handled in an equal distributed fashion between all English operators for English calls, and bilingual operators for the French calls. The supervisor can see, in real time, what is happening with the calls as they come into the call center, and can request that an operator from the Montreal office log into the call center / ACD queue when the call volume gets too high for the Toronto office to handle.

When all of the English agents are busy, the bilingual agents can help out, since the French operators are logged into the English queue as well (although the French queued calls have a higher priority than the English calls when waiting for the next available agent). Calls arriving from Quebec (based on area code routing) are answered in French first and then get an English greeting, and any caller pressing ‘0’ from the main menu will go directly to the service department since Mary doesn’t speak French.

When all of the agents (sales people) are busy, the caller hears a greeting as follows:
“Thank you for calling company ABC. All our operators are busy. You are currently position one in a queue, and your estimated wait time is one minute. If you wish to hold please wait on the line, to leave a message press ‘1’, and to speak with an operator press ‘0’.” With the knowledge of approximate hold times the callers that don’t want to hold now have a choice.

Here is an example of what the system screen looks like:

I know, this looks somewhat confusing, but it does the job. In addition, you will be happy to know that since the system was installed, service levels and sales at ABC have gone way up.

Call center manager

Call Center Reporting
Many call center managers will want some metrics of the statistics of their call center. This includes information like:
number of calls taken by queue by day, by hour
productivity of agents; number of calls taken by day, or period of time
abandon rate of calls into the queue
average wait times by queue, call center

The list of metrics is generally quite extensive. The statistics will provide an indication of what is happening in the call center both from a real time, and historical perspective. These metrics will make it easier to staff the call center. For example, if you can determine that your abandon rate, or call volume is typically higher on Monday mornings between 10AM and 11AM, then you will know that you need to staff the call center appropriately during those time.

Some definitions:
Abandons: An abandon is defined as a customer hang-up while waiting to speak with an agent. Obviously you want to reduce abandons as much as possible – there is generally a relation between the number / percentage of abandons and overall customer satisfaction.

Occupancy: This would be the length of time that your agents are occupied on the phone.

Percentage of calls answered: This would be the percentage of calls answered upon entering the queue.

Average hold time: The average time a caller has to wait in the queue before the call is answered.

Number of calls into queue: this should be looked at on a day by day, hour by hour basis.

Skills Based Routing: As the name suggests, skills based routing is used to link each caller’s requirements with the agent who has the best skill set (of those logged into the queue). Some ACD’s provide skills based routing by allowing an agent to belong to more than one agent group simultaneously.
Sales agents with one sales skills belong to the sales agent group
Technical agents with only technical skills belong to the technical agent group
Agents with both sales and technical skills belong to the sales and technical agent group.

Skills Based Routing with User Defined Rules: A user defined rule will allow agents to belong to multiple skills (groups), but set conditions such as time in the queue, number of agents in an agent group (or with the same skill) and time of day.

Call Center organisation

Prioritization: Allows some callers to have a higher level of priority over other callers into a queue.

Dialed Number Inbound Service (DNIS): Because a company may have multiple inbound telephone numbers, DNIS will let you know which of those numbers the customer called. DNIS is a Telco service and tells the telephone system how to handle the call.

All of these metrics and issues need to be assessed in combination with one another – they should be used as benchmarks.

This is chapter 6 of the series: How to Buy a Phone System for Your Business.

If you want to read chapter 7, you can find that here: Vendors and Product Selection