Here’s a laundry list of difficult issues for companies with contact centers. Check all that apply:
- Motivating call center agents
- Finding qualified staff with skills in specific areas
- Staff attrition
- Workforce scheduling and staffing contact centers 24x7
- Dealing with call spikes and peak volume demands
- Labor costs
Most contact centers would check off everything on that list, and probably add a few of their own. These challenges have led more and more contact centers — some household names and a lot of smaller companies as well — to move to the virtual contact center model.
Virtual Call Centers for Talent, Time Zones and Cost Savings
The name is something of a misnomer; it's virtual in some respects, but despite being a change in workforce management, it's a real, live (if dispersed) contact center with real, live agents manning it.
The call center agents are not in the same location, however, and they often don't work traditional eight-hour shifts. They might not even be in the same city, state or country. Some might specialize in returns, while others might speak Mandarin as well as Spanish or German.
Although agents are decentralized in multiple locations, they are, with the help of call center software designed for this purpose, managed as a single team. The call center application software, from companies like Angel.com, Contactual, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Salesforce and dozens more, help call center managers balance call volumes based on traffic or type of call, reduce wait times and increase customer satisfaction.
The virtual call center model also allows managers to identify agents that have the exact skill set needed for the job, regardless of where they are located. This flexibility allows businesses to route calls based on more detailed criteria and improve first-call resolution, according to a recent study from contact center research firm ContactBabel of 200 US-based contact center operational leaders.
Other call center benefits include the ability to forecast and schedule once, since the contact centers are treated as a single resource; increasing global coverage; deploying applications in a standard manner; and creating more opportunity for expansion, since physical space isn't an issue.
ContactBabel research found that 72% of respondents said their virtual call center improved their ability to handle call spikes, 56% improved agent utilization and reduced queues, and another 56% said a wider range of agent skills were available to callers.
Labor cost is another win. Contact centers are notoriously expensive to run, but hiring employees in less expensive locales can cut down on expenses, as can employees who work from home instead of in a standard contact center. The ability to more fully use an existing IP-based network and online contact center application also helps reign in costs. According to the ContactBabel study, 69% of respondents considered cost savings a major driver.
And it's clearly taking off; companies including AT&T, U-Haul, JetBlue, Hilton Hotels and 1-800-Flowers are going full-force, along with many others. But it's not just large companies; according to hosted contact center provider Appia Communications, small and midsized companies are jumping on the bandwagon just as fast, for the same reasons.
Still, it's not a slam-dunk for everyone. The ContactBabel study found that about half of respondents were concerned about security, complexity, management and business benefits. ContactBabel admitted in its study that this is complicated stuff, especially where the business has a complicated infrastructure. It advises, however, that by implementing a single, open, scalable platform, it's doable and offers sustained customer benefits and significant payback.