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Starting a Call Center? Advice From One Company's Journey

6 minute read
Jennifer Torres avatar
Starting any new venture can be an intimidating undertaking, and the decision to open a contact center is no different.

For Truliant Federal Credit Union in North Carolina, the vision to add a new satellite call center began with an analysis of capacity and commute.

On a good day, the drive from Greensboro to the main call center in Winston-Salem took about 30 minutes — a trek routinely made by several employees.

“Our facility planning team started reviewing the current capacity within our existing footprints and realized we had unused space in our Battleground, Greensboro branch,” said Mark Testerman, vice president of member experience and contact centers for Truliant. “Several of our contact center employees drove from Greensboro to our headquarters in Winston-Salem, and we wanted to offer an alternate location closer to their homes and create a contact center presence in another facility for business continuity to serve our members more efficiently.”

Related Article: What Is a Call Center? A Detailed Guide

The Vision for a New Call Center

In addition to the services of a traditional call center — where agents predominantly handle voice calls — a call center also supports other queries through email, text, chat and other various communication channels. But today the terms are used interchangeably.

For Truliant, the vision was both employee- and customer-based. They wanted a center closer to staff — and one that would enhance current member services by offering extended customer support through voice, chat and email communications. 

Since the company’s existing platform could handle capacity across multiple locations, they were able to use it to connect agents to the current telephone system, integrating with their primary call center in Winston-Salem and allocating member voice volume within the agent-assigned ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) advanced work groups.

And while their platform does not currently integrate AI, company officials said they are looking at incorporating natural language understanding in the future and adding more satellite call centers in other markets.

Truliant’s satellite office opened in September and currently staffs 12 employees with agents recruited from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, including bilingual representatives.

“While contact center experience is preferred, we also consider candidates that have worked in other areas of customer service, such as retail, hospitality, etc.,” Testerman said. “Agents are measured based on each interaction’s quality and efficiency. We are member-obsessed and ask our agents to build relationships with our members by identifying their needs and providing the first-call resolution to their requests, while remaining sensitive to our members busy lives.”

So, You Want to Start a Call Center?

Thinking of starting a call center? As the organizational hub of customer service, support and troubleshooting, it’s often at the epicenter of efforts to retain current customers and attract new ones — so the stakes are high to get It right. 

The reason that you want to invest in a call center is to ultimately drive customer loyalty, retention and revenue, according to Kate Leggett, VP and principal analyst for CRM and customer service at Forrester Research.

“Forrester data shows that great customer service correlates to increased customer loyalty where customers stay with the brand longer, purchase more from the brand over time and serve as advocates,” Leggett said. “Increased customer loyalty correlates to increased top line revenue. We have data that highlights this correlation between CX and top line revenue in dozens of industries and geographies.”

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Why the Contact Center Is Essential to the Customer Experience

What It Takes to Start a Successful Call Center

Leggett said there are four essential components to address before investing in a call center — strategy, technology, people and processes:

Strategy

According to Leggett, strategy begins with a detailed vision that defines a company’s objectives up front. For example, is the goal to deliver better CX and influence revenue? Or is the main motivation to drive down costs? What channels do you support your customers on (voice, digital, self-service)? What are your metrics? Are they cost-focused (handle time, speed of answer) or are they customer-focused (more emphasis on first call resolution, CSAT, NPS)?

Technology

The tech a call center elects to utilize depends greatly on the size and complexity of the center. Setting up a small call center can be as easy as provisioning a contact phone number, but Leggett points out that most call centers also want to log customer inquiries in a customer service application; and incorporating AI can be a powerful tool.

“There is a tremendous amount of technology that goes into a call center, and there are a range of excellent applications that support all sizes and complexity of call centers. You want to offload all rote, repetitive work from agents to focus them on making an impact to the customer,” Leggett said. “AI guides agents through best workflows, recommends next best actions to take, empowers agents with knowledge articles to answer questions  — making agents more effective and impactful.”

The People

In her experience, Leggett found the most important questions to ask when determining call center staff are simple ones. How many agents do you need? Where are they working — at home, hybrid in a call center? Are they badged employees or are they outsourced? What is their profile and skillset? And how do you hire, onboard and manage agents?

“Skills must match the questions that your call center fields. However, all agents should be highly empathetic, have good listening skills and great communication skills,” Leggett said. “Also, agents are asked to do more these days, including digital engagement and writing knowledge articles.”

The Process

The top 10 metrics that organizations use to measure call center performance were listed as part of NTT’s CX Benchmarking Report 2021, and include:

  • CSAT (internal scoring mechanisms)
  • Customer retention/churn 
  • Sales performance (including customer value/leads generated)
  • VoC feedback
  • Workplace productivity (including efficiency)
  • Quality control/process adherence
  • Average response time
  • Net Promoter Score (including positive referrals/feedback)
  • First contact resolution
  • Employee experience

Conclusion: Customer Service Can't Be Afterthought

While advice on opening a successful call center is important, Leggett said knowing what not to do is equally critical.

“Customer service should not be viewed as a cost center to be managed and viewed as an afterthought in organizational planning,” she said. “Two thirds of customer interactions are for post-purchase support. Great customer service is a cornerstone in retaining and growing your customer value over time.”

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