DSC Tech Library
This section of our technical library presents information and documentation relating to Call Center technology and Best Practices plus software and products.
Since the Company's inception in 1978, DSC has specialized in the development of communications software and systems. Beginning with our CRM and call center applications, DSC has developed computer telephony integration software and PC based phone systems. These products have been developed to run on a wide variety of telecom computer systems and environments.
What Is A Call Center?
Prosci Research - Call Center Learning Center
You have most likely called a call center many times in your life. You may have made an airline reservation, called for directory assistance, ordered a product or called for technical support on a recent purchase. The call center is the place where your telephone call is answered.
Depending on how many phone calls are received, call centers may be very small or extremely large. Some companies need thousands of employees to handle the large volume of calls they receive from customers.
A call center is like any other office environment where you will find many people talking on the phone and working with computers. The key difference is that in a call center the employees' primary job is to take calls and help customers. When they finish with one customer, they move on to the next customer that is waiting in line.
On a busy day, employees in a call center (called customer service representatives or customer service agents) may take more than 100 phone calls. The number of calls that a customer service agent takes depends on the length of each call and their work schedule. On average call times last from three to four minutes, with about one minute of "after call wrap-up" to complete any unfinished work related to the call.
If you work in a call center, you will need to be good with people and comfortable talking on the phone, but there is more to it than just the phone call.
The role of the computer
Technology plays a major role in the call center. Most call centers will have a computer terminal for each customer service agent to use while taking calls from customers. These computers are used to access customer records, product information, ordering status, transaction history and many other types of data. For medical or technical call centers, these computers will help the customer service agents access medical records or technical data.
For call centers that accept email from customers, computers are the primary tool for the call center agent. A customer service agent will read the email from the customer, access data, conduct research and reply to the customer all from the computer terminal. In state-of-the-art centers, the call center management team has the choice to blend email with phone calls and other customer contact work such as mail, fax and text chat. In this environment, a customer service agent may answer an email one moment and be on the phone for the next customer contact. This is why some call centers use the term "contact center" instead of call center because it is more than just phone calls.
The call center team
Call centers are typically organized in groups. Each team has a defined role in the call center to support a particular type of customer request. For example, in a call center for ordering clothing, one team may support mens' apparel while another team may support teens' or womens' clothing. Each call center is organized differently depending on the types of products or services they support.
Call center agents have a complete support team to assist them in their work. When difficult questions arise, most call centers have a help desk for their agents to use, or the call center provides support from the supervisors in each area. In some cases it is necessary to escalate the call to experts. If all these options fail, it may be necessary to call the customer back with the information they need.
Other types of teams within the call center may include the training group (for training new hires and ongoing training of agents), the quality monitoring team (for monitoring calls for customer service and quality), human resources (for recruiting and hiring call center agents) and the work force management (for scheduling employees to match the work load).
A new age of technology
When call centers first began, it was not unusual to walk into a call center and hear ringing phones. When a customer called, the telephone system would ring the telephone of any agent that was not busy with another call. If more than one call was coming in at the same time, many phones could be ringing.
In today's modern call centers, when a customer calls they wait in line in what is called a "queue." A telephone queue is a holding place for calls until an agent becomes free to take a new call. Since most agents in call centers today wear headsets, you will not hear ringing phones. The waiting call is transferred to the agent that has been idle the longest, and all the agent hears is a tone that alerts them a call is coming through.
Within the call center area, usually on an electronic display board, you can see how many calls are waiting on hold and how long the longest caller has waited. This information helps the agents and managers know when to take special steps to speed up the process or to add more agents to handle calls in queue.
Also commonplace today in call centers is automated attendant technology (Press 1 for sales, Press 2 for ...). This technology allows customers to tell the telephone system the type of call they are placing. Recall from the earlier discussion on teams that the call center is organized in groups supporting different areas. The automated attendant ensures that the customer is routed or directed to the right group to meet their needs.
In some companies, they have taken the automated attendant one step further. Instead of only routing calls, the automated system can help the customer directly. For example, banks have long used these automated systems to provide account information or to initiate transactions such as balance transfers. In state-of-the-art call centers, you will find speech recognition technology that allows the customer to speak their request and avoid pressing buttons on their telephone.
Covering the globe
Not all call centers are centrally located in a single building. Large companies may have many call centers located all around the world. This allows them to handle different time zones and languages. The term for this type of time-zone coverage is "follow the sun." Companies can also route calls to the call center that is the least busy thereby better utilizing their resources and shortening the wait time for customers.
This technology also allows companies to hire around the world. For example, you may be calling in the United States and have your call answered by someone in India. In most cases, other than accent differences between regions, you may not be aware that this call was routed to an international location.
Even formal office buildings are not a requirement for call centers. In some circumstances agents are allowed to work from home or from a branch office. This is called "remote agents" and allows flexibility in both work location and work hours. Home-based agents can work part-time and non-continuous time much easier than agents that must commute to work.
Telemarketing and outbound call centers
Not all call centers receive calls. Many call centers make calls. These call centers are called outbound call centers and include telemarketing companies, debt collection agencies, fund raising organizations and other companies that need proactive contact with customers.
In some cases a call center will handle inbound calls from customers during one period of the day and then switch to outbound calling for the remainder of the day. Other call centers have the ability to blend inbound and outbound at the same time. In other words, if you are not needed for an inbound customer call, then the system can prompt you to place an outbound call. This capability minimizes the time agents sit idle waiting for a call to come in.
Call center management and technical positions
In addition to the front-line employees that work with customers, the call center offers many other jobs in both management and technical areas. Examples of employment opportunities include:
- supervisor or team leader
- training development and delivery
- workforce scheduling
- quality monitoring or quality assurance
- business analyst (reporting and financials)
- process specialists
- human resources
- information technology
- facility design and maintenance
All of these areas are needed for the call center to work effectively and efficiently, and offer a strong and diverse career path for customer service representatives working in the call center.