What does it take to start your own call center to service Internet subscribers and provide broadband technical support? Is it difficult? What do you need to know?
In the competitive world of broadband services, the level of technical support you provide to your Internet subscribers can often set you apart from your competition, in either a good or, unfortunately, a bad way. With this growing need for exceptional customer service, the idea of setting up your own in-house center might seem like a sound investment. But, before you connect phones and start taking calls, consider first what’s involved. Read on to review what it takes to put together and run your own call center.
Before you purchase a single piece of equipment or hire your first customer service rep, you’ll need to decide on the services you plan to support. What kind of connection issues will you support? Will you support the internet connection to the subscriber home only, or will you also help with the customer’s WiFi network? What about helping with applications like streaming video, and all those devices that are part of the internet world; Roku boxes, routers, and gaming systems that connect to the internet and internet phones? Will you also be supporting your own VoIP or video service?
Once you have a solid idea of the services you’ll offer you’ll next need a location for your calls to be received. The “center” for your call center. There are multiple ways to obtain your call center space. The most economical way is to find a space that was formerly used as a call center and now stands vacant. But you won’t find these on every block like a Starbucks. Most often, you’ll find yourself with empty buildings that may not have a useable layout. If you purchase rather than rent the space, you may have to bring your building up to the current local building code. And, if it’s not a former technical type of building, you may need to have the building wired for internet and possibly extra electrical to handle the number of computers needed to man the center.
You’ll need workstations or desks and the equipment to outfit them; computers and phones, etc. If you run 24 hours a day, (and subscribers will always expect help in the middle of the night, holidays and weekends), you need to make sure the center is able to function properly at all times with adequate light, heating and cooling, bathrooms, water and security. You’ll also need one or more backup generators for the inevitable power outages due to weather or other circumstances.
Now, you need to plan for the number of call center agents you’ll hire. Based on your subscriber numbers and your growth plans, you’ll need to hire enough customer service reps for efficient handling times for calls, staffing appropriately for your peak hour in an eight hour shift. Subscribers don’t want to wait long for help when they call. Also, it’s a good rule of thumb to have a supervisor for every 10 agents to keep things running smoothly. And, if you’re a 24-hour service, service never stops. Someone always needs to be present and ready to answer calls. Even your Call Center Manager, who may not answer service calls, will need to always be available on call if an urgent issue arises.
When determining staffing levels, you’ll need to consider the level of service you want to provide and the costs that go into servicing your customer base. Call centers survive or die on the efficiency and effectiveness of their customer service agents. It’s a losing proposition if every call lasts for close to an hour or more. Before long, you‘ll have a long queue of increasingly frustrated subscribers on hold and planning to cancel their service with you as soon as they can. But, while common sense dictates that shorter call times are better, since you’ll have more agents and lines ready for calls, that doesn’t mean rushing subscribers off the phone without resolving their issue is a good policy. That also would present a poor support experience for your customer.
Keeping the calls efficient and effective while also keeping your subscribers happy can be the difference between a center that thrives and one that doesn’t make it. There are Erlang calculators that will help you determine how many agents you need in an hour, or during an eight hour shift, based on your assumptions about call volume, call length, and the service level you are willing to accept, which is the percentage of calls answered in a specific target time (such as 80% of calls answered in 20 seconds).
Of course, it takes competitive salaries and good benefits to attract and retain good employees. You’ll also need to provide training on handling calls from a customer service perspective, how to support the subscriber from a technical perspective, and how to use the call center equipment and software. It’s also important to note the continuous nature of technical training. As new technologies, equipment, and software are introduced, your employees will need to keep their skills up to date. This ongoing training cannot end if you want to maintain a quality support experience and not have your call center become obsolete.
So now you have your space, your people and your basic equipment. Next, you’ll have to keep track of your customers and their information. You will need an application or software tool to record and store customer account information as you take calls. This application will also be needed to enter support tickets for tracking problems to see them through to resolution. These types of applications can be purchased out of the box. If you want to create a more customized application that fits your business and procedures, you can develop your own tool if you have developers on staff with that expertise, or you can hire outside developers.
You’ll also need an Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) to route incoming calls to your support agents. You may want to archive recordings of your customer calls to help with training in the future, as well as for reviewing calls when any customer complaints or praises are received. To do this, you’re going to need recording software. If you plan on handling your own billing transactions, you’ll need special equipment and procedures to keep all subscriber billing information secure.
Lastly, you need to consider ongoing operational costs. Employee recruiting and training and equipment needs are part of this. Generators will need to be serviced on a monthly basis. Janitorial services will be needed to keep the environment clean. IT support will be needed to make sure your equipment is always running properly.
The Last Word
Whew! That’s a lot to consider. It’s not easy to start a call center. It takes money, keen business acumen, some luck, and an incredible amount of dedication. Keeping your center running satisfactorily can take a lot more time and effort than you originally planned for. Before you jump in to put one together, consider the costs and the time involved. You may decide going it on your own is not the best use of your resources. If that’s the case, consider outsourcing your support, but make sure you find a partner you can trust, who will treat your customers as if they are their own.