Call centers have been around for a pretty long time. We got used to the idea of them, but I’ve been wondering – do they really make sense? Or are we overdue an update? And are virtual call centers that update?
Think about phones. We all carry them around now, but just a few years ago every phone was basically attached to a wall.
It seems sort of funny now that phones are totally mobile. But, given that they are mobile… why do call centers still need to be in huge buildings?
Virtual Call Center? What’s That?
There are generally two things that you might call a ‘virtual call center’.
One is basically a traditional inbound call center that spread across several locations. The business or BPO routes calls across the sites as needed in order to spread their load.
This is a good use of tech, but it’s essentially just a standard call center with some clever routing. It still means running a physical location and getting agents to travel there.
The second and more interesting version means remote working, something most of us are far more familiar with these days. Instead of one or more central buildings, calls are routed to small remote offices or to people’s homes.
This used to be pretty radical, although 2020 has changed the definition of radical quite a lot…
Are There A Lot Of Virtual Call Centers?
It’s very common to run several sites. BPOs can have dozens of sites doing more or less the same work. Home-based agents are still fairly unusual though – albeit, not as unusual as you might think.
In the USA, about 53% of US contact centers have at least some home-working agents.
Are There Any Benefits To This?
Most managers experience complete dread when they think about remote agents.
They’re usually concerned that:
- Productivity will be terrible if they can’t look over agents’ shoulders
- There will be less professionalism among agents
- They will lose sensitive data
Those may seem like fair concerns… but they’re not based on fact.
Check Out This Case Study:
My Twinn is a doll company in the US that outsourced pretty much their entire call center operation to home-based agents.
Did their business collapse as a result?
In fact, there was a strong positive impact. Their inquiries converted to orders jumped 30%.
They saw a 90% drop in escalated calls.
Their agent turnover dropped by 88%.
These are some giant figures but they’re also consistent with a general trend for home agents. Virtual call centers have great retention too, hitting 80% compared with just 25% for on-site centers.
Larger pools of applicants to draw from means businesses can be far more selective with their hiring qualifications. Their agents are usually older, more highly educated and have more experience.
To put it another way: they’re not limited to the people in their local area. They can hire the best, most dedicated people.
What Are The Challenges?
It’s not all plain sailing though. To create a virtual call center you must first overcome some tech challenges.
#1 How Can Your Link The Agents To Your System?
This used to be the worst part. Now, it’s probably the easiest. Hosted or cloud-based call center software doesn’t care where the agent is, just like your smartphone doesn’t care what room you’re in.
Voice and media data can travel wherever they’re needed. Cloud-based SIP trunking and SBC is pretty much all you need. (If that doesn’t mean much to you, it doesn’t matter – the point is, we live in the internet age!)
Even if all of your call tools are premises-based there are a lot of ways to set this up. Deeply integrated systems make it easy to build automation, and that cuts down on routine manual tasks like data entry.
In turn, that reduces the load placed on home internet connections, and makes training easier!
#2 How Do You Protect Sensitive Data?
This is dangerous territory! In one survey, 4% of agents revealed that they had been approached by someone outside their organization to sell it. (I guess the ones who did sell stolen information didn’t mention it…)
So – you need to guard against attacks. SRTP and SIP encryption are standard features of most phone systems, but you’ll always need to check that that’s the case. With encryption, it’s near-impossible for anyone to listen in to calls.
Manual control of call recordings is another useful feature. Naturally, there are some details that agents should never record, like banking information. The simplest way to make sure that never happens is to let agents pause the call recording themselves.
There’s one more thing – how is data accessed and stored? Is it stored at all? Real-time-access is the approach that a lot of businesses take, and it means data is sent only when it’s needed and it’s discarded right away.
#3 Can You Monitor How Agents Perform?
There’s a different relationship between employers and /employees in the virtual setting. Businesses in 2020 have had to change everything from recruitment to onboarding to L&D.
Monitoring is one part that’s stayed pretty simple. True, you can’t wander over to an agent and ask how their day is going.
But regardless of what call center metrics you measure, you can measure them remotely just the same. (It’s not like you’re using an abacus to tally this stuff!)
And remember what we said earlier? Your virtual call center is likely to attract older, more experienced, and better-educated staff.
The people who do well in these roles already know how to work with fairly limited supervision – that something you should make the most of!
(And hey, don’t forget that call centers save about $25,000 per agent, per year, who works from home…)
So Will The Virtual Call Center Really Become The Norm?
Here’s the thing: virtual call centers are all about looking at a business model and scrapping the expensive bits that you don’t really need.
Do you need every employee to travel to the same building? No.
Is it wise to limit your talent pool to those who live nearby? No.
Is it hard to ‘go remote’? No
With that in mind – I think the virtual call center will be the norm very soon…