Implementing an In-House Call Center Checklist

We’ve put together a detailed checklist of things you should consider when implementing an in-house call center.

Overview

There are several scenarios under which you may need to implement a new call center for your organization. That need could be arising from:

  1. An existing call center that is growing and is ready to jump into the deep end of the call center pool. Therefore you are treating this fundamentally like a new call center because you want to make all the right decisions now that you have that opportunity.
  2. An existing call center that is currently outsourced and you have the desire to bring that function back in-house to your organization. Typically in an outsourced scenario, it’s been a few years since this function was outsourced so having a refresher will get the creative juices flowing again.
  3. An organizational expansion to support a new contract or project or a new product launch. In this case, it truly is a brand new call center.

In all three of these situations, you now need to develop a game plan to build out this new call center group. This checklist takes the approach that your call center is a blank piece of paper and you are starting from scratch. In reality, you may already have answers to some of the topics covered based upon your organization. That just means you are a few steps ahead and you can just check those boxes off and focus on the other areas that still need to be addressed.

The checklist has been organized into the following areas of concentration:

  • Strategy
  • Location
  • Technology
  • Staffing
  • Operations

Strategy

The nature of the interactions will have implications across all areas of the contact center including agent segmentation, routing, staffing requirements, agent qualifications, compensation, KPIs, and more.

This is why the first area to address is that of the strategic decisions from which many of the following topics will take direction, based upon these answers. In this area, you will need to determine the following:

Strategic Decisions

  • Are these inbound or outbound interactions?
  • What is the nature of those interactions?
  • Who are you engaging with?
  • Is this a prospective customer inquiring about your services? An existing customer looking for help or product support?
  • A business partner that needs direction?

Now that you have determined what types of interactions you can expect, you need to take that thought process a bit further.

The regulatory environment will dramatically impact your technology selection, workflow processes, and training needs (among many other areas).

  • Are you in healthcare governed by HIPAA?
  • Will you be recording calls and need to consider the state regulations about one or two party notification?
  • If you are making outbound calls, there are a host of regulations that come into play – what considerations must you address regarding Telemarketing Sales Rule, Telephone Consumer Protection Act, Do Not Call and State regulations?
  • What miscellaneous industry-specific regulatory hurdles does your organization have to address?

This is one item that is often expected but not necessarily stated or communicated in advance. It is often dictated by your industry, your reputation, your branding, the competitive environment in which you operate, and the availability of alternative sources of this information.

  • Are you looking to segment your customers using data-driven routing? For example, do you want high value callers get the VIP treatment and jump to the top of the queue while a regular customer may receive some self-service treatment and no preferential treatment in the queue, and a customer whose payment is late is sent directly to the appropriate team.
  • Do you want to offer a high touch experience with little up-front automation? This way you get a call to the right agent as quick as possible with little to no technology interaction by the caller.
  • Do you take credit cards and need to stay PCI compliant?
  • Is your goal to have a very low cost per call and therefore apply as much technology as possible to minimize the number of calls handled by agents?
  • Is your goal revenue generation? Up-sell or cross-sell? Is it more important to deliver that call to the best agent skilled for that call versus getting the call answered immediately by another agent who is less capable of helping the caller?
  • How much budget is available to actually accomplish this lofty goal of serving your customers with an unparalleled customer experience?

Dollars and cents often becomes the decision-maker for many of the topics we’ve discussed because EVERYTHING costs money and it’s very likely you will need to compromise your plans based upon how much money you end up with for this initiative.

  • Will your agents be handling emails?
  • Will you offer live chat?
  • Are these interactions occurring over traditional voice calls?
  • Who is responding to the social media channels like Facebook and Twitter?
  • Who is identifying and handling all the other places where consumers state their gripes in a public forum?

Each of these channels requires a different approach to handle – different technologies, different staffing requirements, and often different agents since the agent qualifications required to handle these channels differ.

The answers to these questions will have a significant impact on your staffing needs:

  • What hours will you be open during the week?
  • Will you need multiple shifts based upon those hours?
  • Will you be open on the weekend?
  • Do you need to have an off-hours process to handle urgent calls?
  • How will the agents be segregated?
  • Will they handle both inbound and outbound calls?
  • Will they handle all inbound inquiries or just a subset of this inquiries? Will certain call types be handled by different agents? Perhaps broken down by product line or department (Sales vs. Service).
  • Will agents work from home on a full-time basis? Part-time? Or simply in those rare situations when there is a business continuity event (like a big snow storm)?
  • Will work from home be treated as a seniority perk for seasoned employees to use on occasion or to keep an employee whose life needs takes them out of your geographic area?

At Evolve IP, we’ve seen an increasing number of customers who are shedding physical facilities or moving more to a hoteling model at their offices without dedicated desks assigned to their employees. Some organizations take advantage of at-home agents to be “on call” to handle periods of the day outside of their normal shift to help address spikes or intervals that are short-staffed. These decisions will have a major impact on your plans.

Location

Now that we’ve tackled all the tougher strategic questions, we can move down to more tactical areas like the location of this call center.

One way that modern technology has advanced the call center is in the ability to empower agents operating from anywhere with no loss of functionality and without the high costs of the past. This is a game-changer for the call center which traditionally was shackled to the corporate office. So this opens up new questions to consider.

Questions to Consider

  • Are you considering an alternative location from your existing operations? In a different part of the country that is closer to your customers? Or allows you take advantage of a different time zone?
  • Will your organization benefit from more geographic diversity? A national footprint for coverage?
  • Have you considered pursuing the labor pool in a different part of the country that offers you a whole new vein of talented individuals? Some organizations choose a location closer to colleges or areas of expertise for their industry. Or an area with a lower cost of living. Or perhaps where the accent and culture resonate better with your customers. This may even change your customer segmentation strategy to better align customers with people in their part of the country.
  • How does this new call center link to your business continuity plans? Can you use it as an opportunity to improve your business continuity posture?
  • Does this enable cross-training for agents in different parts of the country to handle business continuity scenarios like a hurricane, tornado, or snow storm that impacts your operations?
  • Does it offer you the ability to handle situations where agents can’t operate from their primary building due to a power, equipment, or network failure?
  • Are their financial incentives? There are many areas of this country that will offer up various financial incentives to open up a new office. This can be a significant driver in the site selection.

Technology

Now that you have a solid game plan for your call center, you need to determine the supporting technologies that will play a role. The technology you implement or don’t implement will shape the call center’s activities, training, processes, morale and productivity.

At the heart of the call center is your core CRM or business applications through which everything else is rooted. As the heart of your call center, the rest of the technology flows around, through, or is tightly integrated with your core CRM or business application.

Supporting Technologies

  • Your communication channels should be intertwined with your customer database and ideally the agent doesn’t need to learn or operate yet another application on their desktop. Will you leverage technologies that handle queueing and routing of non-voice channels to your agents to give you visibility into these interactions and provide your staff with productivity tools to streamline the effort of handling these interactions?
  • Will you embed ACD/telephony into your CRM system for click-to-call or screen pops?
  • How will you perform quality management activities? Will they be handled by dedicated staff or part of your expectations for the Supervisors? What percentage of interactions do you intend to monitor? Will these processes leverage call recording? Screen capture?
  • Do you have existing workforce management tools or will you need to explore technology options for forecasting your call volume and developing optimal schedules for your agents? Will this be integrated with your ACD to provide real-time adherence visibility?
  • Will you have a knowledgebase for your agents to know the “rules of engagement” and have access to all the key resources needed to help customers? Can this same information be leveraged by customers directly?
  • One final point to consider is remote access to your business applications. How can your agents work from outside the office? From a call center perspective, delivery of voice to agents working from anywhere has become ubiquitous, however access to the business applications they need to perform their job is not yet as widely available inside many organizations.

Staffing

Evolve IP Implementing an In-House Contact Center Checklist Staffing
  • Project call volume based upon historical data or other top-down forecast.
  • Determine staffing needs to meet your Service Level goals.
  • Identify agent qualifications
    • Background in your industry
    • Customer Service Skills
    • College degree
    • Technical Skills
    • Prior call center experience
  • Determine leadership structure – considerations include:
    • Supervisor to agent ratio
    • Roles & responsibilities of these positions
    • Manager to agent ratio
    • QA Analyst to agent ratio (assuming you have dedicated QA staff)
  • Develop a formal Training Plan – considerations include:
    • Classroom training
    • Nurturing / Nest environment to provide high levels of support for the first couple of weeks that agents “hit the floor”
    • On-going training
  • Develop a Hiring Plan – considerations include:
    • Qualifications
    • Recruiting sources
    • Compensation & incentives
  • Taking calls & Monitoring/Coaching – considerations include:
    • Call/screen recording
    • What percentage of interactions will be monitored
    • Scoring/calibration to ensure consistency of quality scores
    • Feedback mechanism that is timely and laser-focused
    • Individual and team incentives to exceed your goals
  • Determine what techniques you will leverage to empower employee motivation. Remember that employee satisfaction is key to customer satisfaction, absenteeism, turnover, productivity.

Operations

What reporting sources will you use to manage your call center? How will you measure success? From which system(s) will you derive your key organizational metrics?

  • ACD – measure traditional agent and call center metrics plus things like the effectiveness of marketing promotions, calls by product or question type, and agent productivity.
  • CRM – productivity such as appointments made, cross-sell/up-sell, product take rates.
  • Combine ACD with CRM or business applications – conversion rates (how many calls become a real sales opportunity which becomes a qualified lead which becomes an actual customer), revenue per call, defect rates, and cost per transaction.
  • Combine ACD with Workforce Management – agent adherence to schedule (or its sister metric conformance to schedule), forecast accuracy, service level projections.

Supporting Technologies

Agents

  • What agent KPIs will you track?
  • How will you motivate agents to meet them?
  • How do they tie into compensation?
  • Are they linked to performance reviews? Raises? Promotions?
  • Do agents that meet your KPI goals get first choice of their shifts? Do the KPIs open up doors to other perks like the ability to work from home?
  • How will you gauge agent call performance? A critical function in every call center is assessing call quality. Developing a quality monitoring program is the key to improving agent performance. Timely and focused feedback will dramatically increase your call center’s performance so that you can move the middle 80% of the pack towards operating like your top performers.

Customer

  • What is your customer escalation process?
  • How will you track the escalations?

Organizations needs a “relief valve” for customers who have reached the boiling point. How will you handle those customers? You need a defined process to get those customers the relief they seek. This is oftentimes a great place to capture feedback to drive change back into the organization. Perhaps the website needs a tweak or some additional language would improve product documentation or new topics are identified to incorporate into new hire training – these customers can provide some valuable insights.

  • How will you measure customer satisfaction?
  • What process will you follow for constructive feedback?

It all boils down to this critical metric – customer satisfaction. This is arguably the most important gauge that should be front and center in the cockpit of your call center. This provides visibility into your course, altitude, fuel levels, oxygen, and so on, and is a gauge that helps you understand where you have been and whether you are on the right path or not.