What is a Virtual Call Center?
A virtual call center can be thought of as a call center that is centralized online, in the cloud, rather than in a sterile office floor filled with cubicles of disgruntled customer service agents repeating themselves in unison. Its function is the same as that of a regular call center – providing personalized customer service – but with agents who may be dispersed across various time zones, working from various offices or even at home. It works as a form of virtual customer service, wherein customers have access to timely and personal attention regarding their inquiries or needs, without needing to leave the comfort of their home or adjusting their schedules to meet the limited availability of phone/online service agents.
For example, virtual call center agents could be working remotely in a few different time zones, allowing them to have reasonable working hours and at the same time providing optimal service to customers during regular hours. Service agents could simply be working from home, decreasing costs related to the rental of office space, saving commute time, and conferring many other benefits which we will discuss below.
Figure 1. General schematic of a virtual call center.
Why are Virtual Call Centers Necessary? Problems with Call Centers Today
Virtual Call centers provide a solution to many of the issues facing classical call centers, improving and streamlining customer service for both your customers and your business. The most prominent problems plaguing physical call centers include:
- Monotonous work for agents – With the most common customer service topics being repeated consistently, service agents working in a call center may find the lack of change of “scenery” and routine especially difficult.
- Limited flexibility – Call center agents tend to work shifts to match the business hours of the target region, which can result in uncomfortable working hours, and are required to commute to the same office day after day.
- High turnover – With the limited flexibility in terms of working hours and the high degree of monotony in the work environment, turnover rates at call centers can be exceedingly high, implying significant costs to your company in terms of constantly finding and training new employees.
- Limited business hours or support availability – Especially for business operating globally, it can be hard to provide availability during working hours across all time zones. It can also be hard to increase the availability of agents on short notice when call volumes become uncharacteristically high. Further, as virtual call centers are hosted by third-party providers, you yourself can get rapid and effective support if you run into any problems with the systems you are running or if your business’ needs eventually change.
Benefits of a Virtual Call Center
This is where a virtual contact center comes to the rescue. Some of the primary benefits in comparison to traditional call centers are:
- No geographical limitations – As virtual call center software is decentralized, or rather centralized in the cloud, service representatives can be located anywhere. With agents not limited to one geographic region, employment possibilities increase greatly, and employees are freed of the inflexibility that is characteristic of physical call centers. Work can be outsourced to countries with less expensive labor costs, or agents can be enticed with the possibility of working remotely and during regular hours.
- Better hours of service availability – With the increased geographical coverage, it becomes much easier to offer support during business hours in the most relevant time zones, or to provide 24/7 service in given regions via agents who are working comfortable hours wherever they may be located.
- Reduced turnover – The increased flexibility in terms of location and time have been shown to significantly improve employee satisfaction and retention. 3 For your business, this translates into consistency and reliability in the customer service you offer, satisfied employees wo are more likely to come to work motivated and eager to help, and lower costs associated with selection and training of new employees. However, it must be stated that these benefits do not come freely – fostering connection and a sense of belonging amongst your team requires special attention, as we will discuss further on.
- Environmental benefits – By removing the commute from the equation, it can be reasoned that virtual call center solutions have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport. Add to this the reduced redundancy of providing and maintaining hardware and equipment at the office (as employees work from home and can use their own equipment) and the energy and paper savings associated with moving away from outdated traditions of office work, and you have not only an effective solution but possibly the greenest one to boot.
- Integrated activities and systems – With everything connected and managed under an online software platform, every aspect of the customer service experience can be streamlined to maximize efficacy and efficiency. Calls can be routed appropriately according to the customer’s inquiry, solutions and success/customer satisfaction rates can be monitored and evaluated, and even the agents can feel that they belong to a team connected by a coherent goal, despite being physically distant. There are numerous reliable and trusted virtual call center platforms and virtual customer service solutions available, each offering their own unique specialization and benefits, which means that you should always be able to streamline this demanding aspect of your business in a way that matches your specific operations and needs.
Figure 2. Interactions between the virtual call center and customers, executive/corporate office, and customer service agents are streamlined and integrated into a cloud-based server, enabling a wide variety of functionalities to help you manage and monitor your customer service operations.
Tips for Managing a Virtual Call center
It is clear that virtual call centers may be the way to move past the restrictions and downfalls of classical (physical) call centers. Nonetheless, they present their own set of challenges in terms of management and coordination. By giving proper attention to the following aspects, you can ensure that your customers are provided with top-notch attention from enthusiastic and satisfied employees acting in a way that is coordinated with the aims and overall vision of your business, all under the convenience of a web based call center platform.
- Foster communication between managers and their team – having a coherent “brand voice” or style helps in consolidating your brand’s identity and can improve customer experience and loyalty, as they come to know that they can rely on your customer support and feel that they are understood and heard. This “voice” should be in line with the rest of the operations of the business, and thus fostering clear and effective communication between team managers and the service agents ensures that customers receive solutions that are in line with the values and goals of your business.
- Enable your team to collaborate in a virtual world – Despite not being physically together, the feeling of being part of a team can be motivating and supportive for service agents, who may at times find themselves facing tough situations. Finding ways for your team to collaborate professionally can improve this feeling of belonging, which will extend into better employee satisfaction and retention and more attentive and authentic service for your customers.
- Make your team a community
- Establish connections between team members, even outside of the professional realm. Especially when working remotely, customer service can be lonely work. Encourage your team members to connect by providing opportunities for them to do so – examples could include group training sessions, social events, team-building exercises, happy hours, virtual parties (we are all getting used to virtual hangouts these days anyway!), etc.
- Improve visibility
- Track your team; monitor individual and collective progress closely and uncover areas for improvement. Stay on top of issues and keep your team “in the know” with consistent updates, favoring two-way interactions to check-in and make sure they are still engaged and enthusiastic about their role in your company’s success.
- Gamify the work
- Incentivize good service with reward schemes, games, or prizes to keep your team motivated. Make sure to show appreciation when a team member goes above and beyond, and use these instances as examples to further motivate the team as a whole and keep enthusiasm high.
- Optimize your tech stack
- Choose the best tools to support your team as they strive for excellency. Depending on the specifics of the setup of your virtual call center and the particular service involved, additional software, upgraded equipment (headphones, laptops, etc.), ergonomically supportive chairs or desks, or other tools can make your agents that much more comfortable, on top of feeling appreciated – a double-bonus for driving employee satisfaction and their motivation to succeed.
Virtual Call Center Examples – Companies and Platforms
As mentioned previously, there are many online call center platforms and virtual customer service tools at your disposal. Customer service, and call centers in particular, represent a time-consuming and expensive aspect of business. By familiarizing yourself with the tools available to you, you can save a lot of time and money by leaving a lot of the tougher technical aspects to professionals who dedicate themselves to the world of virtual customer service, freeing up your time and energy to focus on how the service team is performing and how well the system is serving your company goals, re-evaluating and refining as necessary. Here, we will touch on some of the most popular and well-respected companies offering such services or tools.
- HubSpot: HubSpot offers an integrated solution, as their help desk software is directly connected to their other sales and marketing software, allowing you to combine these important aspects under one system that is accessible to all call center agents. What this means is that regardless of which agent picks up the call, they will have access to all of the information that may be relevant for the customer’s inquiry, facilitating comprehensive and efficient customer service. No more transferring between departments or extended waiting times. Pricing is tiered, starting with free plans and extending to enterprise-scale solutions.
- Zendesk: Zendesk offers Zendesk Talk, a virtual call center platform that can be integrated with other call center solutions, customized with various apps, and that compiles all communication channels into one space. Specific features include customizable routing and queuing options, and monitoring with real-time analytics. https://www.zendesk.com/service/voice/
- Nextiva: Nextiva offers plans from as low as $50 per user per month, but with a comprehensive array of features such as interactive voice response (IVR), automatic call distribution, call routing, call recording, and more. Nextiva also offers analytics and robust reliability with a stated 99.999% uptime.https://www.nextiva.com/products/voip-call-center-solutions.html
- Bitrix24: Bitrix24 provide a customer service solution using multiple communication channels that all integrate into their task management software, which also boasts features centered upon facilitating collaboration within teams. With these collaboration tools, you may find the perfect solution for keeping your team tightly knit while simultaneously providing streamlined and effective service to your customers.
- Five9: Five9 is an industry-leading cloud contact center software provider. Advanced routing configurations, omni-channel support, integration with CRM systems, inbound and outbound call center services, contract-free subscription plans, and a proven record of reliability are among the highlights Five9 touts.
- TalkDesk: TalkDesk is focused on improving workflow and efficiency in large teams, helping large businesses deliver consistent customer service. TalkDesk boasts excellent usability with its consumer-grade design, making it easy to change configurations as your business evolves.
- CloudTalk: CloudTalk boasts that they are rated #1 amongst virtual call center software providers, based on over 200 reviews across 6 independent software sales channels. The primary stand-out features are the ease of setup (apparently in only 5 minutes) and the possibility of getting local phone numbers for your virtual service center in more than 140 countries. With automatic transcription and support for integration with more than 500 other CRM and customer service tools, CloudTalk is worth a look.
- Dixa: Dixa is a virtual service center that runs entirely in a web browser and is overtly easy to set up, although don’t let that fool you into thinking it isn’t complete. With advanced algorithms for call distribution and the same features you would expect from any other top provider, including integration support and analytics, one of Dixa’s 3 pricing levels is sure to fit the needs of your business. https://www.dixa.com/pricing/
- LiveAgent: LiveAgent claims to be the ideal virtual call center solution for small and medium-sized businesses, as the pricing starts at a fairly modest level and they do not charge per-minute usage fees. It offers a multi-channel help desk, enabling a variety of communication options to best suit your customers’ needs.
- AirCall: AirCall stands out for its ease of use and optimized integration with innumerable CRM and helpdesk platforms. It is also prized for its flexibility, making it easy for you to change teams or workflow according to current circumstances.