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The call center is often where a customer has their first human contact with your business. If you want to retain that customer and maximize their lifetime value, your call center agents need to make a good impression. Being open and friendly, and following suggestions like smiling while they talk is a good start, but your agents should also be able to deliver effective solutions in a timely fashion — whether that means completing a financial transaction, describing product features, or troubleshooting a service issue. Do it well, but do it fast; that is the struggle.
There are a number of different software tools that the best call centers use to increase productivity, process service tickets, manage customer accounts, and support telecommunications infrastructure, all of which contribute to improved and successful call center operations.
To help prospective buyers come to a decision, an accurate call center software comparison is vital. This guide will provide an overview of four main categories — CRM, Help desk, VoIP, Gamification — as well as industry trends, common features, a case study covering a leading call center software solution, and a list of top_ call center software vendors_.
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Current Call Center Challenges
As market competition heightens and product offerings proliferate and converge, businesses in almost every industry are being pressured to leverage customer service as a positive differentiator. I.e. you could get the same product for a similar price from providers A and B, but Provider B has a higher customer satisfaction rating, so you choose Provider B.
A lot of this differentiation happens in the call center — accomplished by teams of well-trained agents using sensible workflows, effective software, and a reliable communications infrastructure. Over 60 percent of customer service managers rank customer satisfaction as the most important metric for measuring call center success, followed by first-call resolution, average handle time, and wait time.1 Success in these areas requires more than a cheerful disposition; it requires efficiency and precision, the ability to meet performance standards day after day in spite of high call volumes and a stressful work environment; yet, call centers are notorious for failing at these metrics and, consequently, disappointing customers. In some industries, such as telecommunications, public sector, or utilities, the very phrase “call center” is synonymous with “bad experience.” This can damage your customer relationships and, if left untended, could damage your bottom line.
It’s crucial for call centers to balance accurate problem-solving with efficiency and speed. Even speed itself can be a powerful force in customer service. According to a global survey by LivePerson, 82 percent of consumers say getting “issues resolved quickly” is the number one factor that makes a great customer service experience.2 At a scale of thousands of inbound and outbound calls per day, there’s no way to accomplish this without effective software and automation tools.
Trends in Call Center Software
A number of recent trends and industry forces are changing the way call centers implement software. To ensure that your purchase brings the highest ROI and best long-term value, you should consider how these trends impact your project.
Reports vary on the exact numbers, but a large percentage of companies still outsource some or all of their call center operations overseas, especially to Southeast Asian countries such as India and the Philippines.3 Many of these overseas groups work as subcontractors for their parent companies, which means it’s important to maintain oversight, visibility, and communication. Business that use overseas call centers will have a need for software with strong reporting and partner management features. These features help managers monitor indirect sales and service channels and collaborate with partners on common goals and key performance indicators (KPIs).
As modern technology continues to expedite convenience, consumers are developing new preferences for customer service. Instead of being limited to phone and direct mail, a growing number are taking their business conversations to instant chat, email, social media, and even text messaging. Set up properly, multichannel support can help customers get answers and solutions without the long hold times and interactive voice response (IVR) labyrinth of the main phone line. 89 percent of consumers say they’d like to have more than one option for customer support, according to HeyWire.4
Customer self-service options (online portals, public knowledge bases, FAQs) also represent a growing preference among consumers. In a recent survey by Zendesk, 75 percent of consumers said self-service is a convenient way to address issues, and 91 percent said they would use an online knowledge base.5 As customers migrate to these options, call centers may see a decrease in help desk tickets and an increased need to create and curate online self-service resources. Most modern service desk solutions provide built-in tools for managing customer portals, community forums, and knowledge bases.
Last year, a landmark Gallup poll revealed that almost 70 percent of U.S. workers are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their jobs.6 Call centers are no exception. If anything, they’re _more _prone to employee disengagement because of the repetitive nature of the work, the prevalence of irate callers, and the pressure of quotas and KPIs. Unmanaged, this can lead to high employee turnover and lackadaisical agents — from which customers ultimately suffer. To improve performance and keep phone reps motivated, many call center managers use employee engagement software, which may include a rewards system and/or game elements.
Four Types of Call Center Software
Customer relationship management (CRM) software is a dynamic database of customer information designed to help companies maximize current relationships and identify new opportunities. It’s the phonebook of the business world, but it’s also much more than a phonebook. When integrated with the right systems, a CRM can track and record data about customers’ account activities, service requests, monitor social mentions, consumer web behavior, etc. in order to provide a 360-degree view. Because of its obvious utility, the CRM market has grown into one of the biggest IT verticals in the world, worth over $23 billion in 2014.7
Since call centers serve a directly customer-facing role, CRM software is seldom _not _part of the call center IT environment. It’s most often used by sales, service, or teleprospecting teams to connect customer account data with role-specific workflows, such as resolving a service ticket or making an account upgrade. When you review your options, and make a CRM call center software comparison, decide on which of the following features are most important to your organization.
- Contact / account management
- Lead management
- Sales forecasting
- Workflow automation
- Task management
- Social data integration
- Collaboration tools (file sharing, internal messaging)
- Performance management
- Partner management
- Reporting / analytics
Help desk software serves as a platform for service management automation. At a basic level, this usually involves a ticketing system where service requests are logged, prioritized, and queued for completion. This automation gives service and support agents the ability to process a large volume of requests without compromising on quality or letting important issues slip through the cracks. The use of a centralized system also gives administrators the ability to track and measure KPIs (such as completion rate, problem recurrence, first-time fix) against desired benchmarks.
There are dozens of viable help desk solutions on the market, and an equal number of industry uses, ranging from basic product troubleshooting to IT support, HR help desk, and asset management. Most systems integrate with CRM platforms or include their own CRM module.
- Ticket management
- Knowledge base/ wikis
- Community forums
- Customer self-service portals
- Telephony integration
- CRM integration
- Instant chat support
- Custom service-level agreements (SLAs)
- Reporting / analytics
Voice Over IP (VoIP)
This is an obvious one. A call center wouldn’t _be _a call center without a system for managing inbound and outbound calls. Voice over IP (VoIP) software is designed to do just that. Some refer to VoIP as IP telephony, internet telephony, or broadband phone service, but they’re all fundamentally the same. Unlike traditional phone lines and switchboards, a VoIP system gives companies the ability to manage telecommunications via internet connection when paired with compatible devices (either softphones or hardphones). The VoIP approach is generally more efficient, more reliable, and more cost-effective; as such, it’s become the platform of choice in the modern call center. Most recent estimates value the VoIP services market at about $63 billion.8
VoIP systems do most of their work through a private branch exchange (PBX), which is essentially a call-routing and line management system. A PBX can be operated on-premise in device form or hosted through a cloud VoIP provider, depending on your needs.
- Automatic call distribution
- Call management (ordering, monitoring, barging, etc.)
- Auto-attendant (IVR)
- Conference and video calling
- Private branch exchange
- SIP Trunking
- Auto dialer
- Call metric tracking (average handle time, hold time, etc.)
- Mobile access
In simple terms, “gamification” brings game mechanics (points, level progression, badges, leaderboards) to non-game contexts. Because of their struggles with employee disengagement, and because they’re overflowing with trackable metrics and KPIs, call centers are some of the best candidates for gamification. Applied correctly, games can make routine work more rewarding and motivate your phone reps to improve their performance. For example, you might use a leaderboard competition to encourage your team to sell more of a featured product and reward top employees with gift cards, badges, or virtual currency.
There are a number of different platforms on the market that let managers create custom games for their team. Gamification platforms for call centers should integrate with your CRM and other mission-critical systems, as this lets you build games using existing workflows and KPIs.
- Points / levels
- Digital leaderboards
- Rewards programs
- Social recognition
- Compliance and performance management
- Sales contests
- Coaching tools
- Reporting / analytics
- CRM integration
Call Center Software Case Study
Company: Greenwood Hall9
Solution: Five9 Blended Contact Center
Greenwood Hall provides technology-enabled student lifecycle management solutions to more than 40 client and 70 different degree programs at leading colleges such as the University of Alabama, Troy University, and the University of Mississippi. Greenwood Hall also provides donor services for a handful of nonprofits, telethons, and event-based organizations. They have 116 agent seats in two locations (College Park, TX and Phoenix, AZ) who field as many as 30,000 inbound calls and 2,000 outbound calls per day.
When IT Director Daniel Cartmell joined Greenwood Hall in 2006, he was tasked with updating the company’s on-premise, desktop phone system. “The system didn’t have email functionality or predictive dialing,” Cartmell said, “and it could only support inbound calls.”
In 2012, Cartmell began the search for a new contact center platform and found Five9 to be more than adequate. Greenwood Hall implemented Five9’s Blended Contact Center solution, which offers a mix of cloud-based inbound and outbound features. Right away, they noticed several significant improvements, starting with overall call quality. The Predictive Dialer feature allowed them to customize their dialing automation based on the current leads while filtering out busy signals, fax machines, voicemails, and disconnected lines. They also appreciated Five9’s email and chat capabilities, its flexible platform, and the ability to implement without extensive employee training.
“Five9 is extremely sophisticated and streamlined,” Cartmell said. “We can adjust the dialers to hit our sweet spot without ever over-dialing.”
Greenwood Hall reported a number of positive results after implementing Five9’s platform:
- Time-to-dial rates shortened by 15 to 30 seconds
- Now exceeding client goals by 25 to 30 percent annually
- New platform is 30 percent less expensive than legacy system
- Now handles 25 to 30 chat sessions per day for a large university client
- Renewed six key contracts and retained clients by addressing call system inefficiencies
Choosing the Best Call Center Software
That’s where we come in.
At TechnologyAdvice, our goal is to connect businesses with the technology that meets their needs. We’ve compiled product information, reviews, case studies, features lists, video walkthroughs, and research articles on hundreds of leading IT solutions, all to make the call center software comparison and buying process more straightforward for decision makers like you.
If you’re curious about any of the call center solutions listed in this guide, we’d love to talk to you. Call one of our experts for a free consultation, or use the Product Selection Tool on our site to get a personalized recommendation based on your industry and desired features.
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- “2012 Ovum Logmein Customer Experience Report.” Slideshare. Accessed September 4, 2015. http://www.slideshare.net/jperezpgi/2012-ovum-logmein-customer-experience-report
- “The Ideal Online Experience.” Liveperson. Accessed September 4, 2015. http://multichannelmerchant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/LivePerson-Infographic.png
- Bajaj, Vikas. “A New Capital of Call Centers.” The New York Times. Last modified November 25, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/26/business/philippines-overtakes-india-as-hub-of-call-centers.html?_r=0
- “52 Percent of Consumers Prefer Text Conversations with Support Reps Over Their Current Support Method.” BusinessWire. Last modified April 2, 2014. http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20140402005509/en/52-Percent-Consumers-Prefer-Text-Conversations-Support#.Ve9HEflVikp
- “Customers want to help themselves?” Zendesk. Accessed September 4, 2015. https://www.zendesk.com/resources/searching-for-self-service
- Adkins, Amy. “Majority of U.S. Employees Not Engaged Despite Gains in 2014.” Gallup. Last modified January 28, 2015. http://www.gallup.com/poll/181289/majority-employees-not-engaged-despite-gains-2014.aspx
- “Gartner Says Customer Relationship Management Software Market Grew 13.3 Percent.” Gartner. Last modified May 19, 2015. http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3056118
- Myers, Diane. “VoIP services market getting boost from cloud telephony, hosted UC, SIP trunking.” Infonetics. Last modified April 16, 2013. http://www.infonetics.com/pr/2013/2H12-VoIP-UC-Services-Market-Highlights.asp
- “Greenwood Hall Success Story.” Five9. Accessed September 4, 2015. http://www.five9.com/media_library/2015/09/2/CaseStudy_GreenwoodHall_fnl_8_15.pdf