Call Centers for Small Businesses
When most people think of call center software, they probably visualize rows of telephone operators in front of expensive and specialized software. The software is running from server racks which, in turn, are wired to big hardware Private Branch Exchanges (PBXs) that can route hundreds of phone calls at a time. While that might still be true in some of the largest third-party call centers, it’s certainly not applicable to every or even most call center scenarios today. Small to midsize businesses (SMBs) can now take advantage of a surprisingly sophisticated suite of call center software features, and they can do it without migrating from their current phone system or having to justify the cost of using hundreds of on-staff operators. There are several beneficial features typically associated with call center software that often show up in today’s business Voice-over-IP (VoIP) services and are configured to target general SMBs.
What Is Call Center Software?
First, let’s understand what we’re talking about. Think of cloud- or local server-based call center software as VoIP systems on steroids. Generally, call center systems get deployed for one of two primary scenarios: inbound or outbound.
A typical inbound call center task might be a customer helpdesk. In this instance, the call center system would be integrated with a standard helpdesk system. It would be configured not just to handle many calls at once but to route those calls to appropriate helpdesk personnel based on the product the customer is calling about, or on whether or not the customer has recently called before. The call center system might deploy an intelligent phone menu or auto-attendant feature to front-end the call routing, collect helpdesk data for later analysis, and even route customer and call data to the sales department’s customer relationship management (CRM) system for future opportunities.
An outbound call center is best exemplified by a telemarketing operation. Here, the call center system would be integrated with a CRM system on the back end; it would use a sophisticated predictive dialer that uses statistical algorithms to handle multiple outbound calls at a time and to minimize the time between unsuccessful calls. Successful calls are then immediately routed to a free operator along with the associated customer marketing information.
With call center services moving to the cloud, the need for large and expensive hardware PBXes, as well as the associated costs of multiple phone lines, has largely gone away. As long as you’ve got a sufficiently fast internet connection, all of the necessary software (including any software you might be integrating, such as CRM or helpdesk applications) are hosted, routed, and managed via the internet.
Even better, unless you view your call center as a mission-critical business function, you probably won’t even need to purchase a dedicated call center solution. Most business-grade VoIP services have some call center features bundled into their mainstream VoIP offerings, along with dedicated call center Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) for those whose needs grow beyond the basic VoIP portfolio. That’s a good thing because learning to use these features intelligently can enable any business to improve the customer experience, better mine customer data for new opportunities, and even help market and promote its products or services.
Best Call Center Features for SMBs
Which call center-style features your business VoIP system supports will depend on the system. All of the VoIP systems in the table above are business-class services, but most support different levels of call center capabilities as part of the basic business package. Plan your processes carefully to determine which call center features your business needs, and then select your VoIP service provider accordingly. Remember that most providers can deliver almost any call center feature, but you might wind up having to bump up your service from a general business service to a call center-specific SKU, which will likely have different (read: more expensive) pricing. To help, here are 10 of the most useful call center features you should look for in an SMB cloud-based PBX:
1. Answering Rules – This feature lets your phone administrator set up rules for how incoming calls are answered, including based on who receives a call, who is making the call, and when the call is made.
2. Auto-Attendant and IVR – An auto-attendant simply greets incoming callers and handles basic call routing based on input from the caller or the caller’s number. An Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system takes this a step further, providing more flexible rules for routing calls and even the ability to handle certain calls without human intervention (for example, checking your credit card balance).
3. Call Monitoring – This lets managers listen in on calls being handled by their helpdesk, sales, or marketing staff. This is useful not only for training but for customer satisfaction and escalation, too.
4. Call Recording – Whether it’s automatic or manually initiated, call recording data captures inbound or outbound conversations for parsing later; this aids with training and perfecting your customer experience metrics.
5. Call Reporting – This is one to look at closely as it can cover a lot of ground. Quiz your VoIP provider to find out exactly what metrics and data is being captured by the system. Then, make sure it’s what you need to effectively monitor your business and that it can be exported to other apps as part of the standard integration process.
6. Hunt Groups – This is a typical way to distribute a large number of phone calls from a single phone number across several phone lines. Configurable either inbound or outbound, the process of selecting which calls go to which lines is typically a task of the PBX.
7. Intelligent Call Routing – This is exactly what it sounds like, namely, software that determines who is calling and where best to route the call. This can be an automatic process based on caller ID information, for example, or it can be policy-based, taking into account not just who is calling but who is available to receive, what the conversation will be about, and what time or day it is.
8. Mobile Device Routing – Most cloud PBX providers include mobile clients as part of their basic or business-grade subscription. That means users who run the app on their mobile device can use the VoIP service over their data channels and appear to be calling from the office. Incorporating these clients into your call center activity lets you extend all of the features mentioned here to a virtual or mobile workforce.
9. Open Application Programming Interface (API) – This is the heart of today’s app integration. Many cloud VoIP providers offer ready-made integration modules for specific and popular apps, such as NetSuite or Salesforce. However, being able to tailor exactly which capabilities you need to integrate with any cloud app your business might use requires that both apps support an open, typically REST-based API.
10. Voicemail to Email Delivery – This is important for scenarios in which the voicemail load is heavy but replying to every voicemail is important. Having customers’ voicemails show up in employee email inboxes not only helps ensure the voicemails are received, it also helps employees quickly and easily route the voicemails to different or more appropriate personnel when needed.
Getting Ready for a Call Center Implementation
Implementing call center features in an existing VoIP service package is usually just a matter of turning them on, but you should still conduct some prep work before doing so. For one, double-check your pricing package, discussing exactly what you’re going to do with a representative from your VoIP service provider. This not only helps avoid hidden costs, it can also get you information on technical and other resources about which you might never have otherwise known.
Next, sit down with your IT admin and discuss your integration options. Which apps can and can’t integrate with your current VoIP system and why. This is critical information to gather as it directly affects what these features can do for your organization. Even if both systems support an open API as discussed above, you should still have a developer examine both sides of the equation to make sure your high-level ideas can actually be implemented at the software layer. This discussion guides not only what you can and can’t expect from the system, it will probably also guide app purchasing options for the future.
Finally, train your employees. This step is surprisingly and often overlooked as managers enable new features and simply expect employees to absorb them into their day-to-day activities as they become available. That’s a mistake that usually means new features get adopted too slowly, if ever. Fortunately, it’s often easy and free to correct this as most reputable VoIP service providers have web-based learning centers with freely available training resources, including documents and webinars. And if that’s not enough, you can certainly plunk down some dollars to have a sales rep come on-site to run your employees through the new features’ capabilities in person.
Featured in This Roundup
A solid VoIP product with a good set of features and competitive pricing, Dialpad is a great example of the melding of web and VoIP technologies. Excellent call portability and the ability to integrate tightly with other office apps make this a platform to consider. Read the full review ››