A call centre or call center is a centralised office used for receiving or transmitting a large volume of requests by telephone. An inbound call centre is operated by a company to administer incoming product support or information enquiries from consumers. Outbound call centres are operated for telemarketing, solicitation of charitable or political donations, debt collection and market research. A contact centre is a location for centralised handling of individual communications, including letters, faxes, live support software, social media, instant message, and e-mail.
A call centre has an open workspace for call centre agents, with work stations that include a computer for each agent, a telephone set/headset connected to a telecom switch, and one or more supervisor stations. It can be independently operated or networked with additional centres, often linked to a corporate computer network, including mainframes, microcomputers and LANs. Increasingly, the voice and data pathways into the centre are linked through a set of new technologies called computer telephony integration.
The contact centre is a central point from which all customer contacts are managed. Through contact centres, valuable information about company are routed to appropriate people, contacts to be tracked and data to be gathered. It is generally a part of company’s customer relationship management. The majority of large companies use contact centres as a means of managing their customer interaction. These centres can be operated by either an in house department responsible or outsourcing customer interaction to a third party agency (known as Outsourcing Call Centres).
The origins of call centres dates back to the 1960s with the UK-based Birmingham Press and Mail, which installed Private Automated Business Exchanges (PABX) to have rows of agents handling customer contacts. By 1973, call centres received mainstream attention after Rockwell International patented its Galaxy Automatic Call Distributor (GACD) for a telephone booking system as well as the popularization of telephone headsets as seen on televised NASA Mission Control Center events.
During the late 1970s, call centre technology expanded to include telephone sales, airline reservations and banking systems. The term "call centre" was first published and recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary in 1983. The 1980s experienced the development of toll-free telephone numbers to increase the efficiency of agents and overall call volume. Call centres increased with the deregulation of long distance calling and growth in information dependent industries.
As call centres expanded, unionisation occurred in North America to gain members including the Communications Workers of America and the United Steelworkers. In Australia, the National Union of Workers represents unionised workers; their activities form part of the Australian labour movement. In Europe, Uni Global Union of Switzerland is involved in assisting unionisation in this realm and in Germany Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft represents call centre workers.
During the 1990s, call centres expanded internationally and developed into two additional subsets of communication, contact centres and outsourced bureau centres. A contact centre is defined as a coordinated system of people, processes, technologies and strategies that provides access to information, resources, and expertise, through appropriate channels of communication, enabling interactions that create value for the customer and organisation. In contrast to in-house management, outsourced bureau contact centres are a model of contact centre that provide services on a "pay per use" model. The overheads of the contact centre are shared by many clients, thereby supporting a very cost effective model, especially for low volumes of calls. The modern contact center has developed more complex systems, which require highly skilled operational and management staff that can use multichannel[disambiguation needed] online and offline tools to improve customer interaction.
Call centre technologies include speech recognition software to allow computers to handle first level of customer support, text mining and natural language processing to allow better customer handling, agent training by automatic mining of best practices from past interactions, support automation and many other technologies to improve agent productivity and customer satisfaction. Automatic lead selection or lead steering is also intended to improve efficiencies, both for inbound and outbound campaigns. This allows inbound calls to be directly routed to the appropriate agent for the task, whilst minimising wait times and long lists of irrelevant options for people calling in. For outbound calls, lead selection allows management to designate what type of leads go to which agent based on factors including skill, socioeconomic factors and past performance and percentage likelihood of closing a sale per lead.
The universal queue standardises the processing of communications across multiple technologies such as fax, phone, and email. The virtual queue provides callers with an alternative to waiting on hold when no agents are available to handle inbound call demand.
Historically, call centres have been built on Private branch exchange (PBX) equipment that is owned, hosted, and maintained by the call centre operator themselves. The PBX can provide functions such as automatic call distribution, interactive voice response, and skills-based routing.
Virtual call centreEdit
In virtual call centre model, the call centre operator pays a monthly or annual fee to a vendor that hosts the call centre telephony equipment in their own data centre. In this model, the operator does not own, operate or host the equipment that the call centre runs on. Agents connect to the vendor's equipment through traditional PSTN telephone lines, or over voice over IP. Calls to and from prospects or contacts originate from or terminate at the vendor's data centre, rather than at the call centre operator's premises. The vendor's telephony equipment then connects the calls to the call centre operator's agents.
Virtual call centre technology allows people to work from home, instead of in a traditional, centralised, call centre location, which increasingly allows people with physical or other disabilities that prevent them from leaving the house, to work. The only required equipment is Internet access and a workstation. The companies are preferring Virtual Call Centre services due to cost advantage. Companies can start their call centre business immediately without installing the basic infrastructure like Dialer, ACD and IVRS.
This section may be too technical for most readers to understand. (November 2014) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Cloud computing for call centres extends cloud computing to software as a service, or hosted, on-demand call centres by providing application programming interfaces (APIs) on the call centre cloud computing platform that allow call centre functionality to be integrated with cloud-based customer relationship management, leads management, and other applications. Computer telephony integration APIs provide developers with access to basic telephony controls and sophisticated call handling on the call centre platform from a separate application. Configuration APIs provide programmatic control of administrative functions of the call centre platform which are typically accessed by a human administrator through a graphical user interface.
Contact centres run support or help desks, which regularly answers technical questions from customers and assists them using their equipment or software. Support desks are used by companies in the computing, telecommunications and consumer electronics industries.
Customer service contact centres answer specific queries relating to customer issues, in the banking and utility sectors these are frequently used to answer customer questions relating to their account or payments, this type of service may even be used to respond to customer complaints and undertake retention strategies for unsatisfied customers.
A contact centre supports interaction with customers over a variety of media, including telephony, e-mail, social media, and internet chat. A telephone answering service is a more personalised version of the call centre, where agents get to know more about their customers and their callers; and therefore look after calls just as if based in their customers' office.
Calls may be inbound or outbound. Inbound calls are made by consumers, for example to obtain information, report a malfunction, or ask for help. In contrast, outbound calls are made by agents to consumers, usually for sales purposes (telemarketing). A "blended" centre combines both inbound and outbound campaigns where each type of agent (inbound or outbound) can handle the overflow of the other.
Call centre staff are often organised into a multi-tier support system for more efficient handling of calls. The first tier consists of operators, who initially answer calls and provide general information. If a caller requires more assistance, the call is forwarded to the second tier (in the appropriate department depending on the nature of the call). In some cases, there are three or more tiers of support staff. Typically the third tier of support is formed of product engineers/developers or highly skilled technical support staff for the product.
Occupational Noise Exposure
Research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) shows that workers at call and dispatch centers may face health hazards: (1) Acoustic trauma from a sudden spike in noise levels (e.g., from feedback into the headsets or a sudden change in volume) (2) background noise from incoming calls, and (3) background noise and other stressors in the workplace. Employers can address these issues by (1) supplying communication systems with noise-limiting features. (2) installing noise controls to reduce background noise levels in the work environment (such as barriers between workstations or sound-absorbing materials on hard surfaces in the room), (3) providing workers with a variety of communication headsets that offer adjustable volume controls, noise-limiting or cancelling features, and improved comfort and protection from ambient noise, (4) evaluating workplace noise levels to ensure that they remain below the NIOSH recommended exposure limit (REL) of 85 dB, and (5) providing quiet areas for rest breaks (for those that may use them).
Outsourced call centres are often located in developing countries, where wages are significantly lower. The call centre industry in the Philippines and call centre industry in the Bangladesh serve as good examples.
Companies that regularly utilise outsourced contact centre services include British Sky Broadcasting and Orange in the telecommunications industry, Adidas in the sports and leisure sector, Audi in car manufacturing and charities such as the RSPCA.
The healthcare industry has used outbound call centre programmes for years to help manage billing, collections, and patient communication. The inbound call centre is a new and increasingly popular service for many types of healthcare facilities, including large hospitals. Inbound call centres can be outsourced or managed in-house.
These healthcare call centres are designed to help streamline communications, enhance patient retention and satisfaction, reduce expenses and improve operational efficiencies.
Many large hospitality companies such as the Hilton Hotels Corporation and Marriott International make use of call centres to manage reservations. These are known in the industry as "central reservations offices". Staff members at these call centres take calls from clients wishing to make reservations or other inquiries via a public number, usually a 1-800 number. These centres may operate as many as 24 hours per day, seven days a week, depending on the call volume the chain receives.
Queueing theory is a branch of mathematics in which models of service systems have been developed. A call centre can be seen as a queueing network and results from queueing theory such as the probability an arriving customer needs to wait before starting service useful for provisioning capacity. (Erlang's C formula is such a result for an M/M/c queue and approximations exist for an M/G/k queue.) Statistical analysis of call centre data has suggested arrivals are governed by an inhomogeneous Poisson process and jobs have a log-normal service time distribution. Simulation algorithms are increasingly being used to model call arrival, queueing and service levels.
Call centre operations have been supported by mathematical models beyond queueing, with operations research, which considers a wide range of optimisation problems seeking to reduce waiting times while keeping server utilisation and therefore efficiency high.
Some vital call centre performance metrics are listed below:
- Customer Satisfaction: a measure of how products and services supplied by a company meet or surpass customer expectation. C-SAT is based on customer’s experience with the support or service. The scoring for this answer is most often based on a 0 to 10 scale.
- Average Handling time (also Average Hold Time): a key measure for any contact centre planning system, as it indicates how long a new item of work takes to be handled and not just the talk time.
- Revenue Per Call: usually used in sales projects which calculates the effort of a representative with respect to increasing sales. RPC can be calculated by dividing the total amount of sale by total number of calls.
- First Call Resolution: properly addressing the customer’s need the first time they call, thereby eliminating the need for the customer to follow up with a second call.
- Total Problem Resolution: percentage of time the problem has been completely resolved from the customer point of view. This KPI is mostly used for: Operational Excellence. This keeps troubleshooting time to a minimum, which, according to industry averages, currently accounts for as much as 80 percent of total problem resolution time, and gets the problem fixed.
- Net Promoter Score: measures the loyalty that exists between a provider and a consumer. NPS is based on a direct question: How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague? The scoring for this answer is most often based on a 0 to 10 scale.
- Quality Scores: by far the most common metric used. It provides the ability to look at the overall caller experience and the conversations that agents are using on their phone calls.
- Service Level Agreement: an agreement between two or more parties where one is the customer and the others are service providers. The contract may involve financial penalties and the right to terminate the contract if the SLA metrics are consistently missed.
- Active & Waiting Calls: measures current volume of active calls compared to the number of callers waiting to be patched through to an agent. This is a real-time status metric that should be shared with all the agents to offer them insight on their performance. Agents should be encouraged to resolve calls on a timely basis in order to get to the next caller in queue and not keep the callers on wait.
- Call Abandonment: measures the number of calls that are disconnected before they can be connected to one of your agents. This metric is closely related to Service Level and Customer Satisfaction. Customers are not expected to be patient. They will hang up and possibly switch their brand loyalties.
- Forecast Accuracy: better described as forecasted contact load vs actual contact load. It is a performance metric that reflects the percent variance between the number of inbound customer contacts forecasted for a particular time period and the number of said contacts actually received by the centre during that time period.
- Staff Turnover/Retention: The best way to measure the satisfaction of your workforce is to look at the percentage of staff that leaves. There can be some telling information in these numbers and it is crucial to track and analyse the turnover rates in many ways.
- Up-Sell/ Cross-Sell Rate: simply the success rate of generating revenue above the original intention of the call. It is becoming an increasingly common practice, not just for pure revenue-generating call centres but for customer service centres as well.
- Staff Shrinkage: the percentage of time that employees are not available to handle calls. It is classified as non-productive time, and is made up of meeting and training time, breaks, paid time off, off-phone work, and general unexplained time where agents are not available to handle customer interactions.
- Blockage:a measure of accessibility that indicates what percentage of customers will not be able to get in touch with the contact centre at a given time due to insufficient network facilities.
- Cost Per Call: A major factor determining revenue is the cost of running the organisation. A common measure of operational efficiency is cost incurred for each minute of handling the call workload, commonly referred to as Cost per Call. This cost per call can be simply a labour cost per call, or it can be a fully loaded rate that includes payroll in addition to telecommunications, facilities, and other services costs.
Call centres have received criticism for low pay rates and restrictive working practices for employees, which have been deemed as a dehumanising environment. Other research illustrates how call centre workers develop ways to counter or resist this environment by integrating local cultural sensibilities or embracing a vision of a new life. Most call centres provide electronic reports that outline performance metrics, quarterly highlights and other information about the calls made and received. This has the benefit of helping the company to plan the workload and time of its employees. However, it has also been argued that such close monitoring breaches the human right to privacy.
Complaints are often logged by callers who find the staff do not have enough skill or authority to resolve problems, as well as appearing apathetic. These concerns are due to a business process that exhibits levels of variability because the experience a customer gets and results a company achieves on a given call are dependent upon the quality of the agent. Call centres are beginning to address this by using agent-assisted automation to standardise the process all agents use. However, more popular alternatives are using personality and skill based approaches. The various challenges encountered by call operators are discussed by several authors.
Indian call centres have been the focus of several documentary films, the 2004 film Thomas L. Friedman Reporting: The Other Side of Outsourcing, the 2005 films John and Jane, Nalini by Day, Nancy by Night, and 1-800-India: Importing a White-Collar Economy, and the 2006 film Bombay Calling, among others. An Indian call centre is also the subject of the 2006 film Outsourced (film) and a key location in the 2008 film, Slumdog Millionaire. The 2014 BBC fly on the wall documentary series The Call Centre gave an often distorted although humorous view of life in a Welsh call centre.
- "Contact Centre vs Communication Centre vs Call Centre". EWA Bespoke Communications.
- Science and invention in Birmingham#cite note-45
- "The history of the call centre". Call Centre Helper Magazine. 19 January 2011. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
- Smith, Ernie (5 August 2016). "The History of the Call Center Explains How Customer Service Got So Annoying". Vice.com.
- Staff (2016). "Call Center Timeline". Timerime.com.
- Butler, David L. Bottom-Line Call Center Management. Books.google.com. Butterworth-Heinemann.
- Kumar, Pradeep; Schenk, Christopher Robert (2006). Paths to Union Renewal. Broadview Press. ISBN 1-55193-058-7.
- "Improving Call Center Jobs a Top Priority for CWA Customer Service". Communication Workers of America. Retrieved 2011-02-23.
- "Call Centre Union Busters Get Wake-Up Call". Workers Online. Retrieved 2008-07-08.
- "Uni Global Union's call centre organising campaigns". Uni Global Union. Archived from the original on 2008-06-15. Retrieved 2008-07-08.
- Cleveland, Brad, "Call Center Management on Fast Forward (Third Edition)", ICMI Press, 2012
- "Cactus Search - List of Call Centre Management Roles We Recruit". Cactus Search. Archived from the original on 2014-11-29.
- Viswanathan, Ravi; Sandell, Scott (21 June 2016). "Reinventing customer service: the modern contact center". Nea.com.
- Staff (2016). "Contact Center Modernization". Genesys.com.
- Bernier, Paula (3 August 2012). "The History and Advancement of the Contact Center and the Customer Experience". Tmcnet.com.
- "US Patent 7035699 - Qualified and targeted lead selection and delivery system". Patent Storm. 2006-04-25. Archived from the original on 2009-01-25. Retrieved 2008-05-29.
- M. Popovic and V. Kovacevic. "An Approach to Internet-Based Virtual Call Center Implementation". University of Novi Sad, Yugoslavia.
- David S. Joachim. "Computer Technology Opens a World of Work to Disabled People". New York Times.
- Kumar, Harish. "Hosted Contact / Call Center Services in Indian Telecommunications Licensing and Regulation". Researchgate. p. 6. doi:10.13140/RG.2.1.2931.9445.
- Raik Stolletz (2003). Performance Analysis and Optimization of Inbound Call Centers. Springer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-540-00812-5.
- Freeman, Laura M; Whitfield, Hilary C (1996). "Setting up for integrated inbound/outbound telemarketing". BNET. Archived from the original on 2005-04-21. Retrieved 2008-06-05.
- "Orange currently outsources work to Indian units of Convergys Corp". The Wall Street Journal.
- "adidas setup a dedicated customer care centre". Adidas.
- "Audi chose Confero as an outsourced contact centre". Confero.
- "Billing and Collections". Modern Healthcare.
- Kasavana, Michael L.; Brooks, Richard M. (1998). Managing Front Office Operations. Educational Institute of the American Hotel & Motel Association. ISBN 9780866121798.
- Gans, N.; Koole, G.; Mandelbaum, A. (2003). "Telephone Call Centers: Tutorial, Review, and Research Prospects" (PDF). Manufacturing & Service Operations Management. 5 (2): 79–141. doi:10.1287/msom.184.108.40.20671.
- Brown, L.; Gans, N.; Mandelbaum, A.; Sakov, A.; Shen, H.; Zeltyn, S.; Zhao, L. (2005). "Statistical Analysis of a Telephone Call Center" (PDF). Journal of the American Statistical Association. 100 (469): 36–50. doi:10.1198/016214504000001808.
- "Portage Communications https://portagecommunications.com/a-primer-on-two-call-center-staffing-methods/". Portage Communications. Retrieved 2016-10-14. External link in
- Borst, S.; Mandelbaum, A.; Reiman, M. I. (2004). "Dimensioning Large Call Centers" (PDF). Operations Research. 52: 17–34. doi:10.1287/opre.1030.0081. JSTOR 30036558.
- Durant, Lisa (5 November 2015). "Capturing Contact Center Metrics That Matter".
- "Working conditions and health in Swedish call centres". European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. 2005-06-05.
- "Hourly Rate Survey Report for Industry: Call Center". PayScale. Retrieved 2008-06-05.
- "Advice regarding call centre working practices" (PDF). Health and Safety Executive. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-02-20. Retrieved 2008-06-05.
- Pal, Mahuya; Buzzanell, Patrice (2013). "Breaking the Myth of Indian Call Centers: A Postcolonial Analysis of Resistance". Communication Monographs. 80 (2): 199–219. doi:10.1080/03637751.2013.776172.
- "The Call Center Answer Team reaches out to the industry for to crack a tough nut". Q&A: How Many Calls Should I Monitor. callcentermagazine.com. 2003-07-30. Retrieved 2008-06-05.
- "Who's on the Line? Women in Call Centres Project" (PDF). Atlantic Centre of Excellence for Women's Health. Health Canada. Retrieved 2008-06-05.
- Shaw, Russell (2006-01-30). "Tone-deaf to customer complaints, Dell opens yet another call center in India". ZDNet. Retrieved 2008-06-05.
- Ahmed, Zubair (2006-02-22). "Abuse rattles Indian call centre staff". BBC News. Retrieved 2008-06-05.
- Fleming, J., Coffman, C., Harter, J. (2005) Manage Your Human Sigma, Harvard Business Review
- Paprzycki, Marcin; et al. (2004). Data Mining Approach for Analyzing Call Center Performance. Berlin: Springer. doi:10.1007/b97304. ISBN 978-3-540-22007-7.
- "Evaluation of the Performance of customer service representatives in a call center using DEA/Network Model/Fussy Sets". Retrieved 1 July 2008.
- Srinivasan, Raj; Talim, JéRome; Wang, Jinting; et al. (2004). "Performance analysis of a call center with interactive voice response units". TOP. Springer Berlin. 12 (1): 91–110. doi:10.1007/BF02578926.
- Skyrme, Pamela; et al. "Using personality to predict outbound call center job performance" (PDF). Retrieved 1 July 2008.
- Stolletz, Raik; Stefan Helber (2004). "Performance analysis of an inbound call center with skills-based routing". OR Spectrum. 26 (3): 331–352. doi:10.1007/s00291-004-0161-y.
- Witt, L. A.; et al. (2004). "When Conscientiousness Isn't Enough: Emotional Exhaustion and Performance Among Call Center Customer Service Representatives". Journal of Management. 30 (1): 149–160. doi:10.1016/j.jm.2003.01.007.
- Aguir, Salah; Karaesmen, Fikri; Aksin, O. Zeynep; Chauvet, Fabrice; et al. (2004). "The impact of retrials on call center performance" (PDF). OR Spectrum. 26 (3): 353–376. doi:10.1007/s00291-004-0165-7.
- Murthy, Nagesh N.; Challagalla, G. N.; Vincent, L. H.; Shervani, T. A.; et al. (2008). "The Impact of Simulation Training on Call Center Agent Performance: A Field-Based Investigation". Management Science. 54 (2): 384–399. doi:10.1287/mnsc.1070.0818.
- Armony, Mor; Itay Gurvich. "When promotions meet operations: cross-selling and its effect on call-center performance" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 January 2009. Retrieved 1 July 2008.
- Goldberg, L.S.; A.A. Grandey (2007). "Display rules versus display autonomy: emotion regulation, emotional exhaustion, and task performance in a call center simulation". J Occup Health Psychol. 12 (3): 301–18. doi:10.1037/1076-89220.127.116.111. PMID 17638495.
- Hudson, Dale (2009). "Undesirable Bodies and Desirable Labor: Documenting the Globalization and Digitization of Transnational American Dreams in Indian Call Centers". Cinema Journal. 49 (1): 82–102. doi:10.1353/cj.0.0164.
- Cusack M., "Online Customer Care", American Society for Quality (ASQ) Press, 2000.
- Cleveland B., "Call Center Management on Fast Forward", ICMI Press, 2006.
- Kennedy I., Call centres, School of Electrical and Information Engineering, University of the Witwatersrand, 2003.
- Masi D.M.B., Fischer M.J., Harris C.M., Numerical Analysis of Routing Rules for Call centres, Telecommunications Review, 1998, noblis.org
- HSE website Psychosocial risk factors in call centres: An evaluation of work design and well-being.
- Reena Patel, Working the Night Shift: Women in India's Call Center Industry (Stanford University Press; 2010) 219 pages; traces changing views of "women's work" in India under globalization.
- Fluss, Donna, "The Real-Time Contact centre", 2005 AMACOM
- Wegge, J., van Dick, R., Fisher, G., Wecking, C., & Moltzen, K. (2006, January). Work motivation, organisational identification, and well-being in call centre work. Work & Stress, 20(1), 60-83.
- Customer Operations Performance Center Inc. website for more information on the COPC-2000 CSP Standard.
- Legros, B. (2016). Unintended consequences of optimizing a queue discipline for a service level defined by a percentile of the waiting time. Operations Research Letters, 44(6), 839-845.
- Media related to call centres at Wikimedia Commons
- Mandelbaum, Avishai Call Centers (Centres) Research Bibliography with Abstracts. Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.