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Call Center Strategy: How Do You Build One That Sticks?

Without a formal call center strategy, what are your chances of providing the best customer experience?

If your answer is anything less than optimal, you’re not alone.

While there aren’t any stats on how many businesses fail without a set strategy, the importance of documenting call center processes tends to get lost when you don’t assign a tangible benefit to them.

If we could say that 70% of businesses without a defined call center strategy were failing, we would. Instead, we outline different aspects to streamline a call center and firefight when departments underperform.

With a dedicated and documented call center strategy, you avoid the strategic misses instead of dealing with them in the moment.

Each element below will become a task or process you must factor into your customer support planning.

Let’s dive in with the following sections:

What does success look like?

Before you make drastic changes, it’s best to take a step back and look at your current support workflows.

What does a successful call center look like? How far away from this are you?

To define success, we need to establish metrics and KPIs. A call center that isn’t measured is a call center that can’t be successful.

By definition, success is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. So start with the aim of your call center.

It’s not just to service your customers, but also maintaining the highest standards for employees so they can strengthen customer relationships and keep churn low.

Metrics to include in your call center strategy

Your call center is the first line of response for almost every customer interaction. So you should view your team as the first step in your customer retention strategy.

Consider including these customer service metrics:

  • Average Wait Time
  • Rate of Answered Calls
  • First Call Resolution Rate
  • Call SLA (Service-Level Agreement)
  • Average Handle Time (AHT)
  • Avg. Interaction/Ticket/Customer
  • First Response Time (FRT)
  • Reply Time
  • Average Time to Resolution
  • Issue Resolution Rate
  • First Contact Resolution (FCR)
  • Usage
  • Backlog
  • Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • Customer Effort Score (CES)
  • Customer Churn
  • Repurchase Rate (Customer/Brand Loyalty)

Don’t forget your call center agents

Call centers exist to serve your customers — people. And the biggest asset in your call center is your workforce that assists your customers. They're people, too.

The success of your call center is dependent on the success of your team. The structure is a key element here. Think about supervisors, quality assurance managers, and employees skilled in key areas.

There are several ways to structure a call center. Each of which has its own benefits and success paths.

Let’s look at some best practices when structuring a call center.

How to structure a call center

The starting point of any call center strategy must be your people. And while we don’t like the term hierarchy, a defined structure provides the backbone of any call center.

A common call center structure looks like this:

Diagram showing a typical call center structure

What are the typical roles in a call center?

Typical roles within a call center include:

  • Call Center Agent
  • Senior Call Center Agent
  • Team Leader or Supervisor
  • Call Center Manager
  • Director of Customer Service
  • Director of Customer Experience
  • Resource Planning Analyst
  • Quality Assurance Analyst
  • Head of the Call Center
  • Digital Contact Director
  • Operations Manager
  • Human Resources (HR)
  • Call Center Trainer
  • Call Center Coach

Of course, all these roles come with different titles. The terms analyst and manager evolve to become Quality Assurance Manager, for example.

In some cases, senior agents get assigned quality assurance tasks (like listening to call recordings for training purposes).

As staff progress in their career, their development becomes crucial to the success of your call center. Make sure you factor individual career progression into your call center strategy.

Call center strategy: Goals, skills & objectives

Once you’ve established an existing or desired structure, call center development is an ongoing effort that you can manage top-down and bottom-up.

Once again, it’s important to set metrics and KPIs before you kick start your development program. Split what you measure into two sections:

KPIs to drive call center development

  • Service level: What percentage of calls are answered within a specified number of seconds?
  • Peak hour traffic: Is your call volume rising or falling during your busiest hour?
  • First call resolution: How many calls give your customers the right answer the first time around?
  • Call abandonment: Are customers hanging up before they get an answer from your agents?
  • Average handle time: How long does it take to handle the customer transaction?
  • Average speed of answer: Has your time to answer shrunk or grown compared to last month?
  • Customer Satisfaction (CSAT): Do you have a pulse on customer engagement?
  • IVR routing accuracy: Are callers reaching the right agent without extra transfers?
  • Escalation rate: Do you use data to track ticket escalations?

KPIs to drive employee development

  • Sales per agent: Is the sales volume growing or staying the same?
  • Agent turnover rate: Do you need to keep hiring and training new staff, or are you retaining your workforce?
  • Agent utilization rate: How much of the workday is dedicated to customer tasks?
  • Customer retention rate: Are your customers staying loyal after talking with employees?
  • Unapproved absences: Do your agents come to work when they’re supposed to?
  • Agent quality: Is the quality of agents above par, or are they doing just enough?
  • After call work time: How long does it take to complete tasks and make notes after each call?
  • Internal NPS: Would your employees recommend working for your company to a friend?
  • Quality assurance: Do agents adhere to internal standards?

Developing employees ensures the continued success of your call center strategy and minimizes employee turnover. 1.2 million call center agents leave their jobs every year in the U.S. alone. That’s about $40,000 per head when your agents aren’t happy at work.

It’s safe to say employee satisfaction is a crucial cog in your call center development plan.

Call center performance hinges on good training

The development of a call center will always need some form of training. To make call center training a successful part of your call center strategy, you must communicate why you need training in the first place.

“If an agent has to represent a new brand or product, they would need to get trained in the culture of the brand or specifics of the product.

Customer service teams also often perform different types of services (e.g. customer care, tech support or help desk, sales, marketing, market research, collections) and thus need training in those as needed.”

Sebastian Menutti, Industry Principal at Frost & Sullivan

Your training could be formal, informal, accredited, or in-house. Or, in most cases, a mix of these. Whichever option(s) you choose, include these six items:

1) Deep-dive on company products

Allow agents enough time to get to know the products you sell and service. This is important not only for the customer to be dealt with by someone who knows product-speak but also to ensure your agent is able to deliver with confidence.

If an agent isn’t comfortable talking technical or has never seen your product, they lack authority and lose the customer's trust.

2) Call control best practices

Like product training, call control training is vital for any customer service agent. Even experienced agents must receive training on your inbound call center solution.

Training on one solution isn’t catch-all. Call center technology is constantly evolving.

Make sure every agent is up to speed with call control best practices on a regular basis. Otherwise, you run the risk of transferring a customer to the wrong team or disconnecting the line altogether.

3) Listening to call recordings

Call recording is an often-underestimated technology included with all good call center platforms.

One of the best ways to gauge where employees need training is by listening to real calls with customers.

Look out for things like:

  • Excessive silence and "umms"
  • Gap fillers where they don't know the solution
  • Putting the customer on hold to search for documentation
  • Giving customers incorrect answers
  • Repeatedly asking for customer information

When you spot an area for improvement, document it in a personal development plan. This plan should include all customer service skills you identify as important to the ongoing development of your employees and your call center.

You might want to create a skills matrix to track these. Take a look at our example below. You’ll see there are clear gaps in some of our example agents' training. These would go into their personal development plans.

SKILL PETER ALYSSA MOHAMMED SUZIE
Core communications
Product knowledge
Patience & empathy
Problem solving
Organized notes
Call center management

4) Live monitoring

If you identify someone with the same issues on a call, you can listen to those calls in real time.

During the call, you can offer coaching to the agent to correct something they’ve said. Or you can offer advice if they’re stuck on what to say.

In these scenarios, if things are getting out of hand, you can even take over the call from your agent. This ensures you stop the problem from escalating to an unwanted outcome.

5) Formal escalation procedures

You can’t monitor every call in real time. So, it’s important to have documented and updated formal escalation processes for agents to follow.

In the event of an escalation, you need your agents to calmly explain the process to the customer and transfer them to the right person.

Different cases may need referring to different members of staff. For example, only the accounts team may be able to resolve a billing issue. Or a technical question may need someone with specialized product training.

Make the process as easy as possible for your agents. In a perfect world, all they need to do is:

  • Recognize when the call needs escalating
  • Know the best person to handle the call
  • Explain to the customer what happens next
  • Transfer the call
  • Log appropriate notes on your CRM

6) Up-to-date documentation

Part and parcel of a smooth escalation procedure is keeping documentation up to date.

In any of the examples above, it’s crucial for the agents to be confident of the information they provide customers.

It’s counterproductive to ease a caller's concern only to transfer them to the wrong team.

Assign the responsibility of relevant documentation to an escalation owner per department. Each month, they must check with team members to refresh documentation and routing.

When you make changes, keep a log with the date, person who made the change, and details of the change. This helps your agents track changes and match your messaging.

Ways to improve your call center strategy

1) Invest in employee engagement

A key theme of this post has been to put your employees at the forefront of your call center strategy.

The logic is simple and you can apply it to almost any routine task.

Think about it. If you enjoy what you do, you're more likely to focus and drive better results.

It could be surfing, soccer, swimming, or sewing. Regardless of the task, when agents are engaged in what they’re doing, agent performance will skyrocket.

Make sure your call center onboarding and training plans focus on both the business and the person by asking your agents what they need from you.

2)  Act on customer feedback

It’s not just employees you should ask for feedback. The voice of your customer is the most important data that needs to be considered.

It’s one thing creating a training plan. It’s another to tailor it to what your customers need.

Conduct regular CSAT and other customer surveys to find out where your actual customers feel there is a gap in your call center.

3) Perform a SWOT analysis

Using the output of your CSAT surveys, you can conduct a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

A typical SWOT consists of four quadrants. The upper half is focused on the internal functions within your company. The bottom half involves external activities you don't necessarily have influence over.

Strengths

  • Large, growing team
  • Core product knowledge
  • Increased training budget
Weaknesses

  • Handle time continue to rise
  • Training resources are overwhelmed
  • Had to defer call control training
  • Lack of a business continuity plan
Opportunities

  • Train senior staff to become coaches
  • Revamp career progression plan
  • Workforce training grant awarded
Threats

  • Competitors gaining market share
  • Phone system setup slows down onboarding
  • Closest rival using semi-automated call center technology

In each square, examine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It's a good idea to conduct this SWOT exercise quarterly across every department, including sales, customer experience, and engineering. It's likely there will be several emerging issues that you can solve right away.

Once you have identified them, you have the basis for an improvement plan in your call center strategy.

4) Identify and solve recurring issues

Another key element in improving your call center is the simple questions people ask most often.

Before you do this, you need a method of tracking your most common call drivers. Otherwise, you’ll need your agents to track this on an individual basis. While this sounds like an easy remedy, it's open to incorrect customer data if agents miss calls.

If you’re not already using wrap-up or disposition codes, you can configure these based on your business type.

For example, sales teams can use Completed Sale. If you have a technical support team, they can use Issue Resolved, Pending Resolved, or Escalated.

5) Offer call scripts as benchmarks

The best customer service teams are the ones that render the best customer experience. And the best customer experience is one that makes them feel valued and confident in your product or service.

Long gone are the days where everything is scripted. But the use of scripts won't cease entirely.

Instead of reading word-for-word from a script, review the most important steps and create a process chart.

So, rather than 100 words to move to the next step, ask the key question and wait for a response from your customer. After all, what happens if their answer isn’t in your script? Probably an avoidable escalation.

Factor in moving from a script-based service to a human-first customer experience.

Related: Auto Attendant Scripts With Real-World Examples

6) Give information to your queuing customers

During your call queues, what do you offer to your customers? Some organizations don’t offer anything at all. This means customers wait in a queue without any information.

Rather than keeping them guessing, you could:

  • Inform callers of the expected wait time
  • Offer a call back when an agent is free
  • Present self-service options like opening hours
  • Route to overflow answering service
  • Give the option to leave a message

7) Use an advanced IVR

Interactive voice response (IVR) is a technology most call center managers will be familiar with. But have you kept up with the advances they have made over the last few years?

If you aren’t using an advanced IVR yet, your callers could be sitting through a long menu of options. Instead of this, you could be using open-ended prompts for your IVR to help your customer while your agents are busy.

As well as helping your customers with queries and routing them to the right place, your advanced IVR will get smarter every time it receives a call.

By using machine learning tools like Google Dialogflow and IBM Watson, your call center will learn that different phrases mean the same thing — and route them to the same team.

“I’d like to get my car fixed.”

“Can you fix my car?”

These are the same requests asked in different ways. Over time, your advanced IVR will learn these and process them instantly. You could even ask your own variation to get up to speed before you roll out.

8) Hire for service focus, not product  knowledge

In the customer service world, often the best experience outweighs the most product knowledge. Customers don’t want jargon; they want help.

This makes the person most important when hiring.

Kerry Bodine, formerly of Forrester Research, says her research indicates that top call center managers agree that technical knowledge and previous call center experience shouldn’t be prerequisites for employment.

“Some of the companies we spoke to specifically look for candidates who don’t have call center jobs on their resumes to avoid undesirable habits and attitudes learned elsewhere. Instead, these hiring managers look for candidates who have worked for retail stores, ski lodges, cruise lines, supermarkets, and nursing homes — essentially any position with a service focus.”

Kerry Bodine, formerly at Forrester Research

Once you’ve found the right people for your call center, you can work on the gaps in their skills. Think about the SWOT analysis mentioned above. Use this along with your voice of the customer survey to identify skills your new hire needs to develop.

9) Route calls to the most skilled agents

Your new hires aren’t likely going to be the most skilled agents right away. So you don’t want them handling the most complex queries that come into your call center.

You can avoid this by using skills-based routing. When a caller selects an option from your IVR, they will get routed to the agent best suited to handle the topic.

Assign skills to each agent (based on the skills matrix you have created) or by products they can support.

When a caller selects option 3 for “Renew my membership,” they will get routed through to the person most experienced in renewals.

This avoids sending customers to inexperienced agents or those not qualified to answer complex queries.

10) Audit your call center software

You can't apply the nine call center strategy improvements above without best-in-class software.

Best practice is to audit your existing setup to determine whether it can meet tomorrow's business needs.

Look for things like:

  • Customizable call queues
  • Self-service options
  • Intelligent call routing
  • Built-in reporting and analytics
  • Customer surveys and sentiment scoring
  • Omnichannel capabilities (voice, email, social media, etc.)

Next level customer service can now be yours

Nextiva provides an inbound call center designed to drive effectiveness and improvements for the future of your call center.

As your team scales and technology progresses, you benefit from a futureproof call center and an evolving call center strategy.

The best part is you won't have to figure it out on your own. We have the expertise to help you shine for your customers and the C-suite.

Launch an inbound call center in hours, not weeks.
Cut the cord and move to the cloud.


About the author

Dominic Kent is a content marketer specializing in unified communications and contact centers. After 10 years of managing installations, he founded UC Marketing to bridge the gap between service providers and customers. He spends 50% of his time building content marketing programs and 50% writing on the beach with his dogs.