How to Pick a Call Centre (or Contact Centre)

Many small businesses undertake telemarketing or have their own mini-call centre to manage customer inquiries.  However many companies rapidly come to the conclusion that this is not where they should be spending their time or energy.  Let’s face it - managing customer contact requires robust processes, technology and, in most cases, sales expertise - it’s a hard slog!  While outsourcing the activity is a logical option, most people don’t know where or how to find the right partner, let alone the benchmark for what call centre outsourcing normally costs.  Here are my tips, having spent almost 25 years in the industry.
One of the first things to think about is location.  Do you really need a call centre provider down the road, or could the calls equally be handled from another state or country at a significantly lower cost?  There is no one-size-fits-all.  Some companies are willing to pay a premium price for a CBD location next door, others value the cost advantages of offshore above all else, and yet others appreciate the flexibility of a home agent workforce.  Factors which should drive your decision on where to deliver your call centre services from include: volume of calls, type of calls and skills required, language requirements (if languages other than English are required), proximity to you (if this is important), complexity of calls, value of customers (high-value v. low-value) and of course cost.  While offshore destinations like the Philippines were once the domain of large enterprise, they are now much more accessible to small businesses, since a number of outsourcers have established on-the-ground Australian account management and sales offices, to make life easier and remove any language/cultural barriers across the miles.  Few people also appreciate that 20-30% savings may be realised by outsourcing to regional towns in Australia, or New Zealand, where foreign accents are rarely an issue!

Call centre outsourcers charge for their services in a variety of ways, including per hour (agent attendance hour or “logged-in” hour), per minute, per call (based on an agreed estimate of average call time), per second (of talk time).  If you are outsourcing a lead generation or sales function, you may be charged per lead, per sale or per appointment, but many will not agree to this model without some historical data (such as proven conversion rates).  For low-volume after-hours call handling, a monthly retainer including a fixed number of calls may be quoted.  It is common to link payment to performance – for example, the outsourcer may place a small percentage of their revenues at risk if they don’t meet key performance indicators such as % of calls answered within a certain interval, or customer satisfaction ratings of the service experience.   If you are seeking multiple quotes on your outsourced customer contact, make sure you give the same brief of your requirements to everyone, so you can compare pricing apple to apple.

These days call centres are called “contact centres” for a good reason: sales and service are no longer provided just in person or over the phone… there are an array of other channels such as web chat, email, social media and SMS which can be equally managed by the same outsourcers.  These companies have the multi-channel customer contact technology in place so a small business does not need to spend time scoping , learning and investing in these platforms.

Where do I find a good contact centre?
There are more than 100 outsourced contact centres in Australia alone, and it can be a frustrating and time-consuming task wading through a list of all of them to find the right one(s) for you.  Most have a core competency in a particular niche – for example, some focus on B2B lead generation, others are specialists in direct response TV, and yet others offer 24x7 customer service, with a shared pool of agents for after-hours work.   Google is not an effective tool to hone in on the best-fit company to meet your specific needs, but fortunately there are free online services which match your needs with a shortlist of suppliers in a matter of hours, as well as associations representing the contact centre industry, such as the ATA and CCMA (Customer Contact Management Association), ready to help!

By Sharon Melamed