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Call Centres

Call Centres

A Call Centre can best be defined as an area within an organisation where business is conducted by various manners - phone, email, webchat, social media, etc in a methodical and organised manner.  Call centres are typically based on the integration of a computerised database and an automatic call distribution (ACD) system.

For example, in the past, people would typically queue for car insurance ‘over the counter’.  Nowadays, insurance can be obtained by simply making a telephone call to the call centre of an insurance company.

The origin of Call Centres

The general public became dissatisfied with the way in which suppliers interacted with them by telephone.  Many customers had terminated their supplier relationship as a direct result of poor or inadequate service over the telephone.  To remedy the situation, call centres were established to deal exclusively with customer queries.

Call centres are now used extensively by many companies, examples of which are as follows:

  • Travel and tourism
  • Municipalities
  • Banking and finance
  • Insurance companies
  • Ticket / booking offices
  • Telesales companies
  • Medical schemes
  • Cellular service providers

The majority of medium to large companies now have call centres staffed by agents trained to deal with specific customer queries.  Crucial to any call centre is a facility known as Automatic Call Distribution (ACD).  Listed below are some of the key aspects of ACD:

ACD Agent – a telephony end user that is a member of an inbound, outbound, skills based or Programmable ACD group.  ACD agents are distinguished from other users by their ability to sign on / log in to phone systems that coordinate and distribute calls to them.

ACD Application Bridge Refers to the link between an ACD and a database of information resident on a user’s data system.  It allows the ACD to communicate with a data system and gain access to a database of call processing information.

ACD Caller Directed Call Routing – Also referred to as an auto attendant.  This ACD capability allows callers to direct themselves to the appropriate agent group without operator assistance.  The caller responds to prompts, (press 1 for sales, press 2 for service) and is automatically routed to the designated agent group.

ACD Intelligent Call Processing – The ability of an ACD to monitor various parameters within the call centre and to intelligently route calls based on that information, as well as information provided by the caller and ACD database.  System parameters include:

  • Number of calls in queue
  • Number of agents available in designated overflow agent groups
  • Longest waiting time of calls in queue

ACD Data Directed Call Routing – An ACD can automatically process calls based on data provided by an existing database resident in a data system.  For example, a caller enters an account number via a touch-tone phone.  The number is sent to a data system containing a database of customer information.  The number is identified, validated, and the call is distributed automatically based on the specific account type.

ACD Group – Multiple agents assigned to process incoming calls that are directed to the same dialled number.  The ACD routes the incoming call to one of the agents in the ACD group based upon parameters such as availability of the agent and length of time since the agent last completed an incoming call.

Call Centres have, depending on the vendor or application, been termed ‘Contact Centres’, ‘Interaction Centres’, ‘Help Desks’, ‘Service Lines’ and ‘Virtual Call Centres’. 

Many companies selling a product or a service over the telephone use outbound Call Centres.  Some of these organisations make use of predictive diallers – a machine that makes many outbound calls and then passes the answered calls to an agent. 

The Objectives of a Call Centre are as follows:

  • To answer or make as many calls, with as little overhead, as possible
  • To answer all calls or respond to all queries as quickly as possible
  • To deal with all calls first time, without the customer having to wait
  • To optimise the length of each call
  • To reduce busy tone to callers
  • To reduce the amount of lost or abandoned calls

How are these Objectives achieved?

  • Automatic Call Distribution – right caller to right agent
  • Agents trained to deal with callers
  • Adequately staffed call centre
  • Properly supervised / monitored call centre
  • Accessible call centre – sufficient trunks and available agents to ensure callers are assisted promptly and efficiently

In order to become part of an ACD group, call centre agents are required to login to the ACD system using their personal Agent ID code.  The system then acknowledges their presence and routes calls to the agent.  Should the agent then wish to take a break or leave their workstation for a period of time, they enter a code that indicates that they are unavailable to receive calls, yet are still logged into the system.  (Reason Codes may be used.)  When the agent completes a shift or leaves for the day, they are required to log-out of the system to ensure that calls are not routed to their station, in which case they will go unanswered.

The desktop instrument typically used by a call centre agent should indicate the following information to assist an agent in improving their performance levels:

  • The number of calls waiting in the ACD queue
  • The wait time of each call
  • The current call length, if on an outbound call
  • The trunk ID
  • Number of abandoned calls

Call Centre Management Reports

Call centre management reports provide the following information to assist the call centre supervisor in improving overall service and performance levels within the call centre:

  • Agent performance information, e.g. how many calls is the agent taking, how much time does the agent spend with a caller responding to their queries, and how much wrap-up time does the agent require to update database details before taking another call.
  • Trunk line activities, i.e. how many trunk lines are in use – this is important information to the call centre manager, especially when the call centre is fully staffed and operating at maximum capacity during peak call periods.  Certain high-traffic / advertised trunk lines may require more agents in the group to respond to callers, e.g. for a competition entry or request for (product) information.  Insufficient available trunk ports can result in an engaged tone to callers or congestion on the switch / PBX system.
  • Indicate adequacy of staffing levels – if there are insufficient agents during a peak call traffic period, then those agents will be under pressure from an excessive call workload and find it difficult to deal effectively with callers and the updating of information on the database.  Too many agents during an off-peak call shift will result in underperformance from the agents who will take few calls and remain idle for most of their shift.

The following types of reports are available to the call centre supervisor or manager:

  • Agent reports:  How many calls does an agent take during a shift, average length of the call, wrap-up time, performance levels against set targets of callers to be assisted during a shift, etc.
  • Group reports: Overall report of the performance of specified group of agents; the number of calls taken, the average time spent by caller in ACD queue before being assisted by an agent, the number of abandoned calls due to extended wait times in queue – (indicates understaffing.)
  • Graphical representation of real-time and historical information:  Once agent schedules have been defined and thresholds set, real-time displays inform the supervisor of discrepancies between the work schedule and actual activity.  Pie charts or bar graphs can indicate agent or group service and performance levels at a glance.

Benefits of Call Centres to the Caller / Customer

  • Callers are less likely to encounter busy or engaged tone when calling a call centre
  • Callers endure a minimal wait time for assistance
  • Callers can listen to helpful or informative messages if they are on hold in the ACD queue
  • Agents are suitably trained and able to assist callers more effectively
  • The caller experiences a shorter and more productive call – problem / query attended to in minimum time.

Benefits of ACD to the agents

  • The call workload is more evenly distributed
  • Calls are handled more easily due to appropriate training and call information presented to the agent
  • The agent is able to view: the amount of completed calls, the number of calls still in the queue, the average wait time of a call, and the number of abandoned calls, on their terminals.  This information assists them in dealing with the workload and thus reaching their performance targets.
  • Caller Identification enables an agent to answer a caller personally, therefore improving the customer relationship.
  • Agents are given the necessary skills to deal effectively with callers and are thus more prepared for any type of caller.
  • Agents are recognised and rewarded based on their activity performance, and by achieving required customer service levels.

Benefits of ACD to a supervisor

  • More information is obtained on callers – types of queries / problems to be resolved, trunk lines dialled to speak to an agent, etc.
  • An overview of agent activity is obtained from the call centre reports.  Performance levels against thresholds or targets can be measured. 
  • Call Centre groups can be managed more effectively – multi-skilled agents can be assigned to deal with callers routed to various ACD groups.  Call can be re-routed by the supervisor to an alternate group of agents should the intended group be overloaded with calls.
  • Dynamic reports detailing practically any aspect of call centre activity – agent performance, call traffic patterns, threshold levels and group staffing – can be generated using call centre management and reporting software.
  • A supervisor is able to obtain a better understanding of agent training needs. Under-performing agents can be trained to deal more efficiently with callers.
  • A greater knowledge of agent / caller interfacing can be gained through call centre reports and agent updates of database.

Benefits of ACD to Call Centre Manager

  • Information on call centre effectiveness and customer relations provided in reports.
  • Measurement of service levels and agent performance
  • Strategic planning can be implemented based on call centre capacity and effectiveness
  • Improved levels of customer satisfaction due to efficient handling of callers by skilled agents
  • Maximised use of available resources: correct staffing of call centre according to call traffic volumes and allocation of sufficient lines to call centre groups.

A great deal of money is spent annually by company’s intent on improving relationships with their customers / clients.  It is estimated that for every R1 spent on a PBX system for a call centre, a further R7 is spent on additional customer care products and services.

Ideally, resellers need to be able to:

  • Provide a complete solution to end-users
  • Be the primary supplier of customer care technology to end-users
  • Supply both hard and soft technologies, as well as the services and integration aspects of call centres.

Benefits of Call Centres to Business

  • Satisfied Customers
  • Increased Productivity and Profits
  • Reduced operating costs