Let’s play a word association game. If you hear “Call centers”, what do you visualize? Banks of desk-bound workers in a big corporate building, all wearing headsets and busily typing at computers?
The truth might surprise you.
One of the latest business trends is the growth of virtual call centers. Environments where the traditional model you probably pictured have been eschewed in favor of outsourcing, smaller satellite offices, or employees and freelancers working from home.
Industry statistics reveal that more than half of US call centers (53%) include some staff working from a home office. In Europe, as of 2006, there are 15,000 call centers, with the growth rate in the number of centers averaging around 10 percent, per year.
So, what’s driving this change? We’ve identified five key trends which have spurred this growth – and which point to where the future may lie for virtual call centers.
If time is money, space is even more. Running a business comes with considerable overheads – leasing office space, maintenance, facility requirements, and more.
For call centers, 76% of their operating budgets are tied to resource-related expenses.
Establishing a virtual call center, and thereby removing much of this requirement, can be hugely beneficial for an organization.
It’s estimated that every staff member who works from home saves the employer USD $25,000.
With savings like this possible through a different call center business model, employers are able to improve their ROI without compromising on service.
The rapid rate of technological development continues to change the workplace. Virtual networks, high-speed internet, VOIP, Cloud computing – all have risen to prominence as business IT tools in recent years.
An employee with secure computer access and requisite software installed could perform their job from home. Granted, it may encourage more employees to exchange their shirts for onesies, but business performance would see no drop.
Technology also grants employers the ability to keep their virtual team informed, motivated, and encouraged through advances in digital communication. Urgent notifications can be sent immediately through desktop alerts; sales figures, product details or reminders can be delivered via scrolling ticker; team-building is achieved with fun weekly quizzes.
Next on the technological horizon for virtual call centers will be the evolution of AI – artificial intelligence which tracks user behavior on your organization’s website, then summarizes this to call center staff so that they can serve consumers better through highly-personalized interactions.
3. Global business
The internet has turned the world into a single global marketplace. Boundaries to trade have been removed. Even small businesses offering niche products can promote to the world and deliver everywhere.
But this greater opportunity demands additional business resources from employers. When customers can purchase from anywhere, it’s natural that they expect support to be available when they need it.
Virtual call centers have provided an efficient means for organizations to provide customer service or technical support in multiple locations, timezones, and languages to meet customer requirements.
In this way, customer satisfaction can be improved through the use of local workforces who really do speak the customers’ language.
4. Staff retention
Turnover of call center staff is one of the ongoing challenges for employers. For many employees, call center jobs are seen as transitory – a step on their corporate career before they advance to higher roles.
They seek internal transfers or secure jobs outside the organization – taking their valuable knowledge and experience with them.
But for many call center workers, flexibility in working arrangements can encourage them to stay. And the research proves it. The retention rate for call center staff working from home is 80% versus 25% for in-house.
One drawback of these virtual call centers is the loss of a sense of team. With staff dispersed, they may rarely engage with each other and therefore lose the ability to collaborate or foster any camaraderie. Using a variety of internal communication channels is an effective way to keep virtual teams connected and working together.
Managing a business is never a simple endeavor, even in times of economic boom. The last decade has seen considerable peaks and troughs, which has forced managers to look closely at their operations.
Virtual call centers allow employers to readily adjust staffing levels in times of business growth or contraction, with less impact on central operations.
When business is booming or a new market opens up, the opportunity can be seized by employing experienced local staff. If business is slowing or a product line is reaching maturity, employee numbers can be readily trimmed to maximize profitability.
Call centers continue to be a core function for modern organizations. They fulfill a crucial link between businesses and customers, though come with some unique challenges – especially in the area of internal communications and engagement. Despite this, virtual call centers are becoming one of the best calls an employer can make.