Call centers aren’t going away anytime soon. Though the number of support inquiries continues to increase across email, messaging, chat, and other digital channels, Statista reports that the phone remained the most popular support channel in 2021.
Given the popularity of voice, you can’t afford to rest on your laurels—your call center plays an increasingly important role in shaping the customer experience. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022, 61 percent of consumers say the pandemic raised their customer service standards.
Meeting higher expectations requires effective call center management—including continually reviewing and improving call center processes and agent capabilities. Read on to learn what successful call center management looks like.
What is call center management?
Call center management is the way in which call center leaders oversee daily call center operations. It entails monitoring inbound and outbound calls, hiring and training support agents, creating schedules, forecasting, and tracking metrics. Call center managers are responsible for both customer satisfaction and agent satisfaction.
“Call center management” and “contact center management” used to be different terms, but now they’re synonymous. More and more consumers are connecting with companies over digital channels such as email, chat, messaging apps, and social media. Companies began using the term “contact center” to mark this transition to omnichannel communication.
How does an inbound call center work?
In an inbound call center, support agents resolve issues or address product questions from customers who contact the company. Call center managers give agents the tools and resources they need to provide solutions as quickly and efficiently as possible. Here’s what happens during a typical inbound call center interaction.
- Customer contacts the call center: Ideally, a support agent will answer right away. But sometimes, there are hiccups—the agent who responds may not be able to handle the issue, or the company might not have enough available agents.
To address these roadblocks, call center managers can set up an interactive voice response (IVR) system to filter and transfer calls to the right agent. Some call centers also offer callbacks when they’re busy, so a customer can schedule a time for the business to contact them instead of waiting on hold.
- A support agent tries to fix the customer’s problem: Agents should possess a blend of product knowledge and customer service skills that help them fulfill callers’ needs. The agent’s goal is to find a solution during the first interaction, but in some cases, the agent must follow up with the customer after doing more research.
- The agent updates the customer’s record: Once the agent resolves the issue, they close the ticket and add notes from the exchange to the customer relationship management (CRM) system. That way, if the customer calls again, other agents have all the context they need to provide a seamless experience.
Call center operations: Roles and responsibilities
Like other organizations, call centers have a hierarchy. The number of roles in that hierarchy depends on the size of the company.
Large call centers generally have a manager, at least one supervisor, and many agents or representatives. Small call centers may not need supervisors.
What is a call center manager?
The call center manager is responsible for hiring, training, and leading call center supervisors and agents. They interact with upper management, such as VPs of customer success, to set call center performance goals and build a roadmap for achieving them.
Success in the role requires:
- Leadership: setting an example for supervisors and agents, establishing processes for reaching call center goals, and ensuring the department achieves desired service levels
- Critical thinking: determining call center KPIs, compiling monthly reports, and brainstorming ways to improve performance management
- Strong communication: leading team meetings and creating and hosting effective onboarding and training modules
What is a call center supervisor?
A call center supervisor supports the call center manager and oversees groups of agents. Say a large consumer products firm has a team of agents devoted to laptop computer support, another to mobile device support, and a third to warranty support. Each team might have a dedicated supervisor, who then reports to the manager.
Call center supervisors should be adept at:
- Problem-solving: handling support issues that agents cannot
- Managing operations: scheduling agents, overseeing the onboarding process, and escalating team issues to the call center manager
- Reporting: preparing monthly team performance evaluations for the call center manager
What is a call center agent?
Call center agents are the foundation of your call center team. They respond to callers in real-time, find solutions, and make customers feel supported and valued.
A few skills they must bring to the table include:
- Knowledge retention: absorbing information about the company’s products and capabilities, department procedures, metrics, and etiquette to resolve customer concerns
- Empathy: engaging in active listening while speaking with callers and reassuring and calming angry customers as needed
- Sales: selling or recommending products that may better suit customer needs
Call center management best practices
Call center agents must balance the stress of interacting with sometimes-angry customers with the need to meet department and company objectives. Effective call center management means giving them the support to find that middle ground.
1. Focus on employee engagement
You can’t keep customers happy if your call center agents aren’t happy. It’s tough for agents to provide excellent support when they aren’t focused or motivated. According to Gallup, only 36 percent of U.S. employees feel engaged in their work.
To boost employee engagement, schedule monthly meetings with your agents to set performance goals and ask how you can help them achieve their objectives. Encourage them to report challenges, and empower them to make important decisions.
It’s important for your team to feel heard, too. Say an agent has an idea for speeding up call resolution times. Give them a month to test their theory and see if it improves customer satisfaction levels from the previous month.
2. Provide a comprehensive training program
Our CX Trends Report revealed that 68 percent of customers feel that most businesses need to improve the training of their support agents. With rising consumer expectations, call center training is especially critical.
Prepare a variety of training formats—video, text, quizzes—to accommodate different learning styles. Host workshops and allow new agents to shadow more experienced agents so they can pick up best practices from them. It’s also a good idea to provide ongoing training opportunities so everyone’s skills stay sharp.
3. Integrate your call center technology
Help agents provide better, more efficient experiences by setting up call center software that consolidates customer information in a single desktop view. Integrations with other business tools—like your CRM, ecommerce platform, and social media accounts—are critical for centralizing data for agents. They’ll be able to view everything from a customer’s purchase history to a customer’s previous support requests. With key customer details at their fingertips, agents don’t have to ask the caller as many questions for context, saving them valuable time.
IVR systems are essential call center technology, too. IVRs use automation to funnel calls to the correct support agent based on the customer’s voice prompts. They even answer common questions, freeing up agents to focus on more complicated requests.
4. Give your customers a voice
One of the best ways to discover where your call center needs improvement? Ask your customers.
You can’t leave anything to chance—our CX Trends Report shows that 61 percent of consumers would switch to a competitor after a single bad customer service experience. So, send surveys after each support interaction to gauge customer satisfaction. Frequent complaints might indicate that your agents need better training or that there’s an issue with your product or service.
Make sure you invest in call center software that has the functionality to send surveys, collect the data, and display the results in a dashboard for simpler analysis.
5. Centralize call center data
According to Statista, 36 percent of business leaders said that “difficulty accessing data” was the main reason data wasn’t driving value at their companies in 2021. If you manage a large call center with multiple teams, implementing a centralized data dashboard can help you make decisions more quickly.
Say your agents are spending an average of 20 minutes resolving issues—that’s five minutes longer than last month. This increase could be a sign that your agents are having trouble accessing resources that would speed up resolution time.
6. Partner with your product team
Call center agents are more successful if they know your products inside and out. Establish a process that enables the call center and product team to share information.
Each time a new or updated product hits the market, the product team should send full specs and fact sheets to the call center so agents can answer specific product questions.
If agents repeatedly hear the same complaint, it might mean a product defect. The call center should relay that information to the product team as quickly as possible.
7. Prevent agent burnout with proper scheduling
Burnout—and the poor performance that goes with it—often occurs when managers fail to anticipate peak hours, employee ability, and customer needs. To combat burnout, it’s imperative to give your employees the time they need to recharge and the support they need to do the job well. It’s also important to consider the mix of agents working a shift. You wouldn’t want to put all the new hires on the same shift; you need a few veterans around to help if things get sticky.
Some call center software comes with workforce management solutions that help you create schedules and forecast needs based on previous peak hours. The software also pings you if an agent suddenly starts spending too much time resolving tickets, indicating they may be on the verge of burnout.
8. Work with your recruiting team
Considering the call center turnover rate hit 42 percent in 2021, managers should be proactive in helping recruiters screen the right customer support agents.
Create profiles of your top-performing agents, and send them to recruiters to help them in their initial interviews. Share your call-volume forecasts with recruiters—as well as the time required to train a new agent—to ensure proper staffing at all times.
9. Regularly review call center regulations
Call centers must abide by national and international privacy guidelines. Protect your agents from accidental violations by reviewing regulations regularly.
For example, some states require all parties (customer and agent) to agree to call monitoring or recording. Make sure your agents know to ask for permission when chatting with customers in particular states.
10. Create self-service resources
Empower customers to solve problems independently by offering self-service options. These may include detailed FAQ pages, product guides, videos, blog posts, and community forums.
Self-service resources not only reduce the number of customer calls and lighten agents’ loads, but they can also help drive sales. Our research found that 89 percent of customers will spend more with companies that allow them to find answers themselves.
11. Establish etiquette guidelines for agents
While agents shouldn’t sound fake or disingenuous, they should offer support in a kind, respectful way. Set call center etiquette rules so every agent knows how to offer polite customer service.
Call center etiquette is especially important when dealing with angry customers. To help agents de-escalate tense situations, suggest using positive phrases—such as, “I can certainly check on that for you” or “ Let me see if I find a way to make this right”—in your guidelines.
12. Offer performance incentives
According to Achievers, “lack of recognition” is the third most popular reason for employee churn (after “compensation” and “career advancement”). Gartner finds that an employee rewards program can improve performance by 11 percent.
Encourage high-performing agents to stick around longer by recognizing them for achieving their performance goals. Say you send a customer satisfaction survey after each call, and one agent averages the highest score for six straight months. Acknowledge their accomplishment by giving them an extra day of vacation, a bonus, or another reward.
13. Conduct periodic quality assurance checks
Occasional quality assurance checks can help managers chart an improvement plan for underperforming agents who might not understand why they’re falling short of expectations.
Inform new agents that you’ll record random calls to aid in their performance reviews. Seasoned agents can help managers review calls, too. If multiple agents are experiencing the same problem, managers may need to update call center policies or standards.
14. Draft call center standard operating procedures
A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a guide to a department’s or company’s day-to-day operations. Call center SOPs help agents comply with expectations, optimize workflows, and meet performance objectives.
Call center SOPs should contain the following:
- Human resources policies, which describe attendance requirements and how to request time off
- Call center software user guides, which reinforce agent training on critical support tools
- KPIs, which reiterate call center standards for call resolution time and etiquette
Managers may need to update SOPs as legislation and policies evolve. Let agents know each time a new SOP is available.
15. Encourage outside-the-box thinking
Our CX Trends Report shows that only 39 percent of agents believe they’re effective at responding to customers in a conversational, convenient way. Many feel tied to a call center script and hesitate to think outside the box to solve problems.
Use role-playing during customer service training to help agents think on their feet and respond organically. Present difficult support scenarios and let agents find creative—yet accurate—solutions.
Best metrics to track when managing a call center
Measure how well agents are performing by monitoring these key call center metrics.
Average handle time (AHT)
Average handle time is the average length of time it takes to fully resolve a customer call. It accounts for total talk time, customer wait time, and any follow-up time.
Say a call center manager notices that average handle times are increasing month over month. They should replay calls to pinpoint trends that could be contributing to the rise. Managers may need to host a special training session to address the issue.
Missed and declined calls
Missed calls happen when an agent doesn’t answer the phone in time, so the customer goes back to the queue. Declined calls mean the agent actively refused the call, most likely because they were helping another customer.
Agents usually miss or decline calls because they can’t handle the call volume. You may need to hire more agents or create more customer self-service resources.
Transfer rate is the percentage of inbound calls that agents transfer to another team member or department.
Call center agents often have different specialties. Transfers shouldn’t be an issue if your IVR gives customers a clear decision tree for reaching the correct first-touch agent.
Abandoned in queue
This metric measures the number of customers who hang up while waiting to speak to an agent. You want this number to be as low as possible—our CX Trends Report revealed that 76 percent of consumers expect an agent to respond immediately when they call a company.
It’s safe to say that customers who tire of waiting are less than satisfied. One solution is to give callers the option to request a callback. Customers keep their place in line without remaining on hold and will receive a call when it’s their turn.
Boost your bottom line with effective call center management
When done well, call center management leads to more than positive support experiences—it also leads to a healthier bottom line. Our research found that 70 percent of consumers make buying decisions based on the quality of customer support. And 81 percent say a positive customer service experience increases the likelihood they’ll make another purchase.
Start by investing in your agents. When you give them the support and resources to do their jobs well, they become brand ambassadors who grow your business. Set them up for success by providing robust onboarding, ongoing training, and best-in-class customer service software.