Call center management: Best practices and top KPIs to elevate operations
Effective call center management helps you keep customers and support agents happy. Here's how to do it right.
Last updated February 28, 2023
Call centers remain a support staple as customer service becomes a bigger priority for businesses. The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2023 found that 73 percent of companies saw increased customer service requests over the past year. To meet growing demand, call center management is crucial.
Given the enduring popularity of the phone as a support channel, your inbound call center plays a vital role in shaping the customer experience. Meeting higher expectations requires more effective call center management, including continually reviewing and improving call center processes and agent capabilities. Read on to learn successful call center strategies and best practices.
What is call center management?
Call center management is how call center leaders oversee daily call center operations. Call center managers are responsible for both customer satisfaction and agent satisfaction. Running a call center entails:
- Monitoring inbound and outbound calls
- Designing call flows
- Hiring and training agents
- Creating schedules
- Forecasting and tracking metrics
- Staying compliant with telecommunication laws
“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 a call center work?
In a call center, support agents resolve issues or address customer questions. Call center managers give agents the tools and resources they need to provide solutions as efficiently as possible. You can learn how to manage a call center by understanding how a typical call center interaction goes.
- Customer contacts the call center: Ideally, a support agent will answer right away. As call volumes increase, interactive voice response (IVR) systems help filter and transfer calls to the right agent or schedule a callback later.
- A support agent tries to fix the customer’s problem: Agents should possess 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. Still, in some cases, the agent must follow up after more research.
- The agent updates the customer’s record: Once the agent resolves an 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.
Why do successful call center operations matter?
Call centers play a critical role in customer service and retention. While sales teams convert prospects, call center agents enhance customer satisfaction post-purchase. Great call center processes:
- Boost customer loyalty
- Increase the likelihood of repeat purchases
- Establish a positive brand identity
- Track metrics relevant to other teams
- Shine a light on customer pain points
Call center roles and responsibilities
Like other organizations, call centers have a hierarchy. The number of roles in that hierarchy depends on the company’s size.
Large call centers generally have a manager, at least one supervisor, and many agents or representatives. However, small call centers may not need supervisors.
What is a call center manager?
The call center manager is responsible for hiring, training, and leading other call center employees. They work with upper management, such as VPs of customer success, to set performance goals and build a roadmap for achieving them. It’s essential they know how to run a call center and oversee its processes.
Success in contact center management requires:
- Leadership: setting an example for supervisors and agents, establishing processes for reaching call center goals, and ensuring they provide great service
- Critical thinking: determining call center KPIs, writing reports, and finding ways to improve performance
- Strong communication: leading team meetings and hosting effective onboarding and training modules
What is a call center supervisor?
A call center supervisor supports their manager and oversees groups of agents. Say a 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 onboarding, escalating team issues, and managing the call center team
- 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 valued.
A few skills they must bring to the table include:
- Knowledge retention: absorbing information about the company’s products, procedures, metrics, and customer support etiquette
- Empathy: engaging in active listening with callers and reassuring or calming angry customers as needed
- Sales: selling or recommending products that may better suit customer needs
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19 call center management best practices
Call center agents balance the stress of supporting the occasional angry customer with the need to meet their team goals. Effective call center management means giving them the tools to find that middle ground. We break down the best contact center best practices below.
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.
To boost employee engagement:
- Schedule monthly meetings with your agents to set performance goals
- Regularly ask how you can help them achieve their objectives
- Encourage them to report challenges
- 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 for agents
Our 2023 CX Trends Report revealed that 60 percent of customers will choose one brand over another based on the quality of service they expect to receive. With rising consumer expectations, call center training is especially critical.
Prepare various training formats—such as video, text, and quizzes—to accommodate different learning styles. Host workshops and let new agents shadow more experienced agents so they can learn best practices from them. Providing ongoing training opportunities also helps everyone’s skills stay sharp.
3. Integrate call center technology with other tools
Agents can provide better experiences when you integrate your call center software with your other business tools. These can include:
- CRM software
- Ecommerce platforms
- Social media accounts
- Client portals
- Help center software
With all the customer details at their fingertips, agents don’t need to ask as many questions for context, saving 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 agents to focus on more complicated requests.
4. Give your customers a voice
Customers can help you discover where your call center needs improvement. It’s imperative to collect this type of feedback: Our 2023 CX Trends Report shows that 73 percent of consumers will switch to a competitor after multiple bad experiences, and more than half of customers will leave after only one poor experience.
So, send surveys after each support interaction to gauge customer satisfaction. Frequent complaints might reveal that your agents need better training or that there’s an issue with your product or service. Make sure your call center software can send surveys, collect data, and display the information in a dashboard for analysis.
5. Centralize call center data
In our recent CX Trends Report, only 22 percent of business leaders said they believe their teams share data well. If you manage a large call center, implementing a centralized dashboard can increase access to data across teams.
Say your agents spend an average of 20 minutes resolving issues—five minutes longer than last month. This increase could mean your agents have trouble accessing resources that speed up resolution time. A centralized dashboard and fast, easy access to customer data will improve your agents’ service and your contact center management.
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 teams to share information.
Each time a new or updated product hits the market, the product team should:
- Send full specs to the support team
- Write a product fact sheet
- Prepare agents for common product questions
This enables agents to effectively help customers who may be experiencing problems with their product. If agents repeatedly hear the same complaint, it might point to a product defect, and they can alert the product team.
7. Prevent agent burnout with proper scheduling
In our Employee Experience Trends Report, one in three support managers predicted their churn rates will rise within a year. Battling burnout and properly scheduling your team are essential for agent success and retention. Employee turnover and call center burnout hurt your overall performance.
Burnout occurs when managers don’t anticipate peak hours, employee ability, and customer needs. You can limit agent burnout with a few strategies:
- Give your employees the time they need to recharge.
- Offer the support they need to do the job well.
- Consider mixing veteran agents and new hires on a shift.
- Use workforce management solutions included in call center software.
8. Work with your recruiting team
Considering the call center turnover rate hit 42 percent in 2021, managers should stay proactive in helping recruiters screen 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 and 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 call center guidelines 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 customer self-service options. These may include:
- Detailed FAQ pages
- Product guides
- Blog posts
- Community forums
Self-service resources not only reduce the number of customer calls and lighten agents’ loads, but they can also help drive sales. In our 2023 CX Trends Report, 29 percent of agents said a lack of self-service options frustrates customers. On the whole, 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 respectful support. Set call center etiquette rules so every agent offers 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.”
- “Let me see if I can find a way to make this right.”
- “Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention.”
12. Offer performance incentives
A recent report from Achievers states that agents who feel supported and valued will stay in their roles. Specifically, employees said recognition for their achievements was the second biggest reason for staying with a company. This recognition, paired with performance incentives, can improve call center performance.
Encourage high-performing agents to stick around by recognizing them for meeting 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
Quality assurance checks help managers chart an improvement plan for underperforming agents. This supports agents who might not understand why they fall short of expectations.
Inform new agents that you’ll record random calls for their performance reviews. Seasoned agents can help managers review calls, too. If multiple agents experience the same problem, managers may need to update their call center policies.
14. Draft call center standard operating procedures
A standard operating procedure (SOP) guides a department’s or company’s day-to-day operations. Call center SOPs help agents follow 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. Tell agents each time a new SOP is available.
15. Encourage outside-the-box thinking
Call center support teams should leverage technology for innovative approaches to service. Personalization, conversational support, and AI assistance can introduce new strategies.
You can also encourage creativity from the early days of customer service training by role playing—present difficult support scenarios and let agents find creative solutions. This exercise helps agents think on their feet and respond organically.
16. Incorporate agent feedback
Customers aren’t your only source of feedback. Regularly speak with your support agents about common issues and areas for improvement. You can collect agent feedback:
- After each performance review
- During exit interviews
- Through an employee survey
- Via company review sites (like Glassdoor)
Because agents have an under-the-hood view of your process, they can make suggestions customers wouldn’t think of. Additionally, they can spot operational issues before they create problems for customers.
17. Know your business’s offerings
Base your call center operations on tools and qualities unique to your business. In other words, don’t run your call center like a generic inbound call center. Instead, leverage brand-oriented solutions that make you stand out.
Our 2023 CX Trends Report shows that 60 percent of consumers purchased something from one brand over another based on the service they expected to receive. Set yourself apart from the competition by offering promotions, services, and approaches unique to your brand.
18. Break down data silos between sales and support
When teams are isolated, they lose out on valuable data and approaches that improve the customer experience. Our 2023 CX Trends Report shows 72 percent of business leaders believe that merging teams and responsibilities around the customer experience will increase efficiency.
Breaking down silos between sales and service can vastly enhance call center operations. Sales teams provide valuable data about customer pain points and desires. Support teams can leverage this information to improve their service. Ultimately, businesses that align their sales and service are 6.7 times more likely to see an increase in per-customer spending.
19. Prepare for common call center problems
Even well-managed call centers run into challenges. The best contact center management necessitates facing call center issues head-on. Staff working in contact center management should prepare for:
- High agent turnover rates
- Low morale
- Low budgets
- Low agent productivity
- Poor customer satisfaction
- High call volumes and long wait times
Instead of finding unique solutions for each problem, look for broad solutions that improve operations across the board. Invest in call center software that boosts productivity, automates rote tasks, and offers self-service options. From there, managers must think of other ways to cut turnover and improve agents’ performance, such as switching to a virtual call center.
Following the above call center management tips will teach you how to improve call center operations overall.
Best metrics to track when managing call center operations
Successful call center managers keep their finger on the pulse of agent performance. So, managing a call center involves monitoring these key call center metrics.
Average handle time (AHT)
Average handle time is the average amount 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 contributing to the rise. Managers may need to host a special training session to address the issue.
Average handle time formula
AHT (calculated in minutes or seconds) = (Talk time + Hold time + Follow-up time) / Number of calls
Missed and declined calls
Missed calls occur when agents don’t answer in time, making customers return to the queue. Declined calls mean the agent actively refused a call because they’re busy with another customer or task.
Agents miss or decline calls when they can’t handle the call volume. You can increase answer rates by hiring more agents or creating more self-service resources. Successful contact center operations require missing as few calls as possible.
Missed and declined calls formula
Missed and declined calls = (Number of missed and declined calls / Total number of calls) X 100
Transfer rate is the percentage of inbound calls that agents transfer to another team member or department. A high transfer rate means you aren’t routing customers to agents with the right specialties.
You can mitigate transfer issues by giving customers a clear decision tree for reaching the correct agent the first time around. Improving your first contact resolution will improve the overall customer experience overall.
Transfer rate formula
Transfer rate = (Number of transferred calls / Number of handled calls) X 100
Call abandonment rate
Call abandonment rate gauges the number of customers who hang up while waiting to speak with an agent. Our 2023 CX Trends Report shows that 72 percent of consumers expect an agent to respond immediately when they call.
If you can’t ensure fast answers, you can give callers the option to request a callback. This way, customers keep their place in line without staying on hold. When a caller’s turn comes around, an agent will reach out to them.
Call abandonment rate formula
Call abandonment rate = Total number of abandoned calls / Total number of inbound calls
First contact resolution (FCR) rate
First contact resolution (FCR) rate measures the percentage of customer calls that were resolved in one touchpoint. Repeated calls about one support request take up valuable time. A high FCR rate ensures your agents help more customers.
You can improve FCR with:
- Accessible knowledge bases
- In-depth agent training
- Customer feedback
- Proactive customer support
First call resolution formula
FCR rate = (Resolved calls on first contact / Total number of calls) X 100
Customer satisfaction (CSAT) score
CSAT scores gauge customers’ satisfaction with a product, service, interaction, or brand experience. The metric is measured via a survey that asks consumers, “How satisfied are you with [product/service/experience]?” Respondents provide a rating based on a five-point scale.
Average CSAT scores vary by industry, so you should try to stay above your field’s average. If your score is lower than you expected or below the industry average, you can improve your CSAT by:
- Being transparent about wait times
- Providing self-service options
- Empowering your support team with the tools they need to deliver great customer service
Customer satisfaction formula
CSAT = (Number of positive responses / Total number of customer responses) X 100
Cost per call (CPC)
CPC highlights the amount of money needed to handle a call. Quality support means investing in every customer service call. At the same time, a high CPC rate will drain your call center’s resources. As a result, successful call centers keep each call cost-efficient.
Managers can reduce cost per call by:
- Improving agent training
- Optimizing related KPIs like first contact resolution
- Relying on easy-to-use software
- Using skill-based call routing
Cost per call formula
Cost per call = Total call center costs / Total calls answered
Boost your bottom line with effective contact center management
Following customer service call center best practices can lead to positive support experiences and a healthier bottom line. According to our CX Trends Reports, 60 percent of consumers have purchased something from one brand over another based on the service they expect to receive.
Whether you run an inbound or outbound call center, start by investing in your agents. When you give them the resources to do their jobs well, they become brand ambassadors who grow your business. Set them up for success by providing robust onboarding, training, and best-in-class customer service software.
Stay dialed in with customer service phone software
Try our integrated voice software to speak directly with customers and deliver personalized solutions to complex issues.
Stay dialed in with customer service phone software
Try our integrated voice software to speak directly with customers and deliver personalized solutions to complex issues.View demo