Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Evolution of the Call Center

The call center had its beginnings around the time the telephone became a household standard in the mid-1960s. Since that time, call centers have evolved into the technologically advanced support systems that exist today and make so much of customer service manageable for companies of all sizes.

The First Call Centers

The history of the call center begins in the mid-1960s. The dawn of what would become the call center occurred when various companies began to utilize Private Automated Branch Exchanges, or PABX. These early forms of call centers provided technology that allowed callers to dial a single number, often toll-free, and speak to one of a number of representatives. The technology itself allows calls to be routed through a single channel into multiple “branches” or lines, each handled by an individual representative. The same basic foundation laid by this technology is still in use today in call centers all over the world.

The 1970s saw a growth of the call center idea with the evolution of computer technology leading to the Automatic Call Distributors, or ACDs. This technology allowed calls to go not only to different desks but even to different locations. Customers could suddenly call a single number and be connected with customer service people all over the country and the world.

Reaching Out to Customers

While the first call centers were designed to allow customers to call in, it was not long before businesses began using this technology to call out, as well. Once businesses began to implement call centers for reaching out to customers for sales, the first “telemarketing” was born.

Early customers of telemarketers in the 1980s were fascinated by the availability of technology that allowed companies to call from all over the world. However, the age of the “telemarketer” did not last long. People began to complain about the invasion into their homes of aggressive salespeople, and Congress finally passed legislation that established the national “Do Not Call List” that allowed consumers to block these calls.

Today, most telephone marketing is limited to existing customers who give companies permission to call with reminders and special offers. In a way, the call center has come full circle, existing much more for the benefit of customers calling in than for companies calling out.

Today’s Technology Put to Use

However, that does not mean that today’s technology has been ignored by call centers. Most call center calls are now routed through computer programs rather than dedicated phone systems. This allows workers to access any number of resources to help customers answer questions; enter customer information directly into a database so that everyone has access; and organize phone calls by priority or any other metric the company chooses.

The history of the call center is interesting and informative. It shows how customer service has evolved over time to focus more than ever on the consumer rather than the company.

Why Customer Service is Vital in the Insurance Industry

While customer service is vital in every industry, it is especially important in the insurance field. As customers become ever-more confused with the changes in healthcare law and other types of reform, customer service will continue to take a prominent role in the delivery of insurance services to the public.

However, handling the flood of questions and concerns related to the Affordable Care Act, existing coverage, and other changes in healthcare policy is no easy task. Thankfully, insurance companies can turn to customer service support options, like call centers, to focus customer service efforts and provide clients with a useful resource where they can get answers to their questions and find the information they seek.

How Important is Customer Satisfaction?

Recent research into customer satisfaction levels confirms something that most business owners have always known: the level of satisfaction of customers is directly related to the success of a business. When customers are happy, they are loyal and return again and again to a business. When they are dissatisfied, they begin to look elsewhere for those who can meet their needs.

In fact, according to Kaiser Health News, a number of health insurance companies are facing backlash from frustrated customers—via social media platforms—thanks to “long waits for service and an inability to confirm coverage.” In the insurance industry, recent changes in the law have generated a large number of questions that cannot all be answered through websites or literature. People want to know how the changes in healthcare law are going to affect them. To these customers, finding the answers to these questions and feeling that they can trust their insurance companies are paramount concerns.

Do Call Centers Increase Customer Satisfaction?

The idea of having a call center has been the topic of some unjustified negative publicity in the past few years. Many people hear the words “call center” and immediately think of an impersonal organization that simply funnels customers to endless loops of elevator music, placing them on hold until they hang up in frustration. However, a truly functional call center in no way meets this definition.

A recent article in Forbes stated that The Hartford, one of the nation’s oldest insurance companies, recently received top marks for customer service. The article notes that The Hartford was rated especially high (generated top marks, in fact) based on its call center representatives. Call centers with well-trained representatives may give customers a higher level of satisfaction than other methods.

A call center can help insurance companies handle the influx of questions and concerns about the new healthcare law as well as other queries. Having well-trained call center representatives can mean the difference in reassuring customers and keeping their business or having them begin to look elsewhere for coverage.

Legal Receptionists: How to Reduce the Front-Office Overload

Law firms are unlike most business offices. Their services are so specific to areas of practice and the types of consultation they offer that a single receptionist at the front desk is rarely sufficient. Instead, there are usually several people in the office to help answer the phone. While helpful for the callers, it presents challenges for paralegals, legal assistants, bookkeepers and lawyers with a full workload. Answering the phone can siphon precious hours away from completing other tasks. One solution to this  problems it to outsource the main switchboard line to an inbound call center service. A professional company can minimize the demands on the onsite office staff, creating the needed time and energy for in-house personnel to work on their primary responsibilities.

Areas of Practice

There are many different types of lawyers. While some attorneys handle general practice, others have a specific focus. Some examples include family practice, criminal cases, civil suits, real estate, bankruptcy and corporate law. People who need a lawyer don’t always know or understand that every attorney may not be able to handle every case, especially theirs. An inbound call center can screen callers and find out what types of services they need. The calls can be sorted and funneled as needed, referring some callers to other law groups or gathering information for an experienced attorney to speak to them.

Collecting Information

When taking an initial call from a potential client, there are several questions that need to be asked before a professional can help. This means that each initial phone call can take several minutes. When a law firm has a busy switchboard, it’s difficult for the receptionist to handle all of these calls at once. Callers need to be put on hold, or worse, go directly into voice mail because staff members are too busy talking to other people. Just as an in-house receptionist would be required to ask certain questions, an inbound call center services professional would have a list of questions to ask so that vital background data can be collected through a screening process. Some typical information-gathering questions include the person’s name, contact email and phone number, type of incident, location of the incident or issue, where the person lives and what harm was caused or alleged.

Providing Information

Aside from gathering basic details from potential clients, the front lines of a law firm can also provide information about the practice and answer inquiries. Callers may want to know about the backgrounds and practice areas of the attorneys, what geographic locations and legal jurisdictions are covered, where the offices are located, how billing works and whether specific services are provided. For example, some family lawyers handle adoptions, while others don’t. Callers with specific questions need a professional response and don’t want to be rushed off the phone by someone who needs to tend to the switchboard or run off to a scheduled meeting.

Taking the Next Step

Once important information is gathered from inbound callers, a next step must be taken. Some callers need to be told that the firm can’t help with their issues, while others require the attention of a skilled attorney to give them legal advice. Using call center outsourcing to separate potential clients from those who need to go elsewhere, the workload on in-house staff is pared down to a more manageable level.

Americall offers inbound call center services to law firms and other businesses that reduces the workload for onsite staff so that they can use their skills and knowledge to help potential clients. To learn more about how Americall can help your company, read more about our call center services.

Does Location Matter for Customer Service Call Centers?

Call center services is a growing industry. As businesses concentrate their efforts on marketing, customer service and gathering information from potential clients and current customers, someone needs to be on the other end of the phone line or email chat. Live personnel offer a human connection for businesses and brands trying to improve their conversion rates. The location of call centers has long had an impact on how well outsourcing companies can provide the services needed. As the industry changes and grows, however, the impact of locations is changing as well.

Offshore vs Onshore

While some offshore services have a lower hourly or per-call rate, the quality of the consumer’s experience often offsets the difference. A strong resurgence in American interest in keeping jobs onshore can influence where consumers buy their products. Conversations including cultural differences, language barriers and unfamiliar accents can send up red flags, lowering conversion rates.

Tax Breaks

Where call centers are located can be driven by a number of factors. One of them is that certain states and municipalities offer tax breaks to companies based in their jurisdiction. This incentive can draw desirable employment to geographical areas that would otherwise suffer from lack of industry and income for local residents. The federal government may also play a role, withholding tax breaks from companies who outsource offshore or by rewarding those who provide a much-needed source of employment to Americans.

Overhead

Real estate prices, rent and the cost of living are another influential point in where call centers are located. High-rent districts can force businesses to go elsewhere if their overhead ratio is too top-heavy.

Employment Opportunities

The right location for a call center is greatly influenced by the availability of suitable people to work there. Providing quality call center services means having employees who can follow directions, speak clearly, engage customers and provide a professional demeanor for inbound or outbound calls. Some projects require a higher level of education and training, such as a medical answering service or dispatch service, while others need only polite and professional personnel with a quality speaking voice. As a result, call centers may be located in college towns and geographical areas where distinguishable accents are non-problematic. A company requiring live chat services, on the other hand, needs workers who can spell well and type quickly. Their workers’ dialects and accents are unimportant, since their fingers do the talking.

Remote Workforce

The use of people working from home has also had an impact on the location of call centers in the industry. With the use of wireless communications and remote networks, a remote workforce enables call centers and virtual receptionists to be located anywhere in the country – or the world — without raising overhead or limiting the field of qualified professionals.

When choosing a company to provide call center outsourcing, individual businesses are now looking at more than simply a location for their workforce. They are able to find companies that fill their needs with reasonable costs, high quality customer service, niche specialization, and low language barrier and dialect hindrances.