Last Updated on January 13, 2022
Running a call center used to require a significant investment of time and money.
For many years, call centers were in a centralized physical location and required significant amounts of physical infrastructure and hardware in order to handle call routing.
However, VoIP technology and cloud computing has completely changed the game and given rise to the virtual call center.
If you’re interested in setting up a virtual call center (VCC), you’re in the right place.
In this post, we’re going to walk you through three things:
- What a virtual call center is
- The significant benefits virtual call centers offer
- How to implement a virtual call center in your company
Let’s dig in!
What is a virtual call center?
A virtual call center is a call center that is not in a physical space, but instead uses call center software to connect remote agents.
The company’s employees are located in different geographical locations and work together from their respective locations using advanced communication technologies such as video conferencing, webcams, chat rooms, etc., to effectively do their jobs.
There are primarily two types of virtual call centers:
- Inbound call centers where agents provide help or assistance of some kind, often in the form of customer support
- Outbound call centers where agents sell a product or service, often in the form of telemarketing or cold calling
According to a survey of 59 customer service and support leaders, 80% plan to increase work from home programs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, 70% of customer service and support employees want to remain fully remote once the pandemic is over.
Virtual call centers were already on their way to becoming commonplace, but COVID-19 rapidly accelerated their adoption.
How do virtual call centers work?
Virtual call centers use call center software that allows distributed teams to remain connected to each other while still performing their jobs effectively.
Typically, virtual call centers utilize VoIP or cloud-based software that allows agents to log in from wherever they are and respond to customer service requests or make outbound calls to potential leads.
What’s the difference from a physical call center?
A physical call center operates out of a real, physical location, often located in the same country as the company. A business will lease or buy an office space and hire employees to work from the location. Call takers sit at desks with computers and respond to customer service requests or make outbound calls to prospects.
With a virtual call center, there is no physical location. Rather, teams come together digitally through the VCC software.
The 4 benefits of a virtual call center
There are significant benefits that virtual call centers have over physical ones, including:
1. Lower upfront costs
A virtual call center can be set up with minimal capital investment and no physical space requirements, which means that it is much less expensive to start than an in-house operation. Because you don’t need any additional real estate, you can save money on overhead expenses like utilities, insurance, taxes, etc., while still providing excellent service at low rates.
Also, virtual call centers allow you to scale quickly at a lower cost since you can quickly add agents without needing to invest further in a physical location as your team grows.
2. No geographical restrictions
Another benefit of having a virtual call center is that your agents aren’t limited to a specific geographic location. If you are providing customer service, this allows you to serve customers anywhere in the world, regardless of where they live or what time zone they’re based in.
It also enables you to hire reps who most effectively understand local customs and speak directly to people who you couldn’t otherwise because of language barriers.
The lack of geographical restrictions essentially gives you access to a global talent pool. You can hire highly skilled, experienced professionals (often in high demand) who may not be available where you are based.
3. Mobility and reduced turnover
Since your agents are able to work from home, they can be more mobile and flexible with their schedules. They don’t have a commute, which frees up more time for them to spend time doing things they enjoy outside of work. It also reduces overall stress levels that come with commuting.
Call center jobs are known for their high turnover rate, and a significant portion of that is due to the high levels of stress workers experience.
A less stressful work environment leads to lower turnover, since employees are more relaxed and engaged with their work. This, in turn, results in more calls and better results across the board.
4. Environmental benefits
Not having a physical location for a call center reduces the carbon footprint created by your company. When you aren’t using as much power for your business, you’re reducing your carbon emissions and helping to preserve the environment for future generations.
What’s more, since employees no longer have to commute to work, the total emissions from their vehicles is significantly reduced.
As noted by FlexJobs, the 3.9 million Americans who worked from home at least part-time in 2019 were responsible for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of taking 606,000 cars off the road each year.
Of course, there are some tradeoffs that come with choosing to go virtual instead of physical with your call center.
- Lack of in-person interactions make it harder to foster camaraderie and can lead to employees feeling isolated.
- There are potentially more security risks and administrative challenges when employees are not all in the same location.
- It can be more challenging for managers and team leaders to motivate employees since there are fewer interactions with them.
Most of these challenges can be mitigated in one way or another, but it’s important to be aware of them and have plans to address them before moving to virtual. For example, you could:
- Use Zoom and Slack to organize company-wide initiatives, like an internal social network or intranet page, that connect employees across stats, countries, and cultures based on shared interests
- Set strict protocols and make use of security tools with your IT department to ensure sensitive company data and PII is secured no matter where it’s stored
- Equip managers with the tools they need to inspire their teams and encourage an open environment where teams can discuss what’s working and what needs improvement
How do you start a virtual call center?
Now that you know the benefits of a call center, let’s talk specifically about how to set one up in your company.
Step #1: Choose your virtual call center software
The first step in starting a call center is to choose the software platform you will use to let agents handle calls remotely.
What should you look for when choosing the right software? Here are some of the most important features:
- Relatively easy to set up and does not require extensive technical knowledge
- Easy to scale up or down in terms of adding or removing users
- A wide range of features, including things like workflow automations, interactive voice response, lead distribution, transfer features, flexible call distribution, shared contacts, etc.
- Numerous support options for agents, including live chat and support
- Managerial functions, such as reporting, call monitoring, real-time call routing, and recording options
You also will want to ensure that your agents have a high-speed Internet connection with sufficient bandwidth to handle VoIP calls, as well as a semi-private space where they can make calls.
Put simply, you want a platform and other tools that allow agents to easily and effectively do their jobs, as well as a solution that allows managers to stay closely connected to the entire process.
Step #2: Hire and train your team of remote agents
Virtual call centers require different skills than those needed at a physical facility. You’ll need people who thrive working remotely and also have the self-discipline and focus needed to be productive.
Look for the following traits when evaluating potential candidates for your virtual call center:
- Able to work independently and self-manage their schedules
- High attention to detail
- High level of both verbal and written communication skills
- Ability or willingness to learn a new skill set
- Willingness to proactively ask questions about things they don’t understand
Once you’ve hired a person, you need to thoroughly train them. Because they’ll be trained remotely, it’s critical to develop a robust, thorough set of onboarding procedures that can be easily accessed.
A digital knowledge base and video training documents are great ways to teach agents how to use the tools, policies, procedures and other resources they need to be successful.
Video conferencing and screen-sharing should be utilized to walk new hires through the various aspects of their job. Recordings of these sessions can then be used to help train other agents.
It’s also important to have consistent one-on-one video check-ins with new hires to make sure they’re doing okay with the job, have everything they need, and are making progress. Also, make sure to be available to answer questions on the fly as well, and not just when meetings are scheduled.
Step #3: Define clear goals and expectations
Given the challenges associated with a fully distributed virtual call center, it’s crucial that you set your teams up for success with clearly defined expectations around goals.
How many cold calls are they supposed to make each day? Will they be expected to book a certain number of demos each month? What are their monthly, quarterly, and annual quotas? How are teams supposed to generate new opportunities?
Aside from the personal goals set for each rep, it’s important you also define the overall goals for the company, like how much revenue you aim to bring in over the course of the fiscal year. When you do this, your virtual call center teams will be easily able to map their efforts back to the larger vision and feel that they’re actively contributing to the success and growth of the company.
After you’ve communicated this to all of your employees, your focus should shift to detailed and transparent tracking. Consider creating a monthly dashboard that shares all progress against your target metrics.
From there you can give public shoutouts that celebrate major milestone achievements, or you can privately work with employees who need further assistance to hit their goals. The important part here is that everyone is aligned on expectations and there’s no question about what target you’re all aiming for.
Step #4: Learn to effectively manage a remote workforce
It’s no secret that managers and team leaders face unique challenges when it comes to managing remote work teams. As a team leader, it’s your job to help your entire team collaborate and communicate effectively even though they’re not physically together.
Some strategies for doing that include:
- Have consistent team meetings that align with the time zones of your employees. Utilize tools like Zoom or Google Meet to do this.
- Utilize collaboration tools like Slack, Trello, or Airtable to keep everyone on the same page and keep things moving smoothly. Screen capture tools like Loom or VMaker are also helpful for quickly sending videos.
- Don’t neglect the personal side of things either. You don’t want all your interactions with team members to be work related. Check in on employees with a quick chat message to ensure that everyone is doing okay. You may even want to do the occasional virtual happy hour so that your team can have conversations about things outside of work.
- Help your employees set motivating goals for themselves and then praise them when they achieve those goals.
- Set firm, clear expectations about what is expected from each team member, including everything from expected working hours to dealing with specific situations.
- Over-communicate to avoid misunderstandings. If you make a point in an email, make the same point in Slack, video conference meetings, etc.
The future is virtual
If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it’s that the future is virtual.
Whether it be in terms of staying connected with loved ones or conducting business, the need for virtual connectivity will only increase over time.
A virtual call center offers benefits that a physical one simply can’t. It allows employees to work from anywhere, which is becoming an ever increasing priority. It offers significant savings in terms of real estate, utilities, and physical infrastructure. And most importantly, it allows agents to do their jobs more effectively.
Are there challenges? Of course. But nothing good is ever challenge-free.
If you want to build for a successful future, go virtual.