How to choose the right call center system

Your How-To Guide to Breaking Down an Overwhelming Search for the Best Call Center System

The phones are ringing off the hook, agents are talking and typing, email requests are flying in one after another, and you, manager, are tasked with toning down the crazy.

Good luck.

Your call center agents are waterlogged with bloated queues and siloed technology. They’re hopelessly forced to absorb more than they’re meant to, and they’re worse for the wear.

Fortunately, there’s a flood of systems on the market that can help you communicate, track metrics and keep things organized. In fact, the global contact center technology industry is projected to reach almost $47.76 billion by 2025. And data from Global Industry Analysts, Inc. suggests that the U.S. is the largest market in the world for contact center technology. With vendors crowding the marketplace, how can you wring out some of your agents’ waterlogged bloat and give them a way to help customers (and themselves) efficiently and effectively?

The right contact center system provides you the functionality, tools, and foundation for your team to execute exceptional customer service. And it grows and scales with you.

Figure out what you need in a call center system.

Your call center system gives leadership, operations, and IT the tools and data they need to fully support their frontline customer service teams.

It’s the tool your agents use to interact with your customers.

These days, most call centers are more sophisticated than the traditional notion of a slew of agents constantly picking up the phone, talking to angry customers. They’re no longer limited to only handling phone interactions, so they’re really classified as contact centers. (Read more on that distinction over here.) And the tech that supports these new-age call centers can effectively route customer inquiries to the best agent or resource, no matter the channel  —  voice, web chat, email, SMS, social media, etc.

There are vendors out there that service individual channels. But, managing dozens of individual channel vendors and platforms stresses out you, your agents, and your customers. And your IT team. Jumping from one platform to the next just to help a single customer is time-consuming and chaotic for your agents, and it bogs down your customer experience.

Plus, paying multiple vendors, dealing with dozens of different service departments, and handling outages on different platforms takes your IT team away from helping the rest of the company all too often.

That’s where contact center systems that combine all tasks, channels, and features into a single platform have a leg up.

These call center systems are full-fledged cloud contact center platforms. When you use a contact center platform, everything sits in one place. It does the work for you, fielding interactions into one space, tracking KPIs as your agents move from one task to the next.

There are a lot of features and plug-ins available for contact center platforms, and it can be a lot to sift through. It’s good to ask yourself what kind of functionality you need in your day-to-day operations. Breaking down your needs and asking the right questions can help.

Break it down, and don’t feel stressed.

It’s true. Your supporting technology is really important and serves as the foundation for your team’s operations and service. Whether you’re looking for a new system or evaluating the performance of your current solution, consider some of these guiding questions to figure out what you need to deliver the best service for your customers.

  • What specific problems am I looking to solve in my call center? And how can software help to fix them?
  • What exact obstacles are currently getting in the way of great customer service?
  • How many customer service inquiries does my company deal with?
  • Which communication channels do my customers currently use most often?
  • What kinds of customer data do I need to capture, keep, and use?
  • What kind of performance data do I need to capture, keep, and use?

With these starting questions, you can establish what you need to support your call center best.

Next, know the primary features that the greatest call center systems use to support your team and organizational goals.

What features are helpful, and why?

People, processes, and technology differ from company to company, so while there is no definitive checklist of features and functions, there are several key components that every contact center system should have:

Service Channels:

Omnichannel support is necessary to keep up with modern customer expectations. How do your customers prefer to reach you? Is it over phone? Chat? Email? Social Media?

It’s important for your vendor to approach your channel strategy with a customer-first mindset. For some businesses, voice might be the only channel needed. Others may need to support upwards of half-a-dozen channels for the digitally-inclined customer. Find a contact center platform that will integrate multiple service channels in a fluid, unified manner. And find a vendor that thinks about how to add channels for you, so you don’t have to.

Do all these new digital channels overwhelm you? Fear not, we’ve got a webinar all about unthinking omnichannel. It’s coming up in just a few short weeks. Sign up here!

IVR:

IVRs keep your contact center interactions flowing steadily, even during busy periods. An omnichannel IVR designed based on your customer journey lets your customers share case-defining information upfront when they reach out for help. And that experience doesn’t change based on channel. Then, the IVR uses that information and funnels your customers to the right agent or resource to get the help they need. IVRs allow agents and customers to access account information, enable automated changes or payments, and leads customers towards self-service tools for greater efficiency.

ACD:

Automatic call distributors help increase the productivity of your team by assigning incoming calls to the right agent, at the right time. ACD can look at an interaction, no matter where it comes from, and get it to the right agent’s queue. And some (like ours) pair interactions with existing customer data from your contact center system or CRM, then decide where to route the customer to get them the best service possible. Better yet, if wait times are long, ACD can put customers in a callback queue so they don’t have to spend their time waiting on the line.

Call Recording:

Call recording is super helpful for learning purposes, training, coaching, and for retracing steps with your customers. Sometimes you need to return to a conversation that your agents had with your customers. Or, you want to track your agents’ performance through listening back to their calls. New hires can learn tons from listening to past phone calls. And your agents can develop their skills when you tag in in-line training lessons on their call recordings and transcriptions. Then, they can tune in to the call and see exactly where they missed the mark or nailed it, so they can autocorrect on their next interaction.

CRM Integration:

Your CRM gives agents cross-departmental context to better understand a customer’s relationship over their entire customer journey. It helps you manage each relationship with recurring customers, recording information about them and keeping track of every interaction they have with your company. When you connect your CRM with your contact center platform, all that customer data is shared and transparent to your agents. Then, the next time a customer reaches out, your agent has interaction history and intelligent data on hand to inform the conversation.

Analytics and Reporting:

Real-time and historical reporting helps you, as a manager, gauge the success and efficiency of your team. With analytics and customized reporting built into your platform, you can access raw data, charts, and graphs. Plus you can compile all those hard-and-fast numbers into reports that pair metrics together and give you a 100-foot view of your contact center. Then generate custom reports and personalized dashboards to share with your team, and with your executives. Every customer interaction houses powerful data that you can learn from. Analytics give you deep insights and metrics, so you can measure success and find your weak spots to optimize.

With these basic features, your contact center system can support your operations and your customers in a cohesive way. But, at the same time, don’t get distracted by tons of shiny, new features. Always choose your software based on your company and your customers’ needs, first.

It may be tempting to start arbitrarily hand-picking features you think you need in your contact center, or the ones that look cool. But dozens of features don’t help you reach your goals. Find a solution that can be easily customized to match your service goals, and stay customer-focused during the discovery, research, and implementation process.

How do I make an informed decision?

1. Look at software review websites and vendor websites.

Start researching contact center systems on software review sites. These will let you familiarize yourself with some of the options out there. You can read unbiased reviews from people who use the systems daily. It will help you see strengths and weaknesses of different options so you can narrow down your search. Take a  look at some of the following sites that house tons of customer reviews on popular technology.

Don’t be afraid to check out the vendor sites and see what resonates with you, too. While some websites are full of marketing speak, dig in to see what’s available to you and how it works for your business.

2. Go to conferences.

Learn from your peers! Networking and connecting with your industry counterparts and learning about the systems they use can also help set your team’s compass in the right direction. Industry events are a great way to meet new people in the call center industry. Check out this list of some of the best customer service conferences that happen all over the country. Some cities have networking events as well so you can meet with customer service managers in your own city!

3. Follow industry analysts and industry publications.

Keep up with the latest industry trends by following or connecting with recognized industry analysts and research trends. Experts in the industry, like Gartner, Forrester, ICMI, and CCW have their finger on the pulse of the industry from both the customer and vendor perspective. They have insight into the complexities, issues, and opportunities in the space.

Tracking the industry helps you prepare for changes as they come and decipher between the fleeting trends and the mainstays. Experts can help you see what your call center needs now and in the future.

Summed up, here’s what you need to know.

There are tons of variables that play into finding the right contact center system for your business (or working with the one you have).

Take the following steps to find the best system for your contact center or push your current system further:

  • Choose the right vendor to meet your needs. Partnering with a technology provider takes trust and the right combination of support, effectiveness, and functionality. Be sure your current or future partner is focused on the needs of your business, not their own.
  • Make sure the system you choose will help you reach long-term goals. Determine the functionality you need initially, and what you’d like to build upon in the future to reach your customer and revenue goals. If you’re missing some key functionality now, work with your partner vendor to see how you can improve.
  • Discover what tools you need to monitor and measure ongoing performance in your contact center. Identify what kind of metrics you want to track and report on, and make sure your current system or the system you choose is customizable to those metrics.
  • Your call center system needs to improve your service, and your team. If you’re picking a tool that doesn’t improve your current status quo, it’s not worth your time and effort to change. And if you’re using a tool that has your CX stuck in a dead zone, it’s time for a change. This goes for your employees too! If your agents hate the platform you’re using or you choose, it will only slow them down and frustrate them. Keep your agents’ experience in mind and use software that supports you, your team, and your customers.

Need some more guidance to pick the right tools for you? Check out our blog on choosing the right contact center tools. Or, pop over to our homepage to see what Sharpen’s agent-centric contact center platform is all about!

This post was originally published on July 5, 2017, and we updated it for new insight on May 30, 2019.