What are virtual call centers and virtual contact centers?
A virtual call center -- or virtual contact center (VCC) -- is a call center in which the organization's representatives are geographically dispersed, rather than situated at workstations in one location. Virtual call center employees may be located in groups in remote offices or working from home.
One of the main benefits of a virtual call center is its ability to span multiple time zones. Because workers are geographically dispersed, and can span different time zones, having limited business hours due to being restricted to a single time zone is not an issue.
For employees, the hours are often flexible, and there is no dress code or commute if working from home. Virtual call centers are a good fit for small businesses because the model saves office and equipment costs and can lead to lower employee turnover rates, which tend to be high for physical call centers.
Virtual call center workers are connected via virtual call center software and provide both outbound and inbound calls. The virtual contact center only needs an internet connection and telecommunication services.
Since the emergence of COVID-19, the implementation of virtual call centers has increased, as remote work became a safety precaution against the pandemic.
How do virtual call centers work?
Virtual contact centers can be set up in smaller, geographically dispersed locations, or for employees working from home. This is less expensive than a traditional call center, as it requires fewer IT resources to manage.
Virtual contact center software generally uses voice over IP (VoIP) and is cloud-based. Additional communication between teams can be achieved with video conferencing software, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
Virtual call centers are set up to handle inbound and outbound calls and enable the agent to make and receive calls as needed. For example, inbound calls are generally from current and potential customers who need assistance answering a question related to a product or service. This can include technical support, account management, complaints or other issues. Outbound calls are those made to current or potential customers on behalf of a business or organization. This may also include cold calling potential prospects.
What are the benefits of a virtual contact center?
Some advantages that come with implementing virtual call centers are the following:
- Reduced cost. Decreased expenses result from not needing as much office space and lower operating costs. Cloud-based software can also reduce the need for servers to be hosted on premises.
- Smaller office space requirements. More employees can work in the same office space while other employees can work from home.
- Flexibility. Employees have the flexibility to work and take calls from anywhere.
- Around-the-clock support. Teams distributed across time zones enable organizations to provide support whenever customers need it, thus increasing customer satisfaction.
- Call monitoring. Managers can still monitor calls between customers and call center agents when employees are working from home.
What are the drawbacks of a virtual contact center?
Virtual call centers also come with some challenges. These include the following:
- Training. It can be more difficult to train employees who are remote.
- Difficult to provide IT services. If an employee needs a laptop or device fixed, IT services must be provided remotely, or the employee must go into the office.
- Lack of direct oversight. Organizations cannot oversee their employees directly, since they are often dispersed at different locations.
- Harder to build team camaraderie. Employees in a remote work setting may have a harder time connecting to their peers and may end up feeling isolated.
Read more on how to build brand loyalty and retain customers:
Virtual call center providers
Examples of companies that provide virtual call center software include Zendesk, CloudTalk and Five9.
Zendesk Talk is cloud-based VoIP virtual call center software. It enables users to set maximum queue sizes and wait times. Real-time reporting and monitoring enable an organization to measure phone support operations. It also includes a ticketing system. Zendesk Talk integrates with over 90 tools, such as Surveypal, GDPR Search Destroy and Proactive Campaigns.
CloudTalk virtual call center software supports inbound calling, sorting calls into custom call queues. Users can update a customer's information during a call if needed, as well as set up voicemails and automatic callbacks. CloudTalk integrates with customer relationship management (CRM) tools such as HubSpot, Pipedrive, Salesforce and Zendesk.
Five9 is a cloud contact center platform that supports both inbound and outbound calls. Users can record calls, monitor remote employees, as well as predict when employees will become available. The Five9 platform integrates with leading CRM systems, including Salesforce, Oracle and Microsoft. Other integrations include ServiceNow, Oracle and Zendesk.
How do you start a virtual call center?
When starting a new virtual call center, an organization needs to pay attention to the hiring process, training processes, tools and software as well as a proper workflow.
When hiring new employees as support agents, an organization must look for those people who are able to work independently. Workers should be able to manage themselves well and be skilled in written and verbal communications. New workers should be made aware of the organization's policies, procedures and tools. Training can be conducted over video conferencing software, so new employees can be walked through processes and shown how to use certain tools. Other training materials, such as video training documents, can also be used. Weekly meetings can be set up with new employees to ensure they are moving at a good pace and have a good understanding of operations.
For tools, employees should be given a computer, charging cord and a high-quality headset. The employee should know how to operate all the software included, such as the VoIP system -- which is what enables the employee to make and receive calls.
At a minimum, an organization starting a virtual call center will need to calculate how many employees are required, configure relevant voicemails, develop wait queues and the needed bandwidth for them. Working hours should also be decided. Calls that come in after a specific time can be redirected to a worker in a different time zone or to voicemail.
Best practices for managing a VCC
Best practices for managing virtual call centers include the following:
- Ensure a secure work environment. Make sure workers follow security policies and are connected to private hotspots or VPNs.
- Create a collaborative environment. This should help employees feel like part of a team and help foster sociability.
- Promote structure. Having a strong structure to follow may help workers who perform better in person feel more comfortable.
- Do not micromanage. Because there is a lack of direct oversight, organizations may feel tempted to track employee productivity through tools like keyloggers. However, some employees may not respond well to this.
- Interact with customers or teammates over video calls. This should help to make the employee more personable to their fellow co-workers and to customers.
- Provide helpful training options. Video conferencing and screen-sharing tools and training videos may help train a remote worker. But if an employee learns better in a physical office space, accommodations should be made for in-person training as well.
- Work over different time zones. Having employees in different time zones means the organization can answer calls at all times of the day, whenever needed.