The call center, or contact center, is the face of the company for many businesses and organizations. When customers need customer support and customer service, one of the first touchpoints in their journey with your business or organization is the call center. The call center and call center software has a long and storied history, going from only telephone dialer software and phone dialing software to fully-fledged contact center systems that support cutting-edge call center application software. In this blog, we’ll explore the history of the call center and provide a definitive guide to the world of call center software.
What is Call Center Software?
Call center software, or contact center software, is software that helps businesses manage communication with customers and clients over various channels like voice, email, live chat, web chat, messenger apps, SMS text, and social media. A call center system is utilized as part of a business’s customer experience goals to help call center agents respond to customer queries and resolve customer issues.
Understanding the History of Call Centers
Call centers have a long history dating back to the 1960s. While the first use of the term “call center” emerged in the 1980s, the first functional call centers were in the 1960s. The UK-Based company Birmingham Press and Mail installed Private Automated Business Exchanges (PABX) to allow many agents to connect with customers simultaneously. The PABX system was critical in the formation of the call center, because a PABX system was one of the first call center platforms that was able to handle and direct multiple calls that were incoming. This PABX system was one of the first rudimentary call center phone systems, and led to the birth of the call center.
Fast forward to the 1970s, call centers began to pop up as many large businesses quickly adopted call centers to help with their customer service needs. The role of a call center program within the business and the capabilities of the call center system software also expanded to include important tasks like telephone sales, dialer telemarketing, telemarketing programs, airline reservations, and banking systems. Not only did the role of the call center expand within businesses, but the ability for businesses to deliver customer service across the country also expanded. The development of the WATS system, or the Wide Area Telephone Service, allowed companies to economically dial across the country. This meant that companies can deliver marketing or customer service across the country cheaply, making having a call center much more affordable.
With the call center becoming a mainstay in the world of customer service and business, the Oxford English Dictionary eventually recognized the term “call center” and published it in their 1983 volume. The 1980s saw the expansion of call centers through the development of toll-free telephone numbers to help increase efficiency of call center agents and overall call volume.
Going into the 1990s and the 2000s, the role of the call center slowly evolved to that of a contact center. A contact center’s role in the business is much larger than that of a call center. A contact center allows a system of multiple aspects of the company, including people, technology, and strategy, to provide information and expertise to customers through interactions. This can be one over multiple digital channels, a huge advancement in technology from only voice-based communication. Now, with modern call center tools software, businesses and organizations can connect with customers over channels like email, text, SMS messaging, live chat, web chat, messenger apps, in-app messaging, and more.
Cloud-Based Contact Center vs On-Premise Call Centers
Call center software solutions have traditionally been on-premise. This meant that all contact center equipment, including hardware, software, servers, and more were stored at the company’s location. This meant that operating call center software programs and using call center phone systems features were expensive, and smaller businesses were often barred from having access to systems used in call centers. Call center phone system requirements included a combination of expensive maintenance costs, long upgrade times, and the need for an in-house IT support team.
The development of cloud computing in the 2000s changed everything. Powerful call center phone software was offered through the cloud, giving businesses of all sizes access to powerful cloud contact center software. Whether a business needed enterprise call center software for call center software for small business, cloud call center software opened the doors for many to gain access to the best call center software on the market. Web based call center software through the cloud allowed agents to access customer contact center software through only an internet connection. This new model was termed “call center as a software as a service”, or CCaaS for short.
Through call center software vendors, a call center operator or business pays a monthly fee to the vendor that hosts the call center cloud services and contact center phone system. Through the cloud based contact center model, the contact center software vendors maintain equipment, data, and maintenance. Calls to and from customers or contacts originate and end at the vendor’s data center rather than at the premise of the business. This means that businesses don’t need to host expensive hardware and software, and can instantly turn on powerful SaaS call center solutions at the fraction of a price of an on-premise set up. Due to the cost-effectiveness, call center SaaS have begun dominating the call center industry. Many businesses are turning to contact center SaaS to help run their customer experience programs.
What Should Basic Call Center Software Do?
Far more advanced than the simple call software and telephone routing systems that businesses had back in the 1960s and 1970s, today’s call center software is far more sophisticated and capable. Depending on the need of the business, contact center software solutions can be tailored to the specific needs of an industry or company use cases using key features.
At the most basic level, cloud based call center solutions allow customers to connect with your business over a variety of communication channels. These communication channels include voice, email, live chat, web chat, SMS, text messaging, messenger apps, in-app messaging, and more. Depending on the platform, especially on omnichannel call center software, these channels can be combined into one seamless journey for the customer, leading to a smooth, frictionless customer experience.
Building upon the basic premise of connecting customers to agents, every virtual contact center software should be able to distribute incoming interactions efficiently and fairly among the agents to decrease waiting times, improve efficiency, and ensure quick response times to customers. To do this, call management software relies on utilizing advanced call distribution software to efficiently and fairly distribute calls to a business’s contact center agents. Automatic call distribution software, or ACD, are standard features to further refine the contact center experience by finding the next available agent to transfer an incoming interaction to. ACD call center software can be further refined, depending on platform, to route incoming interactions to specific agents based on skill level or customer VIP status. With ACD software, call centers can streamline workflow and ensure fast service for customers while empowering agents.
Building upon connecting customers to the right resource quickly, a basic functionality that call center software should be able to perform is interactive voice response, or IVR. With IVR call center software, customers can perform self-service through an automated menu to get them to the right department and right resource quickly. Combined with a CRM, CRM IVR systems are standard features that can help identify customers so that the agents can have their interaction history and information ready by the time they connect to the conversation.
Finally, a crucial piece of basic call center software technology is a predictive dialer service. Call center predictive dialer software is an outbound calling software that allows companies and businesses to make outbound calls efficiently and quickly. With a predictive dialer solution, businesses can go through phone lists quickly and skip missed or dropped calls. This means call center agents can speak with more live customers and clients rather than needing to manually dial and skip through missed calls and disconnected numbers. There are many different types of predictive dialer, like auto dialer solutions, progressive dialer software, and preview dialer software.
Basic call center software, especially after the 2000s, can be applied to a wide range of industries, ranging from large enterprises to small businesses, and from the customer service industry to the IT service management organizations.
Advantages of an Omnichannel Call Center Software
While many call center platforms support communication over multiple digital channels, like voice, email, text messaging, web chat, messenger apps, and SMS, these digital channels might not be joined together into one seamless customer experience. For example, an interaction that comes in through a web chat may not lead the customer straight to a live agent over the phone in an effortless way, creating friction in the customer journey.
On an omnichannel call center platform, customers connect on any channels like phone call, voice call, video call, live chat, SMS, text messaging, mobile apps, social media, and more. Once the customer is connected to a live agent on any channel, that interaction can be switched to any other channel effortlessly. For example, customers that first connect via a web chat on the website can then be routed to a voice call with a live agent over the phone immediately. Then, once this live phone call needs to be moved to a messenger app, agents can transfer the conversation to a messenger app, all while keeping the context of the conversation in front of them through a record management system or integrated CRM. Omnichannel routing and implementing an omnichannel strategy can transform cloud contact centers by improving agent experience and reducing frustration, improving the efficiency of customer support and customer service teams, and delivering a seamless experience in an omnichannel contact center.
Advanced Features of Call Center Software
Cloud based contact center solutions give users access to a multitude of cutting-edge features in their call center software. There are many features that cloud based call center technology should support to ensure that a business can deliver the best customer experience possible with every interaction.
One feature that call center software should support is comprehensive CRM integration or an integration with call center ticketing software. Call center CRM integrations and call center CRM solutions are crucial to businesses and organizations for customer experience success because it allows businesses and organizations to keep customer information organized and easily accessible during interactions. Contact center CRM integrations can personalize every interaction with the customer by giving agents seamless access between the CRM and call center platforms, delivering customer information like interaction history right to the agent’s fingertips. With the right platform, call center CRM features and call center CRM systems can integrate with any CRM system, whether the CRM you want to utilize is Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Zendesk, ServiceNow, or your business’s own native record management system. Ensure that the call center solution provider provides integration to call center CRM software and turns your contact center into a CRM contact center.
Another feature that call center software should support is AI integration. AI is a hot area within the tech industry, and implementing call center AI software is now realistic and practical. AI call center software can help automate repetitive tasks within the contact center as well as assist supervisors in monitoring 100% of all interactions on all channels. By integrating AI, sentiment analysis, and text analysis, businesses can get a birds-eye view of the contact center, automate repetitive tasks, and assist agents during interactions.
Last, but not least, contact center platforms should support a powerful omnichannel quality management solution that can monitor every interaction on every channel. An omnichannel quality management platform can allow contact centers to ensure that all interactions with all customers, no matter the channel, are high quality and excellent. Depending on the platform, an omnichannel quality management system can deliver easy-to-use and intuitive reporting dashboards to make quality management easier and more effective.
While basic call center functionality is important, advanced features can help make the contact center more efficient and allow agents to deliver more personalized service to customers.
What Industries Use Call Center Software?
Call center software, especially a cloud-based contact center solution, can be utilized by a variety of different industries that need to communicate with customers or clients. Many industries that rely on delivering great customer service to clients, including the retail, hospitality, financial services, and banking, and utility industries, need a contact center platform that can help them connect with customers on all channels, including voice, email, text, SMS messaging, video, messenger apps, web chat, and more.
For more specialized industries, like the healthcare, financial services, and banking, and telemarketing industries, the call center software needs to have special securities and features that make the software more adaptable to their use cases. Healthcare and financial services, for example, needs a platform that is compliant with industry standards, like HIPAA and PCI. These industry standards ensure that customer information is secure and all interactions are encrypted. Telemarketing, on the other hand, needs specialized tools like power, intelligent auto dialer solutions, and an auto dialer for outbound call centers to deliver great outbound interactions efficiently and effectively.
What Industry Regulations Should Call Center Software Comply With?
Because call center software can be deployed in a wide variety of industries, varying from financial institutions to retail stores to healthcare providers, it is important that the call center software is secure and able to comply with the different regulations that are present in these industries. Whether you need telemarketing software, healthcare call center software, or help desk call center software, different industries require different compliance standards to protect consumer privacy, security, and welfare. So what industry regulations are there for each industry?
For a contact center focused on the healthcare industry, such as call centers within hospitals, the inbound call center software as well as outbound call center software needs to be compliant with regulations set by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. HIPAA safeguards protected health information or PHI. For HIPAA compliance, call center software needs to have separate access levels between administrators and tenants, password protect and password complexity standards, data encryption, secure data storage, and complete audit records.
For a contact center focused on processing payment information, such as financial, retail, or commerce services, call center software needs to be compliant with standards set by the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, or PCI DSS. PCI DSS sets standards for merchants and companies that accept, process, store, or transmit credit card information. Data encryption, key management to prevent unauthorized access, regulation security evaluations, and constantly rescanning for vulnerabilities in the system are all key requirements for call center software to be compliant with PCI standards.
For outbound call center software and call centers focused on outbound dialing, call center software needs to be compliant with regulations set by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, or TCPA, which is a federal statute that restricts phone solicitations and telemarketing, and the use of automated telephone equipment. To comply with TCPA regulations, the dialer system for call centers needs to integrate with “Do Not Call” (DNC) lists and needs to have separate servers for dialing.
Finally, all call center software should be SOC 2 compliant. SOC 2 compliance means passing an auditing procedure that ensures that service providers are securely managing the personal data of customers and customer data is stored in a way that protects company interests as well as client privacy. SOC 2 compliance means the call center software needs to have comprehensive access controls to limit access to authorized users, encryption of data considered sensitive information, timely and error-free data processing, as well as encryption on all channels and interactions, whether it’s voice, email, text, SMS, or messenger apps.
By choosing the right call center software that complies with all of the necessary security standards and regulations in a specific industry, businesses and companies can ensure that both them and the customers are well-protected.
What to Look for When Selecting a Call Center Software Provider
When selecting a call center software provider, it is important to consider what use cases a certain business or industry needs to fulfill and see whether that vendor can fulfill these needs or not. Businesses should look for a vendor that provides the ability to connect with customers on any digital channel, including phone calls, SMS, social media, email, webchat, and more. Vendors should be able to allow customers to connect on any of these channels and switch the conversation to another channel seamlessly, all while the contact center agent is following along with conversation context and customer information.
Businesses should also look for vendors with advanced technology like AI integration, sentiment analysis, support of new channels like messenger apps, and more. By looking to vendors that support advanced technologies and capabilities, businesses can assure that their contact center is future-proofed and able to adapt to changes in the CX landscape.
Finally, businesses need a vendor that delivers cloud-based call center solutions. Through a cloud-based solution, businesses can get access to advanced technology with limited maintenance and IT staffing costs. This way, businesses can save money as well as future-proof themselves by being able to easily upgrade and update their contact center platform to support the latest in CX trends and communication tools.
What Are Some Good KPIs to Track in Your Call Center Software Solution?
Measuring key performance indicators, or KPIs, in a call center software solution is necessary to ensure that the contact center is running as efficiently as possible while delivering high-quality customer service on all interactions. There are many metrics that a call center software solution or workforce management solution should track to ensure high-quality customer service on all interactions.
The first KPI to track in the contact center is the average time to answer. Average time to answer is a metric that evaluates the amount of time that an inbound interaction needs until it is answered by an agent. This is a measure of agent availability, and it assesses both agent efficiency and accessibility to customers.
Another KPI is the average abandonment rate, which measures the number of callers that hang up or are disconnected before they reach a representative. Abandonment rates are a reflection of call center performance and point to staffing concerns that a business or organization may be facing in their call center.
First call resolution, or FCR, is an important measurement that determines a call center’s ability to resolve customer issues on the first interaction, with no need for a callback or follow-up interaction. This can measure the effectiveness of agents since agents who resolve issues on first interactions are likely to be more effective. This KPI is important for training purposes and can help measure agent performance.
Average idle time is the idle time that an agent spends. This may be connected to agents completing work on things like tickets and transfers related to a customer interaction once a conversation has ended. During this idle time, agents may be put in important information regarding the customer into a record management system or deliberating with coworkers. The lower the idle time means the more efficient an agent is since that agent can take more interactions.
Finally, but not least, an important KPI is the average hold time. The average hold time is the amount of time that a customer is put on hold during an interaction, which plays directly into contributing to the overall call length. Usually, when a customer is put on hold, the agent is seeking out information or assistance that can help them resolve the customer’s query or issue. The average hold time is a great indicator of the levels of service customers are receiving and the quality of it when they connect with the contact center.
Tracking KPI is important for call centers, and many call centers should consider the adoption of call center quality assurance software, call center monitoring tools, or call center monitoring software to assist them in determining contact center performance.
Call Center Staffing Considerations
When staffing a call center, there are many factors that businesses and organizations need to consider before beginning the process. One of the factors that a business or organization needs to take into consideration is the customer base and on average how active the customer is within the customer base when calling into the call center. This factor should also take into account seasonal changes in traffic. For example, many retail stores face heavier traffic in call center activity during the holiday season, especially in months like October, November, and December. Contact centers should also factor in how many days they need to open each year. The availability of the contact center, the size of the customer base, and the fluctuating seasonal demand should determine staffing considerations.
Another factor to consider when staffing a call center is the average handling time or AHT. Average handling time is the average amount of time that a contact center agent or support specialist spends during each interaction. This can be averaged out to all agents within the contact center. Finding the average handling time is a great way to determine staffing needs and ensure that customers are helped in a timely manner.
Finally, call centers can utilize the abandonment rate and times when considering staffing needs in the contact center. Averaging the time to abandon a call means figuring out how long a customer or client will stay in the queue before hanging up. This data can be accessed through ACD systems or through plotting percentages of abandoned calls against the time.
By considering key performance indicators as well customer behavior and audience size, contact centers can make informed choices on how to staff their contact center.
What Major CRMs Should My Call Center Software Integrate With?
By integrating a customer relationship management (CRM) system with call center software, businesses can closely track the customer journey and give agents quick access to critical customer information during an interaction. With a record management system, businesses and organizations can deliver personalized customer service while being able to organize and store crucial customer information like activity history, addresses, phone numbers, and other information.
Some major CRMs that a business’s call center software should integrate with include Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle ServiceCloud, ServiceNow, Zendesk, and Salesforce call center software. Being able to integrate with these major CRMs is a major advantage for businesses that are looking to personalize the customer experience, improve customer service, and empower agents to deliver faster, more efficient service to customers.
How is the Call Center Software Industry Changing?
The call center software industry is changing at a rapid pace, especially in the current digital age. One of the more immediate changes is mobile usage. Mobile usage will be one of the main forms of customer interaction that businesses need to adapt to deliver the best possible customer experience. Especially with the accelerated pace of change that was brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, mobile usage has skyrocketed and will soon be one of the main ways of communication. For this reason, businesses need call center software that can handle omnichannel communication on all forms of mobile communication, including messenger apps, in-app messaging, SMS, and text messaging.
Another immediate change is the rise of the remote workforce. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses and companies had to work remotely. Cloud-based call center software allowed businesses and companies to shift to a remote workforce effortlessly, often within only a day. This shift to remote workforce seems to be here to stay, as many businesses and companies are considering adding remote work as an integral part of their call center model.
The call center software industry is changing at a fast pace, especially with how quickly technology is being developed and how impactful world events can be. For this reason, businesses and organizations need a call center platform that is future-proofed and can adapt to any new technology that appears in the future.
Future-Proofing with Bright Pattern Call Center Software
Bright Pattern call center software is a cloud-based omnichannel call center solution that is constantly evolving to meet the challenges of an ever-changing CX landscape. Bright Pattern supports all digital channels, including voice, email, live chat, web chat, messenger apps, SMS and texting, video chat, and in-app communication, and allows contact center agents to seamlessly switch between all channels while keeping conversation context. Bright Pattern’s platform also integrates with all CRMs, including Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle ServiceCloud, ServiceNow, Zendesk, Salesforce, or even your business’s own record management system.
Bright Pattern’s built-in quality management system, Omni QM, allows call center supervisors and administrators to easily monitor 100% of all interactions on all channels. Through intuitive unified reporting dashboards, supervisors can get a birds-eye view of the contact center.
To see the full list of features that you can get access to with Bright Pattern’s call center software