Setting Up Call Centers

It seems old now to be discussing call centers in the current era. But considering the way Automatic Call Distribution Systems (ACDS) have been replaced by fully loaded call centers successfully, we should know how to setup it up as the procedure is complex and hectic.

[ACDS systems transfer calls to a free telephone operator and queue calls if all operators are busy]

[Fully loaded call centers is a fancy name for ACDS. On ACDS it is deemed impossible to handle calls for multiple organizations whereas in call centers, thousands of agents can receive calls for multiple products. For example, technical support for IBM and Microsoft products can be provided by the same agents. The user dials a different number but connects to the same place]

I would start with a proper definition of the term call center. A call center is a facility which allows both inbound and outbound calls. If it is a support call center it will normally have inbound calls only, but in the case of a sales call center, it may allow outbound calls as well. The way it works is simple -- when you dial a UAN [Universal Access Numbers -- these are
numbers which can be dialed in order to connect to a destination from almost anywhere around the world] number or any other support number, your call is redirected to one of many call agents present at the call center. If all agents are busy then your call might be queued i.e., as soon as an agent becomes free you are connected to him/her.

Seems simple. What is the fuss about setting it up then? Get an ISDN PR(I/A) connection, hire call agents and thats it, your call center is up and running.

[ISDN stands for Integrated Services Digital Network, it provides end-to-end digital connectivity. The connection is available in two types Basic Rate Access/Interface and Primary Rate
Access/interface. BRA is normally for home use -- it provides only two channels i.e., one for telephone calls and one for data, whereas PRI provides up to 30 channels and is normally for corporate use. As an example, a PRI connection will help you receive 30 calls simultaneously over the same line]

This looks good only on feasibility studies but reality is a bit different. Normally companies like to outsource their call centers to reduce costs. In that case any country which has cheap labor and lots of tax leverage would be selected and what do you know, you suddenly jump into a third world country like India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka.

Now starts the real game -- if you are providing support to customers in the UK, you cannot ask them to call a support number in Pakistan. Why not? Because that would cost them an international call.

If you take the responsibility to pay for the international call charges on behalf of your customers you will soon be declaring your organization bankrupt, so is there a solution to this problem? Yes there is, this is where VoIP [Voice over IP] comes to help. I.e., transferring telephone calls over the Internet from one place to another.

This is what makes setting up a call center pretty complex. To simplify matters I am listing the points which are necessary for setting up call centers:

1. Getting the required toll-free number and a multi channel [Broadband/ISDN] interface
This is not a difficult task -- just go to any telecommunications provider and ask for a toll-free number and a telephone connection which allows you to receive multiple calls simultaneously over the same line. This would normally be an ISDN PR(I/A) line. The number of simultaneous calls which can be received over one such connection varies according to American and European standards.

2. Get a broadband internet connection
You need to purchase either an SDSL connection or a leased line providing you connectivity from one end to another. Normally a 512K [512Kilobytes of Bandwidth] connection is considered enough to cater 6-8 calls simultaneously with acceptable audio quality.

[Synchronous Digital Subscriber Link is a DSL connection which provides the same upload and download speed. A normal DSL connection provides of the download speed as the upload speed]

[A leased line is a dedicated ISDN connection which is only used by you and shared by no one else. SDSL connections are normally shared]

3. Get hold of an IPPABX (Internet Protocol Private Automatic Branch Exchange)
These devices provide routing and distribution facilities at each end. You will need to put on at least one at each end and connect it through the line you have decided to use at step 2. You need to ask your vendor to configure the PABX for you. You might also need to hire a permanent person to take care of these devices and their configuration.

4. Purchase IP phones and lots of Cat 5+ cable
The IP phones work as a normal telephone just that they plug in to the IPPABX directly the same way your computer might connect to a hub [a device where multiple computer connections end to share a same line] using the same network cable which is normally Cat 5 or higher.

[Category 5 cable -- networking cable used to provide physical connectivity just like the cable that connects your telephone to the local jack]

5. Route the support number to IP Gateway
Normally the IPPABX provides you the facility to connect directly to a telephone (ISDN PR(I/A)) line to start receiving calls, but if not, then you might have to get hold of an VoIP gateway which actually converts the telephone calls coming in through the telecommunication provider to the IP format.

6. Install all the necessary CRM software to agents computer
CRM [Customer Relationship Management] Software provides you real time information on the current status of a customer and business policies which apply over that customer.

You cannot provide support to your customer unless all customer data is known to the call agents. To serve the purpose you need to develop CRM software which provides all the necessary information to deal with a customer properly. A better CRM even allows you to take necessary corrective actions immediately. For example, in the case of ISPs, you might restore the users password immediately using the CRM when the customer calls. Good CRM software will also allow the employer to keep a record of the performance of agents. An excellent CRM software product will also allow the recording
of calls.

If you see police or government agents coming to shut your call center down you better realize that you also need to get a license for running a call center from the local telecommunications

This is all you need to be up and running with a call center. Remember, the higher the bandwidth of your Internet connection, the better the quality of voice you will have and there is no replacement for a leased line any other type of connection would certainly be shared among other users, thus you won't get the same quality every time.

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