Virtual improvements Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008

Using state-of-the-art technology is a great way to take your business to the next level. That goes for every aspect from the corporate network to the call center. Today’s state-of-the-art call centers are virtual operations.

A virtual call center and virtual call routing is more of a call center technology deployment strategy than it is a product that you can go out and purchase. The strategy starts with choosing the right call center ACD (automatic call distribution) platform, then incorporating the features you want and need, such as skills-based routing, multi-site presence, centralized administration and remote workers capabilities.

“Every forward-thinking manager should at least consider the virtual call center,” says Michael White, the senior vice president responsible for information technology infrastructure and call center technology at InfoCision Management Corp.

The virtual call center strategy gives enterprises unlimited flexibility when it comes to call center capacity. You can staff an inbound program to the bare minimum level when a client has low call volume and instantly handle spikes during high call volume situations by linking agents from several call centers together to create one large virtual call center. Using the same technology, you can reach beyond brick-and-mortar call centers to work-at-home agents.

Smart Business spoke with White about virtual call centers, how to set one up and how they can enhance your business.

How does a business begin to set up a virtual call center operation?

It starts when a business needs to have agents in multiple locations handle calls as if they were all in the same location. Traditionally, if a call center had more than one location, it would have an ACD at each location. This approach would sometimes prevent the call centers from routing calls seamlessly to the best person available to take the call. With advancements in technology, many vendors began creating systems that allow centralized hardware still manage distinct groups of agents as if they were all in the same room.

What advantages can a virtual call center bring to an organization?

A virtual call center allows calls to be routed to specific communicators based on performance, skills and training, ensuring that the best person is utilized when a customer or donor calls. This, coupled with the ability to quickly scale up the number of people on any given program, keeps abandon rates low while putting the best communicators forward. By looking across all locations for an agent with the appropriate skill to handle the call, you are not bound by the physical location or ACD hardware at that location. For example, if you have 10 inbound calls come in and only three agents available at the main call center, the technology will look for other agents in other locations who are logged in and available with the skills to handle the calls.

Is call center virtualization expensive?

Again, call center virtualization is more a strategy than a product, so with proper planning and technology, there could actually be a cost savings by eliminating hardware in multiple locations. There is also the potential reduction in technical support needed at each location. In many cases, administration tasks can be centralized. The economics relate directly to the impact of having the best person available handing a call versus the cost of having callers sit on hold in one call center while agents sit available in another center. For organizations that are struggling through those types of challenges, the concept of call center virtualization can have a huge impact on operational efficiencies.

Are there certain businesses that benefit more from a virtual approach?

That’s definitely one area where this can be a huge advantage. The ability to secure two to five agents from multiple locations or to have agents log on from home to help handle a late-night call volume spike is much easier with a virtual call center strategy. If snowstorms or inclement weather prevent agents from coming into the office, they can remain home and handle phone calls just as if they were in the office. If the cost of office real estate prevents you from running a traditional brick-and-mortar call center, virtualization can give you the ability to create an operation that is as large as, or even larger, than a traditional operation.

MICHAEL WHITE is the senior vice president responsible for information technology infrastructure and call center technology at InfoCision Management Corp. Reach him at (330) 668-1400 or Michael.White@Infocision.com. In business for 25 years, InfoCision Management Corp. is the second largest privately held teleservices company and a leading provider of customer care services, commercial sales and marketing for a variety of Fortune 100 companies and smaller businesses. InfoCision is also a leader of inbound and outbound marketing for nonprofit, religious and political organizations. InfoCision operates 32 call centers at 13 locations throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. For more information, visit www.infocision.com.