Call centre

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
An Indian call centre

A call centre or call center[1] is a centralised office used for the purpose of receiving and transmitting a large volume of requests by telephone. A call centre is operated by a company to administer incoming product support or information inquiries from consumers. Outgoing calls for telemarketing, clientele, product services, and debt collection are also made. In addition to a call centre, collective handling of letters, faxes, live chat, and e-mails at one location is known as a contact centre.

A call centre is often operated through an extensive open workspace for call centre agents, with work stations that include a computer for each agent, a telephone set/headset connected to a telecom switch, and one or more supervisor stations. It can be independently operated or networked with additional centres, often linked to a corporate computer network, including mainframes, microcomputers and LANs. Increasingly, the voice and data pathways into the centre are linked through a set of new technologies called computer telephony integration (CTI).

Most major businesses use call centres to interact with their customers. Examples include utility companies, mail order catalogue retailers, and customer support for computer hardware and software. Some businesses even service internal functions through call centres. Examples of this include help desks, retail financial support, and sales support.


[edit] Call centre technology

A very large collections call centre in Lakeland, Florida.

Call centre technology is subject to improvements and innovations. Some of these technologies include speech recognition and speech synthesis software to allow computers to handle first level of customer support, text mining and natural language processing to allow better customer handling, agent training by automatic mining of best practices from past interactions, and many other technologies to improve agent productivity and customer satisfaction.[2] Automatic lead selection or lead stearing is also intended to improve efficiencies[3], both for inbound and outbound campaigns, whereby inbound calls are intended to quickly land with the appropriate agent to handle the task, whilst minimising wait times and long lists of irrelevant options for people calling in, as well as for outbound calls, where lead selection allows management to designate what type of leads go to which agent based on factors including skill, socio-economic factors and past performance and percentage likelihood of closing a sale per lead. The concept of the Universal Queue standardises the processing of communications across multiple technologies such as fax, phone, and email.

[edit] Patents

Call centre floor during shift.

There are a large number of patents covering various aspects of call centre operation, automation, and technology. One of the early inventors in this field, Ronald A. Katz, personally holds over 50 patents covering inventions related to toll free numbers, automated attendant, automated call distribution, voice response unit, computer telephone integration and speech recognition.[4].

[edit] Call centre dynamics

Typical report on the performance of an outbound call centre agent.

Types of calls are often divided into outbound and inbound. Inbound calls are calls that are made by the consumer to obtain information, report a malfunction, or ask for help. These calls are substantially different from outbound calls, where agents place calls to potential customers mostly with intentions of selling or service to the individual. (See telemarketing). It is possible to combine inbound and outbound campaigns[5].

Call centre staff are often organised into a multi-tier support system for a more efficient handling of calls. The first tier in such a model consists of operators, who direct inquiries to the appropriate department and provide general directory information. If a caller requires more assistance, the call is forwarded to the second tier, where most issues can be resolved. In some cases, there may be three or more tiers of support staff. If a caller requires more assistance, the caller is forwarded to the third tier of support; typically the third tier of support is formed by product engineers/developers or highly skilled technical support staff of the product.

Call centres have their critics, some of which argue that the work atmosphere in such an environment is de-humanising.[6] Others point to the low rates of pay and restrictive working practices of some employers.[7][8] There has been much controversy over such things as restricting the amount of time that an employee can spend in the toilet.[9] Furthermore, call centres have been the subject of complaints by callers who find the staff often do not have enough skill or authority to resolve problems,[10] while the dehumanised workers very often exhibit an attitude of apathy to even the most abusive customer.[11]

Owing to the highly technological nature of the operations in such offices, the close monitoring of staff activities is easy and widespread.[12] This can be argued to be beneficial,[13] to enable the company to better plan the workload and time of its employees. Some people have argued that such close monitoring breaches human rights to privacy.[14]

[edit] Varieties of call centres

Some variations of call centre models are listed below:

  • Contact centre – Supports interaction with customers over a variety of media, including but not necessarily limited to telephony, e-mail and internet chat.
  • Inbound call centre - Exclusively or predominately handles inbound calls (calls initiated by the customer).
  • Outbound call centre - One in which call centre agents make outbound calls to customers or sales leads.
  • Blended call centre - Combining automatic call distribution for incoming calls with predictive dialling for outbound calls, it makes more efficient use of agent time as each type of agent (inbound or outbound) can handle the overflow of the other.

[edit] Criticism and performance of call centres

Criticisms of call centres generally follow a number of common themes, from both callers and call centre staff. From callers, common criticisms include:

  • Operators working from a script
  • Non-expert operators (call screening)
  • Incompetent or untrained operators incapable of processing customers' requests effectively
  • Overseas location, with language and accent problems
  • Automated queuing systems—this sometimes results in excessively long hold times
  • Complaints that departments of companies do not engage in communication with one another
  • Deceit over location of call centre (such as allocating overseas workers false English names)
  • Requiring the caller to repeat the same information multiple times

Common criticisms from staff include:

  • Close scrutiny by management (e.g. frequent random call monitoring)
  • Low compensation (pay and bonuses)
  • Restrictive working practices (some operators are required to follow a pre-written script)
  • High stress: a common problem associated with front-end jobs where employees deal directly with customers
  • Repetitive job task
  • Poor working conditions (e.g. poor facilities, poor maintenance and cleaning, cramped working conditions, management interference, lack of privacy and noisy)
  • Impaired vision and hearing problems
  • Rude and abusive customers

The net-net of these concerns is that call centres as a business process exhibit stratospheric levels of variability. The experience a customer gets and the results a company achieves on a given call are almost totally dependent on the quality of the agent answering that call.[15] Call centres are beginning to address this by using agent-assisted voice solutions to standardise the process all agents use.[16] Anton and Phelps have provided a detailed HOWTO to conduct the performance evaluation of the business,[17] whereas others are using various scientific technologies to do the jobs.[18][19][20] However more popular alternatives are using personality and skill based approaches.[21][22] The various challenges encountered by call operators are discussed by several authors.[23][24][25][26][27]

[edit] Unionisation of call centres

Unions in North America have made some effort to gain members from this sector,[28] including the Communications Workers of America[29] and the United Steelworkers. In Australia, the Call Centre Workers Union represents unionised workers; their activities form part of the Australian labour movement.[30] In Europe, Uni Global Union of Switzerland is involved in assisting unionisation in this realm.[31]

[edit] Standardisation

Currently, there are no universally bracketable international standards, other than ISO 9000 series, available for the industry to follow up. However, there are some guidelines and standing operating procedures available on the internet.[32][33]

[edit] Mathematical theory

Queuing theory is a branch of mathematics in which models of queuing systems have been developed. A call centre can be seen as a queuing network.[34][35][36] The models can be applied to answer queueing questions for call centres.

Call centre operations have been supported by mathematical models beyond queueing, with operations research, which considers a wide range of optimisation problems.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ see spelling differences
  2. ^ L Venkata Subramaniam (2008-02-01). "Call Centers of the Future" (PDF). i.t. magazine. 48-51. Retrieved on 2008-05-29. 
  3. ^ "US Patent 7035699 - Qualified and targeted lead selection and delivery system". Patent Storm. 2006-04-25. Retrieved on 2008-05-29. 
  4. ^ Bednarek et al., "Katz Patent Reexamination: A Change in Momentum Favoring RAKTL Targets", ShawPittman, June 9, 2004
  5. ^ Freeman, Laura M; Whitfield, Hilary C. "Setting up for integrated inbound/outbound telemarketing". BNET. Retrieved on 2008-06-05. 
  6. ^ "Working conditions and health in Swedish call centres". European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. 2005-04-28. Retrieved on 2008-06-05. 
  7. ^ "Hourly Rate Survey Report for Industry: Call Center". PayScale. Retrieved on 2008-06-05. 
  8. ^ "Advice regarding call centre working practices" (PDF). Health and Safety Executive. Retrieved on 2008-06-05. 
  9. ^ "Hazards 81 extended briefing: Toilet breaks: Give us a break!". Hazards. Retrieved on 2008-06-05. 
  10. ^ Shaw, Russell (2006-01-30). "Tone-deaf to customer complaints, Dell opens yet another call center in India". ZDNet. Retrieved on 2008-06-05. 
  11. ^ Ahmed, Zubair (2006-02-22). "Abuse rattles Indian call centre staff". BBC News. Retrieved on 2008-06-05. 
  12. ^ "Call Centre Monitoring". Management. Retrieved on 2008-06-05. 
  13. ^ "The Call Center Answer Team reaches out to the industry for to crack a tough nut". Q&A: How Many Calls Should I Monitor. 2003-07-30. Retrieved on 2008-06-05. 
  14. ^ "Who’s on the Line? Women in Call Centres Project" (PDF). Atlantic Centre of Excellence for Women's Health. Health Canada. Retrieved on 2008-06-05. 
  15. ^ Fleming, J., Coffman, C., Harter, J. (2005) Manage Your Human Sigma, Harvard Business Review
  16. ^ Patel, S. (2008) How to win a no-sin situation. In Queue.
  17. ^ Anton, Jon; Dru Phelps. "How to conduct a call center performance audit: A to Z" (PDF). Retrieved on 1 July. 
  18. ^ Paprzycki, Marcin et al. (2004). Data Mining Approach for Analyzing Call Center Performance. Berlin: Springer. doi:10.1007/b97304. ISBN 9783540220077. 
  19. ^ "Evaluation of the Performance of customer service representatives in a call center using DEA/Network Model/Fussy Sets". Retrieved on 1 July. 
  20. ^ Srinivasan, Raj et al. (2004). "Performance analysis of a call center with interactive voice response units". TOP (Springer Berlin) 12 (1): 91–110. doi:10.1007/BF02578926. 
  21. ^ Skyrme, Pamela et al.. "Using personality to predict outbound call center job performance" (PDF). Retrieved on 1 July. 
  22. ^ Stolletz, Raik; Stefan Helber (2004). "Performance analysis of an inbound call center with skills-based routing". OR Spectrum 26 (3): 331–352. doi:10.1007/s00291-004-0161-y. 
  23. ^ Witt, L. A. et al. (2004). "When Conscientiousness Isn’t Enough: Emotional Exhaustion and Performance Among Call Center Customer Service Representatives". Journal of Management 30 (1): 149–160. doi:10.1016/ 
  24. ^ Aguir, Salah et al. (2004). "The impact of retrials on call center performance". OR Spectrum 26 (3): 353–376. doi:10.1007/s00291-004-0165-7. 
  25. ^ Murthy, Nagesh N. et al. (2008). "The Impact of Simulation Training on Call Center Agent Performance: A Field-Based Investigation". Mnagement Science 54 (2): 384–399. doi:10.1287/mnsc.1070.0818. 
  26. ^ Armony, Mor; Itay Gurvich. "When promotions meet operations: cross-selling and its effect on call-center performance" (PDF). Retrieved on 1 July. 
  27. ^ Goldberg, L.S.; A.A. Grandey. "Display rules versus display autonomy: emotion regulation, emotional exhaustion, and task performance in a call center simulation". Retrieved on 1 July. 
  28. ^ ed. by Pradeep Kumar ...; Pradeep Kumar, Christopher Robert Schenk (2006). Paths to Union Renewal. Broadview Press. ISBN 1-55193-058-7. 
  29. ^ "AT&T Mobility Workers Organize in Oklahoma City". Uni Global Union. Retrieved on 2008-09-27. 
  30. ^ "Call Centre Union Busters Get Wake-Up Call". Workers Online. Retrieved on 2008-07-08. 
  31. ^ "Uni Global Union's call centre organising campaigns". Uni Global Union. Retrieved on 2008-07-08. 
  32. ^ Rochester Institute of Technology. "Internal Call Center Standing Operating Procedures". Retrieved on 3 July. [dead link]
  33. ^ Thinking problem management. "Documentation - the techie curse". Retrieved on 3 July. 
  34. ^ Call Center Mathematics | A scientific method for understanding and improving contact centers by Ger Koole
  35. ^ [ Analysis of a Telephone Call Center: A Queueing-Science Perspective" Lawrence Brown, Noah Gans, Avishai Mandelbaum, Anat Sakov, Haipeng Shen, Sergey Zeltyn and Linda Zhao, November 2002 ]
  36. ^ Queueing Models of Call Centers: An Introduction Ger Koole

[edit] Further reading

  • Kennedy I., Call centres, School of Electrical and Information Engineering, University of the Witwatersrand, 2003.
  • Masi D.M.B., Fischer M.J., Harris C.M., Numerical Analysis of Routing Rules for Call centres, Telecommunications Review, 1998.
  • HSE Web site at for guidelines about call centre working * practices.
  • Fluss, Donna, "The Real-Time Contact centre", 2005 AMACOM
  • Wegge, J., van Dick, R., Fisher, G., Wecking, C., & Moltzen, K. (2006, January). Work motivation, organisational identification, and well-being in call centre work. Work & Stress, 20(1), 60-83.
Personal tools