Globalization, advancements in tech, and now Covid-19, have forced organizations to rethink their strategies and change the way they operate. When strategy changes, organizational structures, employee roles, and job functions should be realigned with the new objectives. If this does not happen, ambiguity, confusion, and a lack of accountability often follow.
In a call center setting, this doesn’t always happen. This, the experts say, isn’t surprising since it is a complex process, and finding a practical approach to organizational design can be difficult. The reality, though, is that it could result in responsibilities being overlooked, inappropriate staffing, and people (even functions) working against each other. Organizations need to show people how to operate in a new structure as it dictates the relationship of roles, and therefore, how people function.
Poor organizational structure in the engine room from which all customer contacts are managed can trigger a baffling bayou of contradictions: confusion within roles, a lack of coordination among functions, reluctance to share ideas, and slow decision-making. Everyone must be clear on their roles and responsibilities to avoid duplication and redundancies that can impact your customer service operation and of course, costs.
Organizational structure – according to Peter Drucker, the late Austrian management consultant whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation – is an indispensable means, and a wrong structure will seriously impair business performance and may even destroy it. “Organizational structure must be so designed as to make possible the attainment of the objectives of the business for five, ten or fifteen years hence.”
What then constitutes an effective call center structure? How do you define team roles? What are the factors to consider? How are all these managed? This post will outline how to set up a call center team without overburdening your core business functions.
Right Team Roles and Responsibilities
A call center consists of executive, managerial, supervisory, and staff positions – Call Centre Managers, Team Leaders, and Agents. The size of the center will determine the available positions, as well as the number of team leaders and additional support positions.
They can have overlapping functions depending on the call center size. Knowing the different team roles should guide you in slotting the right people in the right place at the right time.
The entire call center operation is typically headed by a Customer Services Director or Head of the Call Center. In an in-house setup, they typically report to the CEO. They make strategic decisions, such as planning the budget, overseeing organizational KPIs, and coordinating all departments.
Call center managers are in charge of operational and tactical decisions. Managers are responsible for critical areas such as developing the team roster, developing targets and processes, or outsourcing. Examples of management positions include the Operations Manager who runs the day-to-day operations; the Digital Contact Director who manages the digital support channels; and the HR Manager who oversees recruitment and training.
Also called junior management or supervisors, team leaders handle routine and administrative decisions like prioritizing tickets, scheduling agents, and monitoring weekly performance. They handle a group of agents and report to their respective managers.
The bulk of staff in a call center is made up of agents, also called support reps. Agents man the frontline, receiving and responding to calls, emails, texts, and social media posts. They can be organized by channel or product/service type.
Typical staff roles in a call center are:
- Agents or Reps - receive and respond to customer queries
- Quality Analysts - document, evaluate agent-customer conversations (this role may also be an adjunct or supervisory position, depending on the organizational structure)
- Trainer - in charge of onboarding of new agents
Factors That Affect Call Center Team Structure
An organizational structure should be designed to clarify who must do what and who is responsible for results, to remove obstacles to performance caused by confusion and uncertainty of assignment, and to furnish decision-making and communications networks.
Organizational structure involves the dynamic of relationships among positions and jobs with the goal of accomplishing stated objectives, and thus, a one-size-fits-all approach just won’t cut it. There are a number of important factors to consider that should point you to set up an effective framework.
Type of Service
The type of call center services you’ll provide—inbound or outbound—will determine the call volume, agent expertise, scheduling, and predictability of operations, among others. All these will influence how you structure your call center team.
An inbound call center, generally, demands more agents to help you anticipate the volume of customer calls. On the other hand, an outbound unit can scale its operations from a small team.
An inbound call center will also need to cover more communication channels to ensure no calls or tickets are missed, whereas an outbound can work via email or phone alone. An inbound structure will require a deeper hierarchy to handle escalation where agents need supervisorial backup to help them manage the tougher tickets. This scenario is hardly present in an outbound, where the agent dictates the pace of conversation. Unlike outbound, an inbound operation may require an automated process or building a knowledge base to facilitate FAQs.
Determining between in-house or outsourcing will influence your call center structure, too. Building it in-house makes your customer service more integrated with other key departments like sales and IT. They can share resources and collaborate loosely.
However, an in-house operation can be costly and strenuous, limiting your capacity to expand or improve. Contact center outsourcing, meanwhile, is more structured and can scale fast. Outsource providers have huge resources, expertise, and experience in managing call centers of varying sizes and types.
This means you can expect to have a modern call center from the get-go. In most cases, it’s recommended to take the outsourcing route so your call center starts on a solid footing. Outsourcing also allows you to focus on your core business operations.
Important to note though, that outsourcing requires an alignment of your specific needs with the capabilities of a provider to meet your objectives. At Helpware, we customize our customer service and back-office teams to a company’s culture and needs. This strategy gives you both worlds in one: Greater control over the call center operations, like having your internal team, while leveraging the benefits of outsourcing.
The extent of your product line, market size, or capitalization will also shape your call center structure. The bigger the business, the more customers to support—hence, the more complex the call center.
However, providing support for a small business is not necessarily straightforward. Customers may expect a more personalized service dealing with a small business than, say, a big-box store. It’s a thinking that harks back to our experience with mom-and-pop shops. But that does not suggest that personalizing customer service is not considered crucial by large enterprises. The critical importance of the personal touch accentuated by a recent study that showed that 44% of consumers are likely to be repeat buyers after experiencing a personalized shopping experience.
Offering personalized support needs an advanced call center setup, one that leverages CRM and omnichannel solutions. In a numbers game, the business with a larger customer base will require a more comprehensive strategy to personalize service.
Your industry can influence the structure of your call center structure. While most call centers employ a combination of generalist and specialist agents, the ratio varies depending on your field. An industry dealing with highly technical or specialized products will require a team of specialists.
Healthcare facilities, technology firms, financial and legal services, for example, will need support reps with deep industry knowledge. On the other hand, companies selling general consumer goods need only to train generalists on customer service principles and product specifications.
Hierarchy in a call center of generalists may be more pronounced, too. Typically, the structure follows a pyramid: a broad first-point-of-contact team handling basic issues at the base, narrowing to smaller but more experienced teams as difficult tickets are escalated. Conversely, a specialist call center is a much leaner operation; each agent can handle a wide range of issues within their specific field of expertise.
Scope of Service
Servicing customers may sometimes entail an instance where customers pay for a premium service. This is set up as a membership, as-a-service, or subscription business model, where support is considered a feature that scales with the plan.
If you plan to offer different support tiers, your call center must adapt to the shifting demand of your customer base. For instance, the number of clients availing themselves of premium support will determine how many high-level customer agents you will need. Conversely, you must be prepared to downsize the call center when customers churn out of premium plans.
Right-sizing the call center by these types of plans is more challenging because your call center structure is rotating around two forces: your total number of customers and the number of customers in each plan. Considering these, you should get a clearer picture of your call center structure. The next challenge then is how to keep it tight to render a smooth, efficient operation.
Tips on Managing Call Center Teams
Setting up the right call center team is just the start. You need to manage it for success. Here, call center outsourcing becomes decisive, cutting your learning curve and saving you time and money with costly in-house trial and error processes.
Develop Well-Defined Team Roles
Spend adequate time to develop crystal-clear job descriptions. Having well-defined job functions helps employees understand their duties more clearly and be held more accountable. The result: A smoother management-employee relationship that minimizes stress and conflict.
Well-defined team roles also lead to better people planning. You are able to see the different parts that run the call center as a whole. That means you can effectively plan the headcount, plot a succession roadmap, or forecast additional roles for future expansion with greater accuracy. In addition, well-defined team roles lend transparency to performance management. KPIs are measurable, so it’s easy to sort the achievers from underperformers.
Importantly, you can also bank on clear job descriptions as a form of legal protection, a document that validates regulatory compliance.
Organize Clear Hierarchy
How you organize the different team roles is also critical to running a call center smoothly—hierarchy shows who takes the lead at different levels, promoting a culture of accountability. Creating a hierarchy of team leaders and managers helps identify who makes the call at varying levels in a call center structure.
A clear hierarchy is also beneficial when escalating tickets. Tickets, typically, stop at the team leader’s desk. In rare cases, a manager may step in to resolve complex cases. This structure ensures that unique customer issues are given careful consideration.
When creating a hierarchy, avoid redundant managerial functions. Leaving two people unclear of who is in charge leads to conflict or stagnation—the manager assumes the other manager is doing the task.
Analyze Need for Specialists
If you see a pattern of recurring tickets that need escalation, it’s probably best to assemble a group of specialists. This team can specialize by product, technical, or field expertise, or even by experience. Specialists can handle more complex tickets with confidence and relieve your leaders of micro-managing calls.
There is no fast rule on the perfect ratio between specialists and generalists. It all depends on the type of queries you mostly get, the knowledge bank of the frontline team, and your industry. Naturally, a software vendor will have more specialists than, say, an apparel entity.
If this is your first time to put up a support team, you’ll need to go through a trial and error process to find the right mix of agents. The process can be costly, challenging, and replete with the risks of alienating customers. A smart alternative is to partner with an experienced and dedicated outsourcing provider that has vast industry experience and valuable insights into what works and what doesn’t in the call center space.
Implement QA System
You have to recognize the fact that even your best agent is only human and will have a bad day. When you implement a QA system, you’re institutionalizing quality instead of being dependent on a person’s skills. That adds a layer of assurance that quality is not compromised during employee absence or turnover.
A fully functional QA process also helps you identify gaps in your workflows and address them before they develop into full-blown crises. Likewise, it aids in developing training materials and keeps customers happy so your operation can register sustained growth.
Adopt Omni-Channel Model
Lastly, but no less important, make sure that your agents have the requisite training and appropriate tools to offer omnichannel support.
In today’s hyper-connected world, customers use different channels and expect real-time responses. They can buzz you on your Facebook page and follow up on their query via email. And should they happen to place a call on your hotline, they expect you to have followed the conversation from all those channels!
The only way to keep pace with customer expectations is to adopt a helpdesk solution with omnichannel features. These tools consolidate all customer conversations in one dashboard, so agents can monitor the full conversation.
Set Up a Call Center That Delivers
Getting the best call center structure up and running can be overwhelming, but need not be with a solution from Helpware. We are committed to change perceptions of what outsourcing is and can be.
Our agents are an extension of your team and can tailor a package that speaks to all your call center needs. An onboarding manager will help you chart a roadmap to build the right team with the right mix. Get in touch with Helpware now and discover how we drive your success from sourcing talents to facilitating training and documentation, to measuring KPIs and goals during operations and identifying areas for continuous improvement.