The quality of service delivered by small business call centers used to be limited by the functionality of their PBXs or VoIP services. Modern call center software features that can transform the customer experience (CX) were only available to the big guys with their big wallets.
Fortunately, those days are over. Cloud-based software has fundamentally altered the call center software pricing model, putting many CX-enhancing features within the reach of small business budgets.
If you're a small business looking for a call center solution, you don't have to settle for "what you have, with a few more bells and whistles." You can go bigger than that.
This article is the first in a four-part series designed to help small business call centers make informed decisions about their next software purchase.
The current small business call center dilemma
Because the complexity and cost of traditional, on-premises call center solutions have made them unavailable to small businesses, these smaller organizations have had to make do with suboptimal technology that is often inflexible and hard to maintain.
Older solutions make it difficult to compete with larger companies. For example, a small business may not be able to offer self-service options and they're missing the insights that advanced tools like customer interaction analytics can provide. Additionally, they may be giving their customers the impression that they just can't provide the quality of CX found at their larger competitors.
Not only does outdated technology make it difficult to compete, but small business call centers may find it impossible to adjust to changing customer expectations. Today's consumers expect omnichannel experiences. This means organizations have to offer multiple channels and then seamlessly integrate them. How prevalent is this expectation? Our recent research revealed that 93% of consumers expect omnichannel experiences.
Additionally, consumers are becoming more demanding about the quality of their experiences. One bad customer service interaction will send many of your loyal customers out the door. This is why, according to Gartner, two-thirds of companies now compete mostly on CX.
Because CX is the new battleground, customer service agents need the right tools to deliver on consumer expectations. This means, for example, that call center software needs to be cleanly integrated with CRM applications, agents should have seamless access to all the channels they support, and processes and tools should be in place to enable effective training and quality monitoring. Agents who are positioned for success with the right technology will be more engaged and deliver better CX.
Additionally, you need tools for effectively managing your small business call center. This means ready access to key metrics, easy user administration, the ability to make software configuration changes, and software infused with artificial intelligence to turn raw data into actionable management information. Not only will these features make you less dependent on IT resources, but they will help you identify and manage problems, leading to lower costs and better results.
All of this is a lot to digest. Changing consumer expectations and the demands for omnichannel experiences and impeccable CX can't be addressed with a couple of new bells and whistles. To remain competitive, small businesses need a modern CCaaS (call center as a service) platform.
Features of a modern CCaaS platform that can help small businesses compete and grow
Modern cloud call center solutions have a wealth of features designed to help businesses of all sizes thrive in the experience economy. Below is a discussion of how different features can support different aspects of growth.
Growth factor 1: Making it easier for customers to contact you and get help
Do your customers think you're easy or hard to get a hold of? Or are you kind of in the dark about that because your current call center software doesn't enable you to collect customer feedback?
Being readily accessible to customers who need help is key to growth. It will keep them loyal and reduce churn. You can't grow if you're losing your existing customer base because they can't reach you. Look for the following call center software features to ensure you're easy to do business with.
- Voice and digital access. It's likely your small business call center already offers phone support. That's pretty much table stakes. But today's consumers want more - they also want to connect to your business through digital channels like email, chat, and social media. If you already offer digital channel support, are they part of your cell center software or do you use separate, non-integrated applications? There's a lot of value in having a CCaaS platform that includes integrated voice and digital channels - agents don't have to toggle through multiple systems, you get a more holistic view of operations through unified reporting, and new channels can be added within days rather than weeks or months.
- AI bots and virtual assistants. Bots and virtual assistants leverage artificial intelligence to understand and mimic human speech so they can interact with people. Bots can be deployed on channels like chat and social messaging apps. You've probably encountered some on websites you’ve visited because they're becoming quite common. Virtual assistants (similar to Siri) can help IVR users navigate menus or solve their own problems. Both are forms of automation that relieve agents of mundane tasks. As your business grows the demand for support will also grow. Bots and virtual assistants can help you manage increasing demand in a cost-effective manner. The best cloud-based call center software either includes these capabilities or has partner solutions that easily integrate.
- Self-service. Is your small business call center open 24/7? It can be difficult to justify the cost of keeping a call center open after hours when volume is typically light. Yet some customers will want or need help late at night and might be frustrated that your call center is closed for the day. Providing self-service options can help customers connect with you all the time and enable them to get help even when your center is closed. Modern IVRs, a standard component of CCaaS platforms, include self-service functionality that make your organization easier to do business with.
- Smart call routing. Do your customers often get transferred from one agent to the next until they land with someone that can help them? If so, this makes your business harder to work with. Industry-leading automatic call distributors (ACDs) can intelligently route your customers to the right place the first time. They can determine the nature of each call through an upfront menu and route them to agents with the relevant skills. Smart call routing will make customers and agents happier.
Growth factor 2: Ensure you deliver effective customer experiences
The best way to know if you're delivering effective CX is to simply ask your customers. But do you have a good way to consistently collect and analyze customer feedback? A lot of businesses don't collect customer input on a regular basis, so they can't be proactive with addressing CX shortfalls.
Given how important CX is these days, gathering customer feedback and using it to improve customer experiences is key to growing your business. If you place a priority on knowing what your customers think and feel, look for call center software with the following functionality.
- Customer feedback surveys. Good CCaaS platforms include customer feedback survey functionality that allows you to easily configure surveys so you can measure what you want. And when you've collected the responses, you can slice and dice the results multiple ways. Because it's important to deliver consistent CX across channels, look for survey tools with multichannel capabilities. And to ensure you're regularly collecting customer feedback, your survey tool should automatically survey customers, for example, at the end of phone or chat interactions.
- Customer interaction analytics. If you want even deeper insights about customer opinions, customer interaction analytics can provide that. This software uses artificial intelligence to review and analyze all contacts from all channels. This can provide useful information about what customers are saying during interactions, which when combined with survey results provides a more comprehensive voice of the customer (VoC). Additionally, customer interaction analytics can determine customer sentiment, which can let you know how customers feel about your CX.
Growth factor 3: Contacting and prospecting
An important component to growth is, of course, keeping the pipeline full of potential customers. For sellers of high-ticket products or B2B businesses, this often requires directly connecting with prospects. Outbound phone campaigns can be effective at turning leads into customers.
But to really maximize your efforts, you need the right technology. If prospecting is part of your sales model, look for the following functionality in your next software solution.
- CRM integrated “no-pause” predictive dialer. If your outbound sales agents are still manually dialing calls, there's a more efficient solution. And if you already use a dialer, does it produce that tell-tale pause at the beginning of the call? There's also a better solution. Industry-leading predictive dialers can make outbound campaigns more successful by factoring in operational measurements like average handle time in order to determine the optimal dialing rate. They are also "no-pause," which means you'll have fewer prospects hanging up before your agents can talk to them. By integrating predictive dialers with your CRM application, dialing lists can be automated and the CRM software can capture the results of the call. Additionally, the best dialers include features to help you stay compliant with laws and regulations.
- Reporting. Outbound campaigns need close management to make sure the organization is on track to meet its goals. Look for call center software that provides real-time or near real-time reporting on key statistics like connection rates, abandons, and conversion rates. This will enable you to make necessary adjustments before the end of the campaign.
Invest in your growth
All of the previously described functionality is no longer out of reach for small business call centers. Cloud-based call center software allows small companies to act big by enabling CX that is satisfying, convenient, and proactive. These growth-enabling capabilities are available without the overhead of hardware infrastructure and software administration - that's the vendor's responsibility.
Cloud-based software will also grow with you. Adding seats is simple and typically cheaper than purchasing additional on-premises software licenses. Conversely, if you need to decrease users, like at the end of seasonal peaks, your rates will decrease. With CCaaS, you only pay for what you use, a pricing model that is favorable to all budget-conscious businesses.
Cloud-based software makes it very easy for agents to work from home, a characteristic that has allowed agents to keep their jobs and businesses to remain viable during the pandemic. Typically, all that's needed to work from home are a laptop or other device and a good internet connection. The simplicity of setting up remote access allowed many of our clients to send hundreds of agents home to work in just a matter of days.
If it's been several years since you've looked at software for your small business call center, you'll likely be surprised by what you find. Technology has evolved significantly, making solutions that promote growth, deliver exceptional CX, and support business resiliency available to small businesses at an attainable price.
It's important not to enter a software selection process seeking a like-for-like replacement of your current, outdated call center solution. Think bigger than that! These once out-of-reach capabilities can transform your operations and enable you to deliver a whole new kind of satisfying, growth enhancing CX.
Price shouldn't be the primary determining factor in choosing your new call center solution. This is a case where a reasonable, incremental investment can pay big dividends in the form of retained and new customers. This is an investment in the ongoing growth of your business.
To start your software selection effort off right, begin by collecting customer feedback. Ask your customers about pain points, preferences, and expectations. This will help ensure you choose a customer-centric solution. Educate yourself about what technology is available and think through the implications for your operations and the customer experience. And then decide how you'll reallocate your time and resources once you don't need to support an outdated, on-premises solution.
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NICE inContact CXone is the market leading contact center software in use by thousands of customers of all sizes around the world. CXone is a cloud native, unified suite of applications designed to help a company holistically run its call center operations and grow the business.
We've designed several software packages to meet the unique needs of small business call centers. Visit our small business page and find the one that's right for you.