A virtual contact center is a digital hub where agents respond to incoming phone calls, emails, social media requests, and other customer service tickets remotely. By definition, virtual contact centers do not need to exist in a centralized, physical location. This is a change from more traditional, brick-and-mortar call centers in which agents work from the same location.
While traditional, brick-and-mortar call centers used to be prevalent, increasingly companies are turning to virtual contact centers. The tools used by virtual call centers are in the cloud allowing agents to work from home, different offices, even different time zones. Virtual call centers, or VCCs, offer many benefits in both operational efficiency and the customer experience.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies that had not already done so have moved to virtual contact centers. While many companies struggled initially to set up new operations that didn’t rely on on-premise technology and strict policies, the pandemic forced changes. And now today, about 80% of call center agents are working from home1. This trend is likely to be permanent, especially as the industry grapples with a labor shortage and workers increasingly consider flexible work environments when taking a job. In one study, 58% of people say they want to be full-time remote employees post-pandemic2.
With virtual contact centers the future of customer service, we’re diving deep into everything you need to know about call centers – from the benefits of taking a contact center virtual to how to run a successful virtual call center.
How Have Call Centers Changed Over the Years?
In 1957, the first call center, Life Circulation Co, was launched by Time Magazine to increase subscriptions. While this was more outbound marketing, it had agents working side-by-side in a centralized location (this would later become a major telemarketing firm).
In the 1960s, switchboards became common which enabled a receptionist to connect calls to the right person. In the 1970s and 80s, new technology like Private Automatic Branch Exchanges and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) brought call centers mainstream with more and more companies using them, but still mostly for sales and outbound purposes. It wasn’t until toll-free 1-800 numbers became prominent that the inbound call center agent came to life.
In the 1990s, the internet created a huge shift in customer service. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and channels like email emerged as support channels, turning traditional “call centers” into “contact centers” as agents were having customer interactions over many channels. These virtual customer contact centers relied heavily on on-premise technology and symptoms3.
Today, many contact centers are virtual with a remote and distributed workforce leveraging flexible, cloud-based software solutions to provide omnichannel support to customers. Platforms like Zendesk, Freshworks, Gladly, Salesforce and Khoros enable teams to have the same powerful tools from home offices or distributed offices. With flexible CRM integrations, a cloud contact center solution can improve customer experiences, enable accurate forecasting, and provide better workforce management than ever before.
What Are the Benefits of a Virtual Contact Center?
Virtual contact centers offer even more benefits today than ever before. This is because of a few key reasons.
First, the workforce is distributed. Hiring a team of agents in one place is not required, and the talent pool becomes that much bigger. This is critical as there are currently about 25% fewer agents than pre-pandemic. And agent attrition is among the highest of any industry (about 45%). Nearly 60% of people say that if they are not able to work remotely, they would “‘absolutely’ look for a new job. With agent turnover already high due to other factors, offering agents flexible work environments is essential.
Having virtual office hours also enables companies to provide 24/7 support. Customer service agents can have shifts during their regular business hours and companies can have coverage across different regions.
Another benefit to virtual contact centers is scalability. The overhead costs associated with desks, equipment and office space with adding agent headcount are eliminated. Lastly, many companies find that remote workers are actually more productive. Research has shown that $600 billion a year is lost to workplace distractions. And interestingly, remote workers are 35-40% more productive than their in-office counterparts2.
How Do You Successfully Run a Virtual Call Center?
When setting up a virtual customer service, there are a few key things to keep in mind to ensure a positive agent and customer experience.
- Use a best-in-class agent desk platform: Tools like Zendesk and Gladly centralize everything and make agents’ jobs much easier. These platforms pull in information from other back-end systems, provide a single view of the customer and even make recommended responses to make agents more efficient.
- Leverage AI and automation: Every virtual contact center should use AI and automation to offload repeatable work from agents and reduce resolution time. AI lets teams scale up and down in seconds, adding a level of elasticity to a remote team to manage both unexpected and anticipated spikes in ticket volume. AI also allows teams to offer support 24/7, not just within office hours, and every day, including weekends and holidays. Advanced AI chatbots can skip humans entirely by automatically resolving simple questions via live chat (return policies, resetting passwords, upgrading a plane seat, etc.).
- Create a team atmosphere and reward individuals and teams: Create comradery amongst your dispersed team by having daily or weekly check-ins or virtual coffee breaks, rewarding great work such as agents with great CSAT scores or celebrating milestones like work anniversaries. A virtual team can still be a connected team.
- Analyze and optimize: Transparency is essential. Keep a pulse on how your agents are working, trends in tickets resolved and productivity levels, and how this changes over time. Agent desk platforms come with a suite of analytics that can uncover opportunities to improve both customer support and agent performance.
- Use intelligent routing: Reduce stress with omnichannel routing. Distribute tickets based on things like the sentiment, the length of resolution and complexity of a query. This can help ensure some customer service representatives aren’t getting the hardest tickets or the most irate customers again and again.
Virtual contact centers are here. The workforce is now virtual. To combat the labor shortage and provide a great customer experience, having at least a semi-virtual contact center will be key.