Here are some key considerations to keep in mind when opening a brand new contact centre.
1. Calculate the number of employees needed
Identify the core purpose of your contact centre
The first thing you should do is identify the reason why you are opening a new contact centre, specifically focusing on your purpose and objectives. It can also help to look at what channels your customers are using and where you need to be to align with their needs.
If you are planning to move from existing premises, opening up a new contact centre can also be an opportunity to reconsider your business strategy. For example, reassessing any offshore or outsourcing contracts.
Don’t just guess how many employees you’ll need to accommodate
You also need to determine how big your contact centre needs to be for your business to be successful. Once you have a firm gauge on size, you can then base all of your technology, recruitment and office space needs around this.
Guessing at how many employees you will need could leave you stuck in an office that is 50 seats short, or paying out for space you don’t need – both of these scenarios could cost you heavily in the long run.
Use all the information you have to calculate how many employees you’ll need
The question of how many staff you will need will come down to individual needs – and should be based on predictions and forecasting.
If you are running a contract-based service, your contract should outline expected call volumes and duration and you can work around this. You should also factor in the other channels that you might need. For example, will your business need to handle webchat as well as phone calls?
Even if you aren’t 100% sure on the details, you should sit down with your team and work out some approximate forecasts you all agree on. These can then be used as a collective point of reference for decision-making later on.
If you really aren’t sure where to start, it can help to employ the services of an experienced consultant who has helped start up a number of contact centres.
Use an Erlang Calculator
An “Erlang” Calculator can help you to calculate numbers of agents needed for a given number of calls.
You put in a service level target (such as 90% of calls answered in 20 seconds), the call duration and the number of calls, and it will work out the staff number needed.
Factor in space for your future growth plans to succeed
It is also useful at this stage to look at how much space you might need in the near future to accommodate your plans for business growth.
Even though homeworking is a viable business strategy for managing additional contracts, it isn’t for everyone.
If you have no prior experience of managing homeworking agents, try to avoid choosing office premises that will physically limit your ability to grow and manage new opportunities in-house.
For example, if you decide that you will open your contact centre with 300 full-time employees, it is a good idea to build in space for 350 seats as a margin for expansion.
2. Decide where your contact centre should be located
Don’t just focus on shortening the commute for the management team
You need to think about a variety of factors when deciding on the location of your new contact centre.
The prime focus should extend beyond shortening the commute for the core management team. In fact, this should be the last item on the list.
Think about the skills you are trying to attract
A good starting point is to think about the skills you are trying to attract into your business.
For example, if you need multilingual employees, situating your contact centre near an airport or big city can help you gain access to the skills you need. Whereas if you are putting on a local service for a specific area, you should consider employing people in that area who will already have an understanding of the local culture.
Close proximity to headquarters can help embed a strong brand identity
Your business may also benefit from setting up the new contact centre in close proximity to company headquarters.
This can help agents feel more aligned with the brand and the wider business, as well as create opportunities to take agents off the phones and into nearby factories, warehouses or marketing departments.
Make sure it is easy for your employees to get to work
Another key consideration is to look at how your employees will get to work and how accessible your contact centre is by car and public transport.
- Is there a bus stop or train station nearby?
- Do the bus and train timetables schedules align with your shift patterns?
Even if your contact centre is offering amazing employment opportunities in the local area, you will struggle to hire people if they can’t travel easily to work each day.
Watch out for parking spaces
Contact centres can normally be spotted by the number of cars parked on the street and on verges near the offices.
Make sure you select a site with ample parking!
For more information on attracting the best talent, read our article 12 Ways to Become a Contact Centre Employer of Choice
Do your research to make the most of your budget
It is also important to think about your budget when choosing a location for your contact centre.
The size and quality of office premises varies considerably across the country, so it is worth doing your research to find out where you can get the most for your money – without compromising on talent and accessibility.
3. Choose technology that matches your business needs
Focus your technology choices around the information you need to capture
A generic list of contact centre technologies won’t really help you make an informed decision about what your new operation will need.
Instead, use an outside-in approach to help you make informed technology choices that are relevant to your business goals.
Here are a handful of questions to take into consideration:
- What channels are my customers using?
- What knowledge do I need and where will it be stored?
- Do I need a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to build a case for my individual customers?
- Will I need to offer a segmented service? If so, how will I route my calls?
Once you have decided what you need, you should also consider how all of your systems are going to work together – and how they will form the user interface.
That aside, here is a list of core technologies we believe every new contact centre should have (as of May 2016):
- Agent Desktop
- ACD/ Call Routing
- Predictive Dialler
- Cloud Solutions
- Workforce Management and Workforce Optimisation
- Call Recording
- Multichannel communications
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems
The ‘nice to haves’
Here is a list of additional contact centre technologies that can enhance the performance of your contact centre and improve the customer experience:
- Automated Customer Surveys
- Call Back
- Knowledge Management
- Multilingual Customer Support
- Performance Management
- Quality Monitoring
For a list of technology suppliers, see the Call Centre Helper Directory
You don’t have to decide which headsets to use straight away
Headsets may be the first piece of technology that springs to mind when starting up a contact centre.
However, the exact make and model of your headsets is a decision that can be left until the later stages of the planning process. It can even be left until the very end, if you plan to trial several products in the first few weeks of opening your operation.
The only decision you will need to plan for in advance is whether you want to use headsets with standard desk phones or computer-based telephony.
For more information about choosing headsets, read our article An Introduction to… Contact Centre Headsets
Map the customer journey and evaluate your processes
You should also set aside time to plan your customer journey and think about how your processes are going to work.
It is far better to spot a time-consuming glitch in the planning stages than when you have 200 agents taking live calls!
For more information about mapping the customer journey, read our article Worst Mistakes to Avoid… Mapping the Customer Journey
Use Google Translate and stay professional while you gauge multilingual demand
If you aren’t sure how many multilingual enquiries you will receive, one resourceful way to prepare for this, without undermining your professionalism, is to use Google Translate.
You can then have “We’re having this conversation using Google Translate”, and “Would you prefer to have this conversation in English?” professionally translated.
Your team can then do their best to handle these enquiries, without losing business, while you gain a sense of demand.
4. Set aside adequate time and resources
Rolling out a contact centre usually takes around 6 months
Rolling out a contact centre operation usually takes around 6 months.
It is possible to roll out a contact centre in 3 months (at a push). However, this isn’t the best situation to be in as it puts everyone under a lot of pressure.
However, these are only realistic timeframes if the business processes have been properly developed and the operation’s responsibilities have been mapped.
It can take up to 2 years for a contact centre to be set up from start to finish – as it is not unusual for the planning stage to take 18 months, followed by a 6-month rolling-out period.
You will need at least one person managing the project on a full-time basis
Setting up a new contact centre isn’t a sideline project.
You will need to take at least one person out of their existing role to manage the project on a full-time basis. They will also need access to a team to bring the project to fruition within a realistic timeframe.
Having proper processes and management in place is key to success.
Case Study – Vauxhall’s new contact centre in Luton
Vauxhall’s new 350-seat contact centre in Luton took 18 months to complete from start to finish.
2 project leaders worked full time to bring the operation to fruition. 10–15 additional people were also involved in the project at any one time, including employees from Finance and Human Resources (HR).
“There were 1,000 lines of activity to be managed across the project,” said Jon Savage, Manager of Transformation and Strategy at Vauxhall. “Don’t underestimate it! Plan more, plan harder, plan sooner. Even with 18 months set aside, the project put a lot of pressure on everyone involved.”
Timing will also depend on the size of the contact centre
The time it takes to complete your new contact centre will also depend on the sheer size of the operation you are trying to build.
This has more to do with the volume of work that needs to be completed rather than any increase in complexity.
For example, the difference between a 50-seat operation and a 500-seat operation is that a further 450 people will need to be hired and trained. You will also require an additional 450 desks and phones to be installed, and so on.
A multichannel contact centre may also take slightly longer
You need to consider the number of channels you need to install and build in extra time accordingly.
It is far less time consuming to open a basic phone contact centre compared with one that can handle social media, webchat and email.
You will also have to factor in any extra training your agents might need to properly handle these additional channels.
Build in “buffer time” for delays and unexpected issues
With such a large project in hand, it is highly unlikely that everything will go to plan.
To help overcome this, schedule in some “buffer time” during the rolling-out period for the inevitable delays and unknowns.
5. Hiring and training ahead of the grand opening
You need to think outside the box to hire and train agents without an office
If you are running to a tight schedule, it is likely that you will be hiring and training your new recruits before your new contact centre building is ready to use.
If this is the case, you will need to think outside the box to find a venue where these events can be held.
- Do you have a head office nearby with a spare conference room?
- Could you hire a room at a local hotel or college?
- Do you have a local Job Centre Plus? They often have some space local businesses can use.
Interview off-site until everything is completely finished
Even if the building is safe to use but isn’t quite finished, it is a good idea to interview and train your agents at a different location.
You want to make a great first impression – especially if you are fighting for the best talent in your area – and ushering your interviewees through uncarpeted corridors probably won’t cut it.
For more information about recruitment, read some of our articles:
- 5 Traits to Look for in Your Next Call Centre Employee
- How Do I… Tune Up the Recruitment Process?
- How Do I… Recruit the Best Agents?
- The 4 Skills You Can’t Teach – But Call Centre Staff Need
6. Building a good culture in your new contact centre
You need a strong management team to support and motivate everyone
Starting a contact centre from scratch doesn’t stop once the phone lines are working!
Maintaining and building a good company culture takes commitment from the top down. This is why it is important you have the right team leaders and managers in place who are involved in mentoring, motivating and supporting your agents.
To get buy-in from the management team and ensure they work well together, you need to get them involved in the new contact centre as soon as possible.
For more information on creating a great management team, read the following articles:
- 5 Mistakes Every Team Leader Should Avoid
- 10 Tips for Preparing Agents for Team Leadership
- How to Be a Leader in the Contact Centre
- 8 ‘Soft Skills’ Training Exercises
- 10 Ways to Improve Your Team Meetings
Base early performance targets on outcomes such as sales figures
To ensure that your new contact centre is meeting its purpose and that you are achieving your goals, your early performance targets should be outcome-based.
For example, based on the numbers of sales, or appointments made.
Customer-focused metrics can help with agent buy-in
You should also put a number of customer-focused metrics in place to get your team involved in meeting your performance targets.
If your agents are directly focused on the customer, they will understand how their role feeds into the bigger picture. This will help to create a sense of purpose and buy-in amongst your front-line employees.
Good facilities will help make your contact centre a great place to work
Providing good facilities for your employees is also important for driving a positive company culture.
It can help to think of your new contact centre as a university or college campus, needing a variety of amenities to support your community of workers.
Basic considerations include on-site vending machines and cash machines, a well-stocked canteen, and a fun break-out room filled with pool tables, TVs and comfy sofas.
If you have a bit more budget to play with, why not upgrade your canteen into a restaurant, or install an on-site gym?
You can also read up on the latest Call Centre Helper site visits to see the tried-and-tested strategies other contact centres are using.
For more ideas on making your contact centre a great place to work, see the following articles:
- 12 Fun Ideas for Your Break-Out Room
- 15 Ways to Bring in the Feel-Good Factor
- 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Agents’ Day
- The Best Ways to Pay Call Centre Staff
A phased transition can help everything settle before you go fully live
If you are moving an old contact centre across to a new contact centre, a phased transition can help address any “teething problems” before you go fully live.
Your transition phase could last for up to 3 months, as you gradually pass all contacts from your old premises to your new premises. This has the added advantage of the old contact centre being part of “the backup plan” in the event that something goes wrong on the new site.
You can take a similar approach with a brand new operation by bringing in new starters in waves, or starting up one channel at a time over the course of an introductory period.
Don’t make compromises that will harm the customer experience
It is important that you don’t compromise on anything that will ultimately harm the customer experience – from your canteen food choices right through to rushing the wrong people through the recruitment process.
Letting anything slip will send a clear message that your customer experience doesn’t matter – and this is not the message you want resonating through your brand new operation.
With thanks to:
- Martin Jukes at Mpathy Plus
- Jon Savage, Manager of Transformation and Strategy at Vauxhall
- The team at the MOO Print Limited contact centre
You will probably need to create a project plan and a checklist to set everything up. We have complied two very useful checklists to help you with this.