Managing a Small Call Center

By Tim Montgomery

Small call centers certainly have their share of challenges and frustrations. Many struggle with the same basic issue – how to get a better understanding of the dynamics of managing small agent groups. (My definition of a small call center is one with up to 40 agents, or a center with up to 40 agents in skill or routing groups.)

On the other hand, there are also several advantages to being small. If you properly leverage these advantages, your center can make the caller’s experience a satisfying one.

There are five key benefits typically found in small call centers:

  1. Everyone gets to know everyone else. In a more familiar environment, agents typically get a better understanding of their role on the team, as well as their coworkers’ strengths and weaknesses.
  2. There’s more involvement with other departments. Small call centers (single site) have the luxury of being involved in the company’s sales and marketing activities and understanding their potential affect of their actions.
  3. There is usually a good overall understanding of the company’s mission and vision. Agents in smaller centers are able to see the entire process – the big picture. Therefore, they have a clear understanding of their role in supporting the overall operation.
  4. It’s easy to disseminate new information. In many cases, information can be communicated within minutes during informal meetings or via hand-delivered memos to all agents.
  5. The center can quickly react to real-time changes. Managers in smaller call centers typically have the luxury of being able to view the entire floor and personally control real-time recovery actions.

Callers don’t know you’re small: Callers don’t know – and, in most cases, don’t care about – the size of the call center. That may sound harsh, but it’s reality. Callers compare their various call center experiences with each other, many of which are with large call centers that have technology and economies of scale working in their favor. What does that mean for small centers? Managers have to work hard to come up with creative ways to provide positive customer experiences.

But that can be difficult. As a result, many smaller centers find themselves operating in a constant state of chaos. But there are solutions to this dilemma. A key to successfully managing the small call center environment and providing an excellent customer experience is working to understand the challenges and deciding where to focus your energy.

A challenging environment: While call centers can be demanding operations, in many cases, management challenges are exacerbated by the smaller environment. Following are a few key challenges facing smaller centers:

  • Everyone gets to know everyone else. While this can be a benefit, it also creates obstacles in environments lacking fair and balanced agent performance measures. If, for instance, mediocre performance receives the same rewards as top-level or outstanding performance, it’s noticed by others on the team — and negativity can quickly spread.
  • There is little room for error. Agent workload distribution and customer service can be significantly affected by just one poorly planned activity or by one or two agents not adhering to their schedules.
  • Significant forecast variances exist. Call volumes and handle times are, in most cases, less predictable and directly affect the number of agents required to meet a service level objective in every interval.
  • Reaction options are limited. Typically, there are few, if any, other places to send calls during times of crisis. Also, real-time recovery routing creativity is limited.
  • Budgets can be limited. Capital spending budgets are limited and there is generally a heavy entry price to obtain the latest technology.
  • Lower agent occupancy rates are required. Agent occupancy is an uncontrollable outcome – and a reality that must be accounted for and understood.

For many managers, the challenges of being small may seem to outweigh the benefits. However, understanding and appreciating a few key concepts can significantly minimize the obstacles by helping you to improve operating efficiencies and reduce the number of daily “emergencies.”

Tim Montgomery is a certified Associate and Consultant at Incoming Call Management Institute. They can be reached at 800-672-6177, icmi@incoming.com.

[From Connection MagazineNovember 2002]

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