How to start a call center (without breaking the bank)
Setting up a call center can be an intimidating undertaking. We've broken down the process into a few simple steps, so you'll be up and running in no time.
By Bryce Baer
Last updated August 21, 2023
Phone support and sales aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2020, 66% of respondents use the phone for support, the most prevalent channel of any age group.
That’s a big part of why call centers still play such an integral role in building a great customer experience. Consumers still expect call center agents to be knowledgeable, helpful, and patient on the phone. Your call center needs to maintain a high level of customer service at all times to nurture customer relationships.
But building your own call center is a big project that requires careful planning, and it’s easy to get tripped up along the way.
Here’s a step-by-step plan that’ll help you confidently create the best call center for your company.
How to start a call center
Wondering how to open a call center? Follow these steps:
Setting up a call center: a checklist
- Determine the goal(s)
- Decide on a budget
- Identify your call center type
- Determine your call center staffing needs
- Build your team
- Train your employees
- Consider a BPO call center solution
- Maintain a supportive call center culture
1. Determine the main goal(s) of your call center
Before you dig into the real meat of running a call center, start by asking yourself why you need one.
Once you’ve clearly defined the main goal(s) of your call center, consider what you’ll need to run a successful call center business.
Your main goal(s) will depend on your specific business needs:
- If you run a small business or startup, maybe the main goal is to increase lead generation and get new customers or streamline payment and order processing
- If you’re responsible for a larger business, perhaps your main goal is customer satisfaction and offering better overall support
Once your main goal(s) is set, you need to use call center metrics that can serve as key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of your call center services.
Common call center metrics
- Abandoned in queue: Total number of customers that hang up while waiting to speak to an agent.
- Average handle time (AHT): Average length of contact for a customer on a call.
- Average talk time: Number of minutes and seconds between an agent answering the phone and hanging up.
- Average speed of answer (ASA): Time it takes a customer to reach an agent once they’ve been routed to the right department and placed in the queue.
- Declined call: An unanswered call that was actively refused by an agent.
- Missed call: An unanswered call that was not picked up by an agent in time.
- Transfer rate: Percentage of inbound calls that agents transfer to other team members or departments.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the goals of your call center will likely differ from those of a contact center.
- Contact centers use multiple channels (email, social media, live chat, etc.)
- Call centers focus exclusively on offering service via traditional telephone lines
A call center has to work more efficiently since everything is happening in real-time, and there’s not always time to mull over an answer. In fact, expectations are higher for phone support than any other channel — roughly 50% of customers expect a response in less than five minutes.
2. Decide on a budget for your call center
Before you choose what type of call center is best in line with your type of business, you need to come up with a budget.
Figure out how much money you’re realistically able to spend on starting a call center. This can help you determine details about how your call center will operate, such as:
- Number of employees
- Size and location of facilities
- Type of technology and tools
When deciding on a budget for your call center, you need to start by compiling your monthly income sources, fixed costs, and variable expenses to get a better idea of how much money you can spend.
You may find that building an on-site call center isn’t feasible financially, and that will help you decide on a strong remote workforce option.
3. Identify your call center type
Determining the main goal(s) of your call center will help you decide which type of call center will best fit your business plan.
There are a few different types of call centers to consider, each with unique benefits, depending on your needs.
Inbound vs. outbound
Are you cold calling potential customers with telesales offers? Or are you more focused on resolving customer issues?
The answers to these questions will help guide you towards setting up an inbound or outbound call center for your business.
Inbound call centers receive incoming calls and are generally run by customer support teams. These teams help customers solve issues they’re having with your product or service.
This type of call center is generally ideal for:
- Product and/or tech support
- Payment and order processing
- Upgrade and renewal inquiries
Outbound call centers make outgoing calls to people. They’re generally run by sales teams that want to sell a product or service or compile market data that is in-line with larger business ideas.
This type of call center is generally ideal for:
- Appointment setting
- Lead generation
- Market research
There’s also the option of utilizing a hybrid call center that provides both inbound and outbound calling. Some companies prefer a hybrid model, so they can create a consistent customer experience from one call center.
On-site vs. virtual
Does your call center require an in-house staff with a big office space, or are you looking for a remote, cost-effective solution?
Both options are now possible for business owners, and they each have their own unique benefits.
On-site call centers are physical facilities where employees make or receive customer calls. The entire team and all of the equipment are in one location.
Some of the benefits of an on-site call center include:
- Fast, in-person communication among employees and managers. Everyone is in the same building, so it’s easy to contact one another and resolve any employee- or customer-related issues.
- Technology updates and training are easier to do in real-time. You have more ability to explain the nuances of different technologies clearly and in person.
- No Internet connection needed to carry out phone calls. There’s no fear that a call will get dropped due to a shaky Internet connection.
Virtual call centers are cloud-based with no physical facilities. Team members work remotely and can be anywhere in the world as long as they have a stable Internet connection.
Some of the benefits of a virtual call center include:
- Having access to the most qualified candidates from around the world. The best candidates don’t always come from your own country. It can be valuable to look at international candidates with better experience.
- Having employees in different time zones for flexible call center hours. Your customers can rest easy knowing they don’t have to sneak out at lunch to make a support call; they can make the call whenever they have time.
- Saving money on facilities and investing more in call center software and employee salaries. By keeping your facility and office supplies to a minimum, you can keep your team happy by offering things like company laptops and better pay.
Again, there is the option of using a hybrid call center that has both on-site and virtual components. This can also be a good option to offer employees—the flexibility to work from a remote location as well as an office space, depending on employee preference.
4. Determine your call center staffing needs
If your call center agents are fully utilized and your call wait times are still longer than you would like, it may be time to hire more employees. Use the Zendesk staffing calculator to determine your call center’s hiring needs. Then, you’ll be ready to start putting out feelers to find the ideal representatives to join your team.
Weekly utilized hours for a full-time agent:
Total utilized hours (weekly):
Estimated full-time agents needed:
Solves per hour:
Average handle time:
Disclaimer: The above formula should be used as a guide—it shouldn’t replace a typical workforce management staffing calculator. Teams will also need to consider factors such as breaks for agents, multiple shifts, and different customer requirements.
5. Build your call center team
Now that you know the type of call center you want to build, it’s time to put together a team that can help you make it a success.
Hire the best people for your call center
Finding the most qualified candidates to work for your call center is easier said than done. You need to start by having a very clear understanding of your needs.
Create a list of the traits your ideal support rep should have:
- Do they need to be able to work flexible hours?
- How much prior experience should they have?
- Should they be good at small talk or go straight to business?
Answering these types of questions will help you get a better grasp of the types of candidates you’ll want to bring in for interviews.
You should also be very clear about your must-haves vs. your nice-to-haves in a call center resume. Many recruiters struggle to find good candidates when they add too many must-have requirements. If there are things you think may be valuable, list them as nice-to-haves and take stock of the things you can train your employees to do after they’re hired.
6. Train your employees
Make sure your employees are fully equipped to fulfill their roles by providing agent training as part of your call center setup.
To do this, you can train people at an offsite location such as another call center, online, or on-site.
Train agents on any headsets and phone systems that your company uses. In a virtual call center, agents should receive support in setting up their remote workspace and be up-to-speed on all the necessary tools and software your company uses. Guide them with any call center training tips you can offer.
7. Consider a BPO call center solution
Business process outsourcing (BPO) refers to outsourcing some of your company’s operations to an outside vendor or service provider. In the context of a call center, BPO means outsourcing inbound and outbound services to agents who don’t actually work for your company.
This is an ideal solution for companies with limited bandwidth that need immediate support. If call volume is beyond what your staff is able to support, it may be worthwhile to consider a BPO call center solution. You’ll be able to get the high number of calls under control without having to hire and train new employees.
Inbound BPO call center services include:
- Handling support questions
- Order processing
Outbound BPO call center services include:
- Market research
BPO call center solutions are ideal if you’re in a staffing jam and don’t have the ability to hire and train a batch of new people. Generally speaking, these are call center agents who already have industry experience and excellent customer service skills.
Supplement your call center with these digital resources
At a minimum, our in-house and digital call center agents will need high-speed Internet. There are also other tools and software you may need for your call center.
Here are some digital resources you can introduce to strengthen your call center without breaking the bank.
Business Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a technology that allows you to make calls through a data network versus an analog phone line.
The beauty of using VoIP software is that it reduces the overhead tied to traditional phone lines. That translates to a lower cost of equipment for your call center.
VoIP software like Zendesk Voice gives your team more flexibility to take calls whenever and wherever they want. All they need is a stable Internet connection, and your company is only charged for minutes used.
The one thing customers and employees always have in common is questions. They want or need to get further information on a particular issue or topic to make sure they fully understand it.
Knowledge bases function as a library of information for your customers and employees. They’re empowered to resolve their own issues, so support reps have more time to solve complex tickets.
Examples of knowledge base resources include:
- Education, academies, and training programs
- FAQ content
- How-to articles and tutorials
Internal help desk
Internal help desks are digital hubs that help your employees get all the support they need to do their jobs. Support reps help not just customers, but employees, too.
To make this internal communication easier, you can use a help desk software to:
- Answer questions
- Address incidents
- Service requests
Zendesk’s internal help desk serves as a one-stop shop for employees to get all the help they need whenever a challenging scenario pops up.
8. Maintain a supportive call center culture
Working at a successful call center can feel overwhelming for everyone involved with so many calls taking place over the course of a single day.
That’s why strong leadership and management are so important when it comes to how your call center functions.
To make your team feel supported:
- Maintain a calm demeanor when handling issues with employees
- Reach out to them on a regular basis to see if they’re facing any challenges you can help with
These go a long way toward keeping call center agents feeling happy and supported when faced with a flood of calls on a busy day.
Once you have all your call center pieces in place, make sure your call center is a supportive place to work. That way, you can retain your best employees and continue to bring on new ones who will help add to its success over time.
Start a call center today
Even in the age of emails, texts, and DMs, sometimes talking to a real human solves the problem fastest. Ready to start setting up a call center? Zendesk’s integrated voice solution syncs with all other channels, and lets agents see all customer information right away.
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