How heavily your company should invest in customer service, whether you outsource the whole operation or build up your in-house service staff, depends on the nature of your business.
If you have, or are building, your own staff to handle sales and customer support, the size of that staff will be one major factor in deciding whether you need to support them with call center technology. When you have 25 employees engaged in customer contact by phone, you’ve probably reached the minimum size for a call center.
With an in-house call center, your employees use equipment you own. You’ll pay several hundred thousand dollars to deploy a typical call center system, or about $2,500 per user just for software (sources suggest you can amortize this over three to five years). That includes everything from equipment to integration services.
The size of the company is not related to the size of the call center. A lot of small companies do business over the phone, so a large percentage of their work is essentially done through a call center. Ultimately call centers are there to support one or more business objectives, and you have to understand those before deploying a call center. In other words, if your business objective is to increase customer retention through customer service, deploying call center technology makes sense, even if it means asking almost every employee to staff it.
Having lived through the dot-com boom, you may be concerned about the reliability of anything that’s not within your four walls. You may also be in a business, such as small-scale investment banking, the defense industry, or other professional services, that prizes security. In that case, you may see owning your own call center, and thus dealing with associated security and privacy issues yourself, as a competitive advantage.
If you don’t require your own call center, the advantage of a hosted call center system is simple: Someone else maintains the software, which means they can also upgrade it with new features and amortize that cost over a number of clients. This means that even though you have a small business, you can still use the latest features available to the industry as a whole.
In a hosted scenario, your employees would use their own desktop computers to access a call center system hosted by a third party. The cost is about $100 to $250 per month per user, depending on the number of services and options you need (usually relating to metrics and analysis). When you’re doing it yourself, you may have to pay an integrator to bring in certain capabilities, and that can get expensive.
In fact, another trend in the call center space that benefits small business is the rise of the ecosystem: groups of companies integrating capabilities from a group of existing vendors that frequently offer their software on a hosted basis. That eliminates one integration step.