There are a number of call center software solutions on the market, comprising more than half a dozen types of these tools. That’s not to mention the number of software tools that integrate with the various call center software solutions. With many potential combinations, picking the right call center tool software is no easy feat. In this guide, we’ll help you make more informed buying decisions by describing the various types of call center software, offering expert tips and guidance for choosing the best software solutions for your needs, as well as best practices for utilizing and implementing your call center software suite.
Types of Call Center Software
Most call center software solutions fall under one of these common types. Depending on the functionality you’re looking for, you can narrow your search to find software solutions with the features you need most by searching for one of these types of tools:
- Interactive Voice Response (IVR): A software that comprehends touch tones from a dial pad or voices from an individual, in order to respond or take the next appropriate action.
- Automatic Call Distributor (ACD): ACDs handle how calls are routed to find the right rep or automated system.
- Computer Telephony Integration (CTI): Essentially, CTI is a software that brings together all communication channels (web-based, voice, email, etc.).
- Call Center Monitoring: All call analytics which can be tracked and measured are in call center monitoring software. These details allow for training reps and improving call center performance. The most sophisticated solutions offer multi-channel text and speech analytics.
- Predictive Dialer: An automated calling system, typically used for sales. Numbers (usually picked for specific reasons) are automatically dialed and connected to a waiting rep.
- Call Accounting: Also known as call logging, these tools collect and record phone usage within a call center.
- Call Analytics: Essentially, speech analytics tools track metrics to enable reps and managers to evaluate the success of call campaigns.
Note: This isn’t necessarily an exhaustive list of all the types of call center software, but a look at the most common tools available.
Expert Tips for Choosing the Right Call Center Software
You don’t want to invest in a sophisticated software solution only to discover that it doesn’t adequately meet your call center’s needs. To make the right buying decision, follow these expert tips and suggestions on what to look for and how to evaluate potential call center software solutions.
- Be mindful of integrations. “Your call center isn’t a stand-alone system. It needs to interact with other portions of your business. Make sure any call center software you consider is capable of integrating with your CRM, social networking tools, helpdesk software and even marketing tools. The last thing you can afford is a disconnect, which will lead to frustration and a lack of communication among both employees and customers.” – Larry Alton, How to Choose the Best Call Center Software, Business.com; Twitter: @businessdotcom
- Service is a big part. “As you will certainly know, customer service is critical – but you need to ensure that your call center software has the best customer service ever. That is because you need to ensure that payment goes through securely and promptly. You will also need to know that their customer service is polite and clear if you have any queries or concerns.” – Lance Brandon, How to Choose the Best Call Center Software, EVS7; Twitter: @dolphindialer
- Ensure security and compliance. “You can’t be too careful in this day and age of security leaks and identity theft. Make sure the call center software you choose uses top notch encryption and the latest in security measures to keep your data safe. You also want your customers to feel safe giving private information over the phone or other communication channels. One way to ensure your software complies with the best available security and privacy practices is to look for a company that is compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).” – How to Choose the Best Call Center Software Solution, Twilio; Twitter: @twilio
- Look for call volume distribution. “The number of customers is increasing at an alarming rate, and for the same reason more customers are opting for online premises for transaction and purchase.
“Customers are also taking help from the agents to reach their final decision, and because of that more customers are speaking with the agents for consultation. This has led to a voluminous increase in the number of calls.
“So, the automatic call distribution of the call center software makes the bulk of the customer calls distributed methodically, and this way the load of the calls can be managed, smoothly.” Vipul Srivastav – 5 Features to Consider While Choosing Call Center Software, Call Center Hosting; Twitter: @callcenterhost
- The easier it is to implement, the better. “Ease of implementation and usability – deployment should not take inordinately long. In fact, most call center software, after the planning and analysis undertaken by the business, take no longer than a few hours to go live. Some go live within a few minutes. Another essential feature is usability. Although some training and support may be required, the software should be user-friendly and intuitive. Take feedback from users during the trial period. Customer service executives should be able to handle the software within a few hours.” – What to think about when choosing call centre software, Irish Tech News; Twitter: @Irish_TechNews
- Ask reps if they like the software. “If your agents feel that the software is disruptive or difficult to use then their productivity will suffer. Talk to your agents before doing a large-scale deployment and ask them if they like it. Bear in mind, however, that people fear change, and you will get some resistance to any new deployment as a result.
“To help determine whether what you are hearing is simply a fear of change or legitimate objections, ask your agents to explain their issues. Are they struggling with new features? Do they find the user-interface to be cumbersome?
“These are things that could be resolved with training, or with changes to the software’s configuration.
“If, on the other hand, they are saying that the software lacks features that they need to do their jobs, then this could be a valid objection. If most of your agents are complaining about the same issues, listen to them, because they are the people who will be spending most of the time with the software.” – Sandie Simms, 12 Questions to Ask When Choosing Contact Centre Software, West UC; Twitter: @West_UC
- Know the latest call center trends. “Contact center software has evolved as customers’ expectations and needs have shifted with the rise of mobile devices and social media. The following trends are particularly important to consider when selecting a solution:
“Multi-channel contact centers. As more customers seek to engage businesses through other channels than voice (e.g., SMS text, live chat and email), contact center software has evolved to enable agents to interact via these additional channels. Interactions across all channels in a multi-channel system feed into a unified agent queue.
“Social media. Contact center software vendors are increasingly offering modules that allow agents to manage interactions via social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. New analytics tools also help businesses data-mine social media for signs of potential customer issues before phones start ringing.
“Virtual queuing/Web callback. Traditionally, callers had to wait on hold to maintain their place in an ACD queue. Now, a new technology known as Web callback or virtual queueing allows callers to ‘virtually’ hold their place in the queue after they hang up in order to receive a callback later.
“While this technology has proven popular with consumers, it’s still not a standard offering in call center systems. If this is a must-have feature, you’ll need to shortlist vendors that offer it.
Speech/text analytics. Call center reporting traditionally focused on metrics such as call length and call abandonment. Now, systems are emerging that can analyze audio data to detect anger, frustration and other emotions in callers’ vocal tones. The results of this analysis can be used to identify trends in the performance of agents and the contact center as a whole.
“Text analytics is used to scour textual interactions (e.g., emails, SMS text messages and instant messages) for certain keywords that indicate frustration or satisfaction on the part of the customer. While powerful, these tools are still relatively rare offerings compared to standard applications such as ACD and call recording.” – Best Call Center Software, SoftwareAdvice.com; Twitter: @SoftwareAdvice
- Pay attention to credibility. “Spend time to make a background check on the vendor. Preferably, the vendor should have extensive experience with the call center industry. As such, it should know the common systems and practices used in the industry, and it should have a solution to integrate these specific needs to the CRM software.
“Likewise, check for the basics. How many years has it been in the industry? The older vendor may not necessarily mean better; at least you know it’s not a fly-by-night business. Also ask for referrals from other users. A vendor that cannot give you this simple request may be hiding something.” – Nestor Gilbert, Call Center CRM Software – How to Choose the Right Fit, Finances Online; Twitter: @Financesonline
- Decide if you need interactive voice response (IVR). “The IVR system feature in call center phone systems is a good choice for businesses that want to automate frequent call center tasks to improve efficiency and save money. IVR speech recognition and speech-to-text features do the heavy lifting ordinarily done by live agents while personalization tools help tailor calls for good customer experience.
“The IVR system feature in a call center phone system is right for:
- Call centers that regularly provide routine information to callers: IVR’s speech recognition and text-to-speech features help customers get basic information about their accounts or orders without waiting on hold for an agent
- Call centers that are understaffed: IVRs personalization tools and tailored messaging allow businesses to deliver personalized service to customers even during periods of understaffing
“Automating common call center task with speech recognition, text-to-speech and personalization tools helps businesses save money on staffing and allows callers to access information on their own, which may improve customer satisfaction.” – Lisa McGreevy, Ultimate Guide to Call Center Software & Phone System Features, Fit Small Business; Twitter: @FitSmallBiz
- Use the software to improve service. “Virtual call center software typically allows the call center manager to run through the call logs at the end of the business day to track the number of calls made by each call center agent. Additional data can include the number of customers handled, and the overall satisfaction rating (if a survey at the end of the call is enabled) of those customers. From a business and branding perspective, virtual call center software also provides your business a more professional appearance. If the customer has to wait before their call is answered, their waiting experience will be perceived as a more professional and pleasant experience.”- Annette Gannon, 7 Tips to Grow Your Business with Virtual Call Center Software, Blitz
- Does the solution feel natural? “Just as you wouldn’t hike in stilettos or wear hiking boots for a formal occasion, your call center software should be appropriately selected according to the specific ways you communicate with your customers. Be aware of your most effective approach, whether inbound, outbound, social, emails, and voicemails. Select your call center software based on the features that are most essential to your business. Trying to manipulate software to do what you need it to do when it’s not designed to accomplish those things is a waste of time and money. For example, an outbound call center focuses on the efficiency and quantity of dialed-out calls. Therefore, a TCPA compliant auto dialer should be prioritized. If your call center handles large volumes of inbound calls, your needs would be completely different. Know what you need and find what fits for your business.” – Lindsay Schluntz, The 5 Features You Absolutely Need for Your Call Center Software, Call Logic; Twitter: @call_logic
- Make sure the solution is scalable (if you need it to be). “While opting for a call center solution, it is important to keep your future business goals. You want a software which will help you move towards that business goal. Moreover, a call center solution which allows you to easily add or remove the number of agents and adjust according to the call volume. You need to know how much autonomy you will have in terms of the configurable features and how much dependency will your organization have on the tech-support team of the call center solution provider. Its preferable to look for a solution which is an enabler rather than a hindrance to the success of your business.” – Mansi Bhatia, Surefire Tips to Choose the Right Call Center Software, Ameyo; Twitter: @AmeyoCIM
Expert Tips for Utilizing Call Center Software
Once you’ve found the right call center software solution, follow these best practices to utilize your software suite to the fullest capabilities while supporting your agents’ workflows and productivity.
- Use the data collected for reps. “In any role, people need to receive feedback about how they’re doing and where they could improve. It’s no different when it comes to delivering on the customer experience.
“Providing employees with timely and relevant customer feedback is the most direct way to engage them in improving CX. Customer feedback helps employees to better understand the customer’s needs and personalize the experience they deliver.
“Customers expect nothing less. When they contact an organization to resolve an issue, they expect the employee they speak with to have the full background on the issue. By connecting your customer feedback to the systems and processes employees already use you can make employees’ lives easier and help them feel empowered to help customers. Plus, you’ll ensure that customer issues are dealt with more effectively, helping to deliver a better experience for customers.” – Elizabeth Kampf, 8 ways to improve Customer Experience (CX) by empowering employees, Qualtrics XM; Twitter: @Qualtrics
- Software can be used for customer experience. “CX professionals need to recognize a fundamental truth: we must speak the language of the business if we want our work to be embraced. It is imperative that we align our work with the business objectives of the organization and frame the discussions we have about insights and action around how they align with those objectives. That means our work with insights users starts with identifying what they are trying to accomplish and determining which insights will help them. For example, the business focus of the head of retail operations for a bank may be to increase customer retention and lifetime value. After some discussion about the current situation and previous feedback, the CX team identifies that the insights that will be most helpful will be ones that help this leader determine how to prioritize in-branch experience improvements and match cross- and up-sell opportunities with the right segments of customers.” – Aimee Lucas, Four Steps for Making Your Customer Insights Users Successful, LinkedIn; Twitter: @Aimee_Lucas
- Call center software should be paired with a good Voice of the Customer solution. “Finding the right VoC platform is crucial if you want to successfully improve your service. One of the biggest failures with VoC campaigns today is not making changes once feedback has been collected. The goal of any program should be providing actionable goals to make necessary adjustments. An effective platform should assist you in doing that, by providing a closed feedback loop system. This ensures that departments respond to customer issues and remain proactive in resolving problems.
“The best VoC technology should also be able to integrate seamlessly. It needs to link customer feedback to sales and operational data, and make results accessible company-wide. Something that happens a lot in businesses today is silos of surveys, information that isn’t shared or assimilated.
“Organizations can now exploit technology to tackle these problems. By choosing a VoC platform that combines surveys, sales, CRM and financial data, they can pioneer a unified approach for better business success.” – Kimberly Holbrook, Why a VOC program is vital to your B2B business, Ian Golding Blog; Twitter: @ijgolding
- Keep customer trends in mind. “Optimizing the customer experience is a great way to get new customers. It’s also one of the best ways of fostering customer loyalty.
“According to Teradata, only 41% of marketing executives are using customer engagement data to inform their marketing strategy.
“Despite this, marketers and other organizational leaders alike are neglecting the customer before and after the sale. The biggest barrier to even beginning is usually the lack of a deep understanding of the customer in the first place.
“Having a comprehensive understanding of your customers is key to achieving core business goals. Whether you’re trying to build (or optimize) the customer experience, create more engaging content or increase sales. Knowing your customers better than they do is key.” – Brad Zomick, 5 Techniques to Help You Truly Understand Your Customers, NeilPatel.com; Twitter: @Brad_Zee
- Be proactive in your call center. “A large retail company used automation to improve the customer experience with proactive outreach. For big-ticket purchases needing delivery, the company used automation to prompt agents to begin outbound calls to customers scheduled for an upcoming delivery.
“This tactic, which enables blended agents to be automatically prompted via the rule to switch between inbound and outbound calls based on service level and agent availability, provided a significant lift in productivity. From the customer’s point of view, it delivered a positive experience, while saving inbound calls to the center.
“An automated platform must have real-time integrations with the ACD and WFM to have immediate access to call queue data to make this dramatic increase in efficiency possible.” – Mary Ann Chandler, Five Unique Ways Call Centers Use Automation to Improve the Customer Experience, ICMI; Twitter: @CallCenterICMI
- Keep things up-to-date. “When creating a transformational customer experience journey, B2B companies should put themselves in the shoes of their customers to see if they are getting an immersive solution that meets their needs, or if the company’s offerings are outdated. An immersive omnichannel experience includes all types of outreach and technology. In order to make it happen, Mohanty says companies often have to include people who aren’t typically part of the buying experience. Involving these people earlier in the process can help companies get a more accurate view of their customers and help create a cohesive experience with everyone on the same page.
“In a digital transformation, the customer experience needs to be customized and in real time.” – Blake Morgan, Digital Transformation For B2B Customer Experiences, Forbes; Twitter: @BlakeMichelleM
- Analytics are the Competitive Advantage. “Companies that still aren’t investing heavily in analytics by 2020 probably won’t be in business in 2021. There is simply far too much valuable customer data to be collected, processed and turned into insights for any company to remain competitive without making full use of modern analytics tools. Flying blind and following your gut are no longer viable options when every other business is leveraging sophisticated analytics tools to identify problems, opportunities, and solutions. That’s why we are seeing a consolidation of analytics capabilities across the tech world, from Salesforce acquiring Tableau, to Microsoft creating its own Power Platform. Every major tech company has already figured out that the future is in data – most specifically, the real-time processing of it – and so, regardless of what industry you’re in, analytics will again be one of the most dominant focal points of digital transformation in 2020.” – Daniel Newman, Top 10 Digital Transformation Trends for 2020, Forbes; Twitter; @danielnewmanUV
- Consider AI-driven solutions to help your reps. “How does AI help customer service agents? First, AI bots take the burden off agents with intelligent, satisfying self-service by resolving routine customer requests. And when a customer wants to talk to an agent, the hand-off is easy. The interaction with the bot is transferred into the agent console so the customers don’t have to repeat what they did with the bot. This reduces agent’s average handle time because all the agent has all the customer interaction history. And first contact resolution is increased because the agent can quickly resolve the issue with the proper information and context. All of this adds up to increased agent job satisfaction and morale by off-loading routine, boring requests to the AI bot.
“Now let’s say a customer wants to talk directly to an agent without interacting with an AI bot. AI prioritizes and classifies cases to help your agents quickly understand what the customer needs to provide a more effective and efficient experience. AI collects information about the customer and the context of their request resulting in a more connected, personalized experience. And AI increases agent productivity with a world-class, omnichannel service experience with full context to customer’s request.” – Natalie Petouhoff, Why Artificial Intelligence is an Agent’s New Best Friend, Dr. Natalie News; Twitter: @drnatalie
- Carve out the budget for software and other improvements. “With roots traced to the late 1950s to 1960s, call centers were initially designed to scale outbound and inbound calls. As time went on, new technologies and behavioral engagement strategies enabled call centers to handle greater volume and responsibilities. Suddenly call centers were the go to model for facilitating all forms of mass engagement ranging from sales to customer service and support to customer retention. As time went on and capabilities expanded, soaring costs and management challenges ultimately made the case for many businesses to contract outsourced call center solutions. To save money and also to ramp up resources quickly, some of the largest outsourced facilities resided outside of the United State in countries where English was a second language at best.” – Brian Solis, The 80s Called, They Want Their Contact Center Back, Brian Solis; Twitter: @briansolis
- Track all of the important call center metrics. “There is also the measurement and metrics piece associated with customer emotion – something that has largely been overlooked by organisations. Indeed, it is little surprise that there has been a dearth of activity around customer emotion as of yet when it is yet to translate into the metrics by which customer service is driven.
“’If we continue to look at effectiveness metrics as part of the overall dashboard that judges whether a contact centre manager is successful or not, with perhaps some ease metrics just starting to emerge too, then that is what they are going to manage,’ says Jacobs. ‘And you know it is possible to be incredibly effective while still being completely tone deaf – so we really need to change the metrics that drive our service organisations.’
“Being able to demonstrate that a contact centre has driven better Net Promoter Scores (NPS) is great – but really only where that contact centre manager is actually being judged on NPS. Because if they are being judged on call handling time, and their 20% improvement in NPS was accompanied by an 11% increase in handle time, it would not be a trade that the manager would be prepared to make. So organisations need to think long and hard about how the emotional component will translate into the performance metrics of their staff.” – Neil Davey, People, process and technology tactics to serve your customers’ emotional needs, My Customer; Twitter: @MyCustomer
- Be careful not to offend with less-than-intuitive automation. “Today’s customer service number typically connects to an endless forest of menu options that increasingly no longer even offers the old standby of ‘talk to a human agent.’ Instead, customers are left to wade through voice menu after voice menu, struggling to find an option that actually aligns with their needs. It is not uncommon to call a company to request a billing error correction, only to find their customer service phone tree offers only the option to disconnect service or read the customer’s bill aloud, without any other option.” – Kalev Leetaru, Could AI Navigate Automated Customer Service Phone Trees For Us?, Forbes; Twitter: @Forbes
- Think about using the cloud to improve security. “Security, like reliability, is an issue of cost. Most of this cost is in software development and operational processes, both of which are either fixed or sublinear with tenants, so that the costs can be amortized over all customers.
“One example of this are certifications – such as PCI or SOC. These certifications are achieved when there is a full suite of operational processes in place, and those processes are followed. It requires an investment in people, training, and tooling in order to achieve these. The certification itself is not important – what is important are the training, processes and tooling that are achieved. Such investments could also be made for on-premises software, but they often are not because of the high costs. In the cloud – once achieved – it works for all tenants.
“Another example is the deployment of complex security software, such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, security operation centers, hardened operating systems, and so on. These are all fixed costs which are often not done on premises, but which can be done by the cloud provider, and once done, the benefits accrue to all tenants.
“Yet another example is denial of service mitigation. These are some of the hardest attacks to prevent, often requiring complex network setups (BGP peering) with third parties to offload and blackhole traffic, along with systems to detect and invoke mitigation of these attacks. Most companies do not make these investments on premises. But, a cloud provider can do it once, and the cost is amortized across all tenants, and all receive the benefit.” – Jonathan Rosenberg, 5 Surprising Reasons Why you Need to Move your Contact Center to the Cloud (and 10 Unsurprising Reasons) Part 3, Five9; Twitter: @Five9
- Manage both tech and human elements well. “Automation and artificial intelligence would collaborate, rather than replace, the human element in contact centre operations. This was the main theme at CCW 2019 (Customer Contact Week), the world’s largest customer contact event, held in Las Vegas, last month.
“One such example is CallMiner. In a presentation at the conference titled “Accelerate Speed to CX Intelligence with AI and Automated Interaction Analytics” it partnered with Sitel to talk about how contact centres can bridge the gap between speech and analysable data.
“The session looked at how by analysing customer conversations–whether they are over the phone, email, chat or social–businesses can unlock the intelligence needed to attract and retain customers.” – Rene Millman, The View from CCW: Humans & AI Team Up to Improve CX, UC Today; Twitter @uctodaynews
What are the most important features you look for in call center software?