Staffing a Call Center: Common Pitfalls to Avoid

Staffing a call center seems like it should be as easy as hiring a few agents, connecting them to a phone line and letting the calls roll in.

But for anyone who’s tried to staff or manage a call center before, you know it’s a lot more complex than that. Staffing a call center—let alone training and managing it once it’s staffed—comes with a variety of challenges, such as:

  • staffing the appropriate amount of agents to meet fluctuating demands
  • scaling staff up or down throughout the year to meet seasonal call volume changes
  • finding and retaining high-quality talent
  • budgeting for talent, overhead, software and systems to run the call center
  • providing extended hours or 24/7 support for customers
  • ensuring that call center staff have solid communication and language skills for your audience

and the list goes on. So how do you find the right call center staffing model for your organization while avoiding the common pitfalls? In this article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of each call center staffing model, while showing you how to avoid common challenges and choose the best staffing model for your organization and customers.

Call Center Staffing Models

Choosing a call center staffing model depends on your business needs, goals and current call center metrics. Before you can decide which model is best for your organization, it helps to understand the types of models available, and the pros and cons of each.

Outsourcing

Outsourcing is one of the most common call center staffing models. Instead of staffing a full call center in-house, you partner with a call center provider who sources, hires, trains and manages your call center representatives and team.

Outsourcing Pros Outsourcing Cons

easier to staff and scale up or down as needed

may have less control over day-to-day operations

typically more cost-effective

linguistic or cultural barriers can cause communication problems, internally or with customers

easier to offer 24/7 solutions and support

security may be a concern

access to top talent

industry-related knowledge gaps

“hands off” operations to free up your internal team

For many organizations, outsourcing initially becomes enticing because of either the time or resources efficiency. When you’re outsourcing, not only is there usually a cost savings compared with doing things in-house, but there’s also a time savings.

Instead of having in-house teams focused on hiring, training and managing a call center team, you can outsource that work and free up your internal team to work on core projects and initiatives that are best handled in-house.

Outsourcing offers more benefits: it’s easier to scale, making it a clear choice for teams who manage greatly varying demands based on seasonality, new product launches, or otherwise. It also provides more ways to offer top-tier support, whether through access to top talent, expertise in management, best-in-class software and technology, or just an easier way to offer 24/7 customer support.

Many companies fear common pitfalls of outsourcing, including:

  • Poor management or performance
  • Lack of control
  • Linguistic or cultural barriers
  • Communication problems
  • Security or data concerns

However, each of these pitfalls can be avoided with careful preparation and selection of your outsourcing provider. By choosing a provider that has expert agents and managers, you can help ensure that you’ll get consistent management and performance. In addition, there are numerous ways to source providers carefully to avoid other pitfalls. One important thing to keep in mind as you look for an outsourcing partner is the location and type of outsourcing provided.

Types of Outsourcing Models

In general, there are three main types of outsourcing location models: offshoring, onshoring or nearshoring.

Offshoring involves a call center or outsourcing partner that is located somewhere far from the country where your business is headquartered. For US businesses, offshoring usually means hiring a team in India or the Philippines.

Onshoring involves a call center or outsourcing partner located in the same country as where your business is headquartered. This is also referred to as “domestic outsourcing.”

Nearshoring involves a call center or outsourcing partner located in a different, but nearby country to where your business is headquartered. For US companies, this usually means Mexico or Latin America.

While offshoring is generally the cheapest option, it can be subject to a lot of the common pitfalls of outsourcing. After all, a lack of proximity can cause a host of problems, including communication difficulties, security concerns, linguistic and cultural barriers and a lack of control.

However, onshoring is typically the most expensive option. While some organizations may be required to keep all employees and data in the US—thus limited to onshoring options—many organizations don’t have such a requirement and are looking for quality results while still optimizing their budget. This is where nearshoring comes in.

Nearshoring agents are typically more familiar with US culture and language, making it easier for them to connect and communicate with customers. In addition, there’s plenty of high quality employees and expertise, so you can partner with a team of experts while still finding some cost savings.

In-House

An in-house call center is one where you maintain your entire call center–from hiring and managing your team, to software, hardware and operations—in-house. While this can be a straightforward option that gives you full control over your call center, it can also be time-consuming and resource-heavy.

In-House Pros

In-House Cons

full control over day-to-day operations and planning

one of the most expensive call center options

little to no concern with linguistic or cultural background or communication

difficult to scale effectively, can be difficult to find in-house labor for customer service

little to no concern about data privacy or security issues

demanding to manage and implement all call center functions in-house

easier communication with the larger team, since everyone is in-house

challenging or expensive to provide 24/7 support

may be easier to provide in-house teams with product knowledge and brand culture

may be difficult to find agents who speak multiple languages or are skilled in all the channels you need

can be a resource-drain to train and hire in-house staff

While in-house teams give you the benefit of having full control over your customer service teams, that control can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you won’t have as many concerns over linguistic, communication or cultural barriers, but you will have to manage all of the hiring, training and management of your team within your own organization. Not only is it more expensive, it’s a much more resource-heavy requirement.

Given the current US labor market and shortage, many organizations are turning to outsourcing to supplement and scale teams effectively. In addition, with in-house teams, it can be difficult to find the skills you need—especially multilingual skills for companies who operate globally—and to staff 24/7 support.

Of course, sometimes having a team in-house is a must. When that’s the case, there’s a few things that can help overcome some of the challenges:

  • Outsource some of your overnight shifts or more basic call center functions to free up in-house agents to tackle more complex customer concerns.
  • Work with a staffing agency to help scale up or down as needed based on seasonality.
  • Consider purchasing CCaaS (Contact-Center-as-a-Service) software to make use of best-in-class technology without having to pay expensive purchasing and hosting fees.

Remote Staffing

Another way to staff your call center is with remote staff. In 2023, remote work options are improving and only becoming more popular. With remote staffing, agents are technically “in-house,” but they work remotely.

Remote Staffing Pros

Remote Staffing Cons

can be a more effective hiring solution

can be difficult to effectively manage and train remote teams; internal communication requires more effort

more cost-effective way of hosting your call center in-house

team management can be difficult if remote teams are new to you

greater talent pool to choose from

more potential security and data privacy issues compared to in-house

greater coverage availability since time zones will vary across employees

need remote-accessible technology which can be more expensive

more agent satisfaction and lower turnover

While remote staffing can have its challenges, it’s also an effective way to widen your talent pool and save money. According to research from CareerBuilder, open job postings that are remote or hybrid (part-time on-site and part-time remote) received seven times as many applications as those that were completely on-site.

In addition, remote staffing also saves on overhead costs, since employees will work from home and you won’t have to provide office space and so on for them. In addition, with new CCaaS and other remote work technologies becoming widely available, it’s easier than ever to manage a remote call center.

Live Agents vs. Hybrid Models

Finally, there’s the question of staffing live agents only vs. hybrid models to consider. With a hybrid model, live agents are assisted by chatbots, self-service options and other automation or AI tools to reduce call volume for live agents and help them be more efficient and productive.

Using automated or self-service options can make it easier to staff your call center efficiently. For example, you can:

  • reduce the amount of staff needed
  • improve staffing support (which in turn improves agent satisfaction and retention)
  • provide more round-the-clock and instant support for customers
  • make your processes and workflows more efficient

Chatbots are just one type of AI that can help “staff” your call center. When customers chat with a chatbot online or over text messaging, easy questions can be answered without the need for a live agent, reducing staffing needs and freeing up time for agents to work on more complex concerns.

In addition, AI or automation tools can help direct customers more quickly to the appropriate team or agent for effective help, reducing average handle time, wait time and transfers. Self-service options and knowledge bases are another way to provide customers with support without the need for a live agent.

Choosing the Right Call Center Staffing Model For Your Organization

Now that you’re familiar with the different types of call center staffing models, which is best for your organization? Here are six things to consider.

Volume of calls: What will be the best way to handle the volume of calls you typically receive, whether large or small? Organizations who receive consistently large call volumes may have trouble hosting their call center in-house, due to the cost of managing a call center at scale. On the other hand, call centers with extremely low call volume may not want to outsource because they don’t have enough volume to fill a team’s shift. Organizations whose volume varies throughout the year should consider outsourcing, as it’s the most flexible and scalable option.

Location: Is geographic location important to your organization? Consider the common pitfalls of outsourcing to a location far away, as discussed above. At the same time, it’s important to consider whether your call center agents really need to be located in the same city, or even the same country, as your business. In many cases, you can improve your customer service coverage and find high-quality agents at a reduced cost by hiring remote or nearshore employees.

Cost: Of course, cost is always a factor. Consider not just your budget, but the value you’ll be getting for your investment. If you’re outsourcing, you do tend to get what you pay for—however, also keep in mind that the most expensive option may not offer enough value to justify the cost. Weigh all of your options carefully to find the best balance of budget and value for your organization.

Staff turnover: When choosing a call center staffing model, an often overlooked factor is staff turnover. In order to choose the best model for your organization, you need to decide what your strategy will be for maintaining a stable amount of staff for your given call volume. Many organizations turn to outsourcing to handle this, since your outsourcing provider will take care of hiring, training and so on to ensure you have the staff you need. Otherwise, you’ll need to find a secure process for hiring as well as employee satisfaction and retention.

Existing Data: If you are already tracking call data, finding the right staffing model will be easier. You can use data such as average call volume, AHT, target answer time and more to figure out the appropriate number of staff needed at various times of the day, week or year. From there, you can determine how to appropriately staff an in-house call center, or decide to outsource. Call center tools and equations such as the Erlang Calculator will help you use this data to forecast what you need.

Expertise and time: How much can you reasonably handle in-house? Determining this means considering:

  • what experts you have access to, or can reasonably hire
  • the amount of in-house employees you have space and budget for
  • how much time in-house experts can dedicate to managing your call center
  • the amount of time it’ll take to get an in-house call center up and running

While in-house call centers can give you more control in the long run, they’re also extremely time-consuming to get up and running, less flexible and more difficult to scale. Organizations looking to scale up quickly should consider an outsourced call center staff model.

If you’re considering outsourcing your call center for a sustainable, scalable staffing model, reach out to an expert at ROI Solutions. Our team is here to help you provide exceptional customer experiences through world-class call center teams.

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