Small Call Centers are the forgotten peoples?

If we were only to read the trade press and technology vendor brochures it would be easy for us to conclude that there are no call centers with less than 100 seats. The reason for this is that it is the larger centers that hold more appeal to us …we like to view things on a grand scale. Witness our attraction to blockbuster movies and events. In addition it is with large scale call centers that technology vendors really hit their stride. Regardless of the technology we are speaking about there appears to be one consistency throughout the industry…it costs $200,000 to get into the game you need a minimum of 150 seats to see an ROI within your lifetime. So these two facts; our human desire to see and understand centers on a grand scale and the pure economics of most of the technology vendors mean that very little is written about small centers and very few technology companies target these call centers.

But just how small is a small call center? The answer depends upon who you are speaking with. Many of the industry analysts peg the size anywhere from zero to 200, even 400 seats, but for the purposes of this article I will work with a small center as any center with less than 100 seats and a medium center between 100 and 300 seats. In fact research suggests that 50% of all call centers have less than 30 seats.

The challenges faced by the Small and Medium Call Center (SMCC) operator are in many ways more significant than those faced by their larger brethren. The small center generally has less technology, older technology. It also possesses fewer resources. Often a 35 seat call center has a manager and 1 or 2 leads who are often player/coaches both coaching and working with staff as well as fielding calls themselves. This leaves for the call center manager the tasks of supervising, interviewing, hiring, coaching, monitoring, scheduling, and forecasting in addition to dealing with staff problems and escalated calls. In large center most of the above tasks that fall to our manager in the small center are addressed by department; Human Resources, Quality Assurance, Workforce planning etc. It is perhaps not surprising that in most small call centers the manager is unable to devote the time they would like to each of these task responsibilities.

In the area of technology we also see a lot of challenges for the SMCC operator. While their large call center brethren often possess a plethora of technology tools that the smaller centers simple can’t justify or afford; forecast & workforce planning systems, call logging and recording systems, speech recognition to name a few. The SMCC often only has an ACD and perhaps an auto attendant or IVR system.

Before we despair for the small center operator we should point out that there is one attribute they generally possess in disproportion to their larger siblings…opportunity. As large call center became large they were continually asked by management to ‘pear down’ staff, to ‘improve efficiency’ to ‘reduce overhead’ etc. This exercise took many forms with center consolidation being one of the most common. It directly leads to the acquisition of technology and the establishment of specialized departments to support the large call center. In short the large call center has squeezed improved efficiency from the center repeatedly over the past number of years. Sooner or later there is little left to squeeze from the center without outsourcing the entire task.

The SMCC on the other hand has tended to function in more or less the same way over the same four to five year window and has not realized nor was asked to achieve the efficiencies the larger call centers delivered. This is in fact a great day to be the manager of SMCC and perhaps a better day to be a company who operates SMCC’s. The opportunity orange for a larger center today has been squeezed so often and with increasing pressure in the past few years there is little juice that can be obtained today. The SMCC opportunity orange by comparison is full and plump ready to yield the sweet fruits of success to the savvy operator or manager who can tap this potential.

In future articles we will examine how the SMCC can tap this opportunity and dramatically improve performance, effectiveness and efficiency without creating new departments from whole cloth and without huge investment in technology.

Let us know what you think of this article or any suggestions you have for future issues by email at [email protected].

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