The Economics of Call Centers: Navigating Efficiency, Automation, and Workforce Dynamics

Headset with a mic resting on a computer keyboard next to a pen.

Any business that depends on a call centre has to walk a fine line between budgetary concerns and customer results. To keep customers happy, it's necessary to spend enough to maintain a high-performance call centre that doesn't cut any corners with customer service. And to maintain a competitive edge against other businesses, it's important to drive up efficiency and drive down costs to the extent possible.

It's easy to see how those two imperatives are at odds with one another. And businesses of all shapes and sizes have tried everything to thread the needle. They've tried offshoring. They've tried local outsourcing. They've even tried heavily investing in rudimentary interactive voice response (IVR) systems to try and decrease call centre head counts.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of those tactics produce uneven—or outright disastrous—outcomes. As a result, plenty of companies are still searching for the perfect recipe for call centre success. The truth, however, is that the path to call centre success is neither difficult nor secret. Here are three simple tips to help businesses navigate the efficiency, automation, and workforce dynamics challenges of running a call centre.

Unify All Customer Communications

The first step toward a high-performance, low-cost call centre is to start by unifying all aspects of customer communications. This is necessary because of the volume of customer communications that now come through other channels like SMS, social media, Email, chat, and video messaging. The simplest way to do this is to deploy an omnichannel contact center platform. Doing so can help you lower costs by increasing the efficiency with which your customer service team handles customer inquiries. It does that by eliminating the need to have siloed customer service teams handling different communication channels and handing off customers between them. It will also make it possible to lower your company's overall customer service headcount, which will directly impact bottom-line costs.

Invest in AI-Powered Automation

Next, it's important to invest in a handful of AI-powered automation tools to reduce the workload on your customer service agents. This gives them more time to deal with each customer, which will improve results without increasing costs. For starters, it's a good idea to use an AI-powered IVR solution that can help triage customer requests before they reach an agent. The same thing goes for digital channels, with AI-powered chatbots making the perfect front-line customer service agents. In both cases, the use of AI should substantially reduce the incoming call volume your customer service agents have to deal with. That, in turn, should help bolster employee retention by creating a work environment that's much less taxing for your agents. It should also make customers happier, given that 90% of them expect immediate answers from a business when they reach out for support.

Embrace Decentralized Work Styles

Finally, it's a good idea to embrace hybrid and remote work styles within your customer service operations, including your call centres. This accomplishes two things at the same time. First, it decreases facilities costs, which are a key driver of most call centre budgets. And second, it can increase employee satisfaction, retention, and efficiency. In other words, it satisfies both of the imperatives identified earlier. Plus, it opens up a much wider talent pool for your business to consider. For example, a business in an urban centre with relatively high wages could hire talented agents from suburban or rural areas for less money while avoiding offshoring. When combined with decreased facilities costs, this can represent major bottom-line savings without sacrificing—or even improving—customer outcomes.

The Call Centre of the Future

By following the tips detailed here, any business can run a high-performance call centre without investing large sums to do it. In fact, an operation like the one that would result from these concepts is likely to be the model that the majority of businesses will follow in the future. By embracing these changes now, it should be possible to create a significant competitive advantage over less nimble competitors. And, at long last, this model should satisfy the often-contradictory aims of running a call centre that have vexed so many businesses for so long.