The call center industry plays a vital role in facilitating commerce and communication across the United States, as well as the world. Call centers are highly desired businesses for many states and municipalities. Unlike manufacturing, they have little negative environmental impact; they are an ideal “green” business.
Call centers are also most conducive to telecommuting, allowing agents to work from home – or anywhere there is high speed Internet access – saving on travel time and expense, as well as keeping cars off the road.
Given this flexibility, call centers can often continue to function during natural disasters or health pandemics. Most call centers provide competitive compensation and nice benefits to their employees and many offer bonuses and other sought-after perks. People often prefer call center work for its variety (no two calls are the same), flexible hours, training opportunities, and advancement potential. It is ideal for those who enjoy helping others, as each call presents an opportunity to do just that. Many a call center agent has made the call center a life-long and satisfying career, advancing through the ranks, earning a good living, and enjoying challenging and rewarding work.
Call Centers Defined
By definition, a call center is a centralized place where calls are answered. However, call centers no longer handle solely calls, nor do they need to be centralized. Sometimes the label of “contact center” is used instead, reflecting that other forms of communication (such as email and text chat) are also handled. Additionally, call centers can encompass multiple locations, working together on one integrated system. In fact, call center agents are even able to log in from their home and process calls remotely.
Call Center Types
Call centers can be “in-house” or “outsourcing.” In-house call centers function as a department within a business and provide service to that organization. An outsourcing call center is a business that expressly provides call center services to other companies. There are arguably 50 to 100,000 call centers in the United States. Of these, roughly 90 to 95 percent are in-house call centers.
Offshoring or Not
A trend has been to move call center activity to other countries that boast stable technological infrastructures and offer qualified workers who possess lower wage expectations. This is typically referred to as offshoring and is too often incorrectly called outsourcing. The majority of U.S. call center outsourcing is, and will continue to be, to U.S.-based call centers. Recently, many companies have moved some or all of their offshore call center work back to the U.S. This has been in response to customer frustration, to improve customer service, and because anticipated savings from being offshore often to not materialize.
Inbound or Outbound
Another important distinction is that call centers can handle inbound calls, outbound calls, or both. Inbound call centers are reactive in nature; they respond to calls when they occur. Most call centers today handle incoming calls; they do not make telemarketing calls. Outgoing call centers are proactive in nature, placing calls to specific businesses or individuals at certain times, in compliance with state and federal laws. Though seemingly similar in nature, inbound and outbound centers have very distinct and dynamic differences.
Do Not Call
Outbound calling, which is sometimes called “telemarketing” has dropped off considerably in recent years. With the formation of the “Do Not Call” (DNC) list in 2003, consumers have been able to remove themselves from receiving most types of outbound calls. All viable and professional call centers are in full compliance with the DNC regulations and some go beyond what is required.
The preceding descriptions of call center work all involves people talking to people. Another aspect is automated calling, often referred to as “robo calls.” There are limits placed on robo calls, but not enough as far as most consumers are concerned.
Prerecorded marketing calls (robo calls) to consumers require written authorization if they are to be made legally. Even having an existing business relationship does not negate the need to obtain prior approval in writing. Calls of an informational nature are not affected, as are most nonprofits.
Sadly, the politicians who made the laws restricting robo calls, opted to exempt themselves from the regulations. This means that come each election, most people are deluged with political robo calls. Don’t blame the call centers for robo – blame the politicians!