I've run modest call centers and could never bring myself to outsource that function. The products we dealt in were somewhat complex, and we didn't think we could train third-party people well enough to handle customer questions and provide reassurance when ordering.
Checking client references is obviously important.
I think one key thing is providing the information resources and training that their CSRs will need to handle orders. Good computerized information may help, as well as a fallback plan for questions they can't answer.
Another issue is capacity - even if your volume is low, one of their other clients might dump a million catalogs in the mail and overwhelm their phone lines. Ask about how they handle situations like that, and ask for phone answering statistics. Number and percent of "abandoned calls" is good to know - these are the people who go into queue and bail out before their call gets answered. This should be very low. The amount of time that their lines are all full would be useful, too - this should happen extremely rarely, if ever, as you don't want your customers to get a busy signal.
I'll use those questions when interviewing the call centers. Any idea of what cost/minute to expect?
I've ran a call center about 4 years ago. Knowing what goes on behind closed doors would immediately tell me to tell you no - do not do it.
Back in 1999, we were getting about $1.50 per order. How complex is the order taking? That would be one thing to take into effect. Usually you will be billed per order / time used. Even the most simple - I'm sorry you will need to contact customer service might end up costing you a dollar. If it is somewhat simple, there are even 800 numbers out there that might be able to handle it.
If you must get a call center - make sure they deal with order taking & not something that they "can do". See if you can call one of their regular customer lines throughout the day - how long are you on hold? I would hope that all call center these days have enough trunks coming into their system to prevent busy signals.
I'm running a pretty small site compared to some others on here. I get about 3 or 4 calls a day on my 800 number.
I use a service called gotvmail. They give me a professional menu system, voicemails delivered to my email, etc.
I made a deal with one of my customers who is in high school that for 25 cents per call, he would take orders, offer support, etc.
It only forwards to his number during certain hours and if he is not there, it will go to my number.
You might try a similar method to this... If you know someone who has 4 hours or so a day just sitting around at home, then set up a deal for like $1 per call or something.
Have you tried the mini-micro call centers in India.The whole thing is automated.You just have to make one phone call and pay everymonth,your orders, payment processing and the like can be done at almost 10% of the normal price to setup.
"I made a deal with one of my customers who is in high school that for 25 cents per call, he would take orders, offer support, etc."
You can't answer a few phone calls a day? I find speaking with customers to be one of the most valuable uses of my time.
I can understand using a call center only if you're swamped with orders/calls.
I still talk to customers on the phone, aim, my forum, other forums, etc. I am just having him help me out with a few calls, and I hope I can have him do more in the future.
Thanks for all of your feedback. I have been tracking average phone time on orders over the last month and it is taking 12 minutes per call (with an expert). My assumption is that a call center would take at least 15-20 minutes (cost of $7-12) per call. Then tack on all of those calls with questions and the cost begins to strangle the margin.
What experience have you had with removing the phone number from the site and routing everything through email? Not what I would prefer, but perhaps an option for a few months...
What's a call center cost for a (very) small business that only gets a few (if any) orders per day?
Bronco, like the person who suggested hiring the kid for 25 cents per call, have you thought about hiring an intern, since it'll be summer. School's out. It may be good experience, and the intern can do more for you than just answer the phone. Don't know your biz, but if there's a learning experience to be had, you could probably go through the local college or even high school. You will have to supervise the kid, though, but usually that's not too much trouble if you start with the intern *before* the baby's born. Just a thought.
Philbish, I use GotVMail too. So far it has been really good. It seems you got quite a deal to get your phones answered for 25 cents a call.
I wanted to ask if anyone is using Pop-up chat on their website for customer service or to track the websurfers on their site. I just looked over the offerings of liveperson.com and you can do a lot with live chat.
You can now engage surfers proactively. Track their entire user session. Push webpages to them to help them navigate your site and track how they were referred to your site, including PPC.
It costs $99 per month, but they have 7 day trial.
I am thinking of trying it out, there is no software and they say it is easy to integrate to a site.
The thing is I am not always at my computer or office during the day. That is why I use the call-forwarding features of GotVmail. I wonder if people would feel less inclined to buy if they tried to do live chat and no one was available?
Worth a try I figure.
Would an automated system suit your needs? That is, could people call in and place their order over the phone via a series of prompts? I'm asking because I know how you could set that up on your existing phone line pretty easily (not selling anything; I'm doing something similar).