What is Call Center Software and Do I Really Need It?

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When you run a call center, there are some things you can’t avoid. Like people. People who call up a bank to ask whether they should have the sweet and sour chicken with white rice or chow mein. (The rep said chow mein and the caller said thanks.) Or the father who laughed and said he lied about his son dying to get out of paying the student loan bills after the rep asked for his son’s death certificate.

call center software

People, you can’t do much about. Technology, however, doesn’t need to get in your way.

The software that runs your virtual call center or contact center should be the opposite of your callers: reliable, predictable, easy-to-understand, and easy to make work correctly.

However, that’s not always the case.

“A contact center previously had been just that, a place that customers could call and get routed to a live representative,” Evan Dobkin, Product Marketing Manager at Zipwire, told me. “Eventually, more channels were added – email, live chat, forums – alongside self-service.”

If your software was built for a time before customers expected to have many ways to get in touch, it may be time to look at upgrading. Over the past five years or so, businesses have started moving away from on-premise call center software and toward cloud-based solutions. Today, less than 30% of solutions in our call center software directory are installed. Nearly three quarters are web-based.

If you think it may be time to upgrade your software, here are some important things to consider before you demo any options:

Questions to ask before buying contact center software

These questions are arranged in the order you’ll want to ask them, not in order of importance.

1. Build or buy?

Like with cloud vs hosted software the answer is almost always to cloud, in the debate between building and buying, the right answer is nearly always to buy, rather than try to build something yourself. It’s going to cost less, it’s going to be easier to update, you can offload hosting, and you can manage with fewer employees when you buy as opposed to build.

2. Budget?

Ask yourself what you are capable of spending and then what you are willing to spend. You need to know how much value you expect the software to bring so you know how much you can spend while still netting a positive ROI.

Doing these calculations early gives you an idea of how picky you’re going to need to be about features. If you’ve got a ton to spend, you don’t have to fret as much about whether live chat functionality is more important to you than a knowledge base. You can afford both! However, that’s not the reality most of us live in. So figure out ahead of time just how much you can spend so you don’t fall in love with every feature and then find out you can’ afford them all.

3. Necessary functionality?

Which features are nice to have and which are non-negotiable? Luckily for buyers, a lot of features can be bought as modules. Still, you need to know which you absolutely must have.

The features you can narrow your results by on Capterra are:

  • Blended Call Center
  • Call Logging
  • Call Recording
  • Call Routing
  • Call Scripting
  • Campaign Management
  • Compliance Management
  • Escalation Management
  • Inbound Call Center
  • IVR / Voice Recognition
  • Knowledge Base
  • Live Chat
  • Manual Dialer
  • Outbound Call Center
  • Predictive Dialer
  • Premise-Based Call Center
  • Progressive Dialer
  • Quality Management
  • Queue Manager
  • Virtual Call Center
  • Workforce Management

Some other functionality you might want could include systems for managing the physical workforce (training, scheduling, etc), back office functionality, reporting, and CRM.

Keep in mind that it might make sense to buy certain functionality in separate software. Maybe you need a separate CRM, for example. Be sure when shopping that you don’t buy two pieces of software that need to integrate, but that don’t play well together.

Speaking of integrations, if you’ve got some software you can’t move away from, be sure your call center software integrates with it.

4. Cool to customize?

How much are you willing to spend on customizing your call center software?

Once you’ve got your must-have and nice-to-have functionality list in place, you need to decide whether you want a “plug and play” software or whether you’re willing to customize. Contact center software packages can be customized to meet your organization’s unique needs, but it costs time, effort, and money.

5. How are you going to learn how to use it?

Some software is easier to learn than others. As well, some vendors make it easier for users. Know what you’re getting into before you pull the trigger. Questions to ask include: How much documentation is there? How much of it is geared toward me and how much is geared toward end users? While you’re in the evaluation phase, ask the vendor to see the documentation.

Is there one-on-one training available? On-site or online? How much does it cost? Are there videos?

What about updates? When the vendor releases a patch or update, will your system download it automatically? Will you receive updated documentation and technical support automatically or will you have to ask for (and possibly pay for) it?

“Patch management is expensive, time consuming, and frequently problematic; according to ICMI. Before buying, “be clear about schedules and technical support for patches.”

6. What happens when you call tech support?

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Chances are pretty low that you’ll never run into an error, whether caused by a user or the software itself. What happens when you reach out to the vendor about a problem? The answer to this question is probably the most important factor in which software to invest in.

When you reach out, you’ll likely need help NOW. Customers may leave if the situation isn’t fixed right quick. The question you want to answer isn’t just, “How helpful is customer support?” More specifically, you want to know whether there are different levels of support on offer, how much they cost, and what you get for each. What are the hours of operation? Do they match yours? What’s their average speed of answer and first-call resolution rate? Do they offer email support, phone support, chat support?

“Ask about escalation times and the vendor’s willingness to negotiate a Service Level Agreement, ICMI advises. “The terms of the contract are not the same as the terms of the SLA. Insist that they define response, resolution and escalation times.”

7. What do their users think?

This is the question that can help answer most of your other questions. People are already using this product. What do they think about it? Do they find it easy to learn? Do they find it easy to use? Is it buggy for them? Is customer support available, efficient, and helpful? Do they feel that updates are frequent enough and not too disruptive? One great way to do this is to read reviews on sites such as Capterra.

Other questions

You definitely want to give the software a test-run before you invest. When you’re using it, ask yourself if it feels user-friendly, intuitive, and efficient. Get input from representatives, but remember that the ultimate goal is to fulfill your end-users’ requirements, not just your agents’.

Conclusion

“Anyone looking into call center software would be best served by doing in-depth evaluations of their business, its needs and goals to scope exactly what types of software would be beneficial and which specific products to select after that,” Dobkin said.

After that, you’ll want to compare options, read reviews, and demo solutions. To do all this and more, check out our call center software category.

Looking for Customer Service software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Customer Service software solutions.

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About the Author

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Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is a former Capterra analyst.

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