Call centers have come full circle, mainly because they have helped to redefine and reshape customer service functions for a wide variety of businesses. Due to competition within almost all market sectors, customer service has become a defining business function.

Call centers—sometimes called contact centers—have become a staple of all kinds of businesses, especially those that have a large customer base. Some businesses that rely upon call-center functions are credit card companies, retailers with mail-order catalogs and large-scale banks.

For the most part, call centers are usually in a remote location in relation to an organization’s main base of operations, especially if call center functions are extensive. Some businesses have small-scale call centers within their main offices; in such cases the call center itself is usually confined to an exclusive area.

The premise behind call centers is quite simple; they are designed to serve all aspects of customer service from customer inquiries to telemarketing.

The one-two punch

Regardless of the physical setup, call centers operate off of two parts of an equation, like every other voice and data system: hardware and software. Equally important, they are dependent upon each other for their individual operations and for the operation of the call center itself. Though it would appear that call centers rely heavily upon voice applications, true call-center functionality involves combining voice communication with data access simultaneously.

The hardware associated with call centers essentially mirrors that of any traditional business operation except there are noted increases in both voice and data applications.

Because call centers are heavily dependent upon structured cabling, future-proofing needs to be taken into account during the design phase. Current and projected requirements should be evaluated since, as with any other project, going back to run additional cables can sometimes turn out to be a nightmare. Call centers do not offer much downtime, either, since most customer service functions span various time zones and therefore operate at almost all hours. Scheduling a time for technicians to run cable would be a task itself.

Due to the intricate functions of call-center software, electrical contractors probably would outsource this portion of the work so that they can focus their attention on the hardware.

New rules

From a sales and marketing perspective, it is important to keep in mind that certain types of call centers may be harder to sell these days. The particular types in question are mainly those associated with telemarketing operations. Due to recent legislation and the creation of national and state “do not call” lists, many within the telemarketing industry are finding their markets slowly dwindling. As always, where there is a will there is a way.

Current indicators do not show a slowing down of such operations, despite the hefty $10,000-per-incident fine associated with violating the do not call list. Many telemarketers are continuing to operate as if it were business as usual, perhaps because cracking down on offenders seems to be more of a challenge than initially anticipated. All of this means that electrical contractors need to keep marketing call centers to all potential customers.

Looking ahead

Even with the new legislation in effect, call centers remain a driving force in many markets, since they serve as a clearinghouse for most customer-relations tasks. Even if, in a worst-case scenario, the telemarketing aspect was removed from the total equation, personal customer service response will always be required, especially at such businesses as catalog operations, banking institutions and credit card companies.

Because of this, call centers appear to be here for the long haul and they just keep getting more and more advanced. Perhaps the most significant advance has been call centers turning to VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol), since it helps to seamlessly incorporate both the voice and data sides. It also aids in decreasing operating expenses for the company that proves to be a good selling point in general.

For the majority of contractors, the most important thing to keep in mind is that understanding call centers is important in today’s customer-focused business climate. Since enhanced customer service is all the rage, it is best to keep up with trends such as call centers that actually allow contractors to get a piece of the overall customer-relations pie. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com