How to start a call centre

If you're a hard worker with impeccable customer service skills, then setting up a call centre is a very accessible business opportunity - here's what you need to know

The steps to follow when setting up a call centre:


Starting a call centre gives you the chance to get involved in a huge variety of sectors. What’s more, the potential client base is huge, with almost every business able to benefit from outsourcing sales or telemarketing.

They can provide both business-to-business (B2B), or business-to-consumer (B2C) services, often acting as a third party for a client business, who can benefit from outsourcing the time and resource-heavy responsibility of making and receiving calls to a better-equipped unit.

Your call centre could offer this service to large commercial clients or smaller clients who don’t have the resources to do it themselves.

Beyond being a hard worker with excellent customer service skills, starting a call centre is a relatively accessible profession. You just need the right equipment and a committed team behind you.

What can your call centre do for its clients?

  • Free up time for other teams to be more productive and effective
  • Improve revenue, manage sales and telemarketing efforts

  • Types of call centre

    Call centres encompass a wide variety of organisations and departments.


    Useful links:
    It may be worth considering seeing if you can get a Start Up Loan (external partner site, link opens in a new tab) to help you with financing, and mentoring to start this business idea.

    You'll also need to think about registering your business, either as a sole trader or as a company - if a company, then Smarta Formations (external partner site, link opens in a new tab) are an organisation that can help you set up.


    The type of call centre you set up will depend on your objectives or the clients you want to target.

    Generally, you’re either going to be a call centre taking inbound or outbound calls:

    • Inbound call centre – an inbound call centre will predominantly handle calls that are initiated by the customer. These calls will usually be for the purposes of customer service
    • Outbound call centre – in an outbound call centre, the call centre agent or employee will make calls to a customer. This will typically be for the purposes of telemarketing, sales, surveys or fundraising. These calls could be cold calls (an unsolicited call to a potential client or customer who has not expressed an interest in your service) or warm calls (a call to someone whom you’ve had prior contact with and has expressed an interest in your service)

    Pay per lead telemarketing

    Pay per lead telemarketing is a form of affiliate marketing where a third party (the call centre) calls out to potential customers to generate leads for a client. Leads is just another name for a potential customer who has expressed an interest in the kinds of product or service you’re selling.

    Whilst it can involve cold calling, most of the calls made in pay per lead telemarketing are warm leads, ensuring the recipient is receptive to the call and a high number of calls are successful.

    Outsourcing the lead generation stage can take away a lot of the hassle for smaller businesses who don’t have the time or resources to do it themselves.

    What is telemarketing appointment setting?

    Telemarketing appointment setting involves arranging for the team selling the product or service to meet with the client that is intending to buy that service.

    This allows the team to demonstrate a complicated product to a potential customer in person therefore increasing the chances of a sale.

    This is often outsourced to a call centre to save time for the sales team.

    Find out more about small business telemarketing here.


    How much do call centres make?

    Different types of call centres generate revenue in different ways.

    A call centre contracted to generate sales will make their money off commission from successful sales.

    Alternatively, if your call centre is handling the customer service side of an organisation, your business and your agents may be paid an hourly rate to field any inbound calls.

    As an outsourced call centre, you will agree with a client on a compensation model before you sign a contract. Below, we look at the different models you could opt for:

    • Hourly rate – this just involves the client paying agents at the call centre an hourly rate for their service. This will vary depending on the complexity of the call and the level of skill or knowledge required
    • Hourly rate + commission – agents are paid commission on top of their hourly rate as an incentive. The client and the call centre will agree on a fair percentage
    • Pay for performance – used for large proven programmes, this compensates employees based on the quality of their performance
    • Pay per minute – agents are paid based on the minutes they are engaged with a customer

    Call centre equipment costs

    Getting the right equipment is essential to a smooth-running and successful call centre.

    But with the dizzying array of equipment you could buy and install, it can be difficult to know what you should get for your call centre.

    We asked MVF Global call centre supervisor Craig Sample what equipment you need for an effective call centre.

    Headsets

    Quality headsets are essential for an active and efficient call centre. Your agents don’t want to have to spend their time picking up and putting down a phone. They also leave two hands free for typing.

    Headsets range in price and functionality to suit different budgets and needs.

    Sample says MVF Global uses the Senheiser SC 660: “We ran tests with a number of them earlier in the year and these scored the highest from the team for qualifier in terms of the quality of the sound. Our quality assurance team also said the calls sounded better for these as well when listening back.”

    Here is a range of popular call centre headsets:

    Headsets Features Cost
    Plantronics Blackwire C325 USB
  • USB or 3.5mm connectivity
  • Noise-cancelling wideband audio
  • Inline controls to answer/ end calls, volume control and mute
  • Noise-cancelling microphone to filter out background sound
  • £34 – £54
    Jabra BIZ 2400 Mono II
  • Single ear professional use headset
  • Connects to a PC and can be used to stream music/sound and for voice calls
  • Works with traditional desk phones, Wi-Fi phones, DECT phones
  • Can be worn over-the-head, over-the-ear, behind-the-neck
  • Air shock microphone
  • £99 – £122
    Logitech H820e Dual
  • Double-ear (dual) or single-ear (mono) wireless options
  • Intuitive on-ear call control
  • Up to 10 hours of wideband talk time, 100 metre wireless range and optimised for Microsoft Lync
  • Auto pair by docking
  • £65 – £110
    Senheiser SC 660
  • Optimised for Microsoft Lync
  • Integrated call control and USB connector
  • Sennheiser HD voice clarity – wideband sound
  • Ultra noise cancelling microphone
  • Sound-enhancement profiles
  • High-quality neodymium speaker for HD audio quality
  • £156

    You may also need headset lockers, says Sample: “Depending on the nature of the work some call centres have a clear desk policy so the agents will need somewhere to keep their stuff.  We give our agents their own headsets so have lockers for them to keep them here.”

    Laptops

    A robust and full-featured office laptop will suffice for your agents. As long as it’s a relatively new model that’s capable of running the software your agents need to carry out their role.

    Cost: refurbished Dell laptops can be picked up for as little as £150.

    Secondary monitors

    “If the agents are accessing multiple systems at once, it’s vital to have a secondary monitor” to increase productivity and performance explains Sample.

    Cost: LED monitors can be bought for around £60.

    A strong internet connection

    Sample says that “if you’re using a VOIP system, the high volumes of calls you’ll receive at once require a lot of bandwidth”. Some providers provide tailored business packages with high-speed and high-bandwidth broadband.

    Cost: A comparison site can help you find a good deal on your business broadband.

    Acoustic panelling

    Covering available wall surface inside your call centre with acoustic panelling can help to absorb the ambient noise which can affect agent/ customer conversations.

    “At times, call centres can get really noisy so these can help people hear the customers”, says Sample.

    Cost: From around £60 per square metre.

    TV screens

    “These can help to keep the team updated on call volumes and performance”, explains Sample, which improves productivity and motivates agents.

    Cost: Anything from £200 to £1,000+

    Call centre phone systems

    A good call centre phone system helps your agents carry out their job effectively and efficiently. There are a number of providers that offer tailored phone system solutions for call centres of all sizes.

    The type of system you need could depend on the size of your operation and the number of users your system needs to be able to handle.

    Most modern call centres use some form of internet-enabled phone system to handle the large volume of calls going into and out of a call centre. The two main types are:

    • PBX telephone system – Private Bank Exchange (PBX) telephone systems use a private network within a company allowing for external and internal communication. These systems do require more hardware than VoIP. One advantage of PBX is that, as it uses the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), it could still make calls in the event of a power outage
    • VoIP telephone system – Voice over Internet Protocol phones use the internet to make and receive calls. Using this technology means the only hardware you need is a desktop phone for each user
    • Cloud-based VoIP system – cloud-based telephone systems don’t require any hardware at all as the whole system is hosted and maintained in the cloud

    Below are some of the best providers of telephone systems for small businesses:

    8×8

    8×8 provides a complete virtual contact centre, which combines everything you could need in a single solution including:

    • Contact centre analytics – provides actionable business insights into contact centre performance displayed on a graphical dashboard
    • Quality management – this speeds up agent onboarding with training and can resolve agent performance issues
    • Workforce management – improves contact centre efficiency with scheduling, forecasting and reporting
    • Agent console – helps agents manage their customer interactions
    • Agent supervisor tools – enables you to oversee your call centre agents with call recording and performance tracking
    • CRM Integration – helps agents access vital customer information and spot new opportunities

    Cisco

    Cisco Unified Contact Centre Enterprise is a solution for call centres with features that enable you to improve your customer journey.

    These features include:

    • Match contacts to resources – this directs customers to the best resource for their needs so they can be dealt with promptly and correctly
    • Comprehensive management portal – a web-based desktop that helps agents manage customer interactions by providing essential information
    • APIs for integration – enables integration of inbound and outbound voice and internet applications such as real-time chat, web collaboration, email, and social media

    The Cisco Unified Contact Centre can host anything from just a handful of agents right up to 12,000 agents.

    NFON

    NFON is a German company that provides cloud telephone systems to UK businesses.

    The solution is available on a 30-day rolling contract that can be cancelled at any time.

    It has a multitude of features for call centres including:

    • Call forwarding
    • Call management
    • Voicemail
    • Speed dialling
    • Queues
    • Voice encryption

    Read more: the best phone systems for small business


    Compare phone systems

    A quality phone system is essential for an effective call centre.

    If you want your agents to be top performers, consider getting quotes now.

     


    Call centre software

    “A telephony system is obviously essential”, according to Sample, “but in addition to making calls, reporting helps analyse performance and where there are wins to be made.”

    He advises getting the following three types of software:

    Workforce management software

    “We align our shift patterns to our busiest times of the day to ensure everybody is contacted promptly and minimise any idle time.”

    Workforce management software is great for managing a large number of call centre workers who are paid on an hourly basis.

    Workplace management software providers

    • BambooHR
    • Sage
    • ClearCompany HRM
    • Aspect

    Quality assurance/call recording software

    “In order to be compliant and follow up on anything, we need to ensure that all calls are recorded and also have somewhere to store all of the feedback.”

    Call recording can help you ensure consistent quality of calls from all your agents. It can also be used in training and as evidence in any possible dispute.

    Call recording software providers:

    • CallRail
    • Oreka TR
    • PhoneWagon
    • RingCentral Automatic Call Recording

    Data analytics software

    “Ideally something that can marry the data about calls, resourcing and quality assurance so this can be made into dashboards keeping all the information in one place.  This makes it easier to see how everything is working together and also share performance data with your team.”

    Data analytics software providers:

    • Zendesk
    • Connnex One
    • Salesforce

    Getting clients for your call centre

    As a new call centre in a crowded market, you’re going to have to use some grit and gumption to build your initial client base.

    One of the best ways to secure clients for your call centre is to carve out a particular niche that no one else is offering (or just to do what everyone else is doing better than they are).

    You could also target smaller businesses that don’t have the necessary infrastructure for a call centre, the people power to staff one, or the finance/ resources to invest in those things.

    Your pitch to these businesses should explain what exactly you can offer them and what the pricing structure will be. Make a case for why they should outsource to you and not choose to handle calls internally or use a different call centre.

    There are online B2B portals for matching clients with call centres depending on their needs. About Match is one such UK-based service. You can apply to be featured on the platform to be vetted and matched with screened suppliers. It’s free for call centres as suppliers pay the fee for a successful match.

    Getting staff for your call centre

    Unless you’re working for a client that requires specific expertise, being a call centre agent has a relatively low barrier to entry.

    Candidates just need to have:

    • General literacy, numeracy and IT skills
    • Customer service skills
    • Clear communication
    • The ability to work under pressure

    Sample explains how he maintains a consistent level of service: “We make sure that everybody is trained correctly in the first place to have great conversations and can access this information at any time should they need to refer back to it on a call. If everybody starts equipped with knowledge of what the best calls sound like then it’s much easier to recreate.

    “We also have a quality assurance (QA) team that will monitor a percentage of calls to ensure the team are following the process and are given feedback on a regular basis. Depending on their QA score for the month, an agent’s bonus may be adjusted by 20% depending on how high (or low) their score is.

    “We also celebrate our top QA performers every month with the rest of the team. Too often QA is seen as a negative thing, but in reality it’s a tool to help everybody keep getting better.”

    Paying your call centre staff

    According to the government’s National Careers Service, the average starting salary for a call centre operator is between £13,500 and £16,000. This can rise all the way up to £28,000 for highly experienced staff.

    Think carefully about what kind of businesses you’ll be targeting as this will inform everything from the equipment you need to the pricing structure you decide on.


    Follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to starting your own successful call centre. The equipment should be fairly easy to maintain and you can follow the above links to find and compare telephone systems for call centres. Lead by example with established standards of practice for your team – the better they perform, the happier your clients will be and the more work you’ll receive.