When your business has outgrown its standard phone system, understanding how to start a call center improves the customer and agent experience, automates time-consuming business processes, and offers a cost-effective communication solution.
From determining business goals and selecting the right call center software to training employees and continually monitoring agent performance, there’s a lot to consider.
Our step-by-step guide to starting a call center walks you through every phase of the process.
- Step 1: Develop and Set Call Center Goals
- Step 2: Choose Call Center Type
- Step 3: Create A Call Center Budget
- Step 4: Determine Staffing Needs
- Step 5: Select Call Center Software And Equipment
- Step 6: Create Call Center Scripts and Training Materials
- Step 7: Hire and Train Employees
- Step 8: Provide Stellar Customer Service
- Step 9: Consistently Monitor Call Center Performance
Step 1: Develop and Set Call Center Goals
Determine why you want to start your own call center, identify potential business benefits, and set goals the call center will help your company achieve.
Best practices for developing call center goals include:
- Keep Goals Specific: Avoid generalizations like “more sales” or “increased productivity.” Instead, set highly specific, quantifiable goals like, “A 10% increase in sales within the first quarter,” or “Cut average handle time in half by the end of the calendar year.”
- Set Realistic Goals: Ensure goals are realistic, relevant to your overall business plan, and in line with your current phase of business, available staff, customer base size, budget, and desired time frame.
- Divide Goals Into Milestones: Break up the “main goal” into quarterly, monthly, and even weekly “milestones” to stay on track, optimize the goal management process and project timelines, prevent employee burnout, and effectively allocate resources.
- Determine How Goals Are Measured: Create a standardized way to measure and monitor overall goal progress and key factors influencing it. Call center metrics like first call resolution rate, agent talk time, average call volume, call abandonment rate, and average handle time provide quantitative insight into call center activity and agent performance. Feedback from customer surveys and speech analytics offer qualitative data regarding customer satisfaction, agent training materials, and customer experience.
Step 2: Choose Call Center Type
Next, determine which type of call center is the best fit for your business.
The main types of call centers are:
|Call Center Type||Functionality||Best For||Key Features|
|Virtual Call Center||Cloud-based VoIP call center accessible in any location/on any device with a working Internet connection, available for both in-office and fully remote teams||Offers flexibility, scalability, and and advanced VoIP features that benefit all business types and sizes||– Desktop/mobile softphone applications plus integration with existing desk phones
– Managed offsite by the call center service provider
– Call flip to switch between devices during an active call
|Onsite Call Center||Traditional call center hosted onsite by the business using it, calls facilitated via the wired PSTN network||Businesses with existing hardware and equipment they want to continue using, or entirely in-house teams||– Onsite server tied to a singular location
– End user is responsible for installation,maintenance, and hardware costs
|Remote Call Center||Entirely offsite call center powered by international outsourcing||Startups and small businesses that want to avoid paying for a physical office space||– Team collaboration tools and UCaaS features like team chat, web conferencing, and virtual whiteboard
– Remote call forwarding
|Inbound Call Center||Receives incoming calls||Customer service, tech support, order processing, appointment scheduling||– Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
– CRM integrations and screen pops
– Call routing and call queueing
|Outbound Call Center||Places outgoing calls||Sales calls, nonprofit/political campaigning, mass emergency alerts, appointment reminders||– Auto dialer modes (Preview, Progressive, Power, Predictive) to automatically dial phone numbers
– TCPA Compliance and List Management
|Blended Call Center||An inbound/outbound call center||Businesses that have a fairly equal amount of incoming and outgoing calls or peak seasons for specific call types||– Automatically reassigns agents to queues according to real-time call volume
– Contains both inbound and outbound call center features
|Omnichannel Contact Center||Unites voice calling and digital communication channels like chat, SMS, social media messaging, and video conferencing in one omnichannel interface||Large-scale/enterprise-level businesses focused on automating customer service and sales across channels||– Intelligent Routing
– Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVAs)
– Conversational AI
Step 3: Create A Call Center Budget
The total cost of starting a call center business ranges from $2,000 to $25,000 and up, with expenses varying greatly according to call center type, the number of employees, software and hardware, billing structure, and required features (to name a few.)
The most important factors to consider when starting a call center (and their average costs) are:
- Employee Salary: Essential call center job salaries/year include $35,000+ for each call center agent, $75,000 for each in-house IT team employee, and $65,000+ for each. Hourly pay, contracted workers, and remote teams can help cut down on salary costs.
- Office Space: In addition to office space, on-site call centers need space to house on-site servers/equipment. Remote teams avoid the cost of office space entirely, and can rent meeting rooms on an hourly basis when needed.
- Equipment and Hardware: In-house call centers should expect to pay over $5,000 for required hardware like desk phones and servers–plus continued installation and maintenance fees. Cloud call centers require minimal VoIP equipment and allow employees to access the business phone system via their personal smartphones, tablets, laptops, or existing desktop computers–and additional equipment like headsets and VoIP phones are optional.
- Call Center and Business Software: Most call center software ranges from $20-$100+/agent/month, with scalable plans and volume discounts available. However, depending on the provider selected, business owners may also need to purchase CRM software ($20-$40+/user/month), team chat and video tools ($25+/agent/month), and project management systems ($10-$15+/user/month).
- Employee Training and Customer Support: Some basic employee training, like on-demand webinars, may be included with call center software, but custom, in-person training comes with fees. While some level of customer support is included with most call center platforms, priority or 24/7 omnichannel support costs extra.
Step 4: Determine Staffing Needs
Once you’ve set a budget, you’ll be able to calculate the number of employees you can afford to hire–and determine which positions you need to fill.
The most important call center management roles are:
- Call Center Manager: Outlines agent/supervisor roles, evaluates customer expectations and business needs, defines/monitors KPIs to monitor call center activity and agent performance, reports directly to the business owner
- Call Center Supervisor: Trains, monitors, and provides real-time assistance and feedback to agents, implements manager’s performance expectations, reports to the call center manager
- Call Center Agent: Speaks directly to customers, provides customer service and sales support, represents the company to consumers, reports to supervisors
Additional positions like a dedicated IT support team, a website designer, or HR representatives can be filled by part-time on contract-based employees until the budget allows for more full-time hires.
To estimate the number of required employees, evaluate current:
- Call volumes
- Talk time
- Average Handle Time
- Customer self-service options
- Average call wait time
- Average call queue lengths
- Average number of missed/abandoned customer calls
Step 5: Select Call Center Software And Equipment
Selecting the right call center technology is easily the most important aspect of starting a call center, and essentially determines its success or failure. Below, we’ll tell you what to look for in call center software and other Software as a Service (SaaS) tools.
Call Center Software as a Service
Call Center SaaS combines cloud VoIP calling with third-party integrations, analytics and performance monitoring, advanced call management strategies, and automation to streamline workflows, agent tasks, and customer service.
Call center solutions offer tier-based pricing so businesses only pay for features they currently need. These platforms evolve alongside your call center, offering more advanced features as individual add-ons or by scaling up to the next bundled plan tier.
Key call center services features include:
- Call routing, call forwarding, call park, call transfer, call queueing
- Caller ID and call blocking
- User extensions and Direct Inward Dialing (DID)
- Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and Automatic Call Distribution (ACD)
- Call monitoring, call recording and transcription, call whisper, call barge
- Real-time/historical custom and template-based reporting
- Third-party integrations with CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools, video conferencing platforms, project management apps, helpdesk software, etc.
Open Source Call Center Software
Open source call center software is a free alternative to paid platforms, as it is released to the public under a license allowing anyone to modify, use, and distribute it. Open source software lets users build a completely custom call center solution by adding features, channels, and other capabilities a la carte.
While open source software requires at least basic familiarity with coding, developer communities simplify the process by providing lines of code with corresponding installation instructions.
Call Center Hardware and Equipment
Required call center software equipment and hardware depend on if you choose a virtual call center or an in-house option.
In-house call center equipment needs include:
- PBX server
- Phone cables, circuits, phone jacks
- Hard phones
- Desks, office chairs, other office supplies
- Conference room hardware
Remote devices need much less equipment than their in-house counterparts, but still require:
- High-speed Internet access with sufficient bandwidth
- Ethernet cord
- VoIP Gateway
- Backup power supply
- Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA)
Additional equipment, like call center headsets, webcams, and freestanding virtual whiteboards is optional.
Step 6: Create Call Center Scripts and Training Materials
Call center scripts–for both automated IVR menus and live customer service/sales interactions–provide a consistent support experience and ensure agents have all the information they need at their fingertips.
CTI screen pops use speech analytics to automatically pull up relevant agent scripts, though agents can also search the company wiki to locate ideal responses.
Best practices for call center scripts include:
- Focus on brevity
- Avoid company “jargon”
- Mention additional customer support options (website knowledge base, automated chat, mail, online support portal, etc.)
- Ask for customer confirmation of support resolutions
- Opportunities for personalization (client name/account number, etc.)
Next, develop training materials for agents, managers, and supervisors.
Effective call center training materials include:
- Live/pre-recorded training webinars
- In-person call center software training directly from the provider
- Interactive or self-guided presentations with built-in testing
- On-the-job training via call whisper and in-conversation automated agent assistance
- Gamified training materials
- A library of successful customer interactions pulled from past call recordings
Once training is complete, provide agents with a searchable knowledge base, canned responses, agent scripts, and even integrated help desk software to streamline the ticketing process.
Consistent, detailed employee performance reviews/feedback ensure support quality remains high, while effective call routing strategies, frequent team collaboration, automation, and employee recognition keep agent turnover rates low.
Step 7: Hire and Train Employees
Hiring managers should consider applications that highlight not only industry experience, but also a variety of hard and soft call center agent skills.
Essential call center soft skills include:
- Excellent Verbal Communication: Active listening and empathy, ability to rephrase and clarify, identify viable leads and potential customers, make customers feel valued, build long-term relationships with new customers
- Independently Motivated: (Especially important for remote teams) can meet deadlines and create effective schedules, strong problem-solving ability, excellent decision-making skills, access to a distraction-free home office environment, self-discipline
- Effective Team Collaboration: Ability to brainstorm and share business ideas, plan projects, assign/share tasks with coworkers, clear and consistent communication with teammates and between departments
- Ability to Multitask+Transition Between Tasks: Switching between inbound/outbound calls, juggle multiple accounts, pre-call and after-call work, communication across channels and time zones, task prioritization, navigating between applications
Top call center hard skills include:
- Familiarity With Call Center Software: Experience using call center and CCaaS platforms like Nextiva, RingCentral, Genesys, NICE CXone, GoToConnect, Dialpad, Talkdesk, etc.
- Sales and/or Customer Service Experience: Cold calling, tech support, telemarketing, and call center company experience, writing sales pitches/sales scripts, ability to close leads and maintain/manage accounts, customer success management experience, etc.
- Data Entry: Familiarity with CRM systems like Salesforce, HubSpot, Zoho, etc., experience writing detailed call notes/call summaries
Once the hiring process is complete, begin training and onboarding employees using the materials and strategies developed above.
Step 8: Provide Stellar Customer Service
Customers today have sky-high customer service expectations–but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult to meet them.
The following call center best practices will improve the customer experience:
- Provide a variety of self-service options and keep IVR menus short
- Connect clients to the best available agents via call routing, forwarding, and ring groups
- Deploy frequent customer surveys and ask for feedback directly after the call has ended
- Integrate CRM systems to prevent customers from repeating themselves and to keep up-to-date with account activity
- Enable automated callbacks
- Offer an omnichannel experience
- Implement a customer rewards program to increase customer retention rates and upselling
Step 9: Consistently Monitor Call Center Performance
Once business and call center goals are achieved, expect to work constantly to maintain them.
Automatic real-time and historical call center analytics, alongside shareable reports, simplify the process.
Call center managers should set up SLA alerts to be notified when performance levels drop, and should consistently review call center activity for trends in customer and agent behavior.
Managers should also monitor phone calls, coach agents in real-time via call whisper, and review call recordings and transcriptions to evaluate the current quality of customer service and support. Enable real-time call flow editing and scheduling adjustments to instantly respond to sudden changes in call volume.
Consider using Workforce Management and Optimization (WFO) software to access AI-powered analytics, performance gamification, and trend forecasting.
Below we’ve answered the top FAQs related to managing a call center.