Setting up a technical support call center goes beyond choosing the right hardware and software (if you choose any at all….more on that later). Most of the work involves determining your needs, evaluating implementation options, and executing a plan that keeps your end users and support personnel happy.

In this guide, we’ll be reviewing the process that IT consultants and support departments can follow when setting up a support hotline.

For this post, we’re going to assume that you’ve already decided to accept support requests by phone and that you’re looking for the best way to approach them. Weighing the pros and cons of telephone support versus other channels is the subject of another article.

Evaluating Support Needs and Capabilities

First, you need to evaluate the needs of your end-users and the technical staff responsible for supporting them. It’s best to assess these two groups separately.

End Users (Customers)

Whether you’re supporting external clients or internal departments, your end users have specific needs and expectations. Before you can set up a call center to accommodate them, you must understand what the call center will be responsible for.

Here are some questions you should ask:

  1. What type of support is required? Will users require in-depth troubleshooting on various subjects or basic support for a small number of recurring issues?

  2. How critical are the support requests? What are your service targets? Do you have service level agreements that require you to respond within 15 minutes, or are you dealing with non-urgent inquiries that can be addressed within 24-48 hours?

  3. When do you need the call center? Are you looking to provide an after-hours help desk that takes over for your office staff, or do you need a 24-hour solution?

Support Personnel

You also need to understand the needs and capabilities of your team. They obviously play an important role in the success of your support center. An effective solution will consider them.

Consider the following:

  1. What personnel do you have available? Do you have a well-rounded team that can support everything that comes your way, or are there experts responsible for specific areas?

  2. When are your support representatives available? Are they comfortable with on-call duties?

  3. Are there any limitations relevant to the setup of your support call center? For example, if your personnel all work offshore and only communicate by email, that will impact how you approach setting up a hotline that handles inbound support calls.

These initial questions will raise others. This phase aims to thoroughly understand the support requirements and personnel that will be involved with the setup of your call center.

Considering Call Center Options

Armed with a better understanding of your needs, it’s time to evaluate the different options available for making your call center a reality. There are two primary approaches: internal and external.

Internal

Setting up an internal call center means you’ll be operating everything on your own, from the technical infrastructure to the personnel.

The upside of an internal support hotline is that you are in complete control. You determine who is taking calls, what technology they’re utilizing, and how the call center integrates with the rest of your operation. You have a lot more flexibility to design a solution that meets your every need.

Going the internal route does have its drawbacks, however. First is the cost. If you anticipate anything beyond a single technician taking calls on his cell phone after hours, you’re going to invest many resources into getting the appropriate technology in place. You also have to worry about the sheer logistics of handling the operation internally: Is there space? Do you have the personnel available to man the phones? Are they forward-facing and comfortable speaking with customers?

External

If getting your support hotline up and running internally sounds too burdensome, there is another option. You can work with a third-party call center to provide telephone support on your behalf.

A downside to outsourcing is that you place a lot of responsibility in the hands of an outside company. Still, if you work with an experienced provider, they should be able to alleviate your concerns.

The benefits of going the external route are numerous. First, it’s far more cost-effective. You usually only pay for the time that’s spent on the phone. No equipment, maintenance costs, employee benefits, or office space is required. Second, they’re skilled at providing telephone support. Speaking to customers over the phone is their specialty.

If you go the external route, it’s important to partner with a call center to provide the level of support you need. At CMS, for example, we provide basic tier 1 support services and live answering for technology companies, but we don’t provide in-depth troubleshooting. So if you are looking for a professional way to answer overnight support calls and dispatch them to the appropriate on-call technician, we could help. If you need a Windows Server expert to work with users directly over the phone, you’d be better off with a different provider.

Sample Scenarios

Let’s review a couple of scenarios that illustrate when the different call center options may make sense.

Scenario #1: A small IT consulting company with six technicians and a hundred small to mid-sized clients

This company runs a general IT consulting practice that fields support inquiries ranging from network downtime to application troubleshooting. They only have a few technicians, and everyone is used to interacting with customers. Most support requests come in during regular business hours, and those that don’t can always wait until the next business day to be addressed.

In a situation like this, working with an external answering service would suffice. Setting up the call center is really about improving customer service and giving callers a courteous operator to speak with when they place a phone call. The service doesn’t need to provide in-depth support and can pass messages to the technicians for future follow-up. In an emergency, the service can follow an on-call dispatching procedure and reach a member of the support team.

The company doesn’t have enough personnel to staff a 24-hour call center by itself, nor would it be cost-effective if they didn’t have a high volume of calls after hours.

Scenario #2: A 24-hour support desk for a Fortune 500 company

This support department has hundreds of reps and already maintains a 24-hour support operation. They rely on email and a help desk application to support users. Requests come in 24/7 from employees around the globe and often require immediate resolution. The department is responsible for supporting several mission-critical proprietary software applications.

Using a full-service external provider could work here, but they would have to train them on their proprietary software. This is unique knowledge that an outsourcing company wouldn’t have.

Setting up an internal hotline makes more sense in this scenario. They already operate 24 hours a day, so staffing isn’t an issue. Their users need help right away, which means a basic service that merely opens tickets or relays messages wouldn’t suffice. Employees expect to get help when they call, and the existing team is the best fit for the job.

Determining Workflow and Executing

Regardless of whether you set up an internal call center or contract with an outside provider, execution is critical. It would help if you perfected your workflow to get the help they need in the most efficient manner possible. Everyone involved with the process should know what to expect and what they are responsible for.

Here is where you figure out the details. What happens with calls that come in at 3 a.m.? How do you determine urgency? When should the on-call technician be contacted? Are users aware of what can and can’t be resolved over the phone?

To make this process easier, compile as many sample scenarios as you can think of and test them against your processes. That will help you spot bottlenecks and holes in your support procedures.

Conclusion

Accepting support requests by phone is more involved than giving customers a number to dial. By understanding your support requirements and the call center options that exist, you can craft a solution that meets the needs of your users and fits comfortably with the rest of your operation.

Are you a support department or IT company looking for an external call center solution? We may be able to help! We answer calls for hundreds of technology support groups nationwide and offer a wide array of customizable call center services. To learn more, request a quote online today.