Getting the balance right: how to choose the best location for your call centre
Location makes all the difference. Get it right and everyone benefits: your staff, your customers and your business. Get it wrong and it could be an expensive drain on your resources. Helen Murray, from Verint Consulting, sets out the key factors you need to consider when choosing where to site your call centre
WEAK consumer spending, partly as a result of falling house prices, means that itís more important than ever to optimise the performance of your customer service operation. Of course, it makes sense to encourage customers to use self-service channels for more routine interactions. However, at a time when ďgood serviceĒ can have a greater impact on customer loyalty than a superior product or a competitive price, itís the direct, personal interactions that customers have with your agents that can make a real difference.
Thatís why finding the right location for your call centre is so important. The area you choose has to be able to support your demand for the right kind of agents ó now and in the future. Youíve got to make sure the local infrastructure works in your favour. You might be able to take advantage of regional development grants. And you need to decide whether you want to run the call centre as an integral part of your business operations or as a standalone unit. All these issues are likely to have a major impact on your choice of site.
Itís likely that, if youíve found a suitable location, there are other people whoíve made the same decision
Key workforce considerations More than 90 per cent of employers list workforce at the top of their list of location decision factors. The size of the resource pool is obviously important, but the quality of staff is also vital. Without enough agents of the right calibre your call centre is unlikely ever to be successful. Ask yourself what type of agent your business requires. Do you require a technically aware workforce or a customer service orientated resource pool?
Is the age profile important for these kinds of roles?
Some care-line and customer service work, for example, is often better suited to a more mature workforce. For sales-led operations, the reverse is often true. Long opening hours to meet consumer needs may require staff that are happy to work shifts that fit in more with their family commitments. Both are more likely to be found in suburban or more rural areas, while multi-lingual employees are likely to be easier to recruit in more cosmopolitan communities.
In contrast, short-term inbound and outbound campaigns may depend on the supply of transient labour readily available in cities or university towns. All of these questions need to be addressed before choosing an appropriate location.
"Ask if the site is near a golf course!"
External pressures Clearly, the recruitment and training of staff -- and replacement staff -- is a major challenge for call centres suffering high levels of attrition, both in terms of identifiable costs and the less tangible, but arguably more serious, damage to the brand arising from erratic service quality.
Because of this, give careful consideration to the external pressures that your centre will face and the impact this could have on agent attrition. Itís likely that, if youíve found a suitable location, there are other people whoíve made the same decision. Has the area reached saturation? If it has, youíll be likely to encounter high staff turnover or be forced to increase pay, on an ongoing basis, to maintain a loyal workforce.
All other things being equal (such as salary, longer-term career development opportunities within the organisation, working conditions and so on), it should be easier to retain staff in areas where there is less competition from other employment. When, for example, we looked at the issue of pricing in outsourced contact centres, we found a clear link between geographical region, attrition levels and hourly call centre costs. Operating in areas of low attrition can have an important impact on your overall costs.
Given that the annual cost of attrition -- for further recruitment and training -- averages over £2,000 per agent, this is an issue that you canít afford to overlook. And donít forget, too, that that figure doesnít take into account the damage to your brand and business that occurs when the level of agent experience and quality declines.
Finding the right building As the call industry has matured, the design of the working environment has evolved greatly. With practical constraints imposed by the need to flexibly accommodate the necessary (and frequently changing) IT, systems and communications infrastructure, it is also widely recognised that considerable efficiencies can be achieved when staff work in well-designed environments. They also enhance the morale and commitment of staff and thereby contributing to staff retention.
Consider whether itís better for you to build from new or to acquire and lease an existing call centre which may need to be refurbished. Thereís more flexibility in the former, allowing you to create an environment whose exact specifications match your needs. However, an existing building may well be cheaper and available more quickly.
Remember to factor in all applicable costs to decide on the most appropriate, including (but not limited to) property costs, service charges, business rates and utility bills.
Investigate fully the cost of your telecoms and data links. You need to ensure, of course, that your chosen site is fit for purpose with all the relevant cabling and infrastructure in place to cope with your current and future technology plans. Your anticipated data bandwidth usage, now and for the future, should be calculated to allow you to form a lowest leased line cost comparison
City centre or out-of-town business park? You should also decide whether youíre looking for a city centre or business park location.
Business parks have their advantages, including car parks, purpose built buildings, etc. However, they can be depressing for those who must work in them and this can have an impact on attrition. City centres can offer more variety for agents during lunch breaks or more opportunities for after work social events, but obviously have their own drawbacks, most frequently, cost.
Quality of life is also becoming an increasingly significant factor for agents, so youíve also got to make sure that your centre itself -- or the nearby surroundings -- offers some leisure facilities, or easy access to local services such as childcare, shopping, gyms, cinemas, pubs and bars.
Drive the route across your anticipated catchment area to the centre to see what your agents will have to experience
People and travel While people are probably the most crucial factor in your location decision -- and the one most frequently underestimated -- assessing whether the availability and quality of the recruitment pool available to the centre within a reasonable travel time is also essential.
You should definitely check that the travel infrastructure is acceptable too. Drive the route across your anticipated catchment area to the centre yourself -- in rush hour if need be -- to see what your agents will have to experience.
How do you expect your agents to travel to work? Will you be expecting most of them to drive? Are there convenient bus routes? Will some agents be able to cycle or walk to work?
Certainly in todayís increasingly Green business environment, you shouldnít be basing your planning on the assumption that all your agents will be driving -- particularly with increased road fund taxes and fuel costs.
Unless the right travel infrastructure is in place you may find yourself with a lot of expensive but empty seats. Your chosen location must have adequate road and rail links and, for those agents that choose to travel by car, there should be enough car parking spaces. This is one of the main causes of complaint among agents and why a car parking space regularly finds itself as top prize in agent competitions or reward programmes.
On a micro scale, local transport is clearly important. The recruitment pool can be increased over a wider geographical area if your centre is near a station, or is able to offer subsidised or free transport. Transport is particularly important if the recruitment pool is widely dispersed, for example in rural areas, or at the edge of a conurbation.
"Drive the route to see what your agents will have to experience"
Getting the commercials right Finding the right staff and building, and assessing your chosen infrastructure are important, but you also need to make sure youíre making the most of your commercial opportunities. High on many checklists is financial assistance in the form of regional development grants. These can cover capital costs and include staff training allowances.
However, you do need to examine the terms and conditions carefully. What is the maximum public financial assistance allowed? What are your responsibilities that must be fulfilled to ensure that youíre eligible for the correct amount? In addition, subsidies arenít as readily available as they used to be. Often they are aimed at areas where the resource pools are more widely spread, so the benefits might not be as attractive as you think.
You should probably view any grants as a bonus rather than a decisive factor; see them as temporary and do not rely on them to aid future expansion.
Do your homework! Inappropriate location decisions almost always stem from inadequate research in the initial stages. Stick to a robust selection process that identifies and prioritises the important criteria youíve identified for your site. Use it to score the locations and sites you visit.
Without this you will find it difficult to remember all the relevant information about each location and impossible to make an accurate comparison of their strengths and weaknesses
To undertake research properly requires investment in resource and time but, as the final outcome will be a decision that could cost the company millions of pounds, do not skimp this step Also often overlooked is assembling decision making team. Choosing a call centre location should involve individuals with experience and responsibility in areas such as HR, operations, finance and technology.
By spending the time and effort to research your location choices in depth, and taking care to avoid each of the pitfalls Iíve outlined, you can be sure youíll find the optimum location for your centre. But itís a big decision. Instead of losing sleep over it, make sure you plan well and get all the advice you need.
Helen Murray is director of consulting at Verint Consulting, a leading customer management consultancy, which is part of Verint Systems Inc. Ms Murray has worked in the services and ICT industry for 16 years and earlier in her career managed the global customer service and technical support teams for BT Global Services.
In 1999 she moved into the call centre area, working with suppliers such as Avaya, Nortel, Verint, Cisco, Aspect and Genesys and in 2004 she was appointed head of outsourced contact centre business for BT.
She has a strong and solid perspective and understanding of the client, operations vendor and infrastructure supplier -- with rare insight into all their opportunities and issues. In January 2005, Ms Murray was a founder partner of Velociti, a South African based company, servicing the BPO and call centre markets internationally. She subsequently took on an associate role with CM Insight (now Verint Consulting) before being appointed to head Verint Consultingís operations and developments across Europe.
Contact Ms Murray at: email@example.com; www.verintconsulting.com