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How to Start a Call Center for the First Time

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Whether you’re adding a call center to existing business operations or building a call center as a standalone service to other companies, the process is largely the same.

Start small, iterate, and grow from there. Here’s how to do it, step-by-step.

Step 1: Start with a Remote Call Center

Forget the idea that your new call center needs a brick-and-mortar location. If you already have an existing building for your business and have extra space for your new call center, that’s great. By all means go ahead and use that space.

But if you don’t already have a physical location, you don’t need one to get started.

Whether you call it a “remote” or “virtual” call center, the idea for a new call center is the same. Both operate 100 percent in the cloud, so the call center work can be done anywhere. This means you don’t need a dedicated physical location that can house multiple agents to get started.

Plus your call center business should evolve quickly as you grow. What you need today isn’t what you’ll need six months or a year down the road. As you learn more about running a call center, your needs and goals will change. Maybe you’ll decide to outsource call center services or roll your call center into a larger customer success team.

The point is that the last thing you want to do when you start is lock yourself into a long-term lease for physical space that won’t suit your needs later on. The goal is to stay flexible in the early days. You can always sign that lease in the future.

Step 2: Don’t Hire Anyone Until Your Call Center Tasks Take Up 80% of Your Time

The idea of starting a call center and immediately hiring a bunch of agents is tempting in those early days. But there are a couple reasons to avoid this tactic.

One, it puts you on the fast track to burning through your available cash. Two, you need time to refine your call center strategy and operations to optimize the value of new hires.

The better route is to put your own labor into launching and running the call center for the first few months. You answer the calls and figure out what works and what doesn’t. Take the time to hone your operations and management skills.

This also gives you hands-on experience so you can really understand the day-to-day challenges of doing the work. Understanding the nitty gritty of how a call center works helps you more easily train future agents and scale operations down the road. You can focus on refining your winning strategies and avoid doing things you know don’t work.

Finally, running the actual call center is only half the challenge. You’ll also need to be your own marketing and sales professional. If you’re running a standalone call center, you also need to find, acquire, and retain customers. This is an ongoing process to ensure your call center’s longevity. You need to be good at this, too.

Don’t consider adding a single person to your payroll until you have mastered these skills. When you do, your call center will begin to grow quickly. Wait to hire your first employee until the day-to-day center operations take up nearly all of your day.

Step 3: With Your First Hire, Obsess Over Call Quality

You’ve finally made the leap and hired your first call center agent. Congratulations! These are exciting times.

As you think about how to optimize this new employee’s performance, you may be tempted to leap straight into using traditional call center KPIs to monitor call center performance. Metrics like these are definitely helpful—just not at this stage of your call center’s growth.

Your top priority with onboarding a new agent is helping them deliver excellent quality on every call. How a call is handled can make or break a call center, and becoming a standout call center agent takes time. Help your new agent achieve greatness by sharing your expertise and giving them the tools and resources they need to absolutely nail every single call in terms of quality and customer service.

While your new agent may never be as good as you, the goal is to get them to at least 80 percent of your skill level. Once you’ve got your first agent to that level of success, you’ll know the process to get others there, too.

And once you’ve mastered the skills of successfully recruiting and onboarding a successful call center agent, you’re ready to hire more.

Step 4: Manage the Team Directly Until You Have a Full Team

Your call center team is growing, and you’re inclined to add a supervisor or manager to the mix. Hold off for just a minute.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when you’re first starting out is hiring a senior person before the role is needed. This strategy leads to bloated budgets and kills any of the magic that is naturally generated in the early days of a growing team.

The better approach is to manage your call center team of agents yourself, at least while your team is still small. This has a few direct benefits.

It fosters a sense of camaraderie among the agents who are working together in the early days of building a team. There is nothing like learning and growing together to build a cohesive, close-knit team.

It also gives you direct insight into each individual’s performance and lets you see who on the team is naturally distinguishing themselves as natural managers. You’ll get a good feel for who on the team will excel in a supervisory role.

When it is time to fill a manager role, usually when your team reaches the six to eight agent mark, promoting from within is often the preferred strategy. The team already knows how to work together, you know what you’re getting so there won’t be any surprises, and the team spirit that has hopefully built up over time is maintained.

With a manager in place, you are well-positioned to leverage other call center workforce management tools and strategies to ensure success. It’s also a great time to task the new manager with developing a call center monitoring strategy.

Step 5: Focus on Profitability or Overall Budget

Once you have your full team and manager in place, it’s time to focus on making your call center profitable. It doesn’t make sense to focus on this when you’re still managing things yourself. During that time, costs aren’t fully spread out and financials will be skewed. When you do add a manager, it is much easier to see how overhead costs, including salaries, are directly impacting your bottom line.

This advice doesn’t usually apply if you’re running an in-house call center. In that situation, you’ll more likely be working with a budget approved by senior management. Your focus then is on managing that budget, optimizing team performance, and meeting stakeholder goals.

Either way, you want to dial in profitability before you start thinking about expanding your call center headcount. Operating in the black won’t happen overnight. It may not even happen in the first months or year of operation. It will take a lot of tweaking to get the right balance of income versus expenses. Definitely hold off on moving beyond a single team until you consistently get the return on investment (ROI) you need.

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