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Guiding the Conversation Around a New Call Center


Image illustrating decision support
Image: IRStone -
As a telecom leader in my organization, I’m sometimes approached by the business to provide cost estimates for call centers. More often than not, the requestor expects me to provide an estimate based on a five- to 10-minute conversation or a short paragraph of “requirements.”
Typically, these directors and VPs are in a hurry and expect a quick turnaround without further conversations. On occasion, I’ve even found a few who have painted themselves into a corner by having made promises to customers prior to reaching out to me.
We know that it’s ludicrous and even irresponsible to attempt an estimate of costs based on a single conversation or an email. Conversations must run deeper and documentation be richer, with diagrams, workflows, call flow maps, and all requirements fully understood. These are best captured in a business requirement document (BRD), with the most helpful portion of a BRD being the functional requirement document (FRD). In a perfect world, the business would provide this to me ahead of our meetings, but we aren’t there yet.
As the voice services manager, I can’t hold the hands of VPs, directors, and managers in drafting the BRD. But, I can help them understand the difference between business and functional requirements, and coach them through the process of documenting the latter.
A business requirement describes the needs of the business such as a process, information (data or intellectual property), or factors and rules. These compare to functional requirements such as CRM screen pops on client inbound calls, auto-callback (caller maintains place in line), and speech-to-text transcription.
While no two business needs are the same, I approach these conversations using a methodical process that allows details to bubble up as we jointly work through the many moving parts. My company isn’t in the business of call centers, so our needs to date have been relatively vanilla.
Below are a few questions and discussion points I use to foster call center conversations with the business. I let the river run its course and take its own shape.
Executive Highlights
  • Will the call center be geographically diverse? If so, how many locations?
  • What reports would you like management to have? Customers should have the ability to …?
  • How many customers/clients/vendors will you need to support?
  • How many agents?
  • Will any agents work from home?
  • PCI compliance, AT101
  • Call recording (legal requirements vary by state)
  • GDPR or CCPA requirements
  • Encryption for calls, voicemail, call recordings, etc.
  • Storage retention
Systems Integration
  • Salesforce
  • Other systems
  • Would you like to allow click-to-dial?
  • Headsets
Business Continuity — What are the hours of operation, and will they vary by geographic region?
Describe the desired business continuity program for the following scenarios:
  • Telephone outage at a single location where call agents are staffed
  • Telephone outage at multiple locations where call agents are staffed
  • Internet outage, but telephones work
  • Employees cannot get to work (i.e., blizzard)
  • Will agents use softphones?
  • Will softphones be on the company network/VPN?
  • Will softphones be on the Internet?
  • Will softphones be permitted on personal computers?
  • Will telephones be shared among shift workers (hoteling)?
  • Will calls be forwarded to cellphones?
  • Inbound and outbound call volumes, in percentages
  • Days and hours of operation
  • Peak days, hours, seasons (taxes, holidays, summer vacations, etc.)
  • Average call duration
  • Availability and use of toll-free numbers, including countries from which they would originate
  • Who will be calling (customers, vendors, internal, etc.), and why?
  • How will agents make outbound calls (click-to-dial, physical phone)?
  • For inbound calls, do all calls need to be answered immediately, or can the caller be automatically placed in a queue to wait for the next available agent? If a queue is acceptable, what is the acceptable maximum length of waiting time? What should happen if that time is exceeded (transfer to voicemail, transfer to another phone number, drop, or play a message)?
  • Who monitors the health of the voice traffic?
  • How do you know if clients are waiting too long or get dropped? How would you like to see this handled in the new system?
  • How many different call centers are desired?
  • Are inbound calls for customer/vendor A routed differently than inbound calls for customer/vendor B?
  • What process do you have in place to anticipate agent staff size?
  • What sort of agent orientation and training programs are in place? Will a classroom environment be needed for training?
Call flow
Describe a typical call flow and the decision tree along the path. Here’s an example:
  1. Client dials toll-free number
  2. Toll-free number points to 555-555-5555
  3. Number comes into call center queue
  4. All agents are busy
  5. Client hears a comfort message that says, “Your call is important to us, please wait….”
  6. The next available agent takes the call. After talking to the client, the agent realizes that the client should have called a different customer service number. The agent then transfers the call to the appropriate person.
  • What are the key performance indicators that are important to call handling?
  • How do you hope to measure these?
  • How frequently will they be measured?
  • Who is responsible for this?
  • What reports do you want, and what data points would you need in each?
Feature Requirements — List all features needed for the new call center. If you are unsure of the name of the feature, just describe in plain terms. Consider:
  • Users
  • Agents
  • Call center managers
  • Call queue
  • Comfort message for client while in queue
  • Alerts to tell us if a client is on hold for more than X minutes.
  • Alerts to tell us if X or more clients are on hold.
  • Auto-callback
  • Busy lamp indicator
  • Voicemail with voice to text
  • Call monitor (call center manager can listen to agent and client for training purposes)
  • Call recording (usually a separate system and adds to the cost)
  • Softphone
  • Click to dial (sometimes a separate system and sometimes adds to the cost)
Responsibilities — List all staff positions in each call center and their responsibilities. Include geographic information if this applies.
Support — Within the call center, who can open tickets to address new requests or break/fix issues?
General operations — Within the call center, how are basic questions (how to) and minor technical issues addressed?
Growth and pullback — Our company has landed (or lost) a large contract and we need to accommodate the customer’s requirements. This will affect new staff, phones, call center queue, and call volume reports.
Describe your expected turnaround times, how IT will be engaged, and who will engage IT.
Project Management
  • Describe your expectations of the voice services department during the lifecycle of the project implementation up to go-live.
  • Describe your expectation of the voice services department after the go-live date.
  • Describe your expectation of field IT support after the go-live date.
  • List all individuals (or positions) you anticipate will be involved in the implementation of this project and the amount of time you expect to be focused on this project. For example:
Chart showing  who would be involved in a contact center implementation
Items such as workflow diagrams, decision maps, call flow scripts, hours of operations, contingency plans, training plans, SMEs, KPIs, reports, and many more should be fully vetted very early in the project. The repercussions of skipping these items will mean change orders, scope creep, and cost increases along the way — not to mention frustrated leadership from the business and/or missed SLAs for the customers.
To some, these questions and discussion points may seem too laborious, but they serve to springboard an understanding of business needs — and allow me to match and design the right technology to meet these needs.
There’s no shortcut to the process, and it’s our job to help the business through it.

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