Shared Agents Vs. Dedicated AgentsEarlier this week, I exchanged emails with an e-commerce business owner who asked if AnswerFirst could do the following:

  • place orders and look up order status for call-in customers using his website’s back-end,
  • answer questions about shipping, returns, etc. using his existing customer service knowledge-base, and
  • open new tickets in the his support system for callers that have very specific questions about his products and services.

I explained to this business owner that his service requirements would be handled best by a contact center that utilizes dedicated agents instead of shared agents. At AnswerFirst we’ve offered dedicated agent service in the past, but it is not something we typically do; AnswerFirst is primarily a shared agent contact center.  We provide more affordable contact center solutions than a dedicated agent service because many agents are allowed to handle many accounts.  Our agents are still trained on each individual account, but we rely heavily on our telco platform and other technologies to provide our agents with the information and call routing needed to successfully handle many more accounts than they would be able to handle if they were to rely on memorizing individual account information.  Dedicated agent services are expensive, but provide agents that are trained to answer calls for one business or maybe only a few businesses instead of hundreds; these agents become familiar with just a few accounts and the accounts’ associated data.

So, while it will be more cost-effective for this business owner to hire an answering service than to set up his own call center, a shared agent service could never be successful handling his account.  AnswerFirst could handle the order taking side of his business needs almost immediately, but we would not be able to take on all of his business communication needs at once. Our agents learn about our partners’ businesses through repetition and stages and there are limitations on what a shared agent service can offer, in respect to servicing highly specialized accounts that involve the use of specific software, CRMs, extensive product or service knowledge, etc.

My best advice for business owners that find themselves with a need for dedicated agent service is that they do a lot of homework.  When shopping for answering services, it’s crucial to ask questions and demand proof of how a contact center will implement and be successful in properly training their agents.  Many services will say they can do anything just to earn a new account, then give their agents a link and login to a client’s CRM, throw a few account instructions on a separate screen and hope for the best.  Even with an extremely simple account, it’s important that agents receive some training and a service that offers dedicated agents should provide agents with many hours of training for each account.

Regardless of whether you need dedicated or shared agents to meet your business communication needs, spend time researching the services that you’re considering.  Also, I always recommend that you start small with any service and build from there.