Contact centers versus call centers: what’s the difference?
Most people use the terms “contact center” and “call center” interchangeably. After all, they are similar operations. Both are based on inbound and outbound communications with a company’s client base. However, although both serve the same purpose, they do have some marked differences that significantly change their everyday workflows. Learn how the two differ and what the advantages and disadvantages are for each.
Call center features
Call centers are usually large organizations that use only phone communication to handle inbound and outbound calls. Agents typically sit on individual workstations and answer the phones or make calls.
Phones are typically connected to the agent’s computer software. When a client calls in, the computer will generally bring up their information. Agents take call after call in the same fashion every shift.
Call centers are better equipped to handle a large volume of calls on a daily basis. Since call centers focus only on phone communication, they have enough staff and technology to operate efficiently.
Agent performance is mostly based on phone-related metrics. Key performance indicators (KPIs) usually include things like the number of calls answered each day and average hold time. Since most of an agent’s job revolves around the phone, their KPIs will reflect those types of metrics.
Within the call center world, there are different ways that companies use technology to operate their phone systems. Call centers use a Private Branch Exchange (PBX). This is a type of private communication network that allows inbound and outbound calls. It also makes queues possible so that clients can wait for an agent to become available.
A PBX can have either a hardware setup or a VoIP setup. Hardware on the actual call center premises is less efficient to operate. Wires, servers, and cables are abundant in this type of environment. It uses old technology and can also be more costly to maintain.
A VoIP setup uses internet capabilities to make and receive calls. It essentially means that their phone service is hosted on a cloud. This eliminates the need for clunky and expensive hardware on-site. VoIP is what most call centers use now to handle calls.
Contact center features
Contact centers use various modes of communication to help customers. Chat, email, text messaging, social media, and phone are all ways that customers can reach agents. Sometimes the different forms of communication are distributed to agents in shifts. Other times agents use all five modes in a single shift. It could depend on the needs of the business.
- Chat is usually used by customers when they are on a website. Over 75% of people prefer to use chat when contacting a company. This is usually one of the fastest ways clients can reach agents and is overall more convenient.
- Email allows customers to fully describe their problem. It helps eliminate the need to repeat themselves over again to a different agent. Turnaround time on this form of communication can vary since agents usually have many emails to respond to.
- Text messaging is another way agents can quickly get to a client. This form of communication makes clients feel less like a number in a sea of customers. The user experience is enhanced as customers feel heard and more like an individual.
- Social media is a powerful mode of communication now. Customers can reach out to companies in a very public manner (good or bad) through a tweet, Facebook comment, or Instagram post. Agents must stay on top of social media communications otherwise they risk a negative comment going viral.
- Phone is still a popular mode of communication. This is true especially for more complex issues. Many times customers prefer to speak to someone to get an answer to their questions.
Because contact centers can collect data from various channels, their analytics reveal a lot more than a call center’s analytics do. Customers’ preferred methods of communication can be ranked. Average hold or wait times for each mode can be compared. Agent performance can be measured through each form of communication.
Generally, more customer data is held in a contact center. As a result, a company can have a more thorough view of its client base. When new data is received through a different point of communication, it is added to the customer profile. Agents can access this through a CRM and provide more efficient service after reviewing a customer’s history through chat, email, text, and phone.
Contact centers also tend to utilize an omnichannel platform because of the different ways they communicate with customers. Simply put, an omnichannel is a single software system that integrates voice, chat, text, email, and social media communications. Instead of having to flip through various programs and screens, agents are able to use one system to help customers through their preferred choice of communication.
Customer self-service is a prominent contact center feature. The use of chat and text has changed the way customers find answers to their problems. Many contact centers use chatbots or AI virtual agents to receive customer inquiries.
Through some easy step-by-step programming, chatbots and virtual agents can “learn” how to answer routine customer questions. An example could be a question like, “Where is my package?” or “What is the balance on my account?”
Although some customers do prefer to speak with a live agent on the phone, many would rather get their questions answered quickly. Automating this process helps improve the customer experience because it eliminates the need to hold for a quick question.
Another common form of customer self-service is the use of IVR (Integrated Voice Response) technology. When a customer calls in, the IVR system can listen to questions and provide answers. Like the chatbot or virtual agent, IVR is also limited to simple questions but still saves many customers time.
Pros and cons
There are many advantages and disadvantages to call centers and contact centers. The type of business that a call or contact center services will impact whether a feature would be considered a pro or a con.
One example could be a call center that only processes routine orders for a TV shopping network that sells expensive luxury items. This organization would most likely cater to customers that benefit from talking to a live agent. Most people would not feel comfortable giving their credit card information over chat or text.
The advantage that call centers have in that scenario is that they usually have many agents available to take calls. This results in less hold time. Contact centers must distribute agents to help in other channels, which means fewer agents available to speak with.
Companies with customers that have various needs and who call for different types of issues would benefit from using a contact center. Many customer service needs can be solved with a chatbot, virtual agent, or through texting. Contact centers have the resources to help customers by providing self-service and live agent options.
Companies with a strong social media presence and a wide range of user demographic groups would fit best with a contact center. Call centers without omnichannel platforms that contact centers generally use do not have the bandwidth to field hundreds of tweets and emails. Their agents are usually only experienced on the phones, so it would take a different set of skills or department to handle social media.
Call centers are also usually less expensive to operate. New companies or companies that need to stick to a budget would benefit from the lower cost. Fewer modes of communication mean less setup and software to install and manage.
On the other hand, the lack of options a customer has to reach a company can be an inconvenience for someone who has a simple question. If they call in on a day with heavy volume, they would have a long hold time ahead of them.
Since call centers focus on a customer’s phone experience, agents are well-trained for that specific form of communication. Call centers provide a more personalized interaction that a chatbot cannot provide.
Resolution rates are also generally higher in a call center because customers speak to a person who can provide some sort of solution. In a contact center, customers are often transferred to a live agent if a virtual agent or chatbot cannot help. This results in more frustration, disconnections, and lower resolution rates.
Overall, the typical contact center and traditional call center share the same purpose: to make sure customers have the help they need. Through different methods of communication, each type of organization accomplishes that purpose.
Businesses should consider the type of product or service their customers call about. This helps determine whether a call center or contact center would be more appropriate. Choosing the right operation will make a positive impact on a company’s customer base by improving user experience.