One of the pillars of a solid brand-customer relationship is excellent customer service. In the past, this was typically managed by a call center where agents would handle requests by phone.
As technology has evolved to include more and more digital channels, the organizational model companies use to improve communications with customers has evolved as well. At times, some call centers have transformed into contact centers. Nonetheless, both call centers and contact centers aim to provide the best customer experiences possible. So, what exactly is the difference? And what does it mean for your brand?
Call centers rely on the phone channel for communication. They manage inbound or outbound calls, or a mix of both. Call centers often prioritize agent productivity as they typically handle large call volumes.
Call centers may be on-premise or cloud-based. On-premise call centers host all software and hardware on the physical premises, with agents working on site. Cloud-based call centers are hosted in the cloud by a third-party call center software provider. This provider sets up and maintains the software and offers technical support to agents as needed. Cloud-based call centers enable agents to work remotely with just an internet connection.
Inbound calls are often related to various customer service issues. Customers may contact a call center with requests for technical support or product information, or they may have level 1 questions about billing, delivery, or appointment scheduling. In these situations, agents are focused on responding to requests as quickly as possible to maximize productivity and customer satisfaction. Call centers that handle outbound call campaigns feature agents who call customers for different reasons. They may call for sales, marketing, survey, or debt collection purposes.
Modern call centers are designed to save agents and customers time. They can:
Agents work on a single channel, so they are able to focus on handling as many calls as possible. With all agents working on a common channel, it is easier—since all agents are trained to work on one channel—to offer the same quality of experience. All agents work toward common customer service goals and share optimal practices. When call volume increases during peak times, more agents can be added as needed. Cloud-based call centers are especially scalable, as agents can be added easily to work remotely.
Technology such as an IVR, or interactive voice response, can route callers quickly and efficiently to the most qualified agent available. IVR may also be used to offer self-service for simple requests such as checking an account balance or delivery status. Callback options ensure that a customer does not have to wait in a queue. Powerful automated dialers enable agents to conduct sales, marketing, and debt collection with greater precision, productivity, and profit.
Call centers are generally less expensive to maintain than contact centers. Cloud-based call centers are especially economical, as agents can be added quickly with no need for additional hardware.
Real-time dashboards and reports offer insights into agent performance, allowing companies to constantly improve their call center practices.
Contact centers serve many of the same purposes as call centers. Unlike call centers, contact centers manage communications across many digital channels to offer customers an omnichannel experience. These channels may include SMS, social media, email, live and video chat—in addition to the phone—which are unified in a single contact center software platform.
Contact center agents are able to handle inbound and outbound contacts simultaneously. For example, media blending makes it possible for an agent to manage an incoming chat from a customer, then sending an SMS or email to another. For outbound contacts, a contact center may choose to prioritize different channels for different purposes. Order confirmations and delivery status notifications may be sent by email, while technical support may be provided via chat or phone. Contact center solutions are also typically integrated with a CRM, which provides a full view of the customer. Agents consult and update customer information such as interaction history and previous purchases in the CRM in real time. Contact centers may also be based in the cloud, allowing easy flexibility and scalability as a company’s needs change. Agents may work remotely with access to all the features of the contact center solution.
Contact centers offer numerous benefits. They can:
When contact centers are integrated with a CRM, agents can understand the full customer context. This allows them to manage customer requests easily without asking customers to repeat information. They can also use this customer knowledge to make relevant upselling, cross-selling, and service offers. Customers appreciate the personalized service they are given.
Omnichannel contact centers are able to meet customers on their preferred channels. Giving customers a large choice of channels means that they can engage with a brand whenever and wherever they like. Customers also enjoy a seamless experience as they switch from one channel to another, since agents have full access to their history in the CRM and can pick up a conversation where it was left off.
Real-time KPI dashboards and activity reports give valuable insights that can improve agent efficiency and customer experiences. Companies may better understand common reasons for service requests and solve problems proactively. They can also track customer behavior such as website navigation, allowing them to reach out proactively using channels such as live chat. Advanced ticket routing and task automation also save agents time and help them offer faster solutions to customers.
AI-powered chatbots can be used to enable self-service on messaging apps and websites. Chatbots can help customers with answers to simple requests. They may also manage the early steps of a request and pass the customer over to an agent when necessary.
When choosing between a call center and contact center solution, consider your customers’ needs. If your customers prefer the phone and this channel is the best fit for your business, then a call center may be best. However, if your customers prefer multiple channels and are constantly looking for new ways to contact your brand, a contact center may be just what you need. The key is to choose the solution that is best adapted to how your customers engage with your brand. Meeting them on their preferred channels is essential to winning their loyalty.
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