By Julie Wajda, Product Development Manager
Call center vs. contact center. Many use these two terms interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Call centers and contact centers are two distinct models for business communication. And assuming otherwise could lead to an embarrassing faux pas or a damaging business mistake.
The primary difference between a call center and contact center lies in the methods of communication and overall experience. But before getting into specifics, start by understanding what these terms really encompass.
What is a call center?
A call center is an office setting where agents handle inbound, outbound or blended phone calls. Historically, they’ve had on-premise hardware, tightly coupled with telecommunication infrastructure to send and receive a high-volume of calls. Those calls are most often geared toward taking orders and providing customer service.
Within this frame, call centers have existed since at least the 1960s — and possibly sooner — after the invention of the first automatic call distribution (ACD) systems, which allocate inbound calls to several agents based on availability or expertise.
Call centers have traditionally focused on driving down costs by reducing the number of agents. They push agents to resolve calls faster and answer more calls per day. In some cases, call centers have installed an interactive voice response (IVR) system, but the IVR is often focused on keeping customers from talking to a live person. These factors cause frustration and lead to a poor customer experience (CX).
What is a contact center?
Like a call center, a contact center handles inbound and outbound calls, but it also serves customers over digital service channels. Contact centers provide all the same benefits as a call center, but they are more likely to use cloud services and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to let people communicate in their channel of choice. These channels often include texting, webchat, email and other digital options.
In addition, all these channels are part of the same integrated system. So while customers can engage according to their preferences, they can also switch to a new channel without disrupting service. Contact centers create a consistent brand image, no matter where the conversation begins or ends.
The industry switch from call centers to contact centers didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a slow evolution as consumers demand less service over the phone and more through digital options. But the switch became more pronounced over the past decade and continues today.
However, simply adding a channel besides voice calls isn’t enough to start calling your customer service office a contact center. So with these concepts in mind, here are seven key differences in the call center vs. contact center distinction.
1. Voice vs. Digital Service Channels
As mentioned above, the number one difference between call centers and contact centers is the customer service channels. Call center agents mostly communicate via phone, while contact center services may include texts, webchat, video chat, social media, email and more.
Each of these channels are supported by advanced technology and are operable from each agent’s desktop. For example, programs like SMS Assistant let customer service reps type texts on their computer that are sent to someone’s mobile device. Since demand for over-the-phone service is dropping and demand for other channels — especially text — is on the rise, these digital solutions offer a vastly improved CX.
2. Predictive and Proactive Customer Service
With new tools and analytics, customer service can go beyond answering inbound requests. Watching buyer behavior makes it possible to reach out and answer questions even before a call comes in.
While this can be done in a call center, it doesn’t work very well in practice. Outbound messages from call center agents are sent over the phone. If the agent has someone’s home number, they may be away during the day. Plus, cell phone users are increasingly cautious to answer unfamiliar numbers, so outbound voice calls are often ineffective.
Contact center solutions let customers choose how they want to stay in contact, making proactive communication an effective way to reduce costs and raise loyalty.
3. Empowering Self-Service
The differences don’t end with agent interaction. Many call centers and contact centers use automation through an IVR. An IVR serves as a digital assistant that operates over the phone via vocal prompts or keypad entries. While call center IVR designs make it hard to talk to a live agent, contact centers design their IVRs with their brand and CX in mind. This helps predict caller intent and direct callers to the best agent, or it resolves the caller’s needs without involving a human representative at all.
In a contact center, self-service can also be done through two-way, keyword-driven text messaging or with a chatbot. Whatever the method, self-service lowers the time agents spend on the phone, which reduces costs and wait time.
4. More Engaged Customer Service Representatives
Everyone wants to feel like their job matters. In a call center, that’s not always the case when frustrated customers start shouting or make rude comments. By cutting wait times and letting people interact on their channel of choice, the experience is more enjoyable for consumers and, therefore, for agents.
Clients that invest in low-effort, intuitive self-service channels like their website or IVR will find that agents need to respond to fewer basic questions. However, that means the average inbound call becomes more complex. Providing dynamic agent scripting, integrating with CRM or backend systems and compiling knowledge libraries can arm the agent with the answers they need to make it a great experience for the customer.
And in some cases, workforce engagement management tools track employee behavior and assist in the hiring process, ensuring the best people make up the front line for your business.
5. Individual Customer Profiles
Whenever a customer contacts your business, they share personal information about their preferences and behavior. If that interaction occurs over the phone in a call center, an agent can keep track of that data, but digital channels make it far simpler.
Contact center software compiles all customer data from across all channels into a single customer view, which businesses use to offer predictive service or suggest new products. Customers engage differently on each channel, so with more channels comes more data. That data is available whenever a customer connects with your contact center, making exceptional service possible during every single interaction.
6. Advanced Routing to the Right Agent
With that customer information on hand, it’s easier to route customers to the most appropriate representative or group. This is possible for both call centers and contact centers. The difference follows from point number 5, above. Contact center software pulls data from multiple channels, making it easier to predict where the call, text, web chat, etc. should go next.
No one likes spending extra time defining their problem. Nor do they want to be transferred multiple times during the same call. Contact center software lets a business route more quickly and accurately than ever before.
7. Better, Consistent Customer Experiences
Lastly, with effective employee training, customer profiling and CX strategy, exceptional experiences are possible with both call centers and contact centers. When customers pick up the phone or go online, they expect a certain level of service from whoever responds.
In a contact center, where those interactions come from calls, texts and numerous other sources, some may think creating consistency is impossible. But a contact center is made up of truly connected, interactive solutions in a comprehensive technology ecosystem. The system remembers interactions in one channel, even if a customer chooses a new channel next time. That gives customers far more freedom than with the call center model, and every interaction becomes a piece of the larger customer journey.
Call Center vs. Contact Center: Which is Better?
When it comes down to it, the main difference between call centers and contact centers is in the name. A call center lets customers call, while a contact center keeps you in contact through any customer service channel. In the end, you must decide which of those channels are preferred by your customers. You can learn more about customer communication preferences by clicking here.
If you decide upgrading to a contact center is right for your business, be sure to read these three benefits and best practices of contact center modernization to build a contact center for the modern world. And always feel free to call or text a West Interactive Services expert at 800.841.9000.
With these seven differences, you can be the expert in any call center vs. contact center debate and make sure your business has the communication solution that’s best for your customers.
Julie has nearly 30 years of experience in software development and product management. She graduated from Hastings College with a degree in computer science with science and business emphases and has led product development activities for West’s Cloud Contact Center solutions since 2014. Julie specializes in creating innovative solutions and helping clients develop communication strategies that allow them to work more effectively and create long-term connections through exceptional customer experiences.