This post outlines the contrast between a call center and a contact center. While a call center enables communication through voice or SMS messaging, a contact center employs a range of channels, including voice, SMS, live chat, email, and video.
Choosing the right solution can be challenging, but we’re here to help. We’ll walk you through the distinctions between call centers and contact centers to assist you in determining which one is the best fit for your agents and customers.
Additionally, we’ll provide an overview of the primary types of call and contact centers, point out crucial features to consider, and highlight the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative.
Contact Center vs Call Center: Key Differences
Let’s take a look at a more detailed overview of the differences between call centers and contact centers.
|Call Center||Contact Center|
|Communication Channels||– Voice Calling/VoIP Telephony – SMS Text Messaging||– Voice Calling – SMS Texting – Live Chat Messaging – Email – Video Communication – Social Media Messaging|
|Types of Solutions||– Inbound – Outbound – Blended – In-House – Virtual – Automated||– Omnichannel – Multichannel – Premise-Based – Cloud-Based – Inbound – Outbound – Blended|
|Essential Feature||Interactive Voice Response (IVR)||Real-time Omnichannel Communication|
|Main Goal||To optimize inbound and outbound telephone communication by providing IVR self-service options, outbound dialing modes, and call routing||To allow customers to communicate with agents on their preferred communication channel, not just over the telephone|
|Average Monthly Cost||$50.00-$100.00+/agent per month||$60.00-$150+/agent per month|
|Popular With||Telemarketing Firms, Collection Agencies, Nonprofits, Political Campaigns, Retail Customer Service||Healthcare Providers/Health Insurance Agencies, eCommerce Sites, Financial Services, Service-Based Businesses|
An Overview of Call Centers and Their Functions
Call centers are a communication solution for businesses, allowing agents to handle phone calls with existing or potential customers. They can be either in-house or virtual, with premises-based or cloud-based software. Call centers can make outbound calls, receive inbound calls, or do both. They may consist of remote, in-office, or third-party agents, and their primary focus is on managing telephone calls between businesses and their customer base.
How Call Center Software Works
Call center software utilizes Interactive Voice Response (IVR), Outbound Dialers, and CRM Integrations to handle communication between agents and callers. The software primarily focuses on inbound and outbound calls, with some offering SMS texting. By optimizing call flows, call centers help businesses reduce the time customers spend on hold and increase first call resolution rates. Moreover, the software also helps agents quickly find information about products/services offered or customer interaction history to resolve callers’ issues efficiently.
Types of Call Center Software
The below table outlines the main purpose of every call center type, its key features, and how businesses most often use it.
|Call Center Type||Purpose/Definition||Used For/By||Key Features|
|Inbound Call Center||To receive incoming calls from existing customers or anyone the business has had previous contact with||Providing Customer Service /Technical Support Bill payment/appointment scheduling||Skills-based, team-based, round-robin call routing CRM Integration|
|Outbound Call Center||To make outgoing calls to either existing or potential customers||Making Sales Calls/Customer Callbacks Appointment/bill payment reminders Market Research/Customer Feedback||Outbound Dialers with multiple dialing modes Call Scripts|
|In-House Call Center||A premise-based physical call center tied to a specific location||Smaller businesses with in-house support and sales teams Businesses with existing call center hardware/equipment||On-site servers Compatibility with existing equipment Call monitoring, call barge, call whisper, call takeover|
|Virtual Call Center||A cloud-based call center software that lets agents work from anywhere on any device (desktop, laptop, smartphone, tablet, etc.)||Fully remote/blended call centers that prioritize flexibility/mobility Geographically diverse teams||Time-based and hours-based routing Call forwarding|
|Blended Call Center||Agents can make/receive inbound/outbound calls according to current call volume/business needs||Smaller teams that don’t have a high number of available agents at all times Call centers with a high daily contact volume||Call transfer Internal wiki|
|Automated Call Center||Cut down on the need for callers to speak with a live agent/increase call center productivity by using automation to send pre-recorded messages and IVR menus to callers with routine messages/alerts||Sending automated, pre-recorded voice messages Sending appointment/payment reminders||Interactive IVR with Voice Recognition/NLP Advanced analytics and recording tools|
Inbound Call Centers
Inbound call centers primarily receive incoming calls and inquiries from existing and potential customers. These centers typically provide toll-free numbers for customer support and service, and features like call routing and IVR self-service are available for prompt connection and service.
Outbound Call Centers
Outbound call centers, on the other hand, make outgoing calls, mainly for sales and customer prospecting. Tools like Outbound Dialers and different dialing modes, including Predictive, Progressive, and Preview, facilitate lead list penetration, reduce call time, and improve efficiency.
Premise-Based/In-House Call Centers
Premise-based call centers are physically located on the company property, requiring the business to install and maintain equipment and hardware, and also employ in-house IT staff. Agents must work on-site, but the approach allows for greater control of the call center software in the long term.
Virtual Call Centers
Cloud-based virtual call centers, on the other hand, are hosted and maintained by software providers, enabling the providers to handle maintenance, updates, and troubleshooting. The system allows for greater team mobility, flexibility, and affordability, as employees can work remotely.
Blended Call Centers
Blended call centers combine inbound and outbound calls, providing businesses the flexibility to assign agents to different departments and tasks based on call volume, seasonality, and customer needs.
Automated Call Centers
Automated call centers facilitate consumer-business interactions using pre-recorded messages and IVR systems, without the need for a live agent. They are suitable for conducting automated customer/market surveys, bill payments, political campaigns, and appointment/billing reminders, while complying with FCC regulations on robocalls.
Key Call Center Software Features
Effective call center software should have various features to make it easier to handle customer inquiries and boost productivity. Here are some of the critical call center software features that you should look for in a quality provider:
Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) are the most vital call center software features. They provide customer self-service by directing inbound calls based on the caller’s responses to pre-recorded prompts and questions, allowing them to reach the correct department or agent.
Call routing automatically forwards calls to the right department or agent based on the caller’s intent, preventing callbacks, and ensuring they speak to a live agent. Call routing is particularly beneficial for managing a high volume of calls.
Call forwarding is essential for team flexibility and mobility, especially for remote employees. It automatically sends calls to another phone number an agent has on file if they are not available at their desk phone.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software stores customer information, interactions, and history. Call center software integrated with CRM enables agents to access this information during calls, enhancing the customer experience.
Visual voicemail provides tools like voicemail-to-text and voicemail-to-email, enabling agents to read a voicemail transcription and prioritize callbacks, which improves productivity.
Outbound call center dialers help agents quickly reach out to leads and connect with people who are available to talk. There are three types of dialing modes: power dialing, progressive dialing, and predictive dialing.
Customizable templates and wallboards provide real-time and historical performance data for call centers and their agents. Call center analytics can help identify customer trends, analyze agent productivity, and detect recurring issues.
Call monitoring allows administrators to listen to live telephone conversations between employees and customers without interrupting the call. Admins can choose to monitor the call, initiate a call barge, or use call whisper to provide coaching to the agent without the customer’s knowledge.
Call Queuing and Automated Callbacks
Call queuing lets admins see how many callers are waiting to speak to an agent, allowing them to quickly adjust agent roles and prioritize VIP clients. Automated callbacks can also be set up to save the customer’s place in line and call them back when an agent is available.
Explaining Contact Centers: Streamlining Agent-Customer Communication
What is a Contact Center?
A contact center is a software platform that allows for streamlined communication between agents and customers across several channels. This is different from call centers, which only allow communication via voice calling. Contact centers focus on digital-first communication, and can operate on inbound, outbound, and blended communication.
Popular Contact Center Communication Channels:
- VoIP Voice Calling
- SMS Texting
- Video Calling
- Live Chat Messaging (Website Chat)
- Social Media (Facebook Messenger, Twitter Messaging, Instagram Messenger, WhatsApp, etc.)
- Online faxing
Differentiating Factors from Call Centers:
Contact centers have workforce management and optimization features that let admins evaluate, automate, and adjust agent activity in real-time. Additionally, contact center solutions focus on internal communication, including team chat messaging with user presence, screen sharing, whiteboarding, file sharing, and detailed internal wikis.
How Does a Contact Center Work?
Contact center platforms automatically sync customer and agent interactions into one unified interface/platform in real-time. This allows for conversations to continue seamlessly, even if another agent takes over the interaction on a different channel.
Contact Center Solutions:
Contact center solutions automate routine business processes, simplify employee scheduling and optimize the workforce, provide automated customer support through chatbots and automated SMS responses, offer omnichannel routing to connect customers with the most relevant agent, and provide cross-channel analytics and trend forecasting to help admins understand customer channel preferences and employee training quality.
Types of Contact Centers:
Inbound and outbound contact centers function in much the same way as inbound/outbound call centers, except they provide omnichannel customer service, sales, and support. The table below provides an overview and definition of the main contact center types and their key features.
|Contact Center Type||Purpose/Definition||Used For/By||Key Features|
|Omnichannel Contact Center||Automatically syncs agent/customer communications/interactions into one unified interface, even if the conversation took place across multiple channels||Sales/customer service teams that want to connect with consumers across channels and provide customers with a choice about how they reach out Businesses where multiple agents are likely to assist a customer with one interaction||At least 3-4 communication channels Scalability and flexibility across devices|
|Multichannel Contact Center||Provides communication across multiple channels, but often not as many as omnichannel options. Communication is not synced and combined into a singular interface, and communication is often siloed according to channel||Small to midsize teams that want to offer customers multiple channels to connect with their business, but that don’t require an especially high number of communication channels Businesses that want to silo communication channels||Voice calling, online faxing, SMS texting Tiered pricing and|
|Premise-Based Contact Center||Premise-based (legacy) contact center solution hosted onsite by the user, not the software provider. The user is responsible for all hardware, equipment, installations, updates, and repairs||Companies that want to continue using existing hardware/equipment (desk phones, etc.) Small to midsize teams that prioritize stable service and high call quality that is not dependent on a strong Internet connection Businesses that don’t require third-party integrations||Compatible with any existing hardware/equipment Business usually has in-house IT staff|
|Cloud-Based Contact Center||Virtual cloud-hosted contact center software for remote, blended, or in-house teams. Software updates, hosting, and security are the responsibility of the provider, not the user||Geographically diverse remote/blended teams that prioritize scalability Managers looking for scalable/tiered solutions that allow for the addition of users, communication channels, and functionalities that grow alongside the business||Workforce Management/Workforce Optimization tools Advanced AI/Automation features|
Omnichannel Contact Centers:
In omnichannel contact centers, customer-agent interactions across multiple channels are synced in real-time, allowing for a seamless transition between channels. Agents have access to the most recent customer interaction history regardless of the channel the conversation took place on, all within a unified interface.
The ultimate goal of omnichannel communication is to create a frictionless experience for both customers and agents, eliminating the need for customers to repeat themselves and providing agents with complete customer context.
Multichannel Contact Centers:
While multichannel contact centers also enable customers and agents to communicate across various channels, they typically don’t combine communications into a unified interface. Instead, the communications may be siloed based on the channel, meaning that agents may need to check multiple systems to access complete customer context.
Premise-Based and Cloud-Based Contact Centers
Premise-based contact centers, also known as legacy contact centers, require the physical server to be located in the same brick-and-mortar building as the business, and the user is responsible for maintenance, upgrades, and repairs. They can be multichannel or omnichannel, inbound or outbound, but require a high upfront cost and a longer setup time. In contrast, cloud-based contact centers are hosted by the software provider in the cloud servers, allowing for easy scalability and pay-as-you-go pricing. They are more affordable, offer tiered pricing/plans, and enable users to communicate via their existing devices.
Essential Contact Center Features
A crucial aspect of choosing the right contact center software is examining the communication channels it offers. The most important modern contact center features include multiple communication channels such as video calling, VoIP phone calling, social media messaging, live website chat, and SMS text messaging. It is important to focus on optimizing the channels your customers use the most and to avoid the temptation to turn on all available communication channels.
In this section, we’ll explore some key features that are essential for modern contact centers.
Multiple Communication Channels
One of the most important factors to consider when choosing a contact center software solution is the range of communication channels it offers. Different channels are better suited to different industries and use cases. For example:
- Video Calling: HIPAA-compliant video calling is ideal for healthcare organizations offering remote patient monitoring and telehealth appointments.
- VoIP Phone Calling: Outbound IVR is commonly used by collection agencies to contact debtors and collect payments.
- Social Media Messaging: E-commerce retailers can use social media messaging to provide instant customer service through AI chatbots, and direct customers to an online help portal or live agent talk time.
- Live Website Chat: Customer service agents can provide real-time assistance with product recommendations, order updates, or answer common questions through automation.
- SMS Text Messaging: Retailers can use SMS to communicate with customers, for example, by sending them coupon codes, customer surveys, or alerts about sales.
It’s important to evaluate the channels your customers use the most and focus on optimizing those channels, rather than turning on all available channels.
Customizable Agent Interface
Since agents communicate with customers across multiple channels, they need a centralized interface that displays all recent and ongoing interactions and available tools in one place. This unified interface is a key feature of contact center solutions, designed to eliminate the need for agents to switch between different apps and tools when dealing with customers or other agents in real-time.
Traditional call center routing strategies are limited to voice calls only. However, contact center software offers omnichannel routing, allowing all customer-agent interactions to be sent across channels in real-time based on customer preferences and agent availability. This helps to create personalized and effective connections between agents and customers, based on historical KPIs and analytics.
Team Collaboration Tools
Contact centers have more moving parts than call centers, so most software includes native team collaboration tools like real-time team chat messaging, file sharing and co-editing, whiteboarding, and screen sharing. Users can also choose to integrate their own third-party team collaboration software.
Workforce Management and Optimization
Workforce Management (WFM) and Optimization tools are essential in preventing agents from becoming overwhelmed, simplifying the agent scheduling process, providing instant access to internal HR documents, and evaluating the quality of the overall customer experience. WFM tools provide detailed insights into customer satisfaction rates, the quality of current training materials, individual agent performance, customer preferences, and how well current contact volumes are being managed.
Contact center software provides businesses with numerous tools and features to enhance customer experience, making it a vital investment for companies that are focused on providing exceptional customer service.
The rise of multiple communication channels has led to an increase in the complexity of analyzing customer and agent behavior. Contact center analytics offer real-time and historical data that can be easily broken down by agent, customer, data range, department, and more. The integration of CRM software with contact center analytics provides a more comprehensive understanding of what is working and what is not across multiple channels.
Contact center key performance indicators (KPIs) include measuring outbound and inbound contact ratios, contact abandonment rates, net promoter score, customer satisfaction rates, average handling time, first contact resolution rate, and the number of interactions per channel. Quality analysis, agent turnover rate, and cost per contact are also important factors to consider.
By analyzing data from different channels, businesses can gain insights into customer behavior and preferences, improve agent performance and training, and optimize their contact center operations.
Choosing Between a Contact Center and a Call Center
If you’re trying to decide between a call center and a contact center for your business, the information in this post should make it easier to choose the right solution.
Here’s a summary of when to use a contact center:
- If you want to offer multiple communication channels to your customers to improve overall engagement levels
- If market research shows that your customer base prefers other communication channels to voice calling
- If you have enough staff to manage communications across multiple channels
- If your agents are getting overwhelmed with phone calls, especially for inquiries that could be resolved with chatbots
On the other hand, consider using a call center if:
- Your business primarily relies on VoIP audio calling for communication
- Your business has grown and needs a better way to manage phone calls without overburdening your staff with multiple communication channels
- You want an affordable, scalable communication platform that allows for employee flexibility and mobility