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Similarities between a call center and a contact center
Both call centers and contact centers have some things in common. For one thing, they both exist to help customers with queries or resolve issues. They also make use of resources like CRMs and other enterprise applications to add ‘intelligence’ to customer interactions.
And, of course, they both form a bridge between a customer interaction and a business process such as opening tickets, issuing refunds, processing payments, sending information packs, or setting up a visit or meeting.
However, there are key differences that set these two apart.
Call centers are exclusively phone-oriented; every customer interaction occurs with a voice call. Customers will typically phone the call center, pass through a self-service menu or auto-attendant before waiting in a call queue until an agent picks up. There’s a lot of waiting involved.
A lot of office space is dedicated to call centers, which are made up of rows of desks. These physical ‘anchor points’ demonstrate the greatest weakness of a call center: inflexibility.
Many call centers operate with a fixed-line Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) connected to a Private Branch Exchange (PBX). This might be on-premise, or hosted externally. Modern call centers generally now use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to carry voice calls.
A lot of staff
Call centers can only serve customers by phone, which eliminates the possibility of using self-service options that many customers prefer. Customers must wait until their call is answered (unless they opt for a call-back). The result is that call centers require more staff to minimize the waiting-time and call abandonment. It’s hard to predict call volumes and staffing needs in advance, so the service provision is always inefficient to some degree.
Another feature of call centers is that they are often less integrated with business processes, which have evolved and expanded since the call center was originally set up. This means that agents must flip between applications, interfaces, and screens to get the information they need or to trigger business processes. In some cases, the information or processes are entirely siloed, and a workaround is needed to overcome this.
From the past
In 15 years from now (and perhaps sooner), the question won’t be ‘what’s the difference between a call center and a contact center?’, it will be: ‘what is a call center?’
The call center is swiftly becoming a relic from a bygone age.
What’s different about contact centers?
In contrast to a call center, a contact center offers a comprehensive point of contact between the customer and a company. It is the central hub of the customer experience.
A contact center offers an enhanced, integrated customer experience with a wider choice of ways to get in touch. This means that contact centers greatly differ from a call center in terms of capabilities and the technical setup.
Contact centers are explicitly not restricted to voice calls (although these still feature prominently). Contact centers are increasingly becoming omnichannel contact points between companies and their customers. Agents can service queries through a variety of convenient channels including voice calls, SMSs, webchats, and social messaging apps like WhatsApp. This can be much more efficient and provide customers with a more frictionless experience which includes more self-service options like chatbots. This means you can use fewer agents to service the same volume of queries.
A common feature of contact centers is the use of VoIP for voice calls, and a flexible cloud infrastructure. This makes it possible for customer service agents to work from any location if the setup allows. Unlike call centers which are anchored to fixed desks, a contact center can become much more agile, and enable hybrid working (less office space).
This sounds like an ‘empty phrase’ – after all, what isn’t technologically enabled these days? However, the truth is that contact centers are much more reliant on advanced technologies to work. Contact centers are either custom-built with bespoke software, or use a Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) solution. Cloud-based and on-premise CCaaS software drives a more integrated experience that can combine multiple channels into a powerful contact center solution.
Unified point of contact
The ideal contact center should provide a single point of contact. It should seamlessly connect customer enquiries with actions and solutions for them. For the customer service agent, they must be able to easily serve the customer without flipping between screens or applications. A contact center is an asset to a business because it can unify all the resources, workflows and processes into an integrated and streamlined system. With all resources (like CRMs and other ERPs) fully integrated, the right data can flow to where it needs to be. No more siloes!
However, it’s worth knowing that not all contact center solutions grasp this opportunity, and fall short of this ‘unified’ customer experience.
For the future
Unlike a call center, a contact center is a solution for the future. Modern contact center solutions are built with adaptable and modular software, and integrated with APIs. This means that functionality can always (theoretically) be extended – while a call center can extend only as far as the copper cable can.
Software can adapt and evolve with your business. A good CCaaS solution should fit around your business (and processes), not the other way around.
How Contact Centers work differently to call centers
As touched upon already, a contact center requires a very different setup to a call center. While a call center can operate using VoIP and cloud software, it doesn’t strictly need to. By contrast, a contact center depends on reliable software to make it work.
To avoid the risk involved with developing and maintaining a custom software solution, most businesses choose a third-party CCaaS provider. This isn’t entirely without risk either, though.
There is a tremendous variety of CCaaS providers, especially in how prescriptive their solutions are. Many of them are limited by the integrations they allow, or lack the flexibility to design and build automations. And very few offer the total omnichannel solution that customers demand.
A major feature that many businesses demand today is the ability to fully-integrate their contact center into Microsoft Teams. By using Teams as a central hub, businesses gain the advantage of a stable infrastructure, the best level of built-in security and data compliance, and the ability to integrate with numerous resources, automations, and customized workflows.
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What is ROGER365.io?
ROGER365.io has developed a Microsoft-certified omnichannel contact center solution for Teams. It brings all communication channels, resources, and processes into a single view, and enables businesses to consolidate their workflows into a single, powerful interface.
To learn more, or start a free 14 day trial, click here.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a contact center as a service?
A Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) is a solution provided to businesses, enabling them to access full contact center functionality with third-party software. A CCaaS solution will typically integrate with multiple ERPs (such as a CRM) so that agents know who they are talking to, update data, and trigger specific actions within the application, or open other applications directly from the CCaaS interface.
What are the 4 types of call center?
There are 4 main kinds of call center: inbound, outbound, blended, and automated call centers. Inbound call centers are used for customer support, Outbound call centers are used to proactively engage with clients, and blended call centers serve both functions. The fourth type is an automated experience that allows customers to access a (limited) self-service experience that is navigated with a choice of menus or voice recognition. These can be used to trigger automated actions, but are primarily used to access specific information.
What is BPO in a call center?
BPO stands for Business Process Outsourcing, and it refers to the use of an external company to fulfill certain business processes when extra capacity is needed. This might be done due to seasonal variations in demand, or due to temporary campaigns. BPOs are frequently used for very specific tasks, and are not suitable for situations where customers expect the in-depth knowledge or expertise they associate with your company. Because your reputation is at stake, BPOs should be chosen very carefully and only when there is a sound business reason.
What is an omnichannel contact center?
An omnichannel contact center is a contact center that can handle customer queries from multiple communications channels. A good omnichannel contact center will integrate seamlessly with your business, including all the resources and processes you normally use, without forcing changes in methodology or vendor.