The contact center and customer service

Learn the difference between a contact and call centers, and why contact center services can drive customer loyalty and improve agent efficiency.

By Mark Smith, Content Marketing Manager

Published September 24, 2020
Last updated September 24, 2020

A contact center and a call center are essentially the same thing, right? Well, yes and no.

Call centers only field phone calls, whereas a contact center offers a variety of other ways for customers to reach out for support: email, chat, self-service, messaging apps, and social media.

Why is it important to understand the difference? While a call center might work for your business, chances are your customers will be better served via a contact center.

Besides meeting customers where they are, research shows that top-performing customer service teams benefit from a contact center’s omnichannel capabilities (more on omnichannel in a bit).

And with the ever-increasing amount of customer data being managed by companies, a simple call center can seem as old-fashioned as a rotary telephone.

In this article we’ll explore valuable contact center services and break down everything you need to know about how they work—and most importantly, how they can help your business help customers while improving agent efficiency.

What is a contact center?

A contact center manages inbound and outbound calls while also providing additional ways for customers to get help: email, messaging, chatbots, social media, and self-service.

Inbound vs. outbound calling

Before we dive into contact center services, let’s talk about the difference between inbound and outbound call centers.

  1. Inbound

    This consists of customers looking to have problems resolved. These incoming calls are handled by support agents.

  2. Outbound

    This includes sales teams that reach out to shoppers via cold calling but can also include market research efforts and surveys. These centers use predictive dialers to automatically call numbers on a list. When a connection is made, the call is handed off to an agent.

  3. Hybrid

    This requires agents to wear two hats, with time split between answering inbound calls and making outbound calls to shoppers.

For inbound call centers, agents handle everything from product and tech support to processing payments and questions about subscription services (whether that’s for SaaS products or meal delivery services and so on).

Outbound call centers focus on lead generation, telemarketing, market research, and more. For smaller companies, these agents are effectively salespeople, but for larger businesses, they might assist an internal sales team by setting up appointments and so on.

Whether inbound, outbound, or a hybrid center, interactive voice response (IVR) capabilities will help customers find the right agent for their needs.

How contact center services work

Now that we’ve covered the different types of call centers, let’s dive into contact center services and how they work. Contact centers offer similar services to call centers, but with a much broader range of channels available for customers.

This is where the word omnichannel comes into play, and it’s no overstatement to say that it’s a critical tool for improving the customer experience. To enable omnichannel support, companies increasingly turn to cloud-based contact centers (rather than antiquated and expensive on-premise software).

Here are a few ways omnichannel contact center services—and the software that powers these centers—can boost customer satisfaction and help support agents work more efficiently:

  • Allows a support organization to automatically triage inbound calls, ensuring maximum efficiency and reduced wait times for customers.
  • Offers real-time analytics, optimally with the ability to customize reports. This can help organizations identify areas that need improvement and track customer trends.
  • Provides efficiency tools for agents: scripts, macros, automation, and triggers that give support employees the ability to focus on conversations rather than busy work.
  • Self-service: a contact center can host helpful content that enables customers to resolve issues on their own, which data shows they increasingly prefer. Self-service can also help lower ticket volume, reduce operational costs, and give agents valuable information that can lead to faster resolution times.
  • Last but not least: contact centers not only provide customers with multiple ways to reach out for help, they can offer seamless conversations as those customers move across channels. That’s important for a customer base that’s grown accustomed to being able to get help in the most convenient way without having to repeat themselves.

How to understand which type of contact center services fit your business needs

According to Zendesk’s 2020 Customer Experience Trends report, about half of customers would switch to a competitor after a single bad support experience. Add another bad service experience? That number grows to 80 percent. Yikes!

As a support manager, the key to understanding which contact center services your team—and customers—requires evaluating the customer base and the staffing resources at your disposal. A good place to start is by asking the following questions:

  • Which channels do your customers prefer? For example, if your customer base is primarily comprised of Millennials and Gen Z folks, focusing on messaging, live chat, and social media channels might make sense.
  • What are your staffing resources like? If you’re an up-and-coming business—perhaps building out a team of contact center agents for the first time—you might want to start off with basic services. Thankfully, SaaS support solutions often offer trial versions so you can get your bearings and decide what’s important to the business.
  • Will the contact center be prepared to scale with growth? What your customers and agents need right now might not hold when you suddenly experience hockey stick growth. This is where automation and a chatbot powered by artificial intelligence shine.
  • Contact center services: why they drive customer loyalty

    It’s all about context! The most effective support tools give companies the ability to link data across channels and systems. That ability to see the complete customer journey—past support requests, products purchased, preferred channels, and so on—is a gold mine for a support team.

    Modern contact center services give agents a view into every customer interaction so they can solve problems quickly and without asking customers to repeat themselves or wait while a support professional looks up information. After all, who likes being put on hold?

    Context opens up proactive engagement opportunities, the hallmark of the intelligent contact center.

    That being said, context opens up proactive engagement opportunities, the hallmark of the intelligent contact center. As research shows, 20 percent of surveyed customers value proactive engagement, a figure that will surely rise in coming years.

    By combining self-service, fully informed agents with customer context, a variety of channels, and proactive engagement—as well as internal analytics that can guide support improvements—your company can build a contact center that will maintain a level of customer loyalty that will pay dividends in years to come.

Have better conversations with your customers

Customers increasingly want companies to meet them where they are and expect easy, fast, and personalized support experiences regardless of channel.