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The line between call centers and contact centers is blurred but important. Decision makers need to understand how these centers differ to determine which one best suits their organization’s needs, as one negative interaction can damage a customer’s trust for life.

Call centers used to be the gold standard for customer service, but new technologies have emerged over time that have changed the number of organizations providing customer service. The development of digital channels, in particular, has led many call centers to transform into contact centers. Despite their similarities, call centers and contact centers differ in many ways, including channels, data, customer self-service (CSS), agent skills and technology.

Definition of call center and contact center

Although people may use the terms call center and contact center interchangeably, there are notable differences between these centers that decision makers should be aware of.

Call center. A call center is a department where customer service professionals, called call center agents, handle incoming and outgoing calls.

Agents who take inbound calls help customers with account inquiries, scheduling, technical support, complaints, and questions about products and services. On the other hand, outbound calls focus on telemarketing, fundraising, lead generation, scheduling, customer retention, and debt collection.

Call centers can improve CX because they aim to provide reliable and fast customer service through a historically reliable channel: the telephone.

Call center. A contact center is a department that provides customer service through multiple communication channels.

Although many contact centers include a call center, they also handle communication through digital channels, such as SMS, email, social media, voice over IP, live chat and chatbots. With multiple channels, organizations can collect more marketing data and allow customers to interact with the business more conveniently.

The main differences between call centers and contact centers are:

  • canals
  • Data
  • CSS
  • agent skills
  • Technology
Explore the differences between call centers and contact centers.

5 differences between call centers and contact centers

Decision makers need to understand where call centers and contact centers differ to determine which approach is best for their organization.

Canals

Call centers and contact centers both provide customer service and outreach, but they differ in the communication channels they use. Call centers use a single channel – the telephone – while contact centers use multiple channels.

Call centers appeared in an era before digital channels. Yet they benefit many organizations because phone calls with live agents provide a personalized experience that other channels often lack. On the other hand, contact centers include digital channels, which allow customers to interact with an organization on the platform that best suits their needs.

Data

As contact centers offer more communication channels than call centers, they can collect more customer data. They can also improve customer profiling, allowing organizations to provide personalized customer support to improve CX.

Call centers can use speech analysis software to analyze calls and better understand a customer’s personality and preferences. Contact centers do the same, but their omnichannel approach provides more opportunities for data collection. For example, contact centers can use social media data, such as likes and number of followers, to determine customer affiliations and attitudes that may not be apparent over the phone.

Customer self-service

Most call centers use Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems – automated telephone assistants that respond to voices and keyboard inputs – for CSS capabilities. IVR systems can route callers to relevant agents and perform simple tasks, such as refilling prescriptions, but they can also annoy customers with lengthy menu options that don’t address specific needs.

A contact center’s CSS capabilities go beyond IVR and include chatbots, FAQ web pages, online knowledge bases, and forums, all of which can help customers find answers in a independent. Other examples of contact center CSS include automated text messages that confirm or cancel appointments and mobile apps where customers can place or change orders.

Organizations equipped with CSS tools can reduce costs, customer wait times, and live agent workload. Additionally, CSS can help an organization thrive amid the COVID-19 pandemic as customers increasingly prefer self-service options, according to a 2020 Northridge Group report.

Agent skills

Although call and contact center agents need customer service skills, such as empathy and patience, contact center agents need additional skills as they use more diverse channels that allow different types of communication.

Call center agents provide customer service over the phone, so they need excellent verbal communication, personality, and problem-solving skills. Contact center agents also provide customer service over the phone and through text-based forums such as email, live chat, SMS, and social media. Therefore, contact center agents need skills in reading comprehension, written communication, multitasking, and social media etiquette.

Unclear writing from contact center agents can frustrate customers and force unnecessary follow-up messages. Additionally, agents need to know proper grammar, as grammatical errors can make an organization appear unprofessional. Social media interactions also require professionalism, as a negative interaction can go viral and damage an organization’s brand.

Technology

While call center and contact center technologies may overlap, contact centers require additional services to help manage their omnichannel nature. Call center technologies, in addition to the basic requirements of phones, computers, and headsets, include the following:

  • IVR. IVR’s automated phone assistants select the right agent or service to assist a customer based on voice and keypad responses.
  • Automatic Call Distributor (ACD). Once an IVR determines who a caller should speak with, an ACD automatically transfers the caller to that agent or department.
  • Speech analysis software. This software can analyze calls to detect emotions, such as satisfaction and anger. Speech analytics software can help an organization know when to follow up on dissatisfied customers.
  • Workforce Management System (WFM). Since some days in a call center are busier than others, WFM systems can help schedule the right agents for each day.
  • Improved Internet access. Agents who work remotely need a fast and secure connection to use call center software, which may require internet upgrades.

In addition to call center technologies, contact centers include the following:

  • Email response management system. These systems can help organize, track, and archive large volumes of email.
  • Omnichannel routing. As contact centers use many channels, agents can struggle to manage their various interactions. Omnichannel routing uses AI to identify a customer’s intent and route all requests to a live agent, regardless of channel.
  • Advanced Analytics. This methodology includes various AI technologies and analytics techniques, providing a holistic view of the customer journey and predictive insights into a customer’s future choices.
  • Channel reports. Reporting software collects raw data across all channels to create KPIs, such as first contact resolution and customer effort scores. Managers can monitor key performance indicators to ensure quality assurance across all channels.

Similarities Between Call Center and Contact Center

Despite the differences between call centers and contact centers, they provide inbound and outbound customer service. Also, they both use agents and many of the same technologies.

Whether an organization should use a call center or a contact center depends on their specific needs and priorities. Call centers can be profitable for organizations that primarily interact with customers through phone calls. Organizations that get a lot of digital engagement or want to keep up to date with the latest technology can benefit from a contact center.