What is a Contact Center?

Customers these days have incredibly high standards for the B2C businesses to whom they hand over their hard-earned money. In fact, in a recent survey, Emplifi found that 86% of consumers will stop buying from a favorite brand after just two to three bad customer service experiences.

And, as customers experience increasingly better treatment from other companies, what qualifies as “a bad experience” in their minds expands in scope. From a customer’s perspective, bad could be slow responses from an agent, having to repeat the same information more than once, or not being able to use their preferred communication channel.

This is why, today more than ever, B2C companies are focused on creating an effective contact center, the central location from which they manage their customer communications. Below, we’ll introduce you to contact centers and explain how they work, their benefits, and the various forms they take.

What is a Contact Center?

A contact center is the business division that handles communications with a business’s customers. Typically, the contact center is staffed with customer service agents who interact with customers over various channels, often including call, email, text, live chat, voice over IP (VOIP), and social media. Just check out the many different channels customers want to use:

Although agents will generally spend most of their time fielding and placing phone calls, other channels of communication, such as Facebook messaging, are gaining traction with consumers. Businesses have to adapt their contact centers to offer these ways of connecting to satisfy their customers’ expectations.

It follows that the main purpose of the contact center is to provide customers with technical support, sales assistance, and other forms of customer service in a seamless and efficient manner. These centers should make it as easy as possible for customers to get the help they need to resolve their situations.

As for the benefits, contact centers provide, they save your agents time, reduce customer service costs, lower employee burnout, improve customer loyalty, and help you form a more accurate understanding of your customers via the data you collect and the conversations your team leads.

Typically, companies take a digital-first approach when designing their contact centers, meaning they will power the center with some sort of contact center software or CCaaS (we’ll cover these in more depth later) that provide helpful tools and data for agents in an accessible, online location, along with real-time analytics and other useful features for managers. Now, let’s go over how contact centers work to accomplish their goal of providing top-notch customer service.

How does a Contact Center work?

A contact center’s agents use software, customer service tools, and their customer service skills to effectively provide support for buyers, and help them answer questions, and solve any problems, from the simple refund request to the complex billing issue.

Here are the six key components of a contact center that work together to make it function:

  • Hardware and Software: This includes top-notch VoIP technology, power dialers, IVR, ACD, headsets for your reps, and other tools that help your agents hold successful and efficient calls.
  • Cloud-Based Contact Center Software : A suite of online tools for contact centers that allows for omnichannel communication, automated call routing, real-time analytics, and more.
  • Data Tracking, Monitoring, and Reporting : Make sure to track all communications and consistently run reports to measure agent performance and locate areas for improvement.
  • Call Scripts and Messaging Templates : Equipping agents with call scripts and email templates streamlines the resolution process and standardizes it. And if your agents follow the same process, you can more easily measure its effectiveness.
  • Self-Service Options : Hosting blog posts, FAQ pages, video tutorials, and other content in a knowledge center is a great way for contact center managers to lighten the load on their agents, satisfy their customers, and reduce the number of tickets.
  • Superstar Agents : Even with all the tech in the world, a contact center is lackluster without friendly and helpful customer service agents.

Typically, an agent will be responsible for resolving a certain number of customer queries or issues per day. They may be solely focused on calls, non-voice support, emails, tickets, live chat, or multiple formats. And depending on the company, an agent may work on any of the following issues: inbound sales, outbound sales, general account questions, complaints, bill questions, technical support, account cancellations, and upgrades.

Contact Center vs. Call Center

The major difference between a contact center and a call center is that contact centers tend to use a variety of customer communication channels, from phone calls to text and online chat, while call centers are confined to making and receiving phone calls. So which is better?

If we think of them going head to head, with “Contact center vs. Call center” lit up on the jumbotron above a boxing ring, we’d want to put our money on the contact center. It’s not just more robust, but also more agile and has more moves in its repertoire. Reps can solve issues more quickly when able to use the appropriate channel.

With a contact center, you give your customers a choice as to how they communicate with you. This is something they’ll appreciate. Not everyone wants to have to get on the phone to handle a simple request. That said, let’s now go over some other reasons why contact centers are so beneficial to B2C businesses.

Contact Center Benefits and Use Cases

Perhaps the greatest benefit your business will receive from using an omnichannel contact center is customer loyalty. When you give them multiple ways to connect with you, they’re more likely to find one that fits their preferences and will be less hesitant to reach out to you. Generally, the more positive interactions you have with a customer, the more emotionally invested they’ll feel in their relationship with your brand.

But check out some other contact center benefits and use cases:

  • Reduce Agent Burnout: Agents who feel well- equipped and effective are less likely to become overwhelmed and burnt out. This will lower rep attrition, which sits around 45% for call center agents.
  • Lower Labor Costs: Contact centers usually use software that comes with automation features that lower average handle time (AHT) and enable businesses to help more customers with fewer agents.
  • Give a Personalized Customer Experience: In addition to letting customers use whatever channel they most enjoy, you will also have data about them saved in a central location, meaning your agents can speak to their specific needs and history.
  • Better Understand Your Customers: Using contact center software, you can analyze customer interactions and easily spot upsell and cross-sell opportunities. Plus, you can build out a more accurate customer profile with the data you capture.
  • Potentially Reduce Real Estate Costs: If you use a remote contact center model and let set agents up to succeed from home, you can reduce workspace and rental costs.

Types of Contact Centers

Every business’s contact center will be unique since each business will have distinct goals, resources, and customer service philosophies. However, contact centers typically fall into one of the following categories: omnichannel, multichannel, inbound, outbound, and blended. Below we’ll give you the basics of each type of contact center so you can start to think about which type is best for your business’s needs.

Omnichannel

So what is an omnichannel contact center? Essentially, it’s a form of a contact center that gives its customer service agents the ability to use every available channel to communicate with its customers, and all the channels are integrated and accessed from one technology platform.

This versatility allows agents to provide customers with the personalized experience they desire. Because of this, omnichannel contact centers are becoming the go-to type for small and medium-sized B2C businesses.

Multichannel

A multichannel contact center is similar to an omnichannel contact center in that it uses multiple communication channels, but different in that the channels are not integrated and each channel is operated from a unique and separate technology infrastructure.

When deciding on omnichannel versus multichannel contact centers, customer service managers tend to choose omnichannel because it gives the customer a better experience. For instance, with multichannel contact centers, your agent might have trouble accessing a customer’s call history while they are communicating through live chat, which forces the customer to tell their story all over again.

Inbound

An inbound contact center is filled with customer service or support agents who answer incoming customer communications. This means the customers are the ones who reach out first, either through a call, interactive-voice -response, live chat, email, or another medium. This type is more commonly used than outbound centers, especially in ecommerce, retail, and tech.

Outbound

An outbound contact center consists of agents who proactively reach out to customers for various reasons, the most common one being to generate new sales. However, they may also contact customers to conduct market research via surveys or handle issues such as unpaid bills. Because of FTA regulations warning against calling people who haven’t given a business the green light to contact them, these centers are becoming less common.

Blended

A blended contact center enables its agents to receive and initiate contact with customers. It facilitates both inbound and outbound customer service approaches. For example, the blended contact center will likely make use of automated call routing for inbound calls and predictive dialing for outbound ones.

Technologies Used in a Contact Center

Customer service leaders often implement various types of technologies into their contact centers in order to increase agent effectiveness, reduce administrative work, and enable data transparency. Some of the most common types of technologies deployed are interactive voice response (IVR) software, automatic call distribution (ACD) software, and customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

Below are introductions to the most common technologies used in a contact center:

  • Automatic Call Distribution: ACD systems automatically pick up, assess, and route incoming calls to the person on the team best equipped to handle the query. This accuracy ensures customers and agents save as much time as possible.
  • Customer Relationship Management System: CRMs house data about a company’s customers, and agents can use this data to better help them. For example, a quick look at their billing history can help answer a payment question.
  • Computer Telephony Integration: CTI technology connects the computer to the telephone, allowing reps to work from their computers. When a call comes in, for example, they can see the call and answer it on their screen.
  • Predictive Dialers: A predictive dialer automatically dials down a list of phone numbers and spots and moves past disconnected or busy lines, thereby saving time. Some tools can also do this for other communication channels, like email or text.
  • Call Recording Systems: Contact centers often use software that records phone calls so that agents and managers can review the calls later to find the information they need or evaluate an agent’s performance, often for coaching purposes.
  • Interactive Voice Response: IVR contact centers enable customers to get information they need without having to speak with an agent. Callers listen to the automated recording and press or say the numbers corresponding to their needs.

Equipping your agents with state-of-the-art technology will help them reach their ultimate potential. Not to mention, it will also limit employee frustration, since it’s often those tedious and repetitive administrative tasks that bug agents the most.

What is a Cloud Contact Center?

A cloud contact center, often referred to as cloud contact center software, is a centralized, online platform that handles all outbound and inbound customer communications across multiple channels. These software solutions provide customer service teams with cloud-based services and tools that help them manage agents, automate tasks, distribute calls and messages, track and analyze data, and much more.

The most impactful feature of a cloud contact center is that it integrates different channels into a single system. This allows customers to interact with agents on their preferred channel, whether it’s text, phone, email, or another supported channel. They’re able to take an omnichannel approach.

With a platform like Contacto, for example, agents can even switch channels in the middle of a discussion without rerouting the customer. This seamless and personalized experience keeps customers coming back to your business.

What is Contact Center as a Service?

Contact center as a service (CCaaS) is a cloud-based customer communication solution that allows businesses to buy only the tools they currently need from the software provider. With CCaaS, businesses can set up their contact center faster than if they were to create an on-premise center. With CCaaS there is no need for internal hardware or IT. All the tools are in the cloud, and the provider is responsible for troubleshooting any issues.

CCaaS allows customer service teams to do the following:

  • Improve Scalability: If you need to add agents to your team, there’s no need to buy new equipment. You have the power to add capacity to the software when you need it.
  • Reduce Costs: CCaaS prices fall between $35 and $100 per user per month, making them less expensive than on-premise centers that require expensive equipment, maintenance, IT staff, and licensing fees.
  • Centralize Customer Communications: CCaaS solutions break down data silos and enable agents and businesses to view data about all customers from one online location.

Another considerable benefit of CCaaS is that users pay monthly. This makes forecasting costs easier than one-off equipment purchases, so customers can plan more effectively. In conclusion, a CCaaS solution not only makes your customer service team more effective but also can dramatically decrease the costs associated with running a contact center.

UCaaS vs. CCaaS

UCaaS stands for unified communications as a service and is designed to bring a company’s employees together. Meanwhile, CCaaS, contact center as a service, connects a company’s employees with its customers.

UCaaS is focused on facilitating internal collaboration via unified interfaces, video meeting and messaging tools, and collaboration analytics. CCaaS, on the other hand, provides customer service agents and salespeople with call routing, customer experience tracking, and integrated communication channels so they can satisfy customers with their omnichannel approach.

If you’re wondering where your business stands on the UCaaS vs. CCaaS issue, you’re thinking about it incorrectly. A single business can have both types of software, one to facilitate internal, and the other to facilitate external communication. If you’re a customer service leader, however, CCaaS is what you should be exploring.

Can Cloud Contact Centers Help with Customer Loyalty?

Cloud contact centers help with customer loyalty indirectly by empowering your agents with the tools, data, and communication channels they need to give your customers an exceptional experience with your brand. In fact, according to a recent survey, 80% of customers said that when customer service solves a problem for them they feel emotionally connected to the brand.

Let’s go over how cloud-based contact center software helps customer service teams perform:

  • Agents Can Use a Customer’s Preferred Channel: Agents are able to use text, email, phone, social, live chat, and other methods, which gives customers choices.
  • Agents Solve Issues Quickly: A dashboard and data transparency enable agents to find the answers they need to solve the buyer’s problem as fast as possible. That way, customers also spend less time in the queue.
  • Agents Are Matched with the Right Customers: Intelligent call routing can be configured to place customers in the hands of an expert on their specific issue.
  • Customers Can Self-Serve: A good contact center software should offer ways for customers to help themselves, like a good interactive voice response system. This also helps agents focus on customers with more complicated issues more quickly.

Since customer service interactions often occur in such times of distress — payment problems, refund requests, product issues — they are frequently the deciding factor in how a customer perceives a brand going forward. So make them count with the right contact center solution. Keeping your agents helpful, efficient, and happy with cloud contact center solutions is a surefire way to increase customer retention and reduce churn.

Conclusion

A contact center is the center of operations for customer communication. They’re filled with customer service agents and often powered by contact center software. A robust contact center, using an omnichannel approach, can help your business improve customer loyalty by giving them a seamless and comprehensive experience.

If you’re a B2C professional interested in building out such a contact center, start exploring Contacto, a cloud-based contact center solution that agents can easily learn and use.