Throughout recent years, there has been a trend in the B2C customer service space of switching from call centers to contact centers.
Retailers, e-commerce companies, financial institutions, and other businesses are finding that customers prefer the freedom to contact them through whatever means they prefer, be it text, call, or something else entirely.
In this article, we’ll help you understand the key similarities and differences between a contact center and a call center while also helping you choose which is right for your specific business.
A contact center is a central location, either physical or virtual (cloud-based), from which a business handles all of its inbound and outbound customer communications across multiple channels. From the contact center, agents give technical support, assist in purchases, and provide other forms of customer service.
The variety of channels is a defining factor in contact centers. Agents in contact centers often interact with customers through phone, email, text, live chat, social media, and other forms of communication. Many contact centers also empower customers to self-serve with interactive voice response (IVR) and AI-powered chatbots.
Since they allow customers to communicate via their preferred channel, contact centers are known to enhance a business’s customer experience and limit churn.
A call center is a business’s central location where agents handle inbound and outbound phone calls with customers and typically provide customer service or sales assistance. Call centers are either located within an organization or outsourced to a call center vendor. They only use phone calls and IVR as means of communication with customers.
Call centers have a much longer history than contact centers, dating back to the 1960s when the first ones were created. Alongside advancements in technology, they gained popularity over the next three decades.
In the 1990s, the dot-com boom greatly fed their growth because many new companies were online and lacked a storefront where customers could go to get help, complain, and conduct sales transactions.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before call centers started to get a bad reputation, which was only exacerbated by language barriers when many companies began moving them offshore. Agents disliked working in them, and customers disliked working with them. It was a bad situation for all involved.
Today, many call centers have improved their practices with new technologies and agent-training protocols. However, they are still a dying breed. Contact centers are replacing them in businesses across multiple industries (finance, travel, retail) in which call centers once reigned supreme.
Both types of customer service centers are locations from which businesses manage their inbound and outbound customer communications. The main difference between a contact center and a call center is that contact centers use multiple communication channels to interact with customers, while call centers use only the telephone.
Here are some other key differences between the two:
Call CenterContact CenterChannelsPhonePhone, email, text, social media, live chatSupport typeReactiveProactive and reactiveAgent skillsVerbal communication, emotional IQ, problem-solvingAll the call center skills + proficiency in writing, social media, and other channelsSelf-serviceIVR (interactive voice response)VR + AI-powered chatbots, knowledge centers, videosTechnologyIVR, call routing, workforce management softwareAll-inclusive cloud contact center solution or a combination of different channel tools
In general, a contact center is better for both the agents working there and the customers. But let’s go into the specifics of how each type creates a different experience for each group.
Talking on the phone all day can be pretty draining for even the most sociable customer service agents. An agent who switches from a call center to an inbound and outbound contact center will surely appreciate the diversity of communication methods available to them. Handling live chat with automated answer suggestions can feel like a cooldown walk after a sprint.
Also, because customers are typically happier working with contact centers, agents experience fewer negative interactions with them, which can be pretty demotivating.
In turn, agents have a higher percentage of positive interactions and resolutions, at a faster rate, which should give them a nice feeling of success, which can be motivating.
Last, because many contact centers run on cloud contact center software, many agents have access to performance-enhancing features like conversational timelines, where they can see all of a customer’s interactions with the company from one dashboard. Features like this help them resolve issues more quickly.
When agents have this variety in communication channels, fewer bad customer interactions, and a greater feeling of achievement, they’ll be far less likely to burn out and leave the job, something that is all too common in call centers, where average turnover rates hover around 30-45%.
The first thing a customer will notice about a contact center compared to a call center is that the experience is far more personalized.
Customers can communicate using their preferred channel. If they’re introverts, they can text, email, or even chat with a bot. If they have complex issues, they can call. Having these choices at their disposal makes life easier.
Second, customers experience shorter wait times because there are more channels to use. They can therefore pick the one that best fits their issue. Unlike at a call center, there are more options than the phone, which can be one of the more time-consuming forms of communication and a bad fit for some simple situations.
For example, if customers have a quick, time-insensitive question about a shoe return, they could ask it via email and then go on with their lives.
Even better, some contact centers offer self-service options like AI-powered interactive voice response, where a smart, efficient robot can serve the customer quickly while agents help people with more complex questions. With a contact center, agents are being deployed as efficiently as possible thanks to a diversity of communications resources.
Last, because contact center agents often use a cloud-based platform that provides access to all customer data, customers tend to notice an improvement in consistency and accuracy. It’s as if the agent is omniscient regarding their past experiences and conversations with the company.
This is satisfying not only because it speeds up the resolution process but also because it creates a sense of closeness between the customer and the brand. The customer feels like the company is committed to learning about their needs and serving them properly.
It’s hard to find or think of cases when a business might choose to use a call center over a contact center. Unless a company is running a strategy that requires only phone calls or is dealing with customers who want to communicate only over the phone, it seems that a contact center is a better option. That’s because contact centers can do everything a call center can do and more.
For example, a company that chose a call center instead of a contact center for their outbound B2C sales team would be missing out on potential customers who are phone-shy and only answer emails or texts.
That said, here are some examples of how businesses might use both types. Remember that all of the use cases (except number three) in the call center column can also be accomplished with a contact center, albeit across more channels.
Call CenterContact CenterLow-ticket-item businesses that want to use mainly cold calling for outbound sales, at a grand scaleBusinesses that want to use an omnichannel approach for outreach and to widen their audiencesOrganizations that conduct their market research through verbal conversations with customersCustomer service teams looking to enhance their customers’ experiences by providing communication via multiple channelsCompanies looking to outsource their customer service offshore to a low-cost call center vendorCompanies trying to take their customer service department virtual and remote to lower costsFinance department agents participating in debt collectionCustomer service teams that want to personalize and streamline self-serve options.
Traditionally, call centers were incredibly popular among financial services companies, healthcare providers, retailers, the travel and tourism industries, and other B2C businesses.
These days, however, many companies in these industries are switching over to contact centers, especially for their customer service teams, in an effort to raise customer satisfaction. That said, let’s go over whether a contact center is the right choice for your team.
Customers these days expect to be able to reach your business in whatever way they find to be most convenient. If your customer service team offers only phone calls, you might miss out on a large number of new customers and frustrate current ones.
This is especially true if you don’t offer email. DMG Consulting found in their study that, for inbound customer service situations, email and phone were tied as the customers’ most preferred channels, both receiving 37.4% of the votes.
But phone and email often aren’t enough to satisfy your customers’ expectations. Many now prefer to use text, social media, or live chat self-serve options to handle their issues, especially minor ones that don’t require a verbal conversation.
To meet these demands, it makes sense to use an omnichannel contact center that empowers you to easily serve your customers through their preferred channels.
Fortunately, creating a contact center is simpler and more cost-effective than it used to be. Instead of buying multiple technologies for each communication channel and manually integrating them, companies can subscribe to cloud contact center software.
Cloud-based contact center solutions are hosted and maintained by a third-party vendor, easy to set up, affordable, and accessible from anywhere. More importantly, they also support and integrate all the communication channels you need to wow your customers.
In sum, a contact center powered by cloud-based software is likely an intelligent route for your customer service team if you’re looking to improve customer loyalty, reduce agent attrition, and reduce costs.
Contact centers and call centers are different in that contact centers use multiple channels to communicate with customers, while call centers use nothing but the phone.
Many B2C customer service teams prefer contact centers because they empower their agents to work as effectively as possible, which leads to improved customer experiences.
If you’re looking to easily set up a contact center, check out Contacto, the omnichannel cloud contact center software designed to keep agents productive and your customers happy.