The idea of a call center is certainly nothing new, with phone support acting as the standard method of contact between any business and consumers or clients for decades. But as everything moves digital, and legacy telephony slowly becoming a thing of the past, the technology and solutions a business employs must also shift to meet the demanding needs of customers and new technological trends. Even the call center must evolve beyond a public switched telephone network.

As VoIP becomes more cost effective and robust, call centers will see the shift to utilizing modern call center technology and call center automation – and with VoIP comes not just calling, but a whole new array of communication channels that every business can utilize. So as consumers request more and more ways to get in touch with their favorite business, call centers are evolving into what is known as contact centers. So what is a contact center, and how does it differ from the age old call center? The two terms tend be used interchangeably often, but they are not exactly the same. Let’s break it down to make a bit more sense.

What Is a Call Center?

A call center can be a stand-alone entity, or subsection of a contact center, that focuses primarily on voice communication channels only. Because phone support is still the mostly widely used and accepted method of contact for consumers, and with the golden age of customer support among us, it can be imperative to have a solid call center to handle customer and client requests. Older centers maybe still hooked up to the PTSN, while newer centers may adopt enterprise VoIP telephony.

Call centers will usually focus on not only inbound, but also outbound communications directly to handle requests such as technical support, customer support, billing inquiries, order placement and status, or even promotion, marketing and surveys. Generally, labor will be divided between outbound and inbound specific agents, or even different agents will be trained for different departments such as technical support, sales, and product inquiries. While it is totally possible for a business to operate and maintain a high level of customer satisfaction and interaction through only a call center, those looking to get an extra edge may want to consider transforming their call center into a larger, more robust contact center.

What Is a Contact Center?

So, if you’ve ever had to dial in for technical support, then you have experience dealing with a call center. If you’ve ever discussed features of a paid app through a live web chat, then you also have experience dealing with a contact center. But that call center can also be part of a contact center.

While call centers will only handle voice communications, a contact center does it all. With customers looking to get in touch in new ways, contact centers will encompass all forms of communication whether that includes a call center, an email channel, live web chat interfaces, or even online fax and social media. A contact center would even make video communications between clients and a business possible.  All in all, a contact center is essentially the heart, or home base, of all communications and client relationships for a business, and is an important aspect of multi-channel marketing.

What are the benefits of a call center?

While it may seem like a no brainer for companies to switch over to an all-in-one contact center, there are some draw backs and differences between the two. While contact centers offer an all-encompassing method of contact, most customer interactions still do happen over the phone. A lot of consumers feel speaking to an individual can provides a higher level of service and ensures a company will follow through on its promises. Because of this, it could still be viable to operate your communications as only a call center. This combined with the benefit unique tools like Predictive dialers, call centers can still operate as a viable solution for many types of business.

This would cut down not only on service costs, but training and employment pain points as well. With voice being the only channel of communication, your agents only need to be trained in one method of contact. Of course you can still train for different teams to delegate different levels of support, or inbound vs. outbound agents, but they still only need to be familiarized with one method of contact.

What Are the Downsides?

Many businesses have been moving their call centers oversees, outsourcing work to cheaper markets. While this helps cut down on the investment required, there has been a more recent public backlash against this practice – many consumers feel it difficult and less personal to speak with an agent oversees, as this may cause a natural language barrier. To keep up with the trends, many businesses are bringing the centers back, and make it a marketing point to note the use of a domestic call center. While call centers may keep the costs down overall, it can be pricey and difficult to operate around the clock, potentially sacrificing 24/7 support that may be necessary. However, both call and contact centers can be susceptible to attacks in their own unique ways

How About the Benefits of a Contact Center?

Contact Centers, as stated before, are an all-in-one multichannel solution for a business looking to open as many communication channels with their customers as possible. Multiple channels make it easier for clients to get in touch, and the addition of email or web-based support makes it easier to operate around the clock. Organization of a contact center is up to each business, but common methods include separating divisions for each unique channel, requiring different agents to be trained in different methods of communication.

This can ensure each channel has a knowledgeable and well-trained agent to handle each case, but can quickly add extra oversight. It would also be possible to train agents to handle multiple methods of contact, for example, text-based and voice-based, with the same agents handling both email and webchat, while others voice and possibly video – or even blended agents to handle it all. This solution is not without its own drawbacks, requiring in-depth training and leading to possible confusion for agents.

So Which Is Right for Your Business?

Contact Centers are the evolution of call centers, growing to meet the demands of the consumer. As technical trends shift, and the spotlight on customer service continues to shine, it is imperative to arm your business with the best solution to heal the largest pain points. Generally, call center software will get the job done and provide the necessary support for consumers, but can grow stale quick and may leave the consumers seeking out competitors that offer more. However, this falls to an industry-by-industry basis and could differ greatly.  The best call center software is most useful when combined with talented agents who know how to get the most from the software and at the same time are implementing the best calling strategies (for example, following these cold calling tips for outbound calls)

Cost, like any decision, is another factor to weigh in when considering expanding any channels, let alone your customer relation and communication efforts. However, with the introduction and acceptance of VoIP services, it is becoming easier for businesses to establish an entire arsenal of solutions and channels at less and less of a cost utilizing a contact center solution.