Contact Center vs. Call Center: 6 Key Differences and Why it Matters

Omnichannel contact centers provide many advantages over old-fashioned call centers

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Does your business need a call center or a contact center? Although these terms are often used interchangeably, there are key differences between these common business communication models. Understanding the difference between a call center and contact center, and how they apply to your business needs, is a critical first step to building an efficient, differentiated customer experience.

In this article we put contact center vs call center to the test. We also explain why contact centers are ultimately more beneficial for your company and your customers, outlining specific reasons your call centers should become omnichannel contact centers. This includes improvements to operational efficiency such as first contact resolution and average handle time, increases to productivity with intelligent automation to eliminate repetitive tasks, and empowering agents with customer insights and next best action suggestions.

But before we can show why contact centers create better customer and employee experiences, it is important to understand the differences between a call center and a contact center.

A traditional call center, as the name suggests, is focused on voice calls. Even if a call center provides some multi-channel customer service, the interactions are siloed in the individual channels. This does not provide a clear view of the full customer journey. On the other hand, a modern contact center, as the name indicates, allows customers to contact a company not just via calls, but across whatever channel they choose.

Furthermore, a well-designed and managed omnichannel contact center includes intelligent routing within and across channels so the entire customer journey is visible. This improves customer experience, agent efficiency, and operational KPIs.

1. What is a call center?

A call center is a department that services inbound and outbound calls from customers. Traditional call center agents are customer service representatives who handle customer inquiries, but they may also provide other services such as telemarketing, debt collection, and billing, or other customer-related functions. Call center operations may be located within an organization or outsourced to a partner that is an expert in the field.

2. What is a contact center?

A contact center is a department that handles inbound and outbound customer interactions. Like call center services, contact centers operate within an organization or may be outsourced to a partner. But unlike call centers, contact center agents interact with customers across multiple channels, such as messaging, phone, apps, text, email, social media and web.

3. Aren’t contact centers just call centers with more channels?

Historically, inbound call centers were designed to serve as many customers as quickly as possible through one channel: voice calls. In many cases, customers are calling the business as a last resort. Contact centers, in contrast, are designed around the understanding that customers expect fast responses, personalized interactions, and timely results from the channel of their choice. But just adding more channels to a call center doesn’t make it a contact center.

infographic showing 10 reasons to update your call center into an omnichannel, digital first contact center

A contact center is the central point from which all customer contacts are managed. This requires the coordination and integration of people, processes, and technology across the business. Contact center agents, for instance, need to be trained in the best practices of each channel for engaging customers.

Performance metrics must also be adapted to each channel to account for different functions and capabilities. A traditional call metric like average handle time, for example, isn’t relevant in mobile messaging.

4. What efficiencies can businesses expect from contact centers?

A company’s ability to meet customer expectations and needs is only as good as the support that it provides.

For example, an outdoor specialty retailer knew its contact center platform failed to meet its customers’ expectations for efficient answers to product questions and credit card activities. It needed an upgrade to provide more real-time features and avoid wasting its customers’ time. Internally, its basic interactive voice response ivr systems and call distribution weren’t enough. Additionally, staffing issues couldn’t keep up with rising call volume.

We deployed a new Cloud Solution – Cisco® Powered (HCS/CCaaS) for the retailer’s five contact centers and 450 concurrent associates to serve both the credit card and retail customer service operations. New security safeguards were put in place to meet regulations, including automatic caller verification and account escalation protocols.

We also worked on streamlining customer communication interactions. The solution provided callers precision queueing to reach the best possible associate for complex issues. Meanwhile, robust self-service options gave customers control over balance and credit availability inquiries, payments by phone, and even clearing credit holds in the case of suspected fraudulent transactions. Improved outbound collections routing also let delinquent card holders make immediate payments without ever speaking to an associate.

Customers who wanted to speak with an associate could still call to get assistance. This allowed them to place orders, ask billing questions, perform order tracking, and be connected to in-store employees using micro-applications on the associate desktop. Both divisions offered courtesy callbacks, eliminating wait time physically spent on hold. Finally, associates could more easily access backend customer information through soft phones and screen pops, as well as with CRM integration.

The new system routed nearly two-thirds of inbound phone calls to the self-service IVR, with containment (calls sent through the IVR not routed to an associate) approaching the 65 percent mark. First call resolution reached 85 percent, while average handle time improved 34 seconds in the first year for a $675,000 annual savings.

Custom reporting provided detailed information to enable contact center managers to optimize staff utilization. This greatly reduced unproductive time and saved nearly $1 million in the first year. At the end of the first year, the client saw a total cost savings of over $2.5 million, all while improving both the customer and associate experience.

5. Should contact centers be purely automated?

It’s unquestionable that automation technology provides significant cost savings. For every second bots shave off average handle times, contact centers save about $1 million in annual customer service costs. Businesses can reduce customer service costs by up to 30 percent by implementing conversational solutions like virtual associates and chatbots.

Automation can, for certain business processes, replace humans (what usually is known as RPA or unattended automation). But there are many things bots can’t do. Bots can’t handle unusual or complex requests. They can’t match a human in expressing empathy.

This is why enterprises that have blended automation with humans report that their customer service efforts are more effective at improving both customer satisfaction (61 percent) and associate satisfaction (69 percent).

6. What does the contact center of the future look like?

Engaging with customers across multiple channels, with the ability to see their behaviors across different touch points, requires organizations to adopt forward-thinking strategies. This is why we predict contact centers will evolve into more comprehensive, digital-first customer experience hubs.

Customer engagement hubs allow organizations to connect customers’ experiences across the enterprise. Engage the omnichannel customer by providing employees with access to the right customer data, at the right time, all in one place and view. As a result, customer care teams will be able to engage customers at the time and via the channel that the customer prefers. This has an immense positive impact on customer satisfaction, customer retention, employee productivity, and overall company profitability.

In the below video, we take a fun look at contact centers vs. call centers, and how customer-centric digital transformation can ensure the contact center of the future is here sooner than you think.


Call centers vs contact centers? Contact centers vs call centers?: It’s your call

Excellent customer support begins with understanding your customers’ needs and expectations. It’s about systematically and continuously seeking better ways to use technology, data, and operations. So, while traditional call centers serve an essential need of inbound and/or outbound phone calls, are they really meeting your customers’ needs? A more robust customer service contact center, with seamless omnichannel orchestration across all customer touchpoints, can provide improved CX and operational efficiency.

More resources about omnichannel contact centers

When it comes to contact center vs call center, we hope this article has provided you a better understanding of how contact centers for customer service provide a more powerful omnichannel experience for both your customers and your employees.

To learn more about how our cloud based contact center software and contact center outsourcing solutions deliver best-in-class customer experiences, here are some additional resources.

Contact Center of the Future - Digital Transformation Best Practice: A key aspect of successful CX and digital transformation is business transformation. Digital technologies for customer insights, call deflection, personalization, and automation can be optimized. This turns your old fashioned call center into a contact center of the future.

Make Your CX Efforts Sing with Channel Orchestration: A focus on cross channel orchestration that aligns the best channels to the right interactions enables successful digital transformation. Whether phone calls, chatbots, live chat, or other channels, this strategy guide explores 4 ways the contact center services you provide customers can better integrate traditional and digital channels for CX and operational excellence.

Contact Center Automation - Tools and Trends: In this article, we explain the most important approach to successful contact center automation. We also outline some of the main types of automation tools being implemented in contact centers to help agents work smarter and more efficiently. Finally, we discuss the benefits of an optimized balance between humans and AI in your CX automation approach.

Inside Sales Outsourcing Trends and Best Practices: In this strategy guide, learn how utilizing a contact center for sales outsourcing can increase sales leads, enhance your sales funnel, and grow customer lifetime value.

Cloud Contact Center Solutions to Accelerate Digital Transformation: Cloud contact centers provide many benefits, such as increased flexibility, cost savings, and the ability to support customers from virtually anywhere. As companies move from on-premise to cloud contact center software, there are new opportunities to identify CX innovation. In this trends report, learn how to leverage best practices to enable value-based transformation, as we explore four ways brands are taking advantage of cloud contact centers to spur business growth.