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Contact Centers Are Different Than Call Centers, And Why It Matters

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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 those differences and how they apply to your business needs is a critical first step to building an efficient, differentiated customer experience that drives loyalty and customer satisfaction.

1. What is a call center?

A call center is a department that services inbound and outbound phone calls from customers. Traditional call center associates handle customer service inquiries, but they may also provide other services such as telemarketing, debt collection, and billing, or other customer-related functions. A call center 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 centers, 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, and web.

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

Historically, call centers were designed to serve as many customers as quickly as possible through one channel: voice. In many cases, customers are calling the business as a last resort or they want to speak with someone who can help them directly. 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.

A contact center is the central point from which all customer contacts are managed, which requires the coordination and integration of people, processes, and technology across the business. 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 IVR and call routing system 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 interactions. The solution provided callers precision queueing to reach the best possible associate for complex issues, while 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 placing orders, ask billing questions, perform order tracking, or be connected to in-store employees using micro-applications on the associate desktop. Both divisions offered courtesy callbacks, eliminating 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 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, greatly reducing unproductive time and saving nearly $1 million in the first year, while outbound collections routing saved the client about $1,000 a day. 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 and businesses can reduce customer service costs by up to 30 percent by implementing conversational solutions like virtual associates and chatbots.

Automation can, in certain areas, 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 and having the ability to see their behaviors and transactions across different touch points requires organizations to adopt forward-thinking strategies and disciplines. This is why we predict contact centers will evolve into more comprehensive, digital-first customer experience hubs.

Customer experience hubs allow organizations to connect customers’ experiences across the enterprise and 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, with an immense impact on customer satisfaction, customer retention, employee productivity, and overall company profitability.

It’s your call

Excellent customer experience 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 call centers serve an essential need, are they meeting your customers’ needs?

Learn more about how to deliver best-in-class customer experiences here.