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What is a Contact Center

What used to be known as a call center–where agents either made or accepted customer calls–has today grown to include interacting with customers when, where, and how they choose. From phone to chat to social media and other channels, the contact center is being shaped by digital innovation and customer demand. And businesses must evolve or be left in the analog age battling for customer retention

Call center v. contact center–what’s the difference?

Did you know that the terms “call center” and “contact center” aren’t interchangeable? It has to do with the functionality of each–while a call center can be a contact center, a contact center isn’t always a call center. It seems confusing, but breaking down the functionality can help delineate which term should be used to refer to which kind of organization.

A call center handles inbound (think customer service and tech support) and outbound (think marketing, surveys, fundraising, debt collection, and sales) calls. Customer interactions are handled over the phone. They rely on call center technology that enables managers to quickly and easily scale and add users as the company grows.

Contact centers expand on calling functionality to include other ways a customer can contact an organization–or an organization can reach customers–like online chat, social media, and SMS texting. Simply put, call center agents handle voice communications; contact center agents handle all communications. Using contact center software, organizations can further personalize interactions to go beyond simple inbound and outbound calls to help truly transform customer experiences.

Contact center solutions and infrastructure

Contact center agents rely on a wide range of technology to handle both inbound and outbound customer communications. These enable organizations to more quickly and easily address and solve customer needs, and include:

Contact center software

There are various solutions on the market for organizations of all size to help manage and route incoming communications like calls, texts, and chats to the agents who are best trained to resolve them. This can include to agents with certain skill sets or those who speak specific languages.


Interactive voice response (IVR) system

Commonly known as a "phone tree," an IVR enables callers to use the keypad or voice prompts to identify and route themselves to the best contact for issue resolution. You don’t want to end up in technical support if you called in to pay a bill.


Automatic call distributor (ACD) system

For sales and support organizations, an ACD system enables them to manage incoming calls based on specific instructions. Calls can be validated and forwarded, incoming callers can record messages, and contact center agents can make outgoing responses or calls, among other tasks.


TTY/TDD system

Contact centers use TTY (TeleTYpe)/TDD (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf) systems to assist deaf or hard-of-hearing customers who use text-based telecommunications equipment. This technology can also assist contact center agents, opening up a world of opportunity for them in the job market.


Workforce management system

With changing workforce needs due to variable interaction volumes and duration, staffing contact centers can sometimes be an issue. Using a workforce management system, contact center managers can monitor high-volume contact and call times and schedule staff appropriately.


These solutions can be delivered a number of ways–a cloud-based contact center, a hosted contact center, or a mix of the two, a hybrid contact center. With modern contact center software, businesses of all sizes can easily scale and add omnichannel functionality as their organization grows and their needs change.

How does the contact center factor into customer loyalty?

For both call centers and contact centers, the ultimate goal is to improve the customer experience. Helping spearhead this initiative are digital innovation and changes in customer behavior. Technology has expanded to include new contact channels, and customers are eager to do business with companies that provide high customer engagement.

In an industry that used to rely on hardwired phones and email as recently as 10 years ago, modern contact center solutions now enable a truly omnichannel approach. The always-on nature of the omnichannel contact center includes avenues like SMS text, social media, online chat, and yes, those trusty phone calls.

There are multiple benefits of contact center technology. It’s positively affecting the customer experience and customer loyalty. Customers seek to interact with companies when, where, and how they want and not be limited by an organization’s office hours.

And when customers feel loved by the companies they do business with, they remain loyal. Customers who receive good customer care are 3.5 times more likely to make an additional purchase than if they have a poor experience, per a 2017 survey from the Temkin Group.

With so many ways to get–and stay–in touch with customers, a contact center solution provides a single version of truth for all customer interactions, both inbound and outbound. Regardless of when or how customers contact an organization, contact center agents can immediately know the entire account history and contact/interaction preferences. This enables agents to better route calls to reps who can better serve them and achieve that ultimate goal of resolving the issue with just one call, also known as first call resolution.

Future trends shaping the contact center

As the way customers and companies interact continues to evolve, the contact center industry is also adapting. Behavioral trends and technology that are shaping the future of contact center include:

Real-time, on-demand service

Customer service issues don’t limit themselves to business hours. Consumers expect to be able to reach companies whenever an issue arises or on their timetable. An omnichannel approach that provides access across various channels makes this a reality.


Self-service contact center

Can the issue be resolved with an IVR system, such as making a payment over the phone or reporting a service outage? Not having to enlist a call center agent for every single issue aids with customer experience and can also help reduce call center costs.


Personalized attention and responses

Contact center systems with artificial intelligence (AI) integrations can recognize phone numbers associated with the account and immediately recall pertinent account details. These systems can also identify when a customer is having a problem online and contact them directly to help.


Chatbots

AI can also be integrated into online chatbots that can interact with customers, answer frequently asked questions, or escalate issues to agents who can reply or initiate a one-on-one conversation.


Social media

As organizations embrace on-demand customer care, social media has become an important channel for responding to customer needs. Use of social media as a contact center channel has increased 25 percent since 2015, according to a BT Research study


Mobile and SMS texting

Both customers and contact centers are using texting and mobile devices to communicate localized sale offers, send appointment reminders and order updates, or even enable advocates to opt-in to fundraising efforts.


Video conferencing

Customers can connect with contact center agents using video conferencing when working tech support to help troubleshoot issues. 


Analytics

All of this interconnectivity is creating a boon for analytics professionals. New insights on customer behavior can be used to create new products and better staff contact centers in response to high-volume contact times, as well as use speech analytics to improve employee training.


Contact centers provide a critical function for organizations that want to improve the customer experience. As customers look to connect with companies when and how they want to resolve customer service issues large and small, the ability to quickly and easily handle these requests should be a top priority. Today, it’s not enough to simply have call center functionality, you should offer a true omnichannel experience for all customers and ensure that you have customers for life.

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