When companies start to think about differentiating through customer service, they inevitably arrive at one important question: “What is a Contact Center solution, and how is it different from the 'call centers' we’ve interacted with in the past?”
When picturing a call center, most people envision large groups of operators in cubicles (or worse, lined-up at desks in a basement somewhere overseas) adjusting their headsets and blearily answering customer service questions based on a barely-helpful script. But the modern Contact Center has developed into a completely different offering — one that's far more prevalent as a customer engagement tool than you might realize.
So What Exactly is a “Contact Center”?
A contact center is any team of trained professionals who regularly engage with existing and potential customers by providing information, answering questions, making recommendations, and solving problems.
You encounter contact centers every day, whether you realize it or not. You’re stepping into the domain of the Contact Center every time you:
- Text your bank to check your balance
- Call up a doctor’s office to check on your test results or schedule an appointment
- Hop online to book a flight or check an airline fare
- Chat with customer service online about a package being delivered
As you can see, the contact center is the lifeblood of many organizations. It’s a place where customer problems are resolved, new products and services are sold, potential new customers are educated, and profits are generated. This means that tons of companies — almost everyone who provides products and services — use some kind of contact center functionality.
How is a “Contact Center” Different Than a “Call Center?”
Traditionally, a call center is exclusively focused on voice. In fact, most people’s idea of a call center includes some kind of auto-dial system that helps agents make outgoing cold calls (usually annoying you at dinnertime), or agents fielding anonymous inbound phone inquiries, one after the other.
Speaking of annoying, that’s the other hallmark that has historically defined a call center — floors full of agents fielding customer service calls, long hold times, under-informed operators, poor transmission quality, and excruciatingly frustrating interactions where little gets resolved.
We’ve all had difficult experiences with what is obviously a mass call center or an overseas customer service “pool” of agents, and they often have little ability to improve the transactional experience.
The Evolution of the Modern Contact Center
Over time, there’s been a shift in the ways that consumers communicate. Although voice calls are still a major part of the customer service equation, consumers can now engage with companies through chat screens, SMS texting, social media, web pages, and sometimes even video chat.
This influx of new technology sparked a transition from the idea of a “Call Center” to a “Contact center,” broadening the definition of how customers interact with business. We now refer to this broad spectrum of potential interaction as “Omni-channel Communication,” where agents and operators must seamlessly accommodate messages via all of these channels simultaneously. After all, customers sometimes use more than one of these channels at a time — a disgruntled consumer might send an email, post on social media, and then call a customer service number.
What Makes a Great Contact Center Solution?
Modern Contact Center technology has evolved to accommodate the changing face of customer engagement, to the point of creating whole new experiences and potential interactions. Sophisticated contact center solutions can now:
Integrate with the company’s CRM platform, allowing agents to access customers’ individual records and purchasing histories before an interaction even begins
Allow agents to seamlessly field customer requests across multiple channels
Automatically route customers to the right department or specialist for their needs
Leverage Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology to automate “self-service” issues for customers
Give managers and operators the ability to listen in, or even join, calls in-progress, increasing accountability for their teams
The limits of legacy Call Centers are quickly falling to the wayside as more businesses realize the benefits of a modern contact center. Sophisticated technologies can deliver a world of tailored customer interaction, rapid issue resolution, and efficient, satisfying engagements.