What’s the difference between a call center and a contact center? Here are the top factors that set these two apart.
Call centers and contact centers — the words sound similar enough to be interchangeable, but there are a few important distinctions between the two functions.
As the name suggests, a call center is a center or department that’s responsible for handling customer calls, both incoming calls from customers and outgoing calls to customers. A call center is made up of a team of professionals, call center agents, who engage with customers via the phone. Inbound call centers are staffed by agents who are responsible for answering incoming calls, fielding customer questions, and addressing customer complaints, while outbound call center agents proactively reach out to customers, often placing outgoing calls for sales or customer relationship management purposes.
Since the advent of popular digital communications channels like email, SMS, and social media, many companies have evolved beyond having a single-channel call center and have built out multichannel contact centers that offer customer service and outreach across channels. And that’s what a contact center is in a nutshell: A team that’s dedicated to handling incoming customer communications via the phone, messaging apps, live chat, and more or initiating outbound outreach across a variety of channels.
The biggest contrast between these two types of centers are the channels each type of center’s agents use to interact with customers — but that’s only the beginning. Here’s a comprehensive list of the key differences between call centers and contact centers.
Call centers use one main channel — the phone — to make and answer calls. Contact centers, on the other hand, send and respond to contacts across channels. According to Salesforce’s 2022 State of Service report, the majority of customer service teams use the following channels to offer customer support: phone, email, in-person, social media, online forms, knowledge base content, customer portals, live chat, messaging apps, SMS, mobile app, and video. That’s a lengthy list that’s continuously expanding.
Rather than focusing solely on offering single-channel, phone-based customer support and outreach, companies at the top of the customer experience maturity curve are more likely to have a contact center team that’s adept at interacting with customers across channels.
According to Salesforce data, the average customer uses 10 different channels to communicate with companies, and per Statista, the top channels consumers use to contact brands are email (used by 64% of customers) followed by website/app chat (47%) and social media (36%), with only 30% of consumers using the phone to get in touch with companies. Brands that fail to adapt, by only providing customer service in person and over the phone, will fall short of meeting customer expectations.
The tools used to manage these two types of centers differ, too. While go-to call center solutions include systems for automating and routing phone calls, analyzing call transcripts, and managing agent staffing, contact centers likely also use broader contact center tech stack solutions, such as live chat platforms, knowledge base tools, digital behavior analytics, and experience orchestration technology.
Contact centers amass a wealth of data across digital and phone interactions with customers. Savvy companies use speech analytics and text analytics to instantly analyze these conversations to measure and improve customer sentiment, detect and fix underlying experience issues that are driving up the volume of incoming calls and messages from customers, and create proactive self-service resources to reduce future customer inquiries and complaints. Contact centers can also create unified customer profiles that contain information about the entirety of a customer’s interactions and purchase history with a brand to create a true 360-degree customer view. While call centers that rely solely on the phone as a primary channel can collect and unlock insights from some customer data, it’s not at the scale that’s possible within the contact center.
The two centers offer vastly different customer journeys. With the call center, customers only have the option of interacting with a business over the phone, while contact center customers may engage with brands using one or more different channels. In fact, they may be able to skip calling, emailing, or reaching out altogether if a company has useful help desk content or a streamlined automated chat experience that’s easy to navigate and understand.
All agents, regardless if they’re on staff at a call or contact center, need strong communication skills and must be able to engage with empathy with customers. However, contact center agents who are assigned to work across channels also need to be comfortable moving back and forth across channels like email, the phone, SMS, live chat, and via social media.
While contact centers and call centers may both prioritize solving customer problems and driving sales and retention, contact centers have the advantage of being better positioned to improve the customer experience. Because of the wealth of information contact centers have access to — from insights about how customers are interacting with the brand’s knowledge base content and chatbots to the customer’s entire interaction history across channels — they have the potential to shift from simply responding to customers’ concerns to anticipating their needs and predicting signs of customer churn.
Companies with a traditional phone-based call center model can grow into true contact centers by providing support across customers’ preferred channels. With the right agent training and contact center technologies in place, brands can drive customer experiences, engagement, and retention.
Looking to build out a modern contact center that offers a competitive advantage for your company? Meet with a Medallia expert to create a world-class contact center experience.