Contact Center Experience 101: Everything You Need to Know
Interactions between your brand and customers occur around the clock, even outside regular business hours. In this always-on environment, digital experience (DX) is a critical component of customer experience (CX) — as is contact center experience. Customers are engaging with brands across a variety of channels, from websites and mobile applications to in-person stores and social media, and want relevant information and answers immediately.
No, the contact center isn’t a cost center. It’s actually a revenue driver. Agents on the front lines are tasked with meeting and exceeding expectations, and customer service could make all the difference between a customer remaining loyal to your brand or fleeing for the competition.
Here are the ins and outs of contact center experience.
What is a Contact Center?
A contact center is a centralized hub within a business used for receiving inquiries from customers — through phone calls, emails, chats, and social media threads. It serves as the primary interface between a brand and its customers, handling everything from support and sales to technical assistance.
Agents, or customer service representatives (CSRs), are employed as the frontline employees within the contact center interacting with customers on a daily basis.
Contact Center Experience: The Customer Service Element of CX
Contact center experience refers to how customers feel about their interactions with a brand’s contact center.
The stakes are high when it comes to getting the contact center experience right. After all, most customers — 65%, to be exact — say that just one bad customer service experience is enough to push them over the edge and make them switch to a different brand. The contact center experience is a critical part of a brand’s overall customer experience, and it’s a factor that influences retention and loyalty, future purchases, and customer referrals.
That’s why it’s important for brands to continuously evaluate the contact center experience they’re providing customers. Brands can do so by monitoring important contact center metrics such as customer sentiment, net promoter score (NPS®), customer satisfaction (CSAT), and customer effort score (CES).
Top-performing contact centers strive to provide an exceptional customer experience at all times, though this can be challenging when dealing with high volumes of customer conversations and communicating with angry customers. But with the right tools and training it’s possible to improve both the contact center experience and the overall customer experience.
Differences Between Contact Center & Call Center
You’ve likely seen or heard “contact center” and “call center” used interchangeably. However, there are several differences between a contact center and a call center.
Here’s a recap of the differences between a contact center and a call center:
- Channels used: Contact centers offer cross-channel support — ranging from emails and phone calls to live chats and social media threads — while call centers rely on phone calls to communicate with customers.
- Which has been around longer: Call centers were first created to provide phone-based customer service and outreach. Contact centers emerged with the rise of digital-based channels.
- Agent skills: Strong communications are required of all agents; however, contact center agents must keep up with using a growing variety of digital channels to interact with customers wherever they prefer.
- Customer insights: Brands are able to gather more data and insights from contact center interactions, driving improvements in customer experience. Call center interactions limit a brand to call transcripts which may not provide as much information to learn from.
Being that contact centers are more technologically advanced, they’re much more popular in business today. Call centers still exist, but they’re typically viewed as a low-cost, quick-fix alternative. And the truth is that customers want (and need) more options beyond only being able to call a brand when they need information or have an issue to be resolved.
Customer Service vs Customer Experience
When it comes to customer service, the goal is to provide assistance throughout the customer journey — as customers are considering making a purchase, during the purchase process, and after they’ve received a product or service. Customer service includes answering customers’ questions, helping solve any issues that arise, and ensuring customers feel heard when they have feedback to share.
CX encompasses a customer's entire journey with a brand, from initial awareness to all subsequent interactions, whether in-person, digitally, or through products and services. It includes but goes beyond customer service encounters. The aim is to offer seamless, personalized interactions responsive to each customer's desires and behaviors.
While many organizations treat customer service and customer experience as separate entities, the two functions need to be aligned and working toward achieving a shared mission.
Customer service and customer experience work best when they work together, and here’s how they’re connected:
- Great customer service leads to positive experiences
- Customer service provides valuable feedback to improve CX
- Better customer experience reduces stress on customer service teams
- Customer service makes or breaks customer loyalty
Overall, customer service and CX are different, but they’re deeply connected as well. In order for customer experience to be successful on all fronts, customer service needs to be outstanding during every interaction.
Must-Have Technologies for Your Contact Center Tech Stack
Contact center leaders invest in a variety of technologies to establish a tech stack benefitting both agents and customers. Agents streamline workflows, and as a result they’re able to provide satisfactory service to customers in record time.
#1. Agent engagement and coaching
Agents are the heart of the contact center; how they perform shapes the contact center experience.
Bring in an agent engagement and coaching platform built on real-time feedback, QA scores, contact center metrics like CSAT tailored to the individual agent. With this, you’ll help agents self-correct and refine skills to optimize their interactions with customers.
#2. Text analytics and speech analytics
Contact centers have matured beyond conducting manual quality assurance (QA). Now, you can leverage artificial intelligence (AI)-powered text analytics and speech analytics to automatically transcribe and analyze conversations across channels.
This combination of text and speech analytics is used by savvy brands to highlight emerging issues, pinpoint areas of improvement, uncover customer sentiment, and unlock other crucial learnings to level up contact center experience.
#3. Quality management
While contact centers of the past relied on taking a random sampling of interactions to analyze and enhance agent performance, modern teams are evolving and adopting a quality management (QM) platform capable of analyzing 100% of interactions, enabling more meaningful coaching and real-time QA reviews with agents. Agents benefit from receiving visibility to their reviews in the moment, so they can take action to improve future experiences right away.
#4. Conversation intelligence
Customer conversations across channels offer a wealth of insights about the customer experience. Conversational intelligence tools are designed to mine these conversations, at scale, to automatically score interactions, instantly pinpoint failed touchpoints so managers can provide on-the-spot coaching ASAP, and see how conversations are impacting contact center metrics like CSAT.
#5. Customer communications management
Managing customer communications across channels and teams can get complicated, especially as the number of ways customers get in touch with brands keeps growing. A single platform with multichannel support can help ensure no customer question or complaint slips through the cracks, create unified customer records with complete conversation histories, and allow team members to collaborate on resolving customer support messages.
#6. Live chat and chatbot
Make it as easy as possible for customers to reach out to your company’s support team in real time with live chat software. With live chat software, you can add instant messaging functionality to your website and app as well as manage the customer inquiries your business receives on messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Many live chat platforms offer chatbot functionality to automate the customer intake process and answering basic FAQs, using help desk content.
#7. Smart callback
For customers, having to wait for support is a huge point of friction in the contact center customer journey. In fact, researchers have found that most consumers aren’t willing to be on hold for more than five minutes and that most would prefer a call back instead. That’s why smart callback technology that lets customers choose when to receive a callback instead of waiting on hold is one of the must-haves for the contact center tech stack.
#8. Knowledge base
Alleviate inbound outreach to the contact center and streamline the process of responding to customer inquiries with a robust self-service customer help center, complete with FAQs and tutorials. Create and publish powerful resources that customers can find directly on your company’s website, app, or other digital experience and that agents can share when customers reach out for support via chat, SMS, email, and social media.
#9. Employee experience management
Visionary organizations leverage both customer experience and employee experience technologies to draw connections between CX and EX and opt. Just as customer feedback and signals can shed light on opportunities to improve agent training and company processes, products, and services to boost contact center outcomes, so too can employee feedback and signals.
#10. Digital behavior analytics
One of the contact center’s greatest challenges is keeping up with and getting ahead of high volumes of customer inquiries. When calls, emails, SMS messages, live chat sessions, and social media messages spike, the pressure is on to ensure timely responses and that no customer gives up in frustration and no conversation slips through the cracks.
Savvy contact centers are teaming up with digital teams to track customer interactions with their company’s websites and apps using digital behavior analytics tools, such as heat maps and session replay technology, to glean valuable insights that can help reduce the burden on the contact center team and help agents work more efficiently.
#11. Experience orchestration
Experience orchestration captures insights from every single customer interaction with a given brand — across the contact center and other touchpoints — to enable organizations to create central, unified customer profiles that update dynamically in the moment and contain key information, such as the individual’s preferred contact method and browsing, purchasing, and interaction history.
Measure Contact Center Performance: Top Metrics to Track
Given the impact the contact center has on overall customer experience, it’s critical that organizations routinely evaluate how the customer service team is doing.
Keeping tabs on the following contact center metrics will help you measure contact center performance:
- Net Promoter Score (NPS®): Net promoter score is used to gauge a customer’s likelihood to recommend — or promote — a company’s products or services to their friends and family based on their own experiences.
- Customer satisfaction (CSAT): Customer satisfaction is used to evaluate the overall contentment of a customer with a particular product, service, or experience. In the case of contact centers, customers would be rating their experience in having their questions answered or issues resolved.
- Customer effort score (CES): Customer effort score is used to measure the ease with which customers can access a product or service or have an issue resolved.
- First contact resolution (FCR): First contact resolution, also known as first call resolution, is the percentage of customer inquiries or issues resolved in the initial interaction or contact, without the need for any follow-up. A high FCR rate indicates that a company effectively addresses customer concerns on the first attempt, leading to increased customer satisfaction. It's a crucial metric in contact centers to assess efficiency and the quality of service provided.
- Average handle time (AHT): Also known as average reply time, average handle time is a contact center KPI measuring the average amount of time it takes for an agent to resolve a customer issue, from start to finish.
- Average speed of answer (ASA): If you want to know how long it takes (on average) for your agents to first respond to a customer’s call or live chat message, average speed of answer is the metric you want to track. Given the fact most customers aren’t willing to wait on hold for long, this is an important contact center metric to keep an eye on and to keep as low as possible.
- Average resolution time (ART): While average handle time tells us how long individual interactions take from beginning to end, average resolution time tells us how long it takes for customers to get their inquiries or complaints resolved, from the first interaction to the last.
- Customer sentiment: If you want to know how customers feel after interacting with your contact center agents, AI-powered text analytics and speech analytics make it easy to instantly analyze 100% of your contact center interactions across channels to measure customer sentiment and see whether the experience your agents are providing is positive, negative, or neutral.
Do you need to use all the metrics listed? Not necessarily, but they’re the most common and useful ones that contact center leaders rely on. You might use all of these contact center metrics, and you might choose a select few. Evaluate what’s important to your brand and its contact center strategy, then choose the metrics to track.
Improve Contact Center Metrics: Management Tips
Contact centers operating at the highest levels are more efficient, less costly, have more engaged and loyal agents and customers, and, unsurprisingly, drive more revenue for the entire business.
Use the following tips to strengthen your contact center’s performance metrics:
- Analyze every customer interaction across channels
- Use real-time customer feedback and insights to evaluate agent performance
- Create the next best experience for all customers, individually
- Detect at-risk customers before they leave for the competition
- Collect feedback from agents to strengthen satisfaction and retention
Top 5 Types of Contact Centers
These are the most common types of contact centers organizations utilize to field inbound customer service outreach and outbound customer communications.
#1: Inbound contact centers
Inbound contact centers are centers customers contact when they need assistance. In most cases, inbound contact centers are staffed by CSRs who are trained to handle customer inquiries and complaints. The goal of inbound contact centers is to provide an excellent customer experience by resolving customer issues quickly and efficiently. In order to do this, inbound contact centers must have a robust knowledge base that CSRs can reference when handling customer issues.
#2: Outbound contact centers
In an outbound contact center, agents make outgoing calls to customers — typically for sales or customer relationship management (CRM) purposes. These centers are usually open during regular business hours, but some may have extended or 24/7 hour access to reach a global customer base. Some outbound contact centers use an auto-dialer to make calls on behalf of agents, which can speed up the process but may also lead to more customer complaints about feeling “spammed.” If your contact center employs an auto-dialer, make sure to give customers the option to opt-out of future calls.
#3: Business process outsourcing (BPO) contact center
This type of contact center is run by a third-party entity that manages either inbound or outbound or both inbound and outbound phone calls, emails, and other customer interactions on behalf of other companies. These teams consist of specialized outsourced agents who are trained on the ins and outs of their clients’ policies and procedures and act as the frontlines of the brands they serve. BPOs handle a variety of customer communications, including customer service, telemarketing and market research.
#4: Multichannel contact centers
A multichannel contact center is a contact center that lets customers reach out to the company via multiple channels, including via the phone, email, chat, SMS, and social media, making it as convenient as possible for customers to get in touch when they have questions or concerns.
#5: Omnichannel contact centers
Omnichannel contact centers offer seamless customer service and customer experiences across all channels, with a goal of providing a consistent experience for the customer, no matter how they choose to reach out. This is a competitive advantage since most customers (76%) expect consistent experiences across departments, but much fewer (54%) feel like that’s happening.
Contact Center Jobs: Career Paths in Customer Service
Get to know the most popular customer service jobs at every level, for those just starting out in the field — and all the way up to the C-level.
Entry-Level Contact Center Jobs
These are frontline roles that serve as the face or voice of a company, and field customer inquiries and complaints and educate customers about products, services, and policies. These functions require a high school level education or higher as well as strong communication skills.
- Customer service representatives/agents, contact center agents/representatives, customer experience (CX) associates/agents: These related positions are responsible for addressing customers’ questions and resolving any issues, whether in person, over the phone, or via email, live chat, social media, SMS, or messaging apps.
- Support specialists: These are customer service professionals with a more technical focus, who often provide troubleshooting support.
- Social media customer care associates: These customer service agents are more specialized in offering support via social media channels, such as Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp.
Senior-Level Contact Center Jobs
For those looking to grow in a customer service career beyond an entry-level role, these here mid-level positions that often require a bachelor’s degree and experience managing people or processes.
- Customer service supervisors/managers, support team leads, contact center team leads, and senior support specialists: These more senior team members are responsible for training new agents, providing ongoing coaching, and helping the team achieve key customer goals, such as boosting CSAT, NPS®, and FCR.
- Quality assurance managers: Earning double the average salary of customer service representatives, according to Payscale data, these employees develop and oversee quality standards for the contact center team, evaluate agent performance, and work with team leads to make sure they provide effective agent coaching to elevate customer experience outcomes.
Executive-Level Careers for Contact Center Agents
For those with a passion for the contact center who want to rise all the way to the C-suite, a newer C-level role has been formed to oversee all key customer functions, including the contact center. This most senior leader, responsible for all contact center and CX employees, is the Chief Experience Officer (CXO), sometimes referred to as the Chief Customer Officer (CCO) or the Chief Customer Experience Officer (CCXO).
To grow into this career, aspiring CXOs need to have strong influence skills, be adept at collaborating and forging partnerships, move with agility, and think and act strategically.