Technology
Omni-channel
Customer Experience/CX

Contact centre vs call centre: what's the difference?

By Brendan CrawfordJuly 29, 2022

It is understandable that the average person often uses the words ‘contact centre’ and ‘call centre’ interchangeably. After all, they both operate in the same sphere of customer service and most consumers don’t care for semantics – they just want their enquiry dealt with efficiently. However, if you are a business owner seeking to deliver the best customer experience for your consumers, it is essential to appreciate there are not only key differences between the two concepts but investing in the right option is crucial to your success.

The birth of cutting-edge contact centres, as opposed to traditional call centres, has been driven by two key factors. Firstly, customers’ expectations have soared in recent times with studies finding 54% of consumers believe companies need to develop more innovative ideas for customer engagement. They want their enquiries dealt with quicker than ever and to have multiple options for communicating with organisations. Secondly, technology to support such operations has evolved at a rapid rate and continues to improve, thus enabling companies to deliver customer service functions that were once the stuff of fantasy.

It is all about optimising the customer experience and with research showing companies in the US alone risk losing almost $500 billion in revenue due to poor customer care, it has never been more important for executives and managers to know exactly what they are talking about when it comes to contact centres and call centres.

What is a call centre?

The name says it all – call centres focus on voice calls, be they inbound or outbound. Teams of agents spend their days (and nights) answering the endless stream of enquiries from customers, along with managing additional services such as telemarketing, debt collection and billing. While some businesses choose to locate their call centres within their own organisations, many prefer to partner with cost-effective outsourcing providers that boast specific expertise in the area.

What is a contact centre?

Contact centres are much more than call centres. They are multifaceted departments that allow customers to communicate with an organisation in any manner they choose, be it via inbound and outbound calls, email, screen sharing, social media, live chat, text messaging and many more. Additionally, the best of today’s omnichannel contact centres feature intelligent routing to ensure the huge amounts of enquiries received are matched to the right outcome every time.

What are the benefits of call centres?

While they have a singular focus, call centre agents remain a valuable tool for many organisations given their expertise in managing calls. They often have extensive experience in guiding callers towards a successful resolution and navigating sometimes difficult conversations. Despite being seen as a traditional form of customer engagement, many call centres have also embraced software integrations and assistive technology such as Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems to complement standard phones and improve service quality. The main concern with call centres is that interactions tend to be siloed in individual channels and fail to present a view of the full customer journey.

What are the benefits of contact centres?

There are countless reasons digital-first omnichannel contact centres are a wise choice for businesses wanting to create happier customers, more productive staff and healthier balance sheets. Among their many benefits, they:

  • Address customers in their channel of choice
  • Reduce customer effort to interact
  • Improve first-contact resolution
  • Achieve higher efficiency in operations
  • Deflect high call volumes via self-service option
  • Reduce customer service costs
  • Eliminate repetitive manual tasks
  • Facilitate advanced reporting
  • See the entire customer journey across one desktop

The power of technology

The rise of contact centres has largely been driven by a digital transformation that knows no bounds. Research advisory group Gartner has reported that CCaaS (Contact Centre as a Service) will be the preferred model for 50% of all contact centres by the end of 2022, with technology in the cloud allowing a level of customer experience previously unheard of. Amid this revolution, artificial intelligence tools are bolstering contact centre capabilities, be it improving self-service opportunities or enhancing team productivity. AI can assist employees to deliver more personalised experiences for customers and even track the sentiment during an interaction to determine when a conversation is going poorly. The implementation of self-service bots and tools capable of answering questions is also giving customers more options for how they get service and reducing the amount of work human agents need to do.

Self-service thrives in contact centres

Self-service is where the omnichannel approach of contact centres shines by allowing customers to seek answers to their enquiries before needing to pick up their phones. Whereas a call centre essentially offers customers one option, contact centres use a combination of live agents and technology to enable them to discover and utilise the best service options for their needs, delivering a better overall experience. This may mean directing them to self-service options and then escalating issues that cannot be solved without specialist knowledge to live agents. Advanced speech analytics also allows companies to identify simple tasks that are repeatedly asked of their agents (eg: password resets) and automate them. Eliminating such queries of agents means they can focus on more complex work while gifting customers faster responses to their queries.

Scalability concerns

As businesses grow, it is almost inevitable the number of customer enquiries they receive will do the same and in a traditional call centre that typically creates an urgent need to recruit and hire more staff. Similarly, seasonal demands can impact the number of customer calls being made (or not being made) and ensuring an appropriate number of agents are employed to answer them can be a complex business. Contrastingly, modern contact centres boast the technology and automated tools to more effectively manage such peaks and troughs. Rolling out additional communication channels or bolstering those already being used is a much more cost-effective and hassle-free means of meeting demand than recruitment.

Best of both worlds

Amid the rush to embrace technology and automation, the best contact centres are those that realise there remains a significant place for human agents. The likes of virtual agents and chatbots are key features of such operations and are capable of drastically reducing average handling times and saving customer service costs. However, technology cannot always handle unusual or complex requests, let alone compete with a human voice in offering empathy or understanding to a distressed customer. For this reason, contact centres that blend technology with live agents are leading the way in enhancing customer experience.

Summary

Omnichannel contact centres are no longer the future of customer service. They are the here and now, with consumers clearly wanting more choices when it is time to reach out to organisations. However, if anyone is still in doubt about the need to think beyond traditional call centres, they should consider a recent study that showed 88% of Millennials would rather text than talk on the phone, more than half are anxious about using a phone and even 23% of Baby Boomers feel anxiety when making calls. This move away from phone use reinforces that as technology evolves, so do consumer preferences and that is why it is essential for companies committed to delivering exceptional customer experience to not only embrace multiple channels but invest in the technology that supports them.

The idea of a frictionless customer experience is something every business needs to nail but how do you achieve it? Learn how excellent customer service that is both hassle-free and highly personalised can drive consumers to become loyal and encourage them to refer products and services to others.

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