Over the years, people have used the terms “call center” and “contact center” interchangeably, although they indicate distinct models of business communication. In particular, a call center only communicates with customers via phone, whereas a contact center uses multiple channels to communicate with customers.

Advancements in communication technology have caused call centers to evolve into contact centers as more customers demand digital communication options, especially in the last decade. However, there’s more to the process of turning a call center into a contact center than simply adding a communication channel. The following four areas help distinguish between these two business models.

1. Channels

Contact centers use phone communications just as a call center does, but they also use other channels such as email, social media, text messages, web chat, and video chat. Software supports each of these channels, in which agents operate from their desks. For example, agents in a contact center often use applications like SMS Assistant, which allows the agent to send text messages from a computer. These digital communication solutions offer a better customer experience (CX) now that the demand for phone service is dropping.

2. Technology

A traditional call center is focused on inbound and outbound calls, and generally couples a telecommunication infrastructure with on-premise hardware that can handle high call volume. They also use an automatic call distribution (ACD) system to route calls to agents based on their availability or expertise. Some call centers even implement an interactive voice response (IVR) system, which often frustrates customers and results in a poor CX.

Contact centers also handle inbound and outbound calls, but they also use technologies like Voiceover Internet Protocol (VoIP) that allow voice communications on other channels. All of these channels are integrated into the same system, allowing customers to engage with agents in the manner of their preference. Customers also receive a consistent experience, even when switching to a new channel.

Another important piece of technology that should be incorporated into any contact center is a unified multi-platform solution with customizable dashboards – such as Aceyus’ suite of solutions. This unified approach provides agents with the data they need to do their job well and provide a great customer experience every time.

3. Agent Engagement

Customers in call centers are often more frustrated than the ones in contact centers, largely because call centers tend to have longer wait times. This problem can cause agents to feel less engaged due to customer negativity. Integrating the call system with tools such as a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) backend, knowledge libraries, and dynamic scripting can help improve CX. Workforce engagement tools can also track employee behavior to ensure the best agents remain on a center’s front line.

4. Self-Service

Self-service can reduce the time agents spend with customers, thus lowering costs and wait time. Call centers and contact centers both use self-service tools like IVR to reduce the number of basic questions that agents need to answer. However, call centers generally design their IVR systems to make it more difficult for customers to reach a live agent, while contact centers are more likely to consider CX when designing IVR systems. Contact centers can also use methods such as two-way messaging with a chatbot to provide customers with self-service.

5. Proactive Customer Service

The latest reporting and analytics tools, like Aceyus’ multi-channel data reporting, can help evaluate customer behavior, allowing agents to go beyond merely answering inbound calls by reaching out to customers first. Call centers can do this by making outbound calls, but it doesn’t work very well in practice since customers are increasingly less likely to answer calls from unfamiliar numbers. The ability to use multiple channels allows customers to decide how they want to remain in contact, allowing proactive communication to increase loyalty and cut costs.

Call centers and contact centers are often synonymous in the mind of a layperson, but industry insiders view them as distinct operating models. Both types of businesses use many of the same tools, although the benefits they provide are often somewhat different. However, contact centers generally have greater flexibility in how they use these tools because their customers have a choice of communication channels.

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