Ask a Contact Center Technology Expert: An Intro to Call Centers (Part 1)

Noble Systems has been helping companies manage customer contacts and provide a better customer experience for over 30 years. In that time, we’ve seen a lot of changes – in technology, in customer behaviors, and even in employee expectations.

Noble works with a wide range of organizations, from small and mid-size businesses to large enterprises, across a range of industries. We get a lot of questions about managing contact centers, building successful customer contact strategies, and how new technologies can help impact the customer experience.

In this blog series, we’ll take a look at some of the questions that we hear most often when talking with customers. Let’s start at the beginning, and talk about the differences between call centers, contact centers, virtual and hosted centers, and inbound, outbound and blended technologies.

What is the difference between a Call Center and a Contact Center?

These two terms are often used interchangeably. While they are similar, they are not identical. Both are based on the same foundation and purpose – allowing a company and its customers to talk to each other. However, this is not a chicken-or-egg situation. The Call Center came first, and was primarily based on telephone communications. The call center largely began to receive inbound phone calls from customers to handle questions, customer service, etc. Enterprising groups started to use the call center for outbound calls, too, for sales, surveys, or follow-up.

The Contact Center was the next evolution. It takes the basic functionality of a call center and builds upon it. Like its name says, a contact center supports customer contacts. Yes, it handles inbound and outbound phone calls. It can also handle multiple channels, including non-voice contacts such as email, SMS/text, web chat, web collaboration, and social media. A contact center may also use more robust contact routing tools, such as skills-based routing, IVR and Computer Telephony Integration (CTI), to make more intelligent decisions to connect customers with the best agent to help them.

The International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) defines a contact center as “a coordinated system of people, processes, technologies and strategies that provides access to information, resources and expertise, through appropriate channels of communication, enabling interactions that create value for the customer and organization.”

What is a “Virtual Contact Center”?

This is a topic that has had a lot of conversation over the past year, as the coronavirus pandemic has moved call center teams from central offices to individual homes.

A Virtual Contact Center, or Virtual Call Center, is designed to support distributed workforces. Agents and managers may be in one large physical location or several smaller offices, or they may work from their homes or from another remote, non-office site. The virtual contact center does not require a physical location, but only requires an internet connection and telecommunication service. Many virtual call centers use a hosted contact center design (also known as a cloud contact center) to power their activities.

Do I need to have a Hosted Contact Center?

There are many reasons why companies might choose to use a Hosted Contact Center design (also known as a cloud contact center). In a hosted contact center or cloud call center platform, the technology used by the center is provided by a third-party and is housed off-site, usually at a data center. The hosted contact center software is accessed remotely over an internet connection, often called the “cloud”. Telephony services are provided via VoIP (voice over internet protocol). The hardware in the data center is maintained by the provider, who also typically offers the telecom services.

The lack of on-site equipment and physical infrastructure in a hosted contact center translates to a lower cost of ownership and increased scalability, making them appealing to smaller organizations. However, larger enterprises are also becoming more open to the hosted design as it continues to evolve in terms of functionality, reliability and security.

The cloud services model also offers more flexibility to support a remote or work from anywhere (WFA) workforce, as no one has to be on-site to manage hardware or software. Customer interactions – via phone, email, messaging, or the web – can be handled from virtually anywhere. This makes the hosted contact center model very attractive for virtual call centers.

What technology is used in an Inbound Contact Center versus an Outbound Contact Center?

An Inbound Contact Center (or Inbound call center) is designed primarily to handle incoming calls from customers who need support or answers to questions. The inbound contact center is focused on answering the phone quickly, and on resolving customer issues on the first call. The overall goal is to improve customer satisfaction. For inbound contact centers, the ACD (automatic call distribution) or PBX platform is key, as is advanced routing tools, such as skills-based routing. IVR (interactive voice response) can also be used to help get customers to the best person to help them.

An Outbound Contact Center (or outbound call center) is typically focused more on sales generation or marketing activities. Collections and debt recovery is another prime area for outbound call centers. For these organizations, the dialing system is critical to success. They need a system that optimizes right party connects while maximizing agent utilization – and maintaining critical regulatory compliance. They must also decide which type of dialing strategies they want to use, whether predictive, preview, or manual dialing or outbound messaging. Customizable agent workflows, call recording for verifications, and detailed reporting are also important tools to help improve performance.

These are just some of the basic tools for inbound and outbound contact centers. There are many other technologies that are available that can help create a better Customer Experience and help companies manage their contact center workforces more efficiently.

What are the benefits of using Call Blending?

There are many advantages to using Call Blending, especially for today’s modern contact centers (or customer engagement centers). Call blending supports inbound and outbound calls at the same time and increases efficiencies. It also allows a contact center to handle a mix of contact types, such as voice, emails, chats, SMS, and social media.

Centers that use call blending to manage contacts can achieve higher agent productivity and utilization rates. They can also handle more programs and reach more customers with the same number of resources. Agents working on answering inbound calls can handle outbound calls while they are waiting, rather than sitting idle between calls.

Blended call centers can also provide faster service to customers by distributing workloads across agent groups. They don’t have to rely on dedicated teams for different programs or different channels that may get backed up. They can shift work and add or remove resources as needed. Inbound and outbound calls (emails, chats, etc.) are routed based on user-defined priority rules and service level targets. When inbound levels are high, outbound calls can be throttled to meet service goals. When there are fewer inbound calls, the system can place more outbound dials.

Blended agents – agents assigned to use call blending – are often more motivated and more interested, leading to better productivity and engagement. They can handle multiple types of calls or channels throughout the day, eliminating monotony and downtime. This helps reduce attrition and build agent tenure, which in turn impacts service quality and customer satisfaction.

Want to Read More?

Part 2: Customer Engagement and the Customer Experience (CX)
Part 3: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Automation in Contact Centers

Talk to one of our experts to learn more or get a free Business AssessmentContact Us.