Contact center vs call center: the difference explained and — more importantly — realized
Do not let them tell you different: a contact center and a call center are NOT the same thing, and the terms should not be used interchangeably. They are the same thing in the way these are the same thing:
When you say, “customer contact center”, most people do picture a call center – a room filled with agents handling customer service: addressing complaints, processing telephone orders, and so forth. But that’s only about 3% of what a customer contact center can (or should) do.
Who calls anymore anyway?
Let’s be frank, calling customer service is not something millennials and younger generations typically do. Most of them prefer chat, texting, and — even more so — self-service tools like online accounts, web portals, and FAQs. Even Gen Xers tend to gravitate toward self-serve mechanisms.
We can debate the reasons for the decline, such as the growing technological sophistication of consumers, people hating being on hold, and more, but the fact remains that the decline is underway. We can mourn it, saying that “we don’t have the human connection we once did, the conversations, the relationships,” but really? Does anyone really need a human connection with the company selling them a microwave or mobile phone data plan? Most people want to get “their stuff” and move on.
And then there is the cost. Call centers mean agents, and agents — even those working remotely — cost money, and lots of it. Also, consider this: the customer who calls and has a bad customer service experience will often blame the agent or the company that employs the agent. But the customer using a self-service solution? They typically accept their experience and its outcome as being self-driven.
All of the above is not to say call centers are not needed. There are times when agents are absolutely necessary. Such as a robust service business in healthcare where not every question can be handled by an online portal or FAQ. After all, it’s called an FAQ (frequently asked questions) not an ESQACCTO (every single question a customer can think of).
The customer contact center: full service and custom service (and, yes: calls, too)
The customer contact center is where nearly every company with customer service needs is headed. In most cases, a call center is part of it, too. But, ideally, a minor part due to costs and everything else detailed above. So, what makes the contact center different from the call center? The quickest answer is, “It’s like a call center, but with email and chatbots and stuff.” True, but only the beginning.
The modern contact center starts with a platform that captures and helps manage customer info and relationships — such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Service or Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales — from their first website visit to their most recent purchase or interaction.
Bolted on to that platform are tools that help route customer queries, provide CTI/IVR integration, distribute workloads, present purchase histories and more, and ensure your system and agents have a complete view of the customer.
But it’s less about “what’s in it” and more about the benefits it delivers. A primary benefit is that it meets your customer where they are. For example, if what your customer prefers is 100% self-service, they can get it. If they prefer chat, they can get that as well. If they want to begin with a chatbot, move to an agent, who then directs them to a portal where they can sign up for email offers, they can get that, too.
Another benefit of a contact center is that meeting customers where they are, and knowing exactly who they are and how they behave empowers your business to more quickly meet their needs, present offers they may already have in the back of their minds, and solve challenges before they arise.
So, will the customer contact center one day render the call center obsolete? Sort of. It will likely absorb and revolutionize it. To go back to our opening example: an iPhone can do the one thing a rotary phone did – make calls. Concurrently, it does just about everything else in the world. The customer contact center can do the one thing a call center does; but at the same time, it opens up a whole new world of opportunity to delight customers and drive revenue.