What is a Contact Center?

A contact center is the hub of an organization that manages all aspects of customer inquiries. It’s comprised of employees or agents trained to handle all kinds of service issues and customer queries. Contact centers can handle customer inquiries coming in through various channels.

Contact Center Diagram

While traditional call centers were created to answer incoming telephone calls on helplines, modern contact centers are quite different and have evolved to also support customer queries across email, live chat, and asynchronous messaging.

Today, contact centers employ software that utilizes digital and automated communication systems. This enables contextual information from previous customer conversations to be saved and used at a later date. This enables customer service agents to provide efficient support regardless of the channel(s) the customer chooses to get in touch.

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The Role of Contact Centers in Modern Organizations

Contact centers should be the foundation of an organization’s customer experience strategy. Contemporary customers have evolved to require proactive, organized, and helpful support from the companies they buy from. A primary requirement of this is omni-channel service that is both fast and friendly, as well as available around the clock. It is also essential that an organization is able to connect with their customers on their preferred channels.

While the contact center service channels vary from organization to organization, all of them should be defined by the ability to use digital communication methods, like social media messaging and online chat, to connect with customers. Whatever the method, the customer should be provided with a prompt and seamless experience. This is why organizations that prioritize an elevated customer experience choose to have their contact centers digital-centric. These allow customer support teams to utilize these channels and technologies to provide a better customer experience while improving agent productivity.

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Key Digital Contact Center Features

Every enterprise-level organization has different needs for their diverse range of customers. As a result, every contact center should be built around the customer’s needs and, of course, the available budget and resources. Organizations today have the choice of several cloud-based solutions that allow them to streamline their contact center operations in the following ways:

  • Setting up an IVR (interactive voice response) that becomes the first point of contact and allows intelligent call routing
  • Allowing calls to be routed to the right agent based on the conversation priority, the agent’s status, capacity, and other essential factors
  • Enabling calls to be recorded for the purposes of training
  • Monitoring an organization’s contact center with a dashboard with real-time updates
  • Turning customer calls into tickets
  • Enabling AI-powered chatbots to serve customers when agents are not available or are awaited
  • Creating a knowledge base or community forum that allows customer self-service

Types of Contact Centers

Organizations can pick from different contact center types based on the one that works for their business model and, most importantly, for their customers’ needs. In this section, we go over different types of contact centers.

Inbound Contact Centers

As the name suggests, inbound contact centers handle all incoming calls and messages. An inbound contact center will generally be contacted by customers with queries or issues they need resolved, or any other type of help needed. Customers will usually reach out to an inbound contact center for technical support, to process an order, ask a question or voice a complaint.

Outbound Contact Centers

Outbound contact centers, alternatively, usually have agents that reach out to customers, patients, and prospects. The reasons typically comprise of the following:

  • Pitch services to prospective customers
  • Marketing activities
  • Appointment confirmations
  • Payment collections
  • Fundraising activities
  • Surveys
  • Updates
  • Feedback requests

An essential point to be noted here is that for smaller businesses, these outbound agents are often their salespeople. For larger businesses, they may be assisting sales and marketing functions with specific tasks.

Hybrid Contact Centers

Hybrid contact centers combine the functions of both an inbound and outbound contact center with a single team. Agents have dual responsibilities over servicing inbound customer calls and making outbound calls as required. Agents are cross-trained to handle both, which results in excellent benefits for an organization, including streamlining customer communications and enabling agents to utilize a single customer management system.

Multichannel Contact Centers

Multichannel contact centers allow customers to connect with the organization via several channels, such as social media, SMS, mobile apps, instant messengers, and online chats. However, customer conversations here are siloed. This means customer interactions cannot move from one channel to another without the loss of information.

Omnichannel Contact Centers

These kinds of contact centers communicate with customers through both traditional phone calls as well as digital channels like social media interactions, chatbots, websites, and email. The salient feature of omnichannel contact centers is the fluidity they provide, as client conversations can take place on any channel. Every customer interaction, no matter how it happens, is recorded. This provides context for agents coming to the exchange at any point in time. For example, it provides previous conversation history, order history, and contact information. This enables the agent to provide better support quality on whichever channel the conversation happens on.

Cloud Contact Centers

Cloud contact centers enable agents, both inbound and outbound, to communicate with customers from anywhere. This is enabled via an internet server, and all the agent needs is an internet connection. Cloud contact centers allow the existence of omnichannel contact centers as they ensure all mediums of communication are available to customers. The other advantages of cloud contact centers include:

  • Less set up costs than other types of contact centers
  • Faster to get up and running
  • Customizable to any organization’s needs
  • Scalable and can grow along with the business
  • Recorded interactions
  • Provide data that enables customer support agents to provide better service
  • Enhance an organization’s customer experience

Outsourced Contact Centers

Many organizations use contracted labor outside of their company to take over specific functions of customer, patient, and prospect interactions. These outsourced contact centers typically handle non-essential aspects of customer service, following scripts and processes that they have been provided.

There are many advantages to contact center outsourcing. For example, it enables organizations to offer services that it may not otherwise be able to provide. Staffing can also be more easily ramped up or down according to specific needs. Also, by using outsourced contact centers with expertise in certain areas, organizations can offer specialized customer service.

How Are Contact Centers Used?

Contact centers primarily handle incoming customer inquiries and support requests, as well as outreach to current and potential customers. However, they are so much more than just that, and how operationally efficient and effective they are can determine customer care success across the entire organization.

Use Cases of Inbound Contact Centers

For inbound contact centers, it’s all about customers looking to facilitate a service or obtain support. For example, making travel reservations or booking medical appointments are use cases for inbound contact centers. Technical support is another example of how customers utilize inbound contact centers. This is especially useful and impactful for companies that sell or provide hardware and software. For example, if a customer does not know how to use a specific software feature, then the support agent can try to help them live over the phone or send them a video tutorial.

Use Cases of Outbound Contact Centers

Outbound contact centers are driven by reaching out to customers to either drum up new business or maintain existing customer relationships. Use cases here include:

  • Generating leads by providing detailed product information and answering frequently asked questions (FAQs)
  • Upselling and cross-selling by persuading existing customers to upgrade their current products or buy related products that could enhance their experiences. For example, if a customer is using a basic service plan, then a customer support agent can call them and convince them to upgrade to the premium plan with better features.

Use Cases for Hybrid Contact Centers

These types of contact centers carry out the tasks of both inbound and outbound contact centers. Of course, hybrid contact centers require specific equipment and software, but come with enhanced benefits for customers such as:

  • More cohesive experiences: When inbound and outbound teams work in tandem, the customer gets a more cohesive, integrated experience. As an outbound agent pitches to a prospective buyer that becomes a customer, the inbound agent can seamlessly respond to any questions or support needed. Another advantage here is that any agent in contact with the customer is aware of what has been discussed previously and has all the necessary contextual information. These, of course, translate into more productive conversations.
  • Customized experiences: Based on the data maintained about a customer, it allows the organization to provide a more personalized experience that includes utilizing the channels that are the most effective for communications, as well as the frequency of which the communications should occur.

The Benefits a Contact Center Provides to an Organization

The primary advantage of contact centers is obvious enough. Customers can easily reach an organization via several channels, and agents can provide better support. Apart from this, contact centers also enable an organization more opportunities to learn about their customers’ needs and preferences and practice more efficient customer service. Here, we go through the different benefits organizations receive when utilizing contact centers to their upmost potential.

Omnichannel Support That Enhances Customer Experiences

Customer service, from the customer’s point of view, can be a challenging task. First, they will most likely need to interact with a chatbot that will ask them a series of automated questions. The ticket is then transferred to a live agent, depending on several factors, such as availability of agents, priority, etc. By this time, a customer is probably losing a little patience. Through the use of omnichannel contact centers, customer information is captured at every touchpoint along the customer service journey. This way, those agents have all essential and contextual information about the customer when they take over the ticket. This minimizes the need for customers to repeat their inquiry to expedite their communications with the organization.

Enhanced Customer Satisfaction

Providing a mix of channels to communicate with improves customer satisfaction because it allows people to decide how they interact with your organization. For example, when the customer has a complaint or an urgent issue, they generally prefer speaking on the phone with an agent immediately. On the other hand, a customer with minor inquiries may generally prefer an online interaction.

A mix of channels is also beneficial as they are able to help customers right away.

Boost Sales and Marketing Efforts

Digital communication with a contact center team is a chance for an organization to upsell and cross-sell. Contact center teams can promote other compatible products that help customers with their issues. This can be done by sending links through digital channels. In the situation where a customer simply needs an upgrade to access more features, the agent can quickly and easily send across the information.

Build Better Customer Relationships

Contact centers, especially omnichannel ones, allow an organization to streamline their customer interactions based on past records. This further allows them to build stronger customer relationships by letting them build more personalized experiences as they familiarize themselves with a customer’s preferences. They can also show their customers that they value their patronage by following up with them on a regular basis and ensuring that their experience with the company is a positive one.

Finally, nothing enhances customer experience more than the human connection. Contact centers allow organizations to connect with customers, empathize with their challenges, and resolve their issues.

Allows Businesses to Learn More About Their Customers

Contact centers are essential if a business wants to gain insights into their customer’s needs, preferences, or buying behaviors. To do this, they can employ analytics software that tracks and measures key metrics in customer experiences across multiple channels. The most evident advantage of this is that they can then utilize the data to research any phrases or words that are trending in customer conversations. For example, a banking contact center agent may notice frequent use of the phrase ‘credit card scam.’ This can help the organization to identify potential issues and resolve the matter by promptly taking action.

Analytics also help businesses to interpret the data they are collecting to receive a holistic view of a customer’s preferences. For example, they can determine which channels their customers prefer to communicate with. Such information allows them to segment their customers and tailor customer support accordingly.

Allows Organizations to Provide Inclusive Service

There are millions of people with disabilities in the world- 61 million in America alone. Contact centers give organizations the chance to prioritize accessibility for customers with disabilities. A contact center team can do this by:

  • Incorporating screen readers or audible text readers for those with vision impairments
  • Using closed captioning for those with hearing loss or deafness
  • Providing video support and agents who know sign language

Customer Preference

To determine popular support channels, organizations need to gather insights from agents or collect customer data. Research the current customer experience trends to assess the preferred channels of their targeted customer base. For example, focusing on social media messaging is more logical for millennials and Gen Zers.

How Scalable is the Solution That is Being Deployed?

Every organization hopes to grow, and a contact center should be able to grow right alongside. Ensure the chosen solution incorporates AI-powered chatbots or automated service tools that can lighten an agents’ load when there are surges in demand.

What Staffing Resources Exist?

A large organization can afford to hire several agents or provide support over multiple channels. However, smaller businesses do not have that luxury or the resources. If you’re part of the latter group, consider Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions that enable users to determine what works best for their contact center needs.

Top Tips to Create a Productive Contact Center

Setting up a contact center and staffing it with good agents is just the beginning. Here are some top tips to increase a contact center’s productivity and efficiency.

  • Utilize technology to make their jobs easier by providing instant access to the information and processes they need, as well as full details about each customer they interact with. Implementing knowledge management and CTI systems are key to this.
  • Encourage mental health breaks. Contact centers can be stressful, especially when agents are dealing with irate or frustrated customers. Create a healthy working environment for customer support agents by encouraging them to take care of their mental health. Organizations can do this by offering some wellness-related benefits, encouraging frequent smaller breaks, and not micromanaging a team of agents.
  • Setting SMART goals. This is where your team can collect data to help provide training to agents on areas that could be improved. This also enhances the chances of customer satisfaction.
  • Praise noteworthy agents often. Give credit to an agent when credit is due and deserved. Provide incentives and rewards to those agents who go the extra mile to provide enhanced support to customers.
  • Have a well-defined team structure for the contact center, including directors, managers, team leads, and agents.
  • Focus on workflow improvements wherever possible as these can help the contact center run in an organized and efficient manner.
  • Hire qualified agents with the right skills and experience to boost productivity and enable fewer errors.

Contact Centers Are More Than Just Phones

As technology evolves, the role of contact centers in the customer journey also evolves. Contact centers are vital in ensuring happy customers, reducing churn, and streamlining a host of internal business processes. Choosing the right type of contact center and ensuring it is furnished with an excellent set of tools goes a long way to ensuring customer needs are met, or better yet, exceeded.

AI Guide for Contact Centers