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Communicating with your customers is an important aspect of any business. Whether it’s because they need support or because you want to proactively engage with customers before they reach out, constant communication is essential to increase customer satisfaction. One way to do this is to have a call center solution.

A call center (or call centre in UK spelling) is a department in an office whose job is to resolve customer issues, at scale, typically through phone calls. It can also be used to contact potential clients for lead generation, debt collection, and surveys.

Having a dedicated customer support hub can definitely help boost your organization’s efficiency as it takes away the burden of handling phone calls from your core team, allowing them to focus solely on their main tasks.

Read on for more information about how it works, its different types, and how it can benefit your company.

Table of Contents:
Customer contacting a call center agent to resolve a problem

What does a call center do?

Call centers function primarily as customer support, but they can also cover a wide range of services. For example, sales is another key function of call centers. Some of them can handle both incoming and outgoing calls, but there are some that focus on only one or the other. Your company might not need all of the services that a call center offers, so make sure to create or choose the one that fits your needs the best.

But before we elaborate on that, let’s differentiate the two types of call centers and what each can specifically deliver.

What are the two types of call center?

There are two kinds of calls: inbound and outbound. They are also referred to as incoming and outgoing, respectively. In a call center setting, inbound calls are when an agent receives a call from a customer. An outbound call is the opposite. This time, the agents are the ones calling the customer.

Call hubs are classified based on the type of calls they specialize in. Both types offer different services, are used for different purposes, and yield different benefits for a company.

Let’s look at each type in more detail.

a call center agent

Inbound call centers

An inbound call center handles incoming customer calls. It is commonly used to provide assistance to people who’ve paid for the company’s products or services. For example, technical difficulties or issues with accounts and purchases are usually resolved through inbound call centers.

Here are some of the common tasks they handle:

  • Customer service - this includes answering inquiries, forwarding calls to other departments, receiving requests, and more.
  • Tech Support - inbound call agents can help customers resolve technical difficulties. Of course, they can only guide the customer through basic troubleshooting procedures or offer remote assistance. Despite this, a tech support agent can still be a huge help to a frustrated customer in certain situations.
  • Sales - call centers can be used for e-commerce. Customers can make purchases, cancel orders, or request bookings and deliveries by making a phone call.
2 call center agents working side by side

Outbound call centers

An outbound call center makes outgoing calls to clients. Its main purpose is for lead generation and data gathering. It can also be used to reach out to clients regarding their financial obligations such as debts, loans, and mortgages.

Here are some common functions covered by outbound calling:

  • Sales lead generators - telemarketing is a common task covered by outbound centers. This includes discussing products and conducting interviews with potential customers. Talking directly to customers on the phone allows agents to qualify leads immediately.
  • Sales - it’s also quite common for outbound call centers to make the full sale once they have qualified leads.
  • Market research - agents can ask for feedback from customers or give out surveys for market research. 
  • Collections - outbound call centers have been traditionally used for following up on the financial accounts of clients. These include subscriptions, debt collection, bank account updates, and more. It’s commonly used by financial service companies, but other companies use it as well.
  • Customer service - customer service representatives can call customers to follow up on their requests or concerns. This is to make sure that their problem has been resolved and that the product or service is working smoothly.

Bonus: Blended call center

A robust call center will actually take both inbound-outbound services, and combine them in what's called a blended call center to maximize agent productivity. In this environment, teams of agents are trained to perform outbound calls during lulls in inbound call volume, based on the scope of their responsibilities. They will also have specific teams to handle either inbound or outbound calls based on their skill sets.

This is to ensure that call center operations don’t get too complicated and prevent agents from being overwhelmed.

Benefits of call centers

Having one might not seem like a big deal when you’re just starting your business, but it will definitely be beneficial as your company grows and expands. Not only can you use them to generate leads and find potential customers, you can also use them to increase customer satisfaction by offering them support and assistance.

Here are just a few benefits you can gain by setting up or outsourcing a dedicated call center.

  • Improves customer experiences
Reliable communication can help improve customer trust in an organization, and a call center can provide customers with much-needed assistance. When they’re having trouble, being able to contact the company for support will leave them with a positive impression.
  • Increases efficiency
You can let your dedicated call agents handle all of the external customer and business process concerns. As mentioned earlier, this will allow the rest of your organization to focus on their individual tasks, reducing their workload and improving their productivity. This increased efficiency can lead to a huge reduction of costs and can net you massive savings.
  • Improves sales
Whether inbound or outbound, a call center can definitely help with sales. Having a customer service agent help you through your purchase will make the process easier and faster.
  • Easier lead generation
Getting your agents to contact potential leads will allow them to find qualified ones more easily since they’re getting real time, immediate feedback. It’s also a much more proactive approach than waiting for leads to contact you themselves.
Contact center agent using RingCentral to engage with a customer through live chat.

Call centers vs. Contact Centers

So far, we’ve discussed the ins and outs of call centers. But nowadays, it’s much more common for customer interaction with businesses to be done through additional channels like messaging apps, email, or social media or messaging platforms (e.g. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Apple Business Chat ). If you limit your contact options to just phones, you might shut out a portion of your client base who prefers other means of communication.

If you want to take advantage of all communication options to connect with your customers, you might want to consider a contact center instead.

What is a Contact Center?

A contact center (or contact centre in UK spelling) is a customer service hub that uses multiple channels of communication to engage with clients. Unlike call centers that only handle phone calls, contact centers can also handle emails, chat, SMS, or social media and other messaging platforms. Some providers even offer support for fax.

Here some of the key differences between call and contact centers.

A comparison between call center and contact center
Call Center Contact Center
Communication Channel Calls only Supports calls, live chat, social media, email, and SMS
Inbound or outbound Typically only support either inbound or outbound. Can handle both inbound or outbound tasks.
Self-service Limited to voice IVR Also supports chatbots or SMS messaging

Despite their differences, both of them have the same purpose: to provide customer support. In fact, contact centers aren’t so much a separate entity from traditional call centers as they are an upgrade. Many call them a modern call center for this very reason.

Essential contact center features

Whichever type of customer engagement platform you choose to go with, your system has to be equipped with the best features in order to provide optimal customer support.

Let’s look at essential features that any traditional call center must have, as well as some new technology that comes with contact center software.

Traditional call center software features

Call center agents taking inbound calls with RingCentral’s omnichannel customer engagement platform

Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

An interactive voice response or IVR is an automated phone system that can interact with customers. It is used to determine the purpose of the call. In traditional phone systems, this is commonly done by pressing keys on a dial-pad. However, modern contact centers also support speech recognition.

Automatic Call Distributor (ACD)

An ACD automatically queues and distributes inbound calls to agents. This tool organizes call flow to optimize agent productivity and prevent long customer waiting time.

Predictive Dialer

Used by outbound call centers to dial a list of phone numbers simultaneously. This tool reduces an agent’s idle time by predicting the right time to dial the next number. For example, if the tool predicts that the current call is about to end, it will start dialing the next set of numbers so the agent won’t have to wait too long for a customer to pick-up.

Call Recording

This tool allows a call center manager to record calls for coaching and assisting purposes. With call recordings, a manager can evaluate how an agent handles a call and provide advice on how to improve in the future.

Contact center software features

Agent data analysis using RingCentral’s workforce optimization tools

Omnichannel customer support

Contact center solutions come with software that allow agents to access multiple channels from one platform. With these solutions, you can contact your customers through their computer, mobile app, email, and more.

CRM Integration

A customer relationship management software or CRM software can be integrated into your contact center to help organize customer profiles. This management software allows you to unify customer information across your cloud contact center platform.

Open/API-Based Platform

In the old call center days, agents only used computer telephony integration, which allowed them to use their computers as telephone systems. But now, contact center software are open and API-based, allowing companies to integrate their favorite business tools with their customer engagement platform. This allows them to customize their systems to accommodate their customers’ and agents’ needs better.

Choosing the customer support hub for you

A call center is a great choice for companies that need a more direct approach when dealing with their customers. Getting the chance to speak directly to them can help resolve issues quickly.

However, if you want a more comprehensive approach then a cloud contact center is a better choice. With it, you’ll be able to engage your clients from multiple channels, all from a single unified communications platform.

Whichever you choose, it’s important to get one that matches the needs of your business. Once your business starts growing, having a solid customer support hub can have massive benefits.

If you’re ready to get your own customer support system, check out RingCentral’s contact center platform. Click on the button below for an overview of our product features.