What’s the Difference Between a Call Centre and a Contact Centre?

By Danny Wong

Customer needs and touchpoints are increasingly complex. To thrive, brands must adopt the channels their customers actively use and go above and beyond in delivering memorable experiences. As a result, customer service departments have evolved beyond the traditional call centre. These days contact centres are the norm, and they make it easier for companies to be available and accessible for customers. 

In this article, we define what a call centre is, what a contact centre is, and we explore the pros and cons of each to help you determine which one to invest in for your business.

What Is a Call Centre? 

A call centre is a unit within most companies that manages inbound and outbound customer calls. Agents mostly provide on-the-phone support for customer inquiries and aim to deliver one-call resolutions. Most small and midsize organizations house a handful to a couple dozen call centre agents, whereas corporations can employ hundreds. 

Among many companies, typical call centre agents cover 40 to 50 calls a day. Their calls consist of general inquiries, billing questions, sales, order status updates, and technical support. Often, they use software that features a CRM system to surface important buyer data that helps give context to the customer’s call. Another benefit of call centre solutions include the ability for customer service reps to instantly jump into a conversation with the next caller to minimize downtime. 

Call centre reps are also trained to prompt opportunities for cross-sells and upsells, enabling them to generate more revenue per user. They are often trained to be articulate, empathetic, and patient, especially when dealing with more emotional customers.

Call Centers and Contact Centers: Which Better Serves Customers?

  • A call center, as its name suggests, focuses on customer service over the phone.
  • A contact center handles a variety of channels for customer service.
  • For many companies, a contact center may be a better option.
    • The average customer now uses 10 different channels to communicate with companies.
    • 66% of service professionals say their organization is seeing increased case volume through digital channels.

What Is a Contact Centre?

A contact centre consists of customer experience specialists who cover a wide variety of digital service channels. These specialists are adept at providing exceptional customer experiences through inbound and outbound calls, email, live chat, screen sharing, social media, text messaging, video conferencing, and more. 

Contact centres are designed to facilitate conversations with customers in any manner they prefer, which allows agents to be more accessible so that customers can reach a resolution faster. Rather than dial a toll-free customer service line and wait on hold for the next representative, users can instant message a brand through their website or on their preferred social media platform and multitask while they wait for a reply. This is known as asynchronous messaging, and it is becoming more popular among consumers. Alternatively, for non-urgent requests, customers can send an email or schedule a video conferencing call. Through contact centres, companies add convenience to their list of competitive advantages. 

Automation and tools including chatbots are also common among contact centres. These tools allow brands to take a more proactive role in delivering important user information, enable them to cut down on wait times, and save the organization money and time. 

Given the different formats and channels for customers to interact with a brand, contact centres collect important data points from each user. This helps ensure customers have a seamless experience when they toggle between channels. 

The Differences Between a Call Centre and Contact Centre

Although some people use the terms call centre and contact centre interchangeably, there are distinct differences with each approach. 

Call centres have a singular focus, which is to provide quality customer service through the phone. As a result, call centre agents often know how to detect subtle cues to help them guide the conversation to a positive resolution, are quick to think on their feet given the real-time nature of the conversation, and have the ability to de-escalate situations if the person on the other line loses their composure. Call centres are an important part of many customer service departments.

Contact centres have a broader mandate spanning a number of different channels. They still, however, maintain one core mission, which is to deliver an extraordinary customer experience. Contact centre reps regularly toggle between the phone, live chat, email, and other communication mediums to assist customers by any means possible. This often allows them to provide more comprehensive service faster.

7 Customer Service Channels and Their Future Use

  • A number of service organizations use a wide variety of channels for customer service, but plan to use more in the future. 
  • Email
    • 95% currently use
    • 3% plan to use within 18 months
  • Phone
    • 95% currently use
    • 4% plan to use within 18 months
  • Social media
    • 72% currently use
    • 13% plan to use within 18 months
  • Text or SMS
    • 63% currently use
    • 13% plan to use within 18 months
  • Messenger apps
    • 55% currently use
    • 18% plan to use within 18 months
  • Online chat or live support
    • 52% currently use
    • 23% plan to use within 18 months
  • Video support
    • 33% currently use
    • 32% plan to use within 18 months

Due to the personal nature of phone calls, call centres are limited in their ability to follow up with customers after reaching a resolution. This makes it harder for call centres to gather user feedback and help customers re-engage with the brand. Contact centres, on the other hand, can schedule email drip campaigns, automated text message follow-ups, and instant messages to check in on customer satisfaction rates after their issue has been resolved. This is especially useful since contact centres can then use this as an opportunity to collect customer reviews to post publicly. 

Since call centres strictly take and deliver phone calls to customers, they may only collect data around phone interactions. Contact centres, with their wide array of user touchpoints, collect exponentially more data that enables reps to better personalize the customer experience. 

The real-time nature of phone calls requires that many call centres operate on fixed hours so customers know when they can dial in with their questions. Contact centres help to solve this limitation by offering alternative means of sharing their issues and questions, such as through email and social media, where they are accustomed to waiting for a response a few hours later or even the next day.

Why Contact Centres May Be the Best Option for Your Business — And Your Customers

Businesses that are looking to build their first customer service department or are eager to update the way they interact with customers may find themselves choosing between creating a traditional call centre or a more modern contact centre. 

Call centres are straightforward to operate and are relatively cost-effective, since all you need is a script, a telephone, and call centre software. Their simplicity can be attractive for some business owners who might want to avoid overcomplicating their customer service approach.

What Canadian Customer Service Professionals Say About Their Work

  • Their top service priorities
    • Improving processes and workflows
    • Improving workforce skills
    • Improving service technologies
  • Their top service challenges
    • Keeping up with changing customer expectations
    • Budgetary constraints
    • Ineffective or inefficient processes
  • 73% of service decision makers say emerging technology is transforming customers’ expectations of their service organization.
  • 52% of service professionals say their organization is seeing increased case volume through digital channels

However, contact centres do make it more seamless for customers to get in touch with your business and have a positive experience. Often, this means customers are less frustrated about the issues they face and are more likely to walk away delighted and happy. Contact centres can come with higher ongoing costs. They require various software licenses for tools such as live chat, text messaging, and video conferencing. Many companies justify the cost when those additional features help them increase customer happiness, drive more client referrals, and curb user churn. 

As technology evolves, so do consumer preferences. In the coming years, we will likely see a bigger shift away from phones as a primary means of communication between customers and service departments. Instead, other channels will increase in popularity. Companies that acknowledge this progressive shift and act on it may opt to build contact centres. In doing so, they improve their chances of long-term success as they prepare themselves for a world when the phone is one of the least-used means to relay customer inquiries.

Overall, contact centres offer a powerful solution for a company’s customer service needs. Organizations that opt to form a call centre first are still able to convert their customer service operations into a contact centre later. Among businesses that have neither a call centre nor a contact centre, the most important thing is simply getting started with an available and reliable customer service process and team. Later, as users request to interact with your brand on social media, over text message, and more, then you can consider transitioning from a basic call centre to a sophisticated contact centre.

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