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Contact center vs. call center: What's the difference?

A contact center is the modern-day evolution of the call center. Dating back to the 1960s, the call center was the original hub for customer service in an organization. In a call center, agents field customer calls – handling feedback, complaints, questions, and more. In a contact center, agents take a more holistic approach to the customer experience: handling emails, texts, instant messaging, traditional mail, phone calls, and more.

Many organizations still refer to their contact center as a call center, but with calls representing a decreasing percentage of total customer interactions, contact center is now a more accurate representation.

In 2024, the contact center has more responsibility for delivering exceptional customer experience (CX) than ever before. Contact center teams must now be concerned with developing seamless omnichannel customer journeys, meeting self-service needs, and doing it all with the personalization and touch of humanity that customers expect.

Data has shown that customer service is increasingly moving beyond voice, with many consumers preferring to find solutions online or without direct agent involvement. On average, organizations are handling interactions from as many as eight or more channels.

For this reason, the units that once functioned as “call centers” are now becoming an even bigger component in the holistic experience delivery.

Contact center vs. call center experience expectations

In both a contact center and a call center, customers are using service delivery to determine their overall perception and satisfaction with a brand. Good quality service plays a major role in retaining customers. But in a contact center, this same expectation expands into something more. Call centers that are ill-equipped to handle these new expectations are simply failing to meet customer needs.

Omnichannel experience is top of mind for many CX leaders. As the world becomes increasingly connected and customer experiences at leading organizations become more simplistic, customers are learning to adapt their expectations. Now, customers expect a unified experience.

It’s no longer enough to meet the customer on their preferred platform, contact centers must also ensure that customer interactions are truly channel agnostic. A conversation should move seamlessly from one platform to the next, with agents who are well informed to handle the next steps in each case.

Central to the omnichannel experience, customers are increasingly expecting self-service options, with many customers preferring to solve their needs and choose their preferred method of communication on their own. Originally, self-service was introduced as a way to reduce call volume, but now, customers have adapted to it and even seek it out as a way to control their customer experience.

When agents do interact with customers, everyone wants an experience that feels personalized to them. Agent empowerment plays a key role. When your agents are empowered to serve customers well, those customers take note.

Evolution of the agent experience

Many contact center agents find themselves overwhelmed by the complex roles that they have. In the call center era, agents were responsible for being the primary point-of-contact for customers’ service needs. But that role has evolved: now contact center agents are serving as the intervention point. They’re often thrown into the midst of more complex and obscure issues than they would have seen in the past.

With the introduction of bots and other self-service tools, the simple questions are quickly answered while the more difficult and nuanced questions find their way to agents.

To retain agents and promote a positive experience, organizations must adapt to address the new expectations agents have. Many of these expectations have been directly or indirectly driven by customer expectations.

One of the best ways you can support your agents in the modern era is by providing them with the tools they need for success. Increasingly, agent assist tools powered by artificial intelligence (AI) are helping agents be better at their jobs and better serve customers. For instance, knowledge management tools help agents intuitively search a knowledge base by asking natural language questions and receiving synthesized answers built from key data sources.

Other AI-enriched tools like conversation transcription and conversation summarization help agents reduce tedious manual tasks so that they can devote more time and attention to helping meet customer needs.

Evolution of contact center operations

Whether you’re looking to evolve your call center into a contact center or transform your contact center into a more effective operation, you need to consider both customer and employee experience in the equation.

With so many technological advancements to consider, it can be easy to get caught up in the latest trend or in piecing different tools together – which often creates an inefficient process. With endless options available, it becomes increasingly essential to build a holistic CX strategy. With a customer journey map and other foundational strategies in place, you’re better prepared to build the right tech stack that solves for agent and customer needs.

As you innovate, remember that a strong training and development program will serve as your contact center’s backbone. If you haven’t already implemented a VoE (voice of employee) program, you might strongly consider doing so to get a better grasp on employee needs.

And as more and more technology solutions become available, it might be that you need to consider tech consolidation rather than expansion. At some point, adding additional tools to your tech stack can become a hindrance rather than an asset.

If this sounds overwhelming, TTEC Digital can help. Our 4-step contact center assessment can help you find the right path to an optimized contact center. Schedule a complimentary 30-minute discovery session today.

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