Why a contact center will improve your customer service (and your bottom line)

Establish a flexible, dynamic contact center to drive customer loyalty and improve agent efficiency.

By Cristina Maza, Contributing Writer

Published September 24, 2020
Last updated August 11, 2021

Imagine a friend is sending you an SMS with an urgent question, but you only have your ringer on for incoming calls, so you don’t see their messages until hours later.

You can have similar gaps in communication methods with your customers. Today’s consumers communicate in a variety of ways. If you offer only one or two customer support channels, you’ll miss critical opportunities to connect with your audience and foster brand loyalty.

The solution? Establishing a modern, dynamic contact center.

What is a contact center?

A contact center is a department that manages customer interactions across various channels. Along with handling inbound and outbound calls, contact center agents also communicate with customers through email, messaging, chat, and social media.

While many consumers still prefer to contact customer support over the phone, they’re increasingly starting to use other channels. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2021, messaging channels like WhatsApp and Facebook are quickly becoming new consumer favorites—the popularity of social messaging apps rose faster than any other support channel in 2020.

Companies must have flexible and dynamic contact centers in order to cater to evolving consumer preferences and provide the seamless, omnichannel experience that customers have come to expect.

Call center vs. contact center: What’s the difference?

Call centers and contact centers are essentially the same, right? Well, not exactly.

A call center fields only phone calls and takes care of routing calls from one team to another. Meanwhile, a contact center offers several different ways for customers to reach out for support: phone, email, chat, self-service, messaging apps, and social media.

Why is it important to understand the difference? Though a call center might work for your business, chances are your customers will be better served via a contact center. Our research shows that top-performing customer service teams benefit from a contact center’s omnichannel capabilities.

Plus, a simple call center can seem as old-fashioned as a rotary telephone. People don’t only make phone calls anymore—they want to be able to communicate via chat, social media, messaging, or another channel entirely. A contact center will allow your company to provide these options and meet customer expectations. It can also improve agent efficiency, enabling your team to help more customers and improve satisfaction.

Inbound vs. outbound contact centers

Contact centers can be inbound, outbound, or a mix of the two.

  • Inbound contact centers handle incoming calls or messages from customers looking to have problems or inquiries resolved. Agents may provide product and tech support, process payments, and answer questions.
  • Outbound contact centers focus on lead generation, telemarketing, market research, and more. These centers use predictive dialers to automatically call numbers on a list; when a connection is made, the call is handed off to an agent. For smaller companies, these agents are effectively salespeople, but for larger businesses, they might assist an internal sales team by setting up appointments and so on.
  • In hybrid contact centers, agents wear two hats. They split their time between proactively contacting customers and addressing incoming customer questions or issues.

Why use a contact center?

Contact centers offer similar services to call centers but with a much broader range of channels available to customers, helping both your business and your buyers.

Contact centers can offer omnichannel support

Consumers today communicate across the digital landscape—they use chat, messaging apps, email, and social media to contact companies. Modern, dynamic contact centers keep pace with these emerging channels and use cloud-based solutions (rather than antiquated and expensive on-premise software) to enable omnichannel customer service.

Thanks to this approach to CX, omnichannel contact centers end siloed conversations by consolidating channels and customer context coming from those channels in one place—allowing teams to reference the customer information they need when they need it.

For example, say someone reaches out to customer support via a chatbot. They soon learn that their issue is going to take a long time to resolve, and they’re given the option to receive their response as an email or to be referred to a live agent via chat or phone. The customer chooses to speak with an agent on the phone. When the agent receives the request, they’re given all the relevant context, which means the customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves.

Here are a few ways omnichannel contact centers—and the software that powers them—can boost customer satisfaction and help support agents work more efficiently to deliver excellent customer service:

  • They provide tools for agents—like scripts, macros, automation, and triggers—that support employees’ ability to focus on customer conversations rather than busy work. These tools also organize information from multiple communication channels in one unified workspace, saving agents from having to switch between dashboards or screens.
  • They offer real-time analytics, optimally with the ability to customize reports. This can help organizations identify areas that need improvement and track customer trends across all communication channels.
  • They boast self-service options. Digital-first contact centers have helpful content—such as blog posts, tutorials, and FAQ pages—that enables customers to resolve simple issues on their own. Self-service can lower ticket volume, reduce operational costs, and give agents valuable information that leads to faster resolution times.

Not only can contact centers provide customers with multiple ways to reach out for help, but they can also offer seamless conversations as those customers move across channels. That’s important for a customer base that’s grown accustomed to being able to get support in the most convenient way without having to repeat themselves.

Contact centers can banish burnout

When call center agents are fielding a high volume of calls day in and day out, it won’t be long before they start feeling exhausted and burned out. Around 70 percent of support agents say they’re overwhelmed, which is bad for them and the businesses they work for. Agent performance is critical to customer success—if your agents aren’t enjoying their experience, then your customers likely aren’t, either.

Modern contact center technology can help. It centralizes customer communication in one easy-to-manage location, making the workload more manageable for your support agents. The right solution also allows employees to automate tasks, increases collaboration across teams, displays relevant information, and is intuitive to use. This can be the difference between your agents feeling empowered or hindered.

Having the right tools and contact center solutions is a central aspect of supporting your team. A digital-first contact center will not only help your support agents cope with high call volumes, but it will also reduce their workload, thanks to options like self-service and chat. For example, your contact center can use interactive voice response (IVR) technology to deflect and field simple questions so agents have more time to solve complex or pressing issues.

Whether you have an inbound, outbound, or hybrid contact center, IVR and other automated capabilities can lower ticket and call volume, helping agents feel less stressed and overwhelmed.

Which channels should my contact center include?

As a customer support manager, you’ll need to evaluate the customer base and the staffing resources at your disposal before you can determine which channels to offer. A good place to start is by answering the following questions:

  • Which channels do your customers prefer? Talk to your agents or collect customer data to determine which support channels are most popular. You can also look at current CX trends to gauge the preferred channels among your ideal buyers. For example, if you’re primarily targeting Millennials and Gen Zers, focusing on messaging and social media channels might make sense. But if your target customers are Baby Boomers, then you may want to stick with more traditional channels like phone and email.
  • What staffing resources do you have? If you’re a larger company, you may be able to offer an array of channels and hire numerous support agents to handle them. But if you’re an up-and-coming business—perhaps building out a team of contact center agents for the first time—you might want to start with only the essential services. Thankfully, SaaS support solutions often offer trial versions, so you can get your bearings and decide what’s necessary to the business.
  • Will the contact center be able to scale with the company? What your customers and agents need right now might not hold when you suddenly experience hockey stick growth. This is where automation and AI-powered chatbots shine—these tools will give your team a little breathing room when there’s a sudden surge in demand.

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you evaluate what you should focus on as you set up your contact center.

Contact center services drive customer loyalty

Modern, digital-first contact centers give agents a view into every customer interaction so they can solve problems quickly—without asking customers to repeat themselves or to wait while they look up information. (After all, who likes being put on hold?)

Having customer context opens up proactive engagement opportunities—the hallmark of the intelligent contact center. As our research shows, 20 percent of surveyed customers value proactive engagement, a figure that will surely rise in coming years.

With a combination of proactive engagement, self-service options, empowered agents, and various support channels, your company can build a dynamic contact center capable of maintaining a level of customer loyalty that’ll pay dividends in years to come.

Have better conversations with your customers

Customers increasingly want companies to meet them where they are and expect easy, fast, and personalized support experiences regardless of channel.