What Are The Different Types of Contact Center? (And Which One Is Right For You?)

March 23rd, 2020

If this is your first foray into the world of call centers and contact center technology, a critical first step is understanding which software products are available. 

For new contact center businesses, nothing’s more frustrating than investing in an inbound call center solution only to realize your agents need an outbound contact center platform. Worse still is realizing your new on-premise software will need to be replaced with a cloud-based solution within the next year. 

There are a range of different types of call or contact centers that may be more or less appropriate for your business: 

  • Call Centers
  • Contact Centers
  • Inbound Centers
  • Outbound Centers
  • Cloud-based Centers
  • On-premise Centers
  • Multichannel Centers
  • Omnichannel Centers

Before investing the time and money into searching for, purchasing, and implementing software, make sure you’ve found the contact center product that will best match your current and future needs. 

4 Comparisons to Consider Before You Start Taking Calls

Not all contact center technology is equipped for the full range of call center activities. Conversely, software that has an exhaustive list of features may be overkill for smaller operations. For example, if your customer service representatives will primarily be fielding incoming calls from customers, you may not need a full omnichannel solution. 

On the flip side, if you’re planning on interacting with customers across multiple digital channels, you’ll need to invest in a product that can handle large volumes of customer conversations across channels. 

Below are four key comparisons you’ll want to consider before purchasing new contact center software.

Call Centers Vs. Contact Centers

Though these two terms are often used interchangeably, they don’t necessarily mean the same thing. A call center is a centralized location where agents or customer service representatives manage incoming requests from customers or potential customers. Call centers can either handle only incoming calls or both incoming and outgoing calls. The centers that handle both inbound and outbound communication may be called ‘blended’ call centers. 

Call centers can also be in-house or outsourced to a different company that will act as a service branch of the primary organization. 

Contact centers, on the other hand, tend to be multichannel or omnichannel in nature (more on this later). Along with receiving or making calls, they have the infrastructure to support customer conversations across different digital platforms. These can include email, SMS, website chat, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, or other channels. 

This is the biggest difference between call centers and contact centers: call centers are restricted to focusing on one form of communication (voice calls), while contact centers enable agents to have conversations across a range of channels. 

If you’re trying to figure out whether you need a call center or contact center setup, think about what type(s) of communication your customers use most frequently. Do they primarily make phone calls? Or do they use other forms of digital communication too?

Inbound Vs. Outbound Contact Centers 

Another distinction is between inbound and outbound centers. 

Inbound contact centers have customer service representatives or agents that either exclusively or primarily handle incoming calls. In this type of center, reps wait for calls to come to them, instead of actively making outgoing calls to customers or potential customers. Inbound centers are typically customer service oriented, with customers calling in for tech help, product help, or any other issues they encounter with the service or product. 

When a call comes in, the customer usually is greeted by an interactive-voice-response (IVR) system. This provides them with a list of options to choose from to help direct their call to the appropriate service rep. 

Some of the most important KPIs for these types of centers are call resolution time and agent productivity—as the goal is to handle customer queries as quickly as possible to free up agents for subsequent calls. 

The reps in outbound centers, on the other hand, are primarily focused on making outgoing calls or emails. They might use a customer-relationship-management (CRM) system to help them keep track of which contacts to reach out to and record outreach outcomes. 

Outbound contact centers tend to be focused on making sales, rather than playing a customer support or service role. While inbound centers have goals around handling calls as efficiently as possible, outbound centers typically have sales goals and quotas to meet. 

Wondering whether you need an inbound, outbound, or blended contact center? Think about the role your center will be playing: will it be handling customer service requests, or reaching out to contacts to make sales? 

Cloud Vs. On-premise Contact Centers 

Choosing whether to have an on-premise or cloud-based deployment is another important decision you’ll make when selecting a contact center solution. 

Traditional on-premise centers are more hardware-based and are fully hosted on your servers. This means that the hardware, software, and infrastructure will need to be managed by your own IT team, including implementation, upgrades, and maintenance.

One benefit of an on-premise deployment is that it provides a higher level of data security, as all the information will be stored on your own servers. On-premise centers also tend to be more reliable, which can help eliminate call lag and provide better quality calls. However, a key drawback of this type of installation is that it can get expensive as maintenance and upgrade costs pile up. It also requires dedicated IT resources, for example, implementing an on-premise contact center can take months to complete. 

Cloud-based contact centers provide companies with a hub to manage incoming and outgoing customer communication online. The centers are typically hosted on a public cloud owned and managed by the service provider. 

This means that agents can access the contact center software from anywhere with a reliable internet connection and sufficient bandwidth. Being able to communicate with customers across digital channels is especially important if you’ll be running an omnichannel contact center. 

There are a few key benefits of having a cloud-based center, including:

  • there are little to no routine maintenance or upgrade costs since it’s managed by the service provider,
  • the ability to access the software from anywhere with a strong internet connection makes it easy for remote workforces to use, 
  • and since the software and hardware are owned and managed by the provider, this means a faster implementation for customers.

However, there are also a few disadvantages to cloud-based contact centers. For one, even though there are decreased maintenance and upgrade costs, there will still be ongoing monthly or annual subscription fees. For companies that would rather pay a larger sum up front and not need to periodically pay to renew their license, this may not be ideal. 

Cloud-based centers are also not as customizable as on-premise deployments are. So if your business calls for a high level of customization, this may not be the best choice for you. 

Multichannel Vs. Omnichannel Contact Centers 

One last key distinction is between multichannel and omnichannel contact centers. Similarly to the terms ‘call center’ and ‘contact center, these two phrases are often used synonymously— though they don’t mean the same thing. 

Both multichannel and omnichannel centers allow agents or service reps to connect with customers across multiple digital channels. These can include voice calling, email, website chat, SMS, social media messaging, etc. 

But there are two key differences are between these types of contact centers: 

  1. multichannel centers may not cover all digital channels, while omnichannel centers do
  2. customer conversations can be ‘siloed’ by channel in multichannel centers, whereas conversations are more seamless in omnichannel centers

A multichannel center may only focus on a few channels, such as email, voice calls, and SMS. In contrast, omnichannel centers have the necessary infrastructure to enable agents to have conversations across all digital channels. 

Customer conversation histories also may not carry over from channel to channel for multichannel centers. This means that agents may need to ask customers questions they’ve already answered in a previous conversion.

Omnichannel contact centers, on the other hand, aim to provide customers with a seamless interaction experience from channel to channel. The ability to access the history of conversations and interactions a customer has had, regardless of channel, provides agents with more contextual information that helps them resolve calls faster.

If you’re running an outbound contact center and will be reaching out to customers, having an omnichannel solution can help provide your agents with the information they need to have better conversations with customers across channels. However, if you’ll be operating an inbound call center that primarily handles one-off customer service requests, a multichannel solution may cover your needs. 

Finding Your Contact Center Software Match 

As you search for new call or contact center software, keep these four distinctions in mind. To help you assess which type of center will best serve your needs, here’s a list of questions to consider: 

  1. What method(s) of communication do your current and future customers use most frequently? 
  2. Do they primarily make phone calls, or do they use other forms of digital communication?
  3. What will be the main role of your center? Will it be acting as a customer service branch of a larger organization, or mainly conducting sales outreach to contacts in your database? 
  4. If your agents will primarily be conducting sales outreach, will you need a contact center solution with a built-in CRM?
  5. Is advanced data security a concern for your organization? 
  6. Will you need to heavily customize the contact center solution you purchase to better fit your business operations? 
  7. Is flexibility in terms of agents being able to access the software while working remotely important for your business? 
  8. In terms of pricing model, would you rather pay a large upfront cost or have smaller periodic subscription fees? 
  9. Will your agents or service representatives need to have access to customer conversation histories? 
  10. Or will they mainly be handling one-off customer requests or questions? 

If you’re ready to start evaluating products using these questions as a guide, check out our list of Top Rated Contact Center Software or our software category page for more information