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A contact center -- also referred to as a customer interaction center or e-contact center -- is a central point from which all customer contacts are managed.
The contact center typically includes one or more call centers, but may include other types of customer contact, as well. A contact center is generally part of an enterprise's overall customer relationship management (CRM) strategy.
Contact center vs. call center
Contact centers and call centers are both centers for customer service, and the two terms are often used interchangeably, but a contact center supports more services than a typical call center.
Contact centers offer omnichannel customer support, including email, chat, voice over IP (VoIP) and website support. A call center typically uses phones as the main channel of communication and can handle a mass volume of calls.
Contact center capabilities and infrastructure
Contact centers are used for inbound communication, outbound communication or a hybrid of both. Contact center agents also interact with customers via webchat, phone, email or other communication channels.
The contact center infrastructure that is necessary to support communications may be located on the same premises as the contact center, or it can be located externally.
In an on-premises scenario, the company that owns the contact center also owns and manages its own hardware and software. This requires staffing and IT investments that some companies choose to forgo by outsourcing those tasks to cloud providers or hosting companies.
Cloud-based contact centers
Cloud-based contact centers are hosted on a cloud provider's internet server and are the point from which all inbound and outbound communications filter. Cloud-based contact centers are accessible anywhere via the internet and function the same as other contact centers.
Hosted contact centers
Hosted contact centers are centers where the contact center infrastructure is outsourced to another company that manages the systems externally. This often leads to a better return on investment (ROI) for companies by minimizing upfront costs and maintenance of the infrastructure.
Virtual contact centers
Virtual contact centers enable agents employed by the company to work remotely from home. Virtual contact centers enable flexibility and comfort for the agent, while simultaneously lowering costs for the company.
Contact center technologies
A contact center typically uses specialized contact center software that enables contact information to be routed, contacts to be tracked and data to be gathered. Technologies within contact centers include:
- Automatic call distributor (ACD) system -- this is a computerized system that analyzes incoming calls and distributes the calls based on varying factors.
- Email response management system -- a system that collects and analyzes customer inquiries submitted via email, and then routes the inquiries to the appropriate agent.
- Interactive voice response (IVR) system -- a computer-based system that enables customers to use a keypad or voice commands to provide information without the assistance of a human agent.
- Knowledge management system -- a central repository of information that can be easily searched, helping to cut down on agent training time.
- TTY/TDD communications -- telecommunication devices for individuals who are deaf or have a hearing impairment.
- Workforce management system -- a computerized system that helps with scheduling and staffing agents and managing agent performance.
The future of contact centers
As technology evolves and customers rely on more communication channels, contact centers will have to continue to adapt and grow. Contact center trends that have affected contact center communications in recent years, and continue to do so, include:
- Social media -- social media platforms, such as Twitter, have become popular customer communication platforms, making it important for companies to support these channels.
- Mobile access -- customers demand support for mobile-friendly communication services, such as application and text support.
- Video telephony -- IP/video telephony services such as FaceTime and Skype enable customers to interact with companies using video chat, allowing for more personal, face-to-face interactions.
- Advanced analytics -- analytics play an increasingly important role in predicting customer behavior. Speech analytics is also used to monitor, evaluate and train contact center employees.