What is a contact center?

A contact center is a department or outsourcing provider that handles inbound/outbound customer interactions, including support, service, and sales.

While many businesses prefer to address call-center needs in house, others have found outsourcing these responsibilities may be more cost effective. That said, the increased product familiarity of in-house agents, improved security and compliance, and more-complete control over the information that is shared during calls are all recognized benefits of using an internal call center over an external one. In fact, some organizations that had previously outsourced their call centers to overseas providers are now in the process of ‘on-shoring’ to bring call-center responsibilities back into the company.

When someone uses the term “contact center,” they’re often picturing a bustling room filled with agents and ringing telephones. But while contact centers likewise handle inbound and outbound calls, they take things much further than the archetypal call centers people tend to compare them to.

The truth is that contact center and call center are not synonymous. Yes, they are both primary contact points between businesses and their customers, but their major distinctions lie in the overall experience they provide and the channels they incorporate.

Call center

A call center is essentially a department that handles customer telephone calls. These calls may be outbound (usually reaching out to customers in an attempt to generate sales or solicit feedback) or inbound (answering customer questions, offering support, or taking orders). Call centers have been a staple of B2C communication since at least the 1960s, and traditionally rely on on-premises hardware and telecommunication infrastructure to effectively distribute high call volumes across available support and service agents.

Contact center

Contact centers are also responsible for addressing inbound and outbound calls, but they expand to include all other communications as well. Contact centers take an omnichannel approach, incorporating not only voice communication, but also live web chats, text messaging, messenger apps, email, video chat, social media, and are even involved in managing virtual agents and chatbots.

But perhaps the biggest difference is the focus on the customer experience; contact centers rely on advanced software solutions to offer a degree of customer personalization that simply is not possible with traditional call centers. Simply put, omnichannel contact centers help transform the customer experience, allowing customers to move freely between channels and agents without any interruption of service.

Contact centers are a natural evolution from call centers, taking an omnichannel approach and applying it to these essential interactions.

The transition from call centers to contact centers was one born out of necessity. As businesses began to make the switch to digital communication at the close of the last century, customers were left with a lot of questions and concerns. Naturally, their preferred course of action to find answers was to rely on a familiar technology: the telephone.

But as more and more customers began reaching out to businesses, it became apparent that traditional call centers simply did not have the bandwidth to handle the flood of new contacts. At the same time, increased competition meant that businesses were in need of key differentiators, particularly where customer convenience was concerned. In response to these demands, organizations began to create and post email addresses and forms on websites that customers could use to reach out, but soon found that the influx of emails was nearly as difficult to manage as the calls.

In an attempt to deflect some of these interactions and to provide a more-prompt service for customers, businesses started creating knowledge bases and FAQ pages. This evolved into more in-depth self-service options and customer online portals. Chat products were added, offering real agent interactions without tying up agents’ time. Eventually, social media became an option for customers who wished for a more-direct, and more-public forum for addressing concerns and interacting with their chosen brands. Now, modern messaging apps with rich functionality for convenient, meaningful one-to-one conversations are surging in popularity.

A seamless customer journey is the primary goal of the omnichannel contact center. Fielding customer questions, providing support, managing sales assistance—these are all part of that objective. Effective contact centers provide the right resources, data, and context to ensure consistency and continuity of communication across the entire customer lifecycle. This provides businesses with a number of advantages, including the following:
Graphic showing the benefits of contact centers.

Agent responsiveness

By ensuring that all relevant data and customer context is easily available regardless of which communication channel was used, omnichannel contact centers drastically reduce the time needed for agents to fulfill requests. With a single platform for all customer interactions, support personnel can view contact history, access best practices, and touch base with other agents who might be involved.

Reliable customer insights

Businesses that are only tracking call-center interactions are likely leaving a large portion of their customer communications unaccounted for. Omnichannel contact center platforms incorporate analytics and reporting for all digital channels, empowering decision makers with a holistic, big-picture view. Contact stats will reflect telephone, email, social media, messenger app, and any other medium customers may use.

Clear path to custom satisfaction

Although customer satisfaction is dependent on a variety of factors, an effective contact center helps promote a more-positive experience by giving customers the freedom to communicate via the channels they are most comfortable with. Coupled with reliable service levels, organizations can establish a stable route to help promote customer satisfaction.

Greater collaboration

Often, it takes more than a single agent to resolve a concern, troubleshoot a solution, or answer a question to the satisfaction of the customer. Omnichannel platforms give contact centers a single, centralized location where representatives can coordinate their efforts using built-in collaboration tools.

Dedicated workforce for customer service

Omnichannel establishes customer service as the main focus of contact centers. By unifying channels and personalizing the customer experience, agents are better positioned to build a customer-centric mindset.

Today’s contact centers need to be able to handle massive influxes of customer interactions while still offering seamless support and service across every available channel. ServiceNow makes this possible.

Agent Workspace

Agent Workspace provides a single desktop allowing agents to manage customer interactions on any channel. From one place, agents can see complete omnichannel customer history, take phone calls, respond to live chats, join messaging conversations from Facebook Messenger and other popular apps, respond to emails or web forms, etc. ServiceNow Agent Workspace brings everything together, so agents can quickly and efficiently serve their customers.

Customer Central

Part of Agent Workspace, Customer Central is a ready-to-use view of all relevant customer information. Customer Central is fully customizable, allowing organizations to incorporate data from various non-standard sources, and integrates with components such as churn risk, customer health score, recent transactions, and more.

Playbooks and guided decisions

ServiceNow CSM connects agents to middle- and back-office teams. Employ detailed playbooks to help guide agents through cases spanning multiple teams, ensuring that everyone involved is on the same page. Gain access to reliable next actions, so that no agent is ever left wondering what to do next to move a case forward.

Self-service options

Empower agents with assistance from advanced AI-driven chatbots. Address common customer concerns fluidly and naturally, automate recurring requests, and free up agents to spend more time on more intensive tasks. Additionally, build self-service portals where customers can access relevant information, open new cases, check on the status of existing cases, review past cases and interactions, and access other self-service options.

Service Catalog

Take self-service further with the ServiceNow Service Catalog. Powered by behind-the-scenes workflow, simple forms allow customers to create service requests and route them directly to the relevant department. Agents can also submit service catalog requests to automate work on behalf of customers. Service Catalog offers visibility and flexibility—requests can be monitored, reassigned, and analyzed for performance improvements.

Outsourced Customer Service

Despite the possibility of improved cost effectiveness, many organizations avoid external call centers out of concerns related to training, privacy standards, and collaboration. ServiceNow provides the solution; maintain data privacy standards by working within a single, secure platform, regardless of where the agents are located. Easily route cases between internal and external teams, effectively onboard the outsorcerer's agents and managers, and accurately define data accessibility for all outsourced agents.

Flow Designer

Automating customer requests demands powerful tools. Flow Designer uses natural language and built-in ServiceNow components to integrate business processes with external systems using a single design environment. This gives contact centers an easy and effective process for automating customer requests.

IntegrationHub

The ServiceNow IntegrationHub empowers contact centers to connect external platforms and cross-company workflows. This simplifies otherwise-complex automations and allows for improved alignment among employees, for better insight into vital workflows.

ServiceNow CSM is the industry leading solution to optimizing modern contact centers. Built on the Now Platform, ServiceNow CSM connects teams, boosts agent efficiency, expands customer self-service, and gives organizations everything they need to more proactively address customer issues in a seamless, consistent way.

Turn your contact center into a powerful tool for improved customer experience, with ServiceNow.

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