Imagine a friend sends you a text with an urgent question, but you only have your ringer on for incoming calls, so you don’t see their message until hours later. Your friend is likely annoyed, and you probably feel bad for not responding sooner.
You can experience similar communication issues with customers. Today’s consumers communicate through various avenues—from messaging apps to email.
So if you offer just one or two customer support channels, you’ll miss critical opportunities to connect with your audience.
The solution? Establish a modern, dynamic contact center.
- What is a contact center?
- 6 benefits of a customer service contact center
- Key contact center solutions and features
- How does a contact center differ from a call center?
- 6 types of contact centers
- Contact center use cases
- 3 things to consider before building your contact center
- 6 tips to create a productive contact center
Definition: What is a contact center?
A contact center is a department responsible for managing customer interactions across all channels—including the phone—but it tends to focus on digital technologies.
Centralized contact center software generally utilizes automated communication systems and saves contextual information from conversations with customers. This enables agents to stay dialed in and provide outstanding support no matter how a customer chooses to get in touch.
Contact centers may have varying functions, but they are all defined by their ability to use digital methods of communication—like social media messaging, email, and online chats—to connect with customers. This means companies can cater to evolving consumer preferences and provide the seamless, omnichannel experience that customers now expect.
Successful brands with an emphasis on customer satisfaction are leaning towards modern, digital-centric contact centers because they allow support teams to:
- Leverage automations to speed up resolution times
- Customize customer service software with integrations
- Send surveys over Facebook Messenger
- Promote events and sales via push notifications
- Deliver order status updates through SMS
- Use video to provide technical support
- Resolve issues in real time using online chat applications
6 benefits of a customer service contact center
With a contact center, you and your support agents can connect with customers over several channels. This flexibility isn’t just convenient for customers—it also means you will have more opportunities to learn about your audience and practice customer care.
1. Offer omnichannel support
Omnichannel contact centers are leading the way for modernized customer support.
They consolidate information gathered via chatbots, forms, and representatives in one place so agents can provide high-level support during future interactions.
Say someone reaches out to customer support and engages with a chatbot. After answering a series of automated questions, the customer’s support ticket may escalate to a live agent. By this time, the customer may be low on patience, and it’s important to have the information they already shared handy, so you can streamline the process for them as much as possible.
Fortunately, if you have an omnichannel support system, you should already have their information on file along with contextual information about their issue.
2. Provide more inclusive service
61 million American adults live with a disability, making up 26 percent of all adults in the country. Companies can accommodate customers with a disability by prioritizing accessibility in their contact centers.
You and your team can make customer support more accessible by:
- Offering screen readers or audible text readers to help individuals with a visual impairment or blindness.
- Using closed captioning for customers with deafness or hearing loss.
- Providing a video functionality for people who are deaf, so they can communicate with agents who know sign language.
3. Improve customer satisfaction
Contact centers can improve customer satisfaction by giving customers a mix of channels to choose from based on their issue. For example, when it comes to high-stakes issues and tensions are soaring, many customers prefer the immediacy of a phone call and want to speak with an agent voice-to-voice.
Meanwhile, for common inquiries and low-stakes issues, customers often favor online conversations. Digital conversations are also beneficial for contact center teams because they help them do more with less—unlike the phone, agents can help more customers at once, which saves the business time and money.
4. Boost sales
When a customer reaches out digitally, agents have the opportunity to upsell and cross-sell, boosting sales and revenue.
Support reps can send links through digital channels, enabling them to promote additional compatible products that can help customers solve their problems. Or, if a customer simply needs to upgrade their existing package to gain access to the features or storage levels that are important to them, an agent can easily send them that information.
5. Build lasting relationships with customers
Contact centers allow agents to streamline interactions and build on past communications. They also help you cultivate strong customer relationships by creating opportunities for you to:
- Provide personalized experiences: When you start doing business with someone, familiarize yourself with them and the details of their business. Then, as you engage in conversation, you can use that knowledge to personalize the experience.
- Go above and beyond: Show your clients you value them by following up with them regularly to ensure they’re having a positive experience with your company.
- Be kind and gracious: No one wants to feel like they’re “just a sale.” Always be polite and professional—even in tough situations—and make sure your customers know you’re happy to have them on board.
- Create human connections: When you’re busy and worn down from a long day, it can be easy to stick to a script and forget to empathize. However, showing that you understand the customer can go a long way toward building a long-term relationship.
6. Learn more about customers
Contact centers enable agents to connect with customers at several digital touchpoints and gain insights into their needs, preferences, and buying behaviors.
Analytics software can track and measure key customer experience metrics across channels. You can utilize this data to research trending phrases and words that you frequently use in conversations with customers, which can help you catch issues before they snowball.
For example, a bank’s contact center might notice customers complaining about a “credit card scam” in live chat and email, prompting the bank to take quick action to resolve the matter.
Meanwhile, cross-channel analytics can help you interpret data from all channels, get a 360 customer view, and determine which communication channels your audience likes the most. You can use this information to segment your buyers, then tailor your customer support accordingly.
Key contact center solutions and features
You will need to customize your contact center to fit your customers’ needs within the constraints of your budget and resources.
The good news is that you can find excellent cloud-based contact center solutions on the market and enjoy essential voice features that allow you to:
- Set up an interactive voice response (IVR) system to act as the first point of contact and deflect FAQs
- Route calls to the right agent based on agent status, capacity, conversation priority, and more
- Record calls for training purposes
- Add a “call us” button to your website or app
- Monitor your call center with a real-time dashboard
- Turn calls into tickets
Digital-first channels are also a key component to any contact center solution. Here are a few to keep in mind:
- Social channels like Messenger and WhatsApp for a more convenient CX
- AI-powered chatbots to serve customers when agents are off the clock
- Knowledge base or community forum so customers can get answers faster by helping themselves
A unified workspace is critical to ensuring conversations are connected across the phone and digital channels. This reduces system switching for agents and gives them context to personalize interactions—no matter how a customer reaches out.
If you need additional features, contact center software like Zendesk makes it easy to integrate your favorite apps.
How does a contact center differ from a call center?
Call centers and contact centers are essentially the same, right? Well, not exactly.
A call center only fields calls and routes them to the relevant department. Meanwhile, a contact center offers several ways for customers to reach out for support: phone, email, chat, self-service, messaging apps, and social media.
Though a call center might work for your business, your customers may be better served via a contact center. People don’t just make phone calls anymore—they want to communicate via email, social media, messaging apps, and other channels, too. A contact center will allow your company to provide these options and deliver enhanced customer experiences.
The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report shows that top-performing customer service teams benefit from omnichannel capabilities. Your bottom line will also benefit, as 93 percent of shoppers will spend more money with companies that offer them their preferred option to reach customer support.
6 types of contact centers
Determine which contact center type is the right fit for your company and customers.
Handle incoming calls or messages from customers looking to resolve problems or get answers. Agents may provide product and tech support, process payments, and answer questions.
Customers generally reach out regarding:
- Product questions
- Business hours
Agents at outbound contact centers usually get in touch with prospective customers to pitch products and services. However, they may also be responsible for tasks like marketing, appointment setting, lead generation, fundraising, payment collections, and more.
Outbound contact center agents often use predictive dialers to automatically call numbers on a list after they make a connection, then 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 with certain tasks.
Agents at outbound call centers typically contact customers and prospects regarding:
- Outstanding debts
Omnichannel contact centers connect with clientele through phone calls and digital channels, such as:
- Social media messaging
- App or website live chats
This solution stands out because client conversations are completely fluid and can be picked up on any channel.
Whenever or however a customer makes contact, the interaction is recorded. Having customer context—like conversation history, account type, order history, and contact information—helps agents provide better support as the conversation moves from channel to channel.
While many consumers still prefer to contact customer support over the phone, they’re increasingly starting to use other channels. According to our CX Trends Report, inquiries over messaging apps (like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp) rose 36 percent last year—higher than any other channel.
Much like omnichannel, multichannel contact centers allow customers and agents to connect via:
- Social media
- SMS and mobile apps
- Online chats
- Instant messenger
While conversations can occur on different channels, the correspondence is siloed. This means interactions can’t jump from one channel to another without information getting lost.
Cloud contact centers route all inbound and outbound communications through an internet server, allowing agents to communicate with customers from anywhere with a connection. These contact centers enable omnichannel contact centers to exist by ensuring that voice, email, social media, and online chats are accessible.
Cloud solutions are popular because they:
- Have fewer upfront costs
- Are easy to deploy
- Are customizable and scalable
- Record all interactions
- Offer call quality monitoring
- Empower agents with data
- Create a better customer experience
The contact center model uses hardware to host a contact center at a predefined location. On-premise contact centers are a more traditional solution but are becoming outdated because they’re costly to start and less flexible. They also require companies to hire an IT team to maintain the servers and troubleshoot issues.
But there are still some benefits. For example, you:
- Only need to purchase the equipment you require
- Don’t need to make monthly payments
- Have more control over your software and hardware
- Can store important data at your facility
Contact center use cases
Companies can use contact centers to handle incoming customer requests, provide more convenient experiences, and reach out to current and prospective buyers.
Inbound contact center use cases
Inbound contact centers allow agents to address incoming requests and resolve issues for customers.
Businesses that rely on appointments and reservations—like clinics, salons, restaurants, and tourism agencies—can use a contact center for booking requests.
For example, a customer can message a business on Facebook to make a dinner reservation.
Companies with software products can use contact centers to answer technical questions over different channels. Say a customer doesn’t know how to use a specific CRM feature—a tech support representative can record and send a video tutorial that shows them exactly what to do.
Outbound contact center use cases
Outbound contact centers equip agents with the tools they need to reach out to customers to drum up new business and maintain existing relationships.
You can use contact centers to generate leads for your business. Let’s say someone visits your website and asks for a pricing quote. A support agent can send them an email that describes the product details and answers common questions.
Upselling and cross-selling
Use an outbound contact center to persuade existing customers to buy more products or upgrade.
Imagine you’re providing cloud services to a client, and they’re currently enrolled in the basic plan. You can upsell them by having an outbound agent call them and convince them to sign up for the premium plan, which offers more features and better performance (at a higher price).
With cross-selling, you can sell other products that may be helpful to your customer. For instance, if someone recently purchased a phone, an outbound agent can reach out to sell them a phone case.
Hybrid contact center use cases
Hybrid contact centers fuse the tasks of inbound and outbound call centers. In this case, agents are separated into two groups but work in the same facility. This contact center requires special software and equipment so agents can execute their vastly different tasks.
By allowing the inbound and outbound departments to work in tandem, you can provide a significantly more cohesive experience for customers. For example, if an outbound agent pitches services to a prospect and they become a customer, an inbound contact center agent can follow up with company updates and a customer satisfaction survey.
This also ensures that whoever is in contact with the customer knows what has been discussed previously and has key contextual information that allows them to move forward with a more productive conversation.
Contact centers that rely on cloud solutions will likely pay based on consumption. The obvious goal is to keep costs low, and hybrid contact centers allow you to assess data and determine which department and channels are most effective for your company. From there, you can choose to scale back or throw more resources into your contact center.
3 things to consider before building your contact center
For most companies, offering support on every channel isn’t realistic. Determine which channels you’ll use in your contact center by gauging your resources and customer base.
Make sure to consider what your customers prefer, the resource availability at your company, and the scalability of the software solutions.
Which channels do your customers prefer?
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, you may want to stick with only traditional channels like phone and email.
Will the contact center solution be able to scale with the company?
What your customers and agents need now might not hold when you suddenly experience hockey stick growth. Automated customer service tools and AI-powered chatbots can give your team a little breathing room when there’s a sudden surge in demand.
Based on these considerations, evaluate what you should focus on as you set up your contact center.
What staffing resources do you have?
If you’re a large 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 for the business.
As part of your selection process, you’ll want to have a general idea of how many agents you’ll need to staff your new contact center and the software’s potential to scale with a growing team. This contact center staffing calculator can help you estimate as you weigh your options.
Weekly utilized hours for a full-time agent:
Total utilized hours (weekly):
Estimated full-time agents needed:
Solves per hour:
Average handle time:
Disclaimer: The above formula should be used as a guide—it shouldn’t replace a typical workforce management staffing calculator. Teams will also need to consider factors such as breaks for agents, multiple shifts, and different customer requirements.
6 tips to create a productive contact center
Learn what it takes to increase contact center productivity.
Tip 1: Create a healthy work environment
Contact centers are fast-paced environments, and agents regularly deal with upset and frustrated customers. It’s safe to say that emotions have a tendency to run high, which is why you must encourage your team to take care of their mental health. Some ways you can help include:
- Not micromanaging
- Encouraging frequent small breaks
- Offering wellness-related benefits
Avoid micromanaging your crew to ensure they maintain a healthy workplace outlook. This will also help you identify self-starters who want to hone their skills and who might be the right candidate for future promotions.
Tip 2: Measure agent performance
Collect data, set SMART goals, and provide ongoing training and feedback to help agents improve. Taking the time to do this can result in complete customer satisfaction and a better employee experience.
Tip 3: Give credit where it’s due
If your agents know their hard work makes a difference, they’ll be more inclined to go above and beyond. Using the data you collect to set performance goals, you can track wins and reward agents with incentives like event tickets, tech goodies, or extra PTO.
Tip 4: Establish a contact center team structure
You would also do well to define the team structure and roles of your contact center early on. This means determining the titles and duties of everyone from executives to customer service agents. Common contact center roles include:
- Director: A senior position that oversees operations and reports directly to the CEO.
- Managers: Upper management positions that assist with decision-making, assess customer service metrics, and provide team leader development.
- Team leaders: Middle management positions that handle administrative duties, oversee scheduling, and track agent performance.
- Agents: Directly support customers through digital channels and phone calls.
Tip 5: Prioritize workflow improvements
Contact centers that set up automations to handle simple fixes and create dedicated processes to determine when to escalate an issue (and to whom) are generally more organized and run efficiently.
Tip 6: Hire qualified agents
One of the best things you can do to boost contact center productivity is to hire qualified agents who have the skills necessary to do the job without errors or excessive training. If you prioritize hiring candidates with potential, you can train a multichannel team, allowing you to move people around as needed and lowering the chances of contact center fatigue.
The future of contact center technology
The world is moving towards a digital-first approach, and contact centers are no different. Invest in omnichannel customer service and industry-leading CX software to streamline and coordinate client data and provide better customer service.