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Article 5 min read

Inbound vs. outbound call centers: What's the difference?

Learn how inbound and outbound call centers can help you reach customers.

By Courtney Gupta, Customer Service Enthusiast

Last updated March 19, 2024

In a world of chatbots and email, you might guess that shoppers today rarely call businesses. The opposite is true; according to The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2020, the phone is still the most common tool customers use to resolve issues with a company.

That’s true even for millennials and Gen Z. An analysis of 45,000 companies shows that more than 50% of their millennial and Gen Z customers call businesses. It makes sense for companies to increase their capacity for handling incoming and outgoing calls. In other words, they should consider investing in inbound and outbound call centers.

Not sure how inbound and outbound call centers differ? We’re here to help. In this post, we’ll cover the key differences between each type of call center, along with the different types of inbound and outbound calls your team can make to reach customers.

Inbound vs. outbound call centers

An inbound call center receives incoming calls from customers. Support teams typically monitor inbound centers since the calls tend to come from existing customers with issues or questions.

An outbound call center, on the other hand, makes outgoing calls to shoppers. Sales teams typically run outbound centers to cold call potential customers about their products. Companies also might make outbound calls to survey shoppers and collect market research.

Where do these centers exist? Companies either run them internally at their offices or they outsource inbound and outbound calling to external centers. To learn more about the trade-offs of insourcing or outsourcing these calls, check out this resource.

Inbound call center services

Customer service is probably the most well-known function of an inbound call center. That said, inbound call centers can do more than that, including generating revenue with cross-sells and upsells. Here’s a look at some common inbound call center services:

    • Product and/or tech support
      Password changes, updating account information, responding to complaints … inbound call center agents help customers solve a broad range of issues. For problems like advanced technical support, agents may use a help desk tool—like Zendesk—to route customers to IT specialists. Payment and order processing

      Though online ordering is incredibly popular, many shoppers still place orders over the phone. Inbound call agents can help customers complete their purchases over calls. Likewise, shoppers may contact a company to ask questions about their billing or resolve online payment issues.
    • Upgrade and renewal inquiries
      Subscription-based businesses such as subscription boxes or SaaS companies may receive calls from customers who want to expand their current plan. In this case, inbound call agents should be trained to either upgrade shoppers’ plans themselves or redirect the call to a sales agent who can process the plan expansion.

      Modernize your call center

      Our integrated voice solution syncs with all other channels, and lets agents see all customer information right away.

    • Outbound call center services
      At outbound call centers, sales reps primarily make calls to reach and attract prospective customers. Companies also use outbound call centers to conduct market research. Agents can call shoppers who match their target customer to learn more about their needs and interests.
    • Appointment setting
      Just like a sales development rep (SDR) would book meetings for an account executive (AE), outbound agents do the same for your salespeople.
    • Lead generation
      Outbound call center agents can help salespeople generate and qualify leads. Cold outreach is used to identify opportunities, and collecting information over the phone can help identify if those leads are qualified to purchase (i.e., is it the right timing, and does the lead have the budget?).
    • Telemarketing
      Despite its reputation, telemarketing has shown solid growth over the last five years. When you think about it, telemarketers are like door-to-door salespeople. But instead of going house-to-house, telemarketers pitch their products phone-number-by-phone-number. They’re a valuable resource in that they help spread awareness of and pitch products to potential customers in a wider pool of locations and demographics.
    • Telesales
      While telemarketers are tasked with engaging with potential customers in any way possible (generating brand awareness, leads or scheduling appointments), telesales is focused solely on closing deals over the phone. Sometimes referred to as inside sales, telesales agents pursue promising leads in the hopes of improving conversions and increasing revenue.
    • Market research
      Market research is conducted by outbound call center agents to develop a better understanding of their customers and their competition. For example, market researchers might conduct phone surveys to determine their target audience’s top pain points, what products they’re currently using as a solution, and what they wish those solutions did better. With the results of market research, engineers can improve their product design, marketers can improve their messaging, and reps can develop more effective sales pitches.

    Both inbound and outbound call centers create opportunities for your company to offer a wide range of customer services and benefits. What type of call center software or services you decide to implement will depend on your overall goals, employee bandwidth, and budget.

    A hybrid calling center for your inbound and outbound needs

    After reading this guide, you may wonder, “What if my company could use both inbound and outbound call centers?” Luckily, you don’t have to choose one or the other. Instead, you can create a hybrid call center.
    In a hybrid center, agents are responsible for both receiving calls and reaching out to shoppers. This centralization of communication creates a seamless, consistent customer experience. Your organization can easily change and improve call guidelines because all the communication is coming from one channel.
    To run a call center—hybrid or not—you need the right software. Zendesk can help support you at every stage of your call center development.

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