Article | 8 min read

What is a contact center? Definition, use cases, and benefits

Establish a flexible, dynamic contact center to drive customer loyalty and improve agent efficiency.

By Cristina Maza, Contributing Writer

Published September 24, 2020
Last updated July 19, 2022

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 issues in communication methods with your customers. Today’s consumers communicate in a variety of ways—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 and foster brand loyalty.

The solution? Establish a modern, dynamic contact center.

What is a contact center?

A contact center is a department that manages customer interactions across various channels. Along with handling inbound and outbound calls, contact center agents also communicate with customers through email, messaging, chat, and social media.

While many consumers still prefer to contact customer support over the phone, they’re increasingly starting to use other channels. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022, inquiries over messaging apps (like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp) rose 36 percent last year—higher than any other channel.

With a contact center, companies can cater to evolving consumer preferences and provide the seamless, omnichannel experience that customers now expect. A contact center can:

  • Send surveys over Facebook Messenger.
  • Promote events and sales via push notifications.
  • Deliver order status updates through SMS.
  • Use video to provide technical support.

Contact center vs. call center

Call centers and contact centers are essentially the same, right? Well, not exactly.

A call center fields only phone calls and takes care of routing calls from one team to another. Meanwhile, a contact center offers several different 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, chances are that your customers will be better served via a contact center. Our CX Trends Report shows that top-performing customer service teams benefit from a contact center’s omnichannel capabilities. Your bottom line will benefit, too: 93 percent of shoppers will spend more money with companies that offer them their preferred option to reach customer support.

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 better customer experiences.

Inbound vs. outbound contact centers

Contact centers can be inbound, outbound, or a mix of the two.

  • Inbound contact centers 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.
  • Outbound contact centers focus on lead generation, telemarketing, market research, and more. They also use predictive dialers to automatically call numbers on a list; when a connection is made, 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.
  • In hybrid contact centers, agents wear two hats. They split their time between proactively contacting customers and addressing incoming customer inquiries.

Benefits of a customer service contact center

Benefits of a customer service contact center, thumbs up

With a contact center, you and your support team can connect with customers over a wide range of channels. This flexibility isn’t just convenient for customers—it also means you have more opportunities to learn about your audience and practice customer care.

Offer omnichannel support

Flexible, dynamic contact centers help support teams keep pace with emerging communication channels and provide omnichannel customer service.

Omnichannel contact centers end siloed conversations by consolidating channels and customer information in one place—giving teams the context they need when they need it.

Say someone reaches out to customer support using a chatbot. They soon learn that their issue will take a long time to resolve, and they can choose to either receive their response in an email or be referred to a live agent via chat or phone. The customer chooses to speak with an agent on the phone. When the agent receives the request, they can see the customer’s information and past support interactions, which means the customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves.

Not only can contact centers provide customers with multiple ways to reach out for help, but they can also ensure seamless conversations as those customers move across channels. That’s important for a customer base that’s grown accustomed to receiving support at their convenience.

Be inclusive

There are 61 million American adults in the U.S. who live with a disability. This makes 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 support team can:

  • Offer screen readers or audible text readers to help individuals with a visual impairment or blindness.
  • Use closed captioning for customers with deafness or hearing loss.
  • Provide a video functionality for people who are deaf, so they can communicate with agents who know sign language.

Learn more about your customers

Contact centers enable you to connect with customers at several digital touchpoints and, in turn, gain more insights into their needs, preferences, and buying behaviors. Analytics software can help you track and measure key customer experience metrics across channels.

Within the software, you can also use interaction analytics to look into trending phrases and words from customer conversations, which can help you catch issues before they snowball into a dilemma. For example, a bank’s contact center might see that customers are 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.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

Contact center use cases

Contact center use cases, three hands holding different blocks

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

Booking services

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.

Tech support

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. In response, a tech support representative can record and send a video tutorial that shows them exactly what to do.

  • Outbound contact center use cases

Lead generation

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.

3 things to consider before building your contact center experience

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.

A good place to start is by considering the following:

  1. Which channels do your customers prefer? Talk to your agents or collect customer data to determine which support channels are most popular. You can also look at current CX trends to gauge the preferred channels among your ideal buyers. 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, then you may want to stick with more traditional channels like phone and email.
  2. 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.
  3. Will the contact center solution be able to scale with the company? What your customers and agents need right 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.

Contact center services drive customer loyalty

Contact centers give support agents a view into every customer interaction. This enables agents to solve problems quickly—without asking customers to repeat themselves or wait on hold while they look up information. (After all, who likes being put on hold?)

Having customer context opens up proactive engagement opportunities: the hallmark of the modern, intelligent contact center. As our CX Trends Report shows, 20 percent of consumers value proactive engagement. That figure will surely rise in the coming years.

With a combination of proactive engagement, self-service options, empowered agents, and various support channels, your company can build a dynamic contact center capable of maintaining a level of customer loyalty that’ll pay dividends for years to come.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

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