What is a Contact Center?

By Stan Baldwin
Updated: August 19, 2011

Those annoying solicitation phone calls, apparently timed to coincide with your dinner, frequently come from rooms full of people wearing headsets and staring at your personal information on a computer screen. Across the room (or across the country) there might be another room full of headset equipped people answering phones to explain the company's products or services to prospective customers, maybe even taking orders. These operations became known as “Call Centers” simply because that's what they do, make and receive phone calls. The efficiency of standard equipment, operating procedures and scripts helps control costs and keep the customer interface consistent.

But its been awhile since telephones and direct mail have been the only, or even highest volume, form of communication between business and consumer. Assuring the messages, branding, positioning and promotions are all saying the right things is still important, and hugely more complex, when “talking” with customers involves e-mail, texting, IM, social networks and review sites, in addition to phone calls and hard copy.

A Contact Center is the logical evolution of the call center. With the new technologies have come new opportunities and, of course, new challenges. The opportunities are in additional channels to reach customers and prospects. The challenges are in resolving problems quickly, across various media, before they can become toxic, and effectively countering negative commentary.

Some of the powerful capabilities of a fully configured Contact Center include:

A comprehensive profile of each and every customer, including all their contact paths (e-mail, phone number, IM I.D. and more). Purchase and browsing history, personal interests and brand preferences enable a company's contact center to deliver the appropriate message, promotion or level of service to each individual.

The integration of all communication through all media types permits the call center to route each contact to the right resources anywhere in the company. Getting the needed expertise in contact with each customer or prospect increases revenue while controlling costs. Monitoring agent performance can shape the training programs and improve customer satisfaction.

Bringing all the customer data together in one system helps marketers analyze information from a multitude of sources. More effective sales strategies can be created. The volume and types of traffic across the various media can be related to the revenue generated and the costs incurred. Return on Investment can be sliced and diced in any way the organization chooses, providing information which influences the operation of every aspect of the business.

As with many business services, Contact Centers can be built as self-contained systems within a company, portions sub-contracted, or the entire system handed over to specialist service providers and delivered through an internet “cloud”.

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