What is an inbound call center?

In this article, we’ll look at the definition of an inbound call center, learn how they are set up, and compare inbound vs outbound call centers.

It’s ‘No-meeting Thursday’ in your office. You finally have the time to sit down and set up that automation software you signed up for. You realize two things — it’s the last day of your free trial and you need help, ASAP. Emphatically deciding to not procrastinate anymore, you ring up their Support. An agent tries to understand your issue and gleans the information that you are a trial user. They ask you to wait for a minute in order to check if anyone from the trial onboarding team is available to assist you. Then, they transfer your call to the right department and they help you set up your software. This is an example of an inbound call center in the B2B space.

You’re back home. Suddenly, you get a notification from your mobile banking app informing that your standing instruction has been carried out, and a reasonably worrying amount of money has been debited from your bank account. But you do not remember setting up any such instruction. You panic and call up customer service. First, you encounter an IVR. You wait, impatiently, until the IVR menu tells you which key to press to get in touch with a human. You press that key, a customer service rep answers and immediately solves the problem, and the money is back in your account. This is an example of an inbound call center in the B2C space.

So, what is an inbound call center?

As you can see from the examples above, an inbound call center can exist for different purposes. A call center that predominantly handles inbound calls, like a helpdesk, and is equipped with the technology to receive, segment and route incoming calls to the right team or department is called an inbound call center.

An inbound call center can be set up in-house or outsourced to a call center service provider. It can be an on-premise call center where all the call center agents sit in the same location and work, or it can be a virtual call center where agents work remotely from different geographies.

Inbound call centers are present across many industries and are typically used for customer support or service, inquiries, inbound sales, office receptions, and any business function that attracts inbound calling. They are crucial in travel and hospitality, healthcare, retail and eCommerce, and the software space where emails and chats are likely to make resolutions long-drawn.

How are inbound call centers set up?

How an inbound call center is set up depends on whether it is on-premise or virtual. An on-premise inbound call center can be set up using a traditional PBX/premise-based phone system or a modern cloud-based call center software. Traditional PBX requires capital investment, time and resources to set up telephony infrastructure, hard phones, and cables (lot of it). Cloud-based call center software, on the other hand, only requires an internet connection, laptops, and an office space — because the call center is still on-premise. You can set up a virtual call center with a software-based solution because a virtual inbound call center is location-agnostic and agents can work from anywhere. Office space is optional too.

Must-have features of an inbound call center software

Call center software used in inbound call centers should have the following features to handle their incoming calls and callers:

1) Local and toll-free phone numbers:

An inbound call center software should provide you with the capability to buy local phone numbers that are essential for your business. You may be a global business headquartered in the US, but you still need to provide local contact numbers to your customers in the Philippines. Local numbers not only give you the opportunity to get yourself listed in local business directories but also help your customers to reach you without burning money.

If you want to make yourself more accessible to your customers, you can also look for call center software that gives you the option to purchase toll-free numbers.


2) IVR system:

IVR Systems act as virtual assistants who’ll route incoming calls to the right department. IVR menus are one of the most time-tested ways to segment inbound callers, especially when you cannot hire extra hands to handle this task. Always looks for inbound call center software that’ll let you configure multi-level IVR call flows without coding or technical expertise.

IVR set-up in an inbound call center software
IVR set-up in an inbound call center software

3) Wait queues:

If an inbound call center has 50 agents and all of them are busy attending calls, your call center software should help you define what happens to the 51st or any subsequent callers. This is handled by wait queues. Wait queues place incoming calls in a virtual queue when all agents in a call center are busy on other calls. When a caller is placed in a wait queue, they typically hear messages like —  ‘All our agents are busy right now. Please stay on the line. Your call is important to us.’

Wait Queue set-up in an inbound call center software
Wait Queue set-up in an inbound call center software

4) Fallback options:

There are times when call center agents might be available but unable to answer calls, or they may receive calls when they are offline or outside business hours. To tackle these situations, an inbound call center software should have fallback options like a voicemail system, or the capability to escalate calls to other teams. Some inbound call software also provide the facility of opting for a callback.

5) Live dashboard:

A call center dashboard allows supervisors or call center managers to get a live overview of all inbound calls and agents in their inbound call center. This is especially useful when you need to manage virtual teams.

It’s interesting to note that modern inbound call centers also give options like queue callback and callbacks thus supporting or providing outbound calling as well. All these features ensure that inbound calls are segmented, routed and answered.

Inbound vs outbound call centers – what is the difference?

Not all call centers are heavy on inbound calling. You may have received marketing or cold calls asking if you’re looking for a personal loan or a credit card. These come from outbound call centers. Outbound call centers are not only different from inbound call centers based on the direction of phone calls involved. Their use cases are also different. Outbound call centers are typically used to power outbound sales, running surveys, asking for donations, canvassing during elections, and so on.

Outbound call centers can be set up using a PBX or a call center software with the following capabilities:

  1. Dialers to automate dialing and then connect it to available agents
  2. International numbers to access global audiences at affordable rates
  3. Call masking to make phone numbers more personal or local
  4. Voicemail drop to automate leaving voicemail messages for prospects or leads

These features also help in improving conversion rates i.e. enticing more people to answer phone calls.

Outbound call centers were traditionally seen as profit centers while inbound call centers were considered cost centers. This was because outbound call centers played a more evident role in increasing revenue through customer acquisition. However, this trend has changed as businesses are increasingly understanding the importance of customer retention over customer acquisition. Acquiring a new customer is more expensive than retaining an existing one. Inbound call centers also contribute to stabilizing revenue by reducing churn through proactive customer support, and growing revenue by exploring avenues of cross-sell and up-sell. So, not only are the capabilities of inbound call centers evolving, their objectives are also changing with the times.

Would you like us to explain anything else in the call center domain? Let us know in the comments. We’re listening.

Illustrations by Nikhil Kanda

About Freshcaller

Freshcaller is a plug-n-play call center software that helps businesses set up virtual call centers with the power of cloud telephony. Users can purchase local and international toll-free numbers, get real-time visibility into call queues and ongoing conversations, route calls to specific agent groups, set up custom business hours for each department, and more.

If you want to find out more about what we do, check out www.freshcaller.com.