What is a call center?

Let’s define what a call center is, look at different types of call centers, compare call centers vs contact centers, and understand their relevance in 2020

During the presidential election of 1952, in a bid to win the ‘female vote’, the Eisenhower campaign used women campaign workers to make phone calls to fellow women voters who were likely to vote for the GOP. In 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated as the 34th POTUS after winning the majority of the female vote.

As you can see, the concept of call centers existed long before businesses started setting them up in the 1970s to manage booking systems, make sales calls, talk to customers, and so on. From playing a part in electing the leader of a nation to coaxing you into buying that portable smoothie maker you don’t need, call centers have a way of making their presence felt in everyone’s life.

What is a call center?

A call center is a team of people that is equipped with the technology to route, supervise, handle, and track the performance of the phone calls received or made by a business or an organization. Call centers serve multiple business functions like customer support, sales, HR, and office administration.

A business can establish a call center in two ways

  • By setting up one in-house, and hiring their own call center team
  • By outsourcing it as a part of business process outsourcing to call center service providers

As we saw earlier, a call center can be a horizontal function or department that serves multiple business verticals. Depending on whom it caters, call centers are of different types too.

What are the different types of call centers?

We can categorize call centers in different ways. One way is to categorize them based on the direction of calls they receive. This makes it easy to decide on the KPIs to use while measuring call center performance.

Inbound call centers

Inbound call centers are equipped to receive incoming calls and route them to the right agent. An inbound call center typically uses an IVR to help callers connect with the department that can take care of their problem or answer their queries. For example, when you’re calling a travel agency to inquire about your ticket refund, you will encounter a pre-recorded message asking you to press a number to talk to the right person. This is a common set-up used by an inbound call center to segment their callers.

IVR System | What is a call center?

Businesses typically use inbound call centers for customer service or support, inbound sales, and inquiries. They can be set up in-house or outsourced. However, you can have more control over the quality of service provided if it is an in-house call center.

Outbound call centers

Like the name suggests, outbound call centers are equipped to make outgoing calls. They will have technologies like dialers that allow them to upload a list of numbers and automate the calling. Some of them use predictive dialer software that can make multiple outgoing calls at the same time. They can also detect that an agent is online and available to speak.

Outbound call centers are useful for outbound sales, data collection, speaking to donors, and so on. Their performance can be measured based on the number of calls made, the number of sales closed, etc.

Related: The glossary of inbound and outbound call center metrics

The second way to categorize call centers is based on the location of their employees.

On-premise call centers

On-premise call centers (not be confused to premise-based phone systems) are call centers where all the employees or agents work from a single location or office space. Similar to maintaining premise-based phone systems, on-premise call centers involve capital investment and overheads. An on-premise call center can run on a cloud call center software as well as a premise-based phone system.

Virtual call centers

A virtual call center, on the other hand, enables agents or employees to work remotely. They are especially great for small businesses with a global customer base. Agents or employees can work from anywhere in the world — be it their homes, a co-working space, or their own office — and provide localized customer support and caller experience. Businesses do not have to invest in setting up infrastructure around the globe or make agents work in shifts to run a global call center. Virtual call centers can be set up using cloud call center software that enables agents to handle calls using only their laptop.

Related: What are virtual call centers?

What is the difference between a call center and a contact center?

Call center vs contact center | What is a call center?

The emergence of virtual call centers is not the only change the call center domain has undergone through the years. With the arrival of email, social media and chat, many call centers have evolved into contact centers. A contact center is nothing but a call center that handles inquiries over a mix of contact channels like email and chat, apart from phone. Nowadays, in customer support and call center-related literature, contributors use the terms ‘call center’ and ‘contact center’ interchangeably too.

Are call centers still relevant in 2020?

Is this evolution of call centers into contact centers signaling the end of an era driven by voice? Perhaps not. Experts believe that phone is key when it comes to customer experienceToday text and voice not only co-exist with each other but complement one another too. Conversations that pass through a contact center can start in social media, evolve over chat or email, and culminate in a phone call.

While email and chat solve for simplicity, phone solves for speed of resolution, urgency, and empathy. And together, they make businesses more accessible. 

Illustrations by Nikhil Kanda

About Freshdesk Contact Center (formerly Freshcaller)

Freshdesk Contact Center 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 our website.

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