In 1983, just 40 years ago, the term “call centre” made its debut in the modern dictionary. However, the history of call centres can be traced to an earlier time. The inception of the concept of call centres begins with technology. In 1876 came the invention of the telephone, and the subsequent invention of switchboards followed shortly afterwards in 1882. Using PABX (private automated branch exchange), switchboards allow for the handling of multiple calls– a fundamental element of call centre solutions.
But invention doesn’t mean adoption. Widespread adoption of contact centre technology probably took place around 80 years later, in the 1960s. The offices of major telephone companies saw operators handling multiple enquiries. The pace of the development of technology increased exponentially from this point onwards and by the 1980s, new technology had enabled large businesses to adopt call centre solutions into everyday operations.
However, the call centre solutions we see in the 1980s were substantially different from the contact centre solutions that we observe today.
What is the difference between a call center and a contact center?
Although the terms “contact centres” and “call centres” may appear synonymous, there are several critical distinctions between the two.
Call centres are customer service centres that primarily rely on voice communication. In this type of setting, agents receive inbound calls while also making outbound calls, facilitating either customer service or sales. Regardless of the objective, the one common feature among all call centres is voice communication.
Contact centres are like call centres in their use of voice communication. However, in contrast to call centres, contact centres also offer communication options through a variety of channels, such as text, social media, and email. Thus, the principal difference between contact centres and call centres lies in the availability of multiple communication channels beyond voice.
Multi-channel contact centre solutions.
The word “multi” denotes “many”. A multi-channel contact centre is one where the inbound or outbound agents operate across various channels such as voice, email, mobile app-based chat, website-based chat, and social media, as opposed to only voice communication typical of call centres. Agents in a multi-channel contact centre typically specialise in a particular channel and manage that channel’s interactions independent of customer interactions on other channels. While multi-channel agents are specialists in their channel, they may be less digitally savvy on other channels of communication.
The technology required for a multi-channel contact centre, as opposed to a call centre, differs vastly. Multi-channel contact centres require dedicated, separate technology infrastructure for each channel. This often comes with dedicated, separate invoicing and typically, silos in operation and customer experience (CX).
Omni-channel contact centre solutions.
The word “omni” denotes “all”. An omni-channel contact centre is one where the inbound or outbound agents operate across various channels such as voice, email, mobile app-based chat, website-based chat, and social media, like multi-channel. However, unlike multi-channel, omni-channel includes data continuity. Data continuity enables both the agent and the customer to experience consistency between channels. For example, the customer would not be required to input identical information twice, even across multiple platforms.
In fact, in an omni-channel contact centre, CX is so unified across multiple channels that customers can transition between channels without interrupting their ongoing interaction. A customer’s query addressed across different channels is considered a singular query and will be associated with the same Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey.
The agents employed in an omni-channel contact centre are skilled and trained professionals, with expertise in the best practices of each channel and are well-acquainted with the customer relationship management (CRM) system that drives the contact centre solution. They have exceptional communication skills as well as multitasking capabilities to keep pace with an omni-channel environment’s complexities.
In contrast to multi-channel contact centre solutions, omni-channel contact centre solutions employ integrated technology solutions. Such solutions necessitate dedicated technologies like omni-channel routing, unified dashboards, or unified presence technology, and are typically integrated through the cloud to facilitate ease of scalability within the ecosystem. Furthermore, in contrast to multi-channel contact centre solutions, omni-channel contact centre solutions operate under a single invoice, single-vendor model.
Opti-channel contact centre solutions.
The word “opti” is an abbreviation of the word “optimal”. An opti-channel contact centre is one where the inbound or outbound agents operate on the channel that is best suited to the customer given their overall objective – the optimal channel. In other words, it’s not enough to be at all places at every time, but rather to be in the right place at the right time.
An opti-channel engagement strategy involves businesses determining the optimal channel for each customer at each touchpoint, based on the goals for the specific journey, customer information, interaction history, and contextual data. To meet the increasing demand for customer predictions, personalisation, and optimisation of each channel, it is necessary to focus efforts on areas such as Big Data, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Machine Learning.
To achieve these objectives, organisations must be capable of identifying not only the transactional and behavioural patterns of a customer but also contextual information. When combined with location-based services, artificial intelligence, and real-time data, context drives the opti-channel experience. The opti-channel approach encourages companies to simplify CX by offering fewer channels and integrating them more effectively. This strategy requires clear guidance to those few channels and focusing on doing them very well.
An opti-channel approach also emphasizes transparency about waiting time, steps taken, and necessary future steps. By managing expectations and proactively guiding customers to the best channel for their problem, organisations can optimise the customer experience.
The evolution of call centres and contact centres has been driven by technological advancements and changing customer communication preferences. While call centres primarily rely on voice communication, contact centres offer multiple communication channels such as text, social media, and email. Multi-channel contact centres operate across various channels, whereas omni-channel contact centres offer a seamless, integrated experience across all channels. Opti-channel contact centres take it a step further by determining the optimal channel for each customer based on their specific needs and contextual information. With the increasing importance of customer predictions, personalisation, and optimisation, organisations must focus on areas such as Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning to provide exceptional CX.