Understanding the Different Types of Call Centers and What They Do
As you’re probably aware, call centers are a centralized department responsible for handling communication via phone. Its agents may perform a broad range of tasks for market research, customer support, marketing, direct sales, order processing, and more.
Suffice to say, call centers play a vital role for many companies – which is why they are so popular. However what you may not realize is that there are actually several types of call centers, and each one is unique in its own way.
Here and now we’re going to look at the main types of call centers and what they do – as well as some that are growing in popularity such as automated call centers.
Inbound Call Centers
Inbound call centers are what most people think of when they’re talking about call centers. Essentially they are a type of call center where agents answer incoming calls from customers.
The exact services that are provided by inbound call centers can vary. Some of the more common services that are provided include processing orders, providing technical assistance, answering customer queries, or even simply answering and transferring inbound calls.
It can be difficult for you to estimate the ‘size’ of an inbound call center that is required as it will be based on the estimated inflow of calls. In most cases, the inflow of calls will vary a lot on different days and even different hours of the day.
Because of that features such as call waiting queues often play an integral role in inbound call centers.
Outbound Call Centers
Per its name, outbound call centers are a type of call center where agents make calls to customers. Some of these calls may be for telesales, while others may be for market research, customer surveys, setting appointments, or informing customers about new products.
While this type of call center is not as popular as inbound call centers – it is still widely used. Many software development companies to this day use outbound call centers as part of their sales funnel to reach out and build relationships with their customers.
Generally speaking, it is easier for you to estimate the size required for outbound call centers. That is because it is based on the expected outflow of calls – which is entirely under your control.
Blended or Hybrid Call Centers
Blended or hybrid call centers are exactly what their name suggests – a type of call center that ‘blends’ both inbound and outbound communication. In other words, this type of call center allows agents to both answer incoming calls as well as make outgoing calls depending on the needs of the company and its marketing or sales strategy.
Compared to inbound and outbound call centers, blended call centers are definitely more versatile as they can play the role of both. However they are more complex to set up and manage, and you may need to divide agents into different groups based on the tasks they have to perform.
At times you may even find it easier to set up separate inbound and outbound call centers that are distinct with one another and don’t overlap.
Multichannel Call Centers
Technically speaking, multichannel call centers aren’t really ‘call centers’. Instead they are better known as contact centers due to the fact that they facilitate communication with customers not only through phones but various other channels.
Some of the more common communication channels used by contact centers nowadays include email, IM chats, SMS, video chats, social media, and more. By taking advantage of these channels, companies can cater to the preferences of customers when communicating with them.
The size of multichannel call centers can vary immensely. It will depend on the number of communication channels that you choose to use, as well as the expected activity of each of them.
Omnichannel Call Centers
Just like multichannel call centers, omnichannel call centers are a type of contact center that uses multiple communication channels. However the key different between multichannel and omnichannel call centers is that the former uses each channel in isolation, while the latter uses them in tandem.
For example, an agent at a multichannel call center who operates the phones will only be able to view a history of past interactions with that customer that took place by phone. However if that same agent were at an omnichannel call center they’d be able to view all past interactions with the customer regardless of whether it was via phone (prepaid or postpaid), email, IM, SMS, or any other channel.
Simply put, omnichannel call centers take multichannel communication to the next level and adopt a far more integrated approach. However to facilitate this the platform needs to tie-in all the communication channels that are being used so that agents can view records from all of them at the same time.
As you can imagine, this requires the use of specialized call center (or contact center) software. If carried out in-house then a server may be required too so that all communication can be centralized.
Virtual or ‘Cloud-based’ Call Centers
Virtual call centers are a cloud-based platform that can be operated from anywhere. In theory the staff (including managers and agents) can work from wherever they please, including the comfort of their own homes.
Technically virtual call centers can be inbound, outbound, or both. Additionally some may also function more like a multichannel or omnichannel contact center and support other communication channels as well as integration with CRM systems.
The main advantage of virtual call centers is the fact that they are versatile. Not only are staff able to ‘log in’ from anywhere, but analytics and other customer data will be stored on the cloud too – making it easy to access.
Many virtual call centers are ‘outsourced’ call centers (see below) – which tend to make them budget-friendly too as they have lower initial as well as overhead costs.
Other Types of Call Centers
While the five types of call centers listed above are by far the most common, there are other classifications of call centers too. Some of the most notable are:
- Automated call centers that are programmed to provide fixed responses to customer queries. They require fewer agents, but the scope they can cover may be more limited and customers may the disconnect as opposed to talking to a real person.
- Domestic call centers that only receive or make calls to customers that are in the same country. They are generally preferred by local-based companies, or multinational companies that wish to establish a local call center to improve communication with the local market.
- International call centers that receive and make calls to customers from around the world. Most multinational companies use them, but may choose the region where their call center is located based on their customer demographic.
- In-house call centers that have infrastructure which is owned, operated and maintained by the company itself. Setting up an in-house call center can be expensive as the equipment and software needs to be purchased and maintained.
- Outsourced call centers are a service that companies can subscribe to and will run a call center on their behalf. It normally requires lower initial investment and the service will be responsible for most of the server and software maintenance which will reduce overheads.
As you can see, while these types of call centers are unique – there may be some overlap between them and the others that were listed previously. For example an inbound call center may also be a domestic call center if it only accepts inbound calls from within the same country.
Similarly, an omnichannel call center may be an outsourced and virtual call center if it is a cloud-based service that you can subscribe to. Or an inbound call center may be automated and in-house if it uses automation and the infrastructure is owned by your company.
To put it simply, the lines between the different types of call centers can be blurry in some cases. Regardless, all of them are valid types of call centers and you can choose which types are a good fit for your business depending on its priorities.
Knowing all the main types of call centers is a good place to start if you’re thinking about starting a call center of your own. For example if you want a call solution for your support team then an inbound, multichannel, or maybe even omnichannel call center would be best – depending on how you think your customers are likely to reach out for support.
However you may want to also decide whether you want it to be domestic or international, in-house or outsourced, as well as virtual or not. In that way you can nail down exactly which type of call center you should be looking to start and can make your decision accordingly.
Keep in mind that no matter which type of call center you choose you need to carefully look at its features and capabilities to make sure that it can do everything you require of it. Additionally, other factors such as cost, staff requirements, security, scalability, and support may also play a role in your decision – so be sure not to rush into any decisions before doing your homework.