Here’s a call center – and a contact center—in a nutshell

The first call centers came into existence in the 1960s and were built on private branch exchange (PBX) equipment located and supported on-premises. Back then, the PBX acted as a switch that took central office lines and extended them to a huge number of different telephone stations throughout a business. The call center itself was located in a large physical location usually set up with cubicles, people, and phones. The call center was designed to handle a large volume of customer inquiries, sales orders, and other business-related telephone calls. With the advent of toll free “800” numbers in the 1980s and the later deregulation of long distance calling, deployment of call centers continued to increase.

Today, a call center can come in a variety of flavors, sizes, and functions. Some are specifically set up to handle inbound calls, like what you’d see with a larger retailer, airline or financial institution. Others are dedicated to outbound calls such as telemarketing and fundraising. A blended call center consists of agents that can handle both types of calls. They’re often called “super agents” for a good reason.

Call centers were initially set up in “brick and mortar” facilities with agents working in cubicles and monitored by floor supervisors. They could be individual offices or a set of distributed service centers. With the emergence of cloud-based call centers that have reduced dependence on dedicated agent workstations, call centers have now become increasingly virtual, with agents working in remote locations and even from home. This trend has accelerated as businesses seek to differentiate based on quality of service and therefore strive to hire the most skilled agents. The ability to support agents working anywhere in the world allows businesses to recruit and retain the most talented workers even if they don’t live within a short distance of an office.

What is a contact center?

Call centers are now often called “contact centers” because they handle much more than just phone calls. Contact center agents respond to customer queries across many channels including email, web chat, social media dialogs and even live video. Contact center software logs, records and routes these “omni-channel” interactions to the appropriate agent or department. The entire customer engagement history can then be stored in the organizations CRM. This enables them to personalize service across any channel based on what they know about their customers.

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