Whenever I type the phrase “contact center”, I’m reminded of the time I ran into a former colleague from a previous employer (a financial services company). When I told him I was working at a contact center, he replied with, “So people call you guys when they need more contact lenses?” That was good for a chuckle and reminded me of how jargon-y this industry can be.

To set the record straight, let’s look at a few definitions.

Call Center

A call center is an operation that specializes in handling one type of customer interaction – phone calls. They may handle inbound calls (ones initiated by the customer), or outbound calls (to customers), or they may do both. But with call centers, it’s all about phone calls. It doesn’t mean that customers of that company can’t use other means to communicate with the company. But those other contact types would be handled by a different operation.

Contact Center

Contact centers handle a broader spectrum of customer contact types. In addition to phone calls, they might also handle communications that come in via e-mail, chat, and social media or even fax and mail. An advantage of this model is a more consistent experience for customers who use multiple channels when interacting with a company.

While we’re defining industry jargon, let’s look at a couple of other currently popular terms – multi-channel and omni-channel support.

Multi-channel Support

Multi-channel support simply means that an organization offers more than one channel of support to its customers. For example, customers may be able to interact with the company via both phone and email. Frequently these channels are optimized independently of each other, which can create silos.

Omni-channel Support

Omni-channel support is considered a step beyond multi-channel. As its name implies, it includes “all” possible channels and they are seamlessly integrated so that, for example, if a customer first emails about an issue and then follows up with a phone call, the phone agent will have access to the email correspondence. Omni-channel is all about customer choice and meeting customers when and how they want to be met. Omni-channel is difficult to achieve and it’s still an aspirational goal for many organizations.

Knowing a few key terms is helpful for having informed conversations about the customer service industry. However, when talking to people outside the industry, I just tell them I write for a call center blog. It’s just easier that way.

USA800 is a full service contact center, providing support for a wide range of channels. To find out how we can delight your customers, contact us for a free consultation.