Call Center vs. Contact Center: What’s the Difference?
A traditional call center office space with people sitting at desks wearing headphones, as opposed to a modern contact center that can have many different arrangements.

Call center vs. contact center? If you run a business, it’s likely that you’ve come across this question before.

We’re all familiar with the experience of phone-based sales and customer service. Call centers as we know them have been around since the mid 1960s, which means that businesses and customers have been connecting via call center for over half a century. When you think of the term “call center,” you probably picture a herd of sales or customer service reps wearing headsets and clustered together in big room of gray cubicles. However, recent changes in technology and consumer behavior have given rise to a newer version of the call center called a “contact center.”

So, what’s the difference – and more importantly –  which one is right for your business?

Call Centers vs. Contact Centers: What You Absolutely Need to Know

This post gives you a deep dive on the history of the call center and describes how changes in technology and human behavior gave way to the modern-day contact center. But if you aren’t interested in the backstory and just want to find out which model is right for your business, here’s what you really need to know:

  • Call centers are used to manage a high volume of phone calls.
  • Contact centers, on the other hand, manage a wider range of communication channels. These can include phone calls, live chat, text messaging, email, and more.
  • It’s safe to say that traditional voice-only call centers are outdated when it comes to adequately supporting your customers in 2021.
  • Contact centers like JetSpring can engage consumers across a variety of channels, creating a better customer experience and better outcomes for your business.

The History of Call Centers  

The modern-day call center can be traced back to 1965 when the Birmingham Press and Mail was the first organization to use an Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) to direct and distribute incoming calls among a team of agents. The ACD acted in lieu of the traditional human telephone operator who was responsible for answering and routing calls to the appropriate destination. ACDs made it possible for a much larger volume of calls to be routed with minimal delay, an innovation that dramatically changed the field of sales and customer service forever.

Over the next 40-plus years, the call center business grew exponentially as demand for phone-based sales and support continued to rise. By the year 2000, most (if not all) consumers were engaging with businesses via call center on a regular basis. The traditional call center model is built primarily around two kinds of phone calls: outbound voice calls and inbound voice calls. Outbound calls are phone calls placed by call center agents out to consumers. If you’ve ever gotten a call from someone trying to sell you a new warranty on your car or confirm your next doctor appointment, you’ve received an outbound call. Inbound calls are phone calls that consumers place to businesses. If you’ve ever dialed a 1-800 number to buy something from a late-night “As Seen On TV” ad or called Amazon to complain about a late delivery, you’ve made an inbound call.

When it comes to distinguishing between call centers and contact centers, the key difference to remember is that call centers only deal with inbound and outbound phone calls. They don’t manage any other type of customer communications.  

This model made sense in the late twentieth century, when phone calls and snail-mail were the primary means of communication for businesses and consumers. But much has changed over the past 20 years, and the old call center model of outbound and inbound voice calling had to adapt to new trends in communication technology and consumer demand. That’s where the contact center comes in.

Contact Centers: The Call Center on Steroids

During the same time that call centers were growing in popularity, email technology was excelling along a parallel path to widespread engagement. (Oddly enough, the first electronic message was sent in 1965, the same year that the first call center was created.)

By the late 90s, internet and email technology were widely available to most consumers, and soon the 2000s would give way to other, newer forms of communication technology that have come to shape consumer expectations and behavior.

People no longer wanted to engage with businesses only over the phone. Email, text messaging, live chat, and social media messaging emerged as preferred methods of communication in an increasingly digital world. Call centers suddenly found themselves up against an unfortunate reality: 87% of adults don’t pick up calls from unfamiliar numbers.

Traditional call centers had to pivot their model to find new ways to drive consumer engagement for their clients, expanding their communication channels to include the new ways that people like to connect with businesses (and each other). It’s from this shift that that contact center is born: a dynamic, multichannel solution that allows businesses to manage both inbound and outbound communications over a variety of platforms and technologies.

Related: 4 Reasons Contact Center Agents Should Work from Home (Even After the Pandemic)

The beauty of this shift is that, unlike the call center, the contact center model is more adaptable and malleable to specific business and consumer needs. Not all communication channels make sense for all businesses—contact centers like JetSpring allow you to customize your services to make sure you’re available to your customers on the communication channels that matter most to them. So, what does all this history mean for you and your business?

The bottom line is that most businesses need to answer more than just phone calls to drive sales and support their customers.

If you’re looking to scale up and centralize your customer support and marketing efforts, a contact center solution like JetSpring is probably right for you.