A growing number of us think that modern, digitally equipped, customers are doing business with companies without ever picking up the phone. But this is far from the current reality. A recent study by CustomerThink found out that ”75% of consumers still prefer human interaction even as automated solutions improve.” And call centers continue to be at the frontier of enabling business growth, as the survey goes on to report that ”Over 9 out of 10 consumers say they will not purchase from a company after three or fewer poor customer service interactions.”
Today, companies need to look at their call centers as revenue generators rather than cost centers. It’s why they should increase their call center’s ability to engage customers seamlessly. So now, the question becomes–what type of call center should they opt for? Must they focus on handling inbound calls from consumers? Or should they invest more in an outbound call center solution, allowing their agents to reach out to consumers? Before we answer these questions, let’s take a deeper look at inbound and outbound call centers.
What is an inbound call center?
For all practical purposes, an inbound call center is a reactive way of engaging customers. But this doesn’t make it any less important, considering that customers call your company when in need of assistance. It could be a new customer expressing interest in doing business with you or an existing customer in need of support that might decide whether they remain loyal to your products or services. Hence, it is extremely important for your agents to answer promptly their calls and ensure customer satisfaction by meeting their expectations effortlessly. Besides voice, other inbound channels include chat, email, messaging, social media, etc.
Types of inbound calls
Inbound call centers are equipped to handle customer support relating to IT, product, or any other service-related queries. Examples include existing customers calling to update their information, change their password, or complain about a product issue. Another crucial inbound use case relates to payment, such as customers urgently requiring more information about their options or the billing process.
Inbound call centers can also assist new customers by connecting them with an associate after they have been checking your business or exploring your products and services. They are certainly warmer leads than outbound ones, given that these customers have already expressed an interest. Sometimes, it could be existing customers calling you to extend, renew or upgrade their current plan. Call center agents should either be in a position to do so by themselves or redirect their call to a sales associate who can complete the process.
What is an outbound call center?
An outbound call center is an engagement solution, allowing a company to take the initiative and reach out to existing or prospective customers. Similar to inbound call centers, they can be omnichannel and cater to different channels like SMS, messaging, or email. Because of the proactive nature of the conversations, outbound call centers are used for sales, proactive service, and collections. They are also useful for retention and loyalty development, extending customer journeys, or unearthing information to grow the business. While you are in control of when calls are placed, there’s more pressure to be relevant to the person you are contacting and potentially interrupting. It is critical to leverage all the information you have in hand to evaluate the potential interest of the customer at the moment of interaction. Outbound call centers are also subject to more call restrictions, as they must abide by multiple compliance regulations.
Types of outbound calls
Cold calling is the bread and butter of many outbound call centers. Here, agents engage with customers by calling them to check their interest in availing of your products or services. Once customers show interest, the agent helps them start their purchasing journey or directs them to the concerned person. Unfortunately, cold calls are not just subject to compliance laws, but they may also lead to negative customer reactions. Therefore, the agent must be skilled enough to manage what sometimes becomes a hostile conversation!
Proactive service and follow–ups
Your outbound call center agents are also responsible for following up with customers to inform them about the update or resolution of an inquiry. For instance, they could request a callback from the contact form on your website. Your business should also proactively inform customers about a potential issue before it occurs such as a fraud alert. Follow-up conversations are a pivotal stage of customer engagement because unless the agent can strike the proverbial iron when it’s hot – it may turn customers towards your competitors.
Callbacks let you offer inbound callers the options of being called back, typically when their expected wait time reaches a certain threshold. Callers can be prompted to be called back at a scheduled time or when agents are available. Callback requests are processed as outbound calls. Callbacks have become a must-have for customer service operations challenged to cope with high levels of incoming traffic.
Many outbound call centers connect with customers to help them with their payments. Agents remind them about missed or future payments and will help find solutions when customers are facing hardship and cannot make them in full on the due date. Sometimes, customers may request to change their current plan. As earlier mentioned, compliance with local regulations plays a vital role in collections.
Outbound call centers conduct surveys that can significantly influence future sales and marketing strategies. Customer responses help in better understanding pain points, purchasing patterns, channel behavior, and more. Through customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys, you can also unearth valuable information regarding how they feel about your products and services.
What is the difference between inbound and outbound call centers?
The primary difference between inbound and outbound call centers is that their approaches belong to opposite sides of the spectrum. Inbound call centers take a reactive approach as your agents deal with customer queries, complaints, and suggestions. While they do their best to deliver a satisfying experience, they don’t get to decide when and how this happens. As far as outbound call centers are concerned, you adopt a fully proactive approach, in which your agents take the initiative to place the call and connect first.
The core IVR and routing software used by inbound and outbound call centers may be the same, but they leverage different technologies to establish and improve customer engagement. For instance, inbound call center agents should have the capabilities to hold, transfer, or allow a supervisor barge-in to handle escalations.
They also use call monitoring technology to improve how agents handle common inbound issues or requests. For outbound call centers, they rely on list management and calling automation, such as power, progressive, preview, or agentless dialers. Furthermore, they require integration with multiple CRM and systems of record to make the calling experience smarter, personalized, and more flexible.
With customer behavior dictating call outcomes, inbound and outbound call center agents need different training modules to achieve positive ones. For example, an outbound call center agent has timely access to information about customer behavior, sentiments, purchasing history, etc., before placing the call. But an inbound call center agent doesn’t know when or where the call is coming from.
How to choose an inbound or outbound call center
As earlier mentioned, inbound and outbound call centers are different in their approaches and serve their own purposes. In today’s environment, they are most often used in combination. Your selection should be driven by the key goals for each customer engagement motion that can be derived from their key performance indicators (KPIs).
Inbound call center KPIs
- First Contact Resolution
- Customer Satisfaction
- Agent Turnover Rate
- Average Waiting Time
Outbound call center KPIs
- Total Number of Connects
- Conversation Outcomes
- Average Call Length
- Agent Utilization
With Acqueon, you can effortlessly leverage inbound and outbound call center capabilities to grow your business. We offer a fully featured customer engagement suite to manage all outbound communications relating to sales, service, and collections. You can deploy it on the cloud contact center platform of your choice to connect with customers, inbound and outbound, leveraging voice and digital channels. You can also maximize the ROI of your campaigns by harnessing AI predictions while discovering precious customer insights to enhance engagement journeys. No matter why your agents are placing the call, Acqueon supports intelligent workflows for them to carry out their tasks smoothly and contextual data points to drive towards positive call outcomes.