6 Key Differences Between Inbound and Outbound Call Center Services Enterprises Need to Know
Call centres will play a critical role in fostering lasting relationships with customers.
13:23 23 November 2021
Customer service is transforming and customer expectations are on the increase. That means enterprises must keep what has worked reliably for years while adapting these models to meet the demands of the new environment.
Despite their sometimes negative connotations in the public imagination, call centers still play a critical role in fostering lasting relationships with customers.
Inbound and outbound call centers differ in several ways - in purpose, technology, approach, and prospects.
Yet both will play a part in the well-functioning online call center of the foreseeable future.
Each handles specific customer relations. But when used in combination, they work even better.
In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the differences when you’re thinking about inbound and outbound call centers.
What is an Inbound Call Center?
Per the name, we typically associate inbound call centers with customer service.
It usually takes the form of handling incoming calls, for example, requests for support.
Today, agents provide meaningful help across sundry communication channels. These include phone calls, SMS, emails, live chat, and social media.
Phone calls, however, still make up the bulk of a call center agent’s daily work.
The kinds of support they deliver are just as varied - from handling questions and issues, helping with orders, accounts or admin, or dealing with complaints.
The primary goal is to provide solutions or answers to problems, shoring up and enhancing the customer experience.
Especially since delivering quality experience is a preeminent battlefield of competition among rivals.
What Is an Outbound Call Center?
On the other hand, outbound call centers focus on sales. Indeed, they’re often oriented solely around making outgoing calls.
In contrast to an inbound call center’s focus on customer service, outbound sales reps work through a database of potential prospects as part of a business’ sales department, trying to sell a product or service.
Although outbound calls need not be about sales. Some organizations deploy outbound call centers to conduct market research to understand consumer behavior and discover insights into their competition.
Let’s unpack the six key differences.
Inbound Call Center
Agents working in inbound centers wait on customers to contact them. Sometimes, for help with complex technical issues.
Therefore, agents must be able to overcome and troubleshoot specific problems and provide technical support.
Just as often, customers reach out with order-related questions, issues, or complaints, or perhaps looking for product information or aftercare.
Agents must be ready to receive and handle any inbound phone call and deal with customer inquiries.
Outbound Call Center
The agents in outbound call centers, on the other hand, approach customers or potential prospects.
Reaching out first, these agents specialize in lead generation or cold calls. However, they can deal with admin tasks, such as issuing reminders or collecting payments. And perform market research.
A self-explanatory difference between both services is in how they handle calls with many call centers field both incoming and outgoing calls.
But when it skews in favor of one direction of interaction, that affects the technology that centers choose when investing in their infrastructure.
Inbound call centers take advantage of tools, such as call monitoring and call transfer technology. They speed up call center shrinkage and increase the efficiency of handling inbound calls. This technology not only makes their roles easier but also facilitates a responsive, streamlined service for customers.
In contrast, outbound call centers whose agents are dialing out in large volumes utilize CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools that allow them to monitor in-depth metrics and have comprehensive data at their fingertips. Outbound agents also find an IVR (Interactive Voice Response) indispensable in their role.
Agent Best Practices
Long gone are the days when customer service was a mere afterthought. Today, the customer experience is as key as price and product, and agents must internalize that fact and deliver customer-centric service.
Agents in inbound call centers, for their part, employ empathy when handling queries and occasionally aggressive and challenging complaints. While customers have taken the responsibility to call in, agents must have all relevant data ready to provide solutions as soon as they answer the call.
In outbound centers, the dynamics are markedly different, and operators require a unique skill set. On the one hand, they must marshal their information and research on the customer in advance. Agents need insights into how they can help this specific customer. They should also know when a contact matches the buyer persona.
On the other hand, they must also be skilled at gauging the call recipient’s mood to pick the right moment to approach a sale. What’s more, agents should be adept at sticking to outbound call scripts without coming across as too rehearsed and be well-versed in the art of persuasion.
A fundamental tenet of outbound agent best practice is an unequivocal commitment to compliance, given the potential fallout from failing to obey regulations.
Business Impact & Challenges
Another difference between inbound and outbound call centers is the respective impact of each on a business. Both services can drive sales, but for outbound call centers, this is their main focus.
Agents at inbound call centers could engage in closing inbound sales but are occasionally only passively sales-oriented. In contrast, outbound operators look for opportunities to pitch and sell products. That’s not all. Outbound agents are also responsible for getting the word out, promoting brand awareness, and calling customers to conduct surveys to learn more about their needs and views.
Differences in Metrics
Just as the technology used differs depending on the phone calls a center handles, so do the metrics used to monitor and measure success and efficiency.
Inbound Call Center
First Call Resolution (FCR) measures whether a customer issue or question gets resolved in their first call. This metric is paramount to business success, given customer expectations and how easily patience can wear thin. It can hurt customer satisfaction rates and increase costs when problems drag on and on.
Another critical metric is the Average Handle Time (AHT). It tells you how quickly agents can resolve problems and wrap up calls. The shorter the handling time, the more productive your agents are at handling a large volume of calls. And the more satisfied your customers are.
Your Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) - from follow-up surveys and feedback from calls - is also an important KPI that it pays to maintain at an optimal rate.
Outbound Call Center
The Conversion Rate signals the percentage of calls that lead to a successful sale. And the First Call Close (FCC) shows how often agents close a sale on the first call.
A higher FCC means a better ROI, all things being equal.
Calls Per Agent (CPA) can also be a good measure of agent productivity. It can, for example, be a good selling point for call centers looking to prove their competency in delivering an affiliate marketing program.
Today’s leading businesses strive to offer multi-channel customer support to make the consumer experience more engaging and streamlined.
The most apparent impact of this change has been a reduction in the volume of inbound calls to contact centers. Yet it also affects the nature of inbound activities.
Inbound call centers are adapting to customer behavior and the channels they prefer to use. That means it has become a priority to integrate those channels into omnichannel support.
During quiet periods in inbound call centers, agents can take advantage and pivot to outbound customer service and thus increase overall productivity.
So as inbound activities get disrupted, outbound activities are ripe with opportunities for enhancing customer relationships. For example, a felicitous welcome call to a new customer is worth its weight in strengthened customer relationships and an additional window to sell more products or services.
We’ve outlined the difference between inbound and outbound call centers. Now it’s time to consider the potential strategic benefits of opting for a hybrid model.
How would it work in practice? As we already touched on, inbound customers who show an interest in your offerings are already part of your sales funnel. They’re almost certainly considering purchasing your product. Which means their substantial leads to follow up.
The best part is, the hybrid model works in the opposite direction too. Just as inbound sales can produce leads for your outbound services, customers likewise will be more likely to purchase your products if they’ve been recipients of best-in-class customer experience.
Imagine a customer interacting with a business on other channels, such as chat or email. If an exchange is on the verge of going south, a timely outbound call can pre-empt the worst-case scenario, in which the customer gives up on the entire process.
After all, a call enables greater understanding and allows an agent to show sympathy with the customer.
Many chat channels already provide customers with the option to escalate to a phone call. But the beauty of a proactive outbound call is that, in theory, you reach customers before their frustration boils over and resolve your problem.
Then there’s the value to your brand of showing the customer that you care about their experience and the quality of your service.
You Can Help But Wonder Where You’re Bound
The reputation of outbound call center activities has had a bit of a make-over during the years because of the steady stream of robocalls, frauds, and scams that have eroded consumer trust in the phone channel.
But phone calls are still the key to a memorable customer experience.
And it makes sense. Phone calls help establish brand value and build trust.
As enterprises increasingly build mobile apps to shift the balance of their call center infrastructure, we hope we’ve covered everything they need to know when thinking how they can improve the digital experience.