Consider the implications of the call center versus contact center debate
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
In Connections Magazine we use the terms call center and contact center interchangeably. Some authors who write for us are content to use the more traditional label of call center, while others prefer the more accurate label of contact center. Other authors seem to not care and use both phrases in the same piece, I suppose to provide variety or maybe to subtly communicate that the labels don’t matter.
The term call center is a descriptive one. It’s a centralized place that receives or makes phone calls. This label has served our industry well for several decades.
Nevertheless, most call centers have expanded their service offerings to handle more than just telephone calls. They may also process email and text messages, as well as perform various social media functions. Some also handle faxes and snail mail. These go beyond the meaning of the word call, with contact being a more inclusive description. Hence we get the term contact center.
Nevermind that in both scenarios, the word center emerges as a misnomer, since many call/contact centers have decentralized their operation. Instead they have a distributed workforce, with staff no longer in a single location. Should we make another adjustment to our industry’s label to find something even more accurate than contact center? I’ll leave that for others to ponder.
Though I don’t have the data to back it up, nor do I really care to know conclusively, more people seem to understand call center than contact center. When people ask me what Connections Magazine covers—since the title could apply to a multitude of subjects—the phrase call center pops up in my explanation.
Some people nod with understanding, even though they function outside the industry, while other people give me a confused look as if I just spoke gibberish. I fully suspect that if I told them Connections Magazine covers the contact center industry, I’d confuse them even more.
Therefore, sticking with the label of call center, even though it’s no longer as accurate a description as it once was, is the best way to communicate with people outside the industry. When effective communication is the goal, using the term call center is the best way to accomplish that.
People who contend that the term contact center is best may be purists who want to use an accurate label (but then they’re only halfway there until they figure out how to deal with the no-longer-accurate use of center). However, I suspect most people who insist on the label contact center do so for branding purposes.
For their brand they may want to distance themselves from the negative public opinion about call centers, courtesy of the people who did it badly and soiled the reputation of the entire industry. I get that. But unless everyone in the industry decides to be ethical and do their work with excellence, the contact center label risks becoming just as toxic as call center to those folks who’ve had bad experiences.
Another branding reason to use contact center instead of call center is to emphasize an operation that handles multiple forms of communication beyond just phone calls. But with most call centers having already expanded to cover additional communication channels, I suspect that most people who want to hire a call/contact center already know that the labels don’t really matter anymore and that they can get the service they require regardless of what providers call themselves.
I’m not attempting to end the call center versus contact center debate. First, I know I never will, and second, it doesn’t really matter. What counts the most isn’t the label we self-identify with, but the quality of the service we provide.
So the next time your organization dives into the “are we a call center or a contact center” debate, shift the focus of the discussion from words to action—actions that produce quality service and heighten our industries public perception. That’s what really matters.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.