What Is a Call Center? Peter Lyle DeHaan Explains
“A call center is literally a centralized location that processes telephone calls,” says Peter Lyle DeHaan. “This is the historical understanding of a call center.”
However, with advances in technology, call centers no longer need to be centralized, but they can, in fact, be decentralized. In addition, most call centers now process more than just telephone calls. They can also handle email, text messaging, and web chat, among other forms of business communications.
A more correct label for this expanded view of a call center is a contact center. However most people in the industry view these two labels as interchangeable, and many stick with call center as the preferred name.
Given all that they do, the call center industry plays a vital role in facilitating commerce and communication across the United States and around the world.
Celebrating the Call Center Industry
Call centers are highly desired businesses for many countries, states, and municipalities. Unlike manufacturing, call centers have little negative environmental impact. They are an ideal “green” business.
Call centers are also most conducive to telecommuting, which allows agents to work from home—or anywhere they have access to highspeed internet service. This saves travel time and expense, as well as keeping cars off the road.
Given this flexibility of being able to work anyplace with internet access is a huge benefit to call centers. Because of this, call centers can often continue to function during natural disasters or health pandemics.
Most call centers provide competitive compensation and nice benefit packages to their employees. Plus, many offer bonuses and other sought-after perks. People often prefer call center work for its variety (no two calls are the same), flexible hours, and training opportunities. They also cite advancement potential and a low physical stress environment as two other advantages.
Call center work is ideal for those who enjoy helping others, as each call presents an opportunity to do just that. Many a call center agent has turned an entry-level call center job into a long and satisfying career. They have advanced through the ranks, earned a good living, and enjoyed challenging and rewarding work.
Two Types of Call Centers
Call centers can be in-house, corporate call centers, which address their own communication needs, or outsource call centers, which handle work for other companies.
Corporate call centers function as a department within a business. They provide service to their own organization. There are arguably 50 to 100,000 call centers in the United States. Of these, roughly 90 to 95 percent are corporate call centers.
An outsource call center is a business that expressly provides call center services to other companies. Since call center work is all they do, it becomes their focus, and they excel at it.
Inbound Call Center Work
Another important distinction is that call centers can handle inbound calls, outbound calls, or both. Some call centers do only inbound work, whereas others do both inbound and outbound. Very few call centers, if any, are strictly outbound, as there’s not as much demand for this type of work as there once was.
In a call center, most calls are incoming, which means someone calls into the call center for assistance or to find information. “Inbound call centers are reactive in nature,” says Peter Lyle DeHaan. “They respond to calls when they occur.” Most call centers today handle incoming calls. They do not make outbound, telemarketing calls.
Outbound Call Center Work
In some cases, though not as common as it once was, call centers also place calls. This is an outbound call center. Outbound call centers are now highly regulated and have many restrictions placed on them as to who, how, and when they can call.
Outbound call centers are proactive in nature, placing calls to specific businesses or individuals at certain times, in compliance with state and federal laws. Though seemingly similar in nature, inbound and outbound centers have very distinct and dynamic differences.
Outbound calling, sometimes called telemarketing, has dropped off considerably in recent years. With the formation of the “Do Not Call” (DNC) list in 2003, consumers have been able to remove themselves from receiving most types of outbound calls. All professional outbound call centers are in full compliance with the DNC regulations and some go beyond what is required.
Outsourcing Is Not Offshoring
A trend has been to move call center activity to other countries that boast stable technological infrastructures and offer qualified workers who possess lower wage expectations. This is called offshoring but is too often incorrectly called outsourcing.
The majority of U.S. call center outsourcing is, and will continue to be, to U.S.-based call centers. Recently, many companies have moved some or all their offshore call center work back to the U.S. This has been in response to customer frustration, to improve customer service, and because anticipated savings from being offshore often did not materialize.
What About Robo Calls?
This discussion of call center work involves people talking to people. Another aspect is automated calling, often referred to as robo calls. There are limits placed on robo calls, but not enough as far as most consumers are concerned.
Prerecorded marketing calls (robo calls) to consumers require written authorization if they are to be made legally. Even having an existing business relationship doesn’t negate the need to obtain prior approval in writing. Last, calls of an informational nature are not affected, as are most nonprofits.
Sadly, the politicians in the U.S. who made the laws restricting robo calls, opted to exempt themselves from the regulations. Therefore, this means that come each election, most people receive a deluge of political robo calls. Don’t blame the call centers for this. Blame the politicians.
Call Center Author Peter Lyle DeHaan
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, has spent his career in and around the call center industry. This has given him an insider perspective, as well as a 360° view from every possible vantage.
First, he worked in a call center handling technical issues and then moved into management. He rose to the rank of president and became a co-owner of a multi-location call center.
He also spent several years in various departments for a call center systems vendor. Some of the key areas he worked in included customer service manager, director of telecommunications, software programmer, and technical writer.
He also spent time working as an industry consultant, helping call centers and telephone answering services across the United States grow their businesses and be more successful. This allowed him to share his expertise and experience with leading call center operations.
Peter DeHaan Publishing
For the past seventeen years Peter has been president of Peter DeHaan Publishing, Inc. There he serves as publisher and editor-in-chief of several call center periodicals:
- Connections Magazine, a premier call center magazine, is the flagship publication of his publishing business. It addresses the call center industry, covering both corporate call centers and outsourcing call centers.
- Next is AnswerStat, the information hub for healthcare contact center news and resources.
- TAS Trader focuses exclusively on the needs, concerns, and opportunities of the Telephone Answering Service (TAS) Industry.
- Rounding out his call center publications is Medical Call Center News, which covers news and information relevant to healthcare and medical call centers.
In recent years Peter has focused on writing, with hundreds of articles (see links to the latest ones below) and blog post to his credit. He now has several books in the works that cover call centers, telephone answering services, and related subjects. Some of his upcoming books are:
- How to Start a Telephone Answering Service, projected publication in fall of 2018.
- How to Start an Outsource Call Center
- How to Start a Corporate Call Center
Check back here for updates and publication dates of these books by Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD.
Recent Articles by Peter Lyle DeHaan
- Scheduling Answering Service Staff for Holidays
- Chatbots Should Learn from the Errors of IVR
- The Work-At-Home Option for Medical Call Centers
- Welcome to Summer
- Develop an Ideal Agent Schedule to Maximize Call Center Efficiency and Effectiveness
- Tips for Selling Shoes and Answering Service
- Be Careful What You Say
- Stop Reacting and Take Initiative
- Are You an Answering Service or a Call Center?
- Is Your Call Center a Profit Center or a Cost Center?
- Staff Communication is Key
- The Impact of Video Calls on Call Center Agents and Operations
- The Call Center Can Save Healthcare
- How Many Names Does Your Answering Service Have?
- Voice AI in the Healthcare Call Center
- What Are Your Plans for This Year?
- Customer Disservice
- What’s Your Call Center’s Position on Video Calls?
- How Fast Do You Put Accounts on Service?
- Prepare Now to Make Next Year a Great One
- Be Thankful for Your Staff
- Will Web Chat Take Over the Healthcare Call Center?
- Will Customer Service Chatbots Ruin the Contact Center?
- Responding to Industry Consolidation
- It’s Hard to Plan When You Don’t Know What to Expect
- What’s Your Exit Strategy?
- The Promise of Telephone Triage and Physician Locator Services
- Great Customer Experience Starts with Customer Service Essentials
- Don’t Be in a Hurry
- Do You Provide Contact Options For Your Patients?