From Call Center to Contact Center to Customer Engagement Center


September 1, 2016

Language and technology don’t mix very well. When we talk about technology, we’re grappling with concepts and strategies that our language isn’t properly equipped to describe succinctly. There’s no easy way to say “decouples the intelligence from hardware infrastructure and transforms it into software.” So, we’re forced to invent a term like virtualization to attempt to convey a complex idea we all understand.

At the same time, technology is evolving, innovating, and changing so fast that the terms we do create are only clear for a short while. As technology moves forward, terms need to be updated, so they can continue to describe their assigned concept.

The problem is that the new term doesn’t always reach the companies and people who use the technology. The call center is a perfect example of this dynamic. For years, call center has been an antiquated term, and now, there is a movement to shift the name from the existing contact center to customer engagement center. But, if you walk into any “customer engagement center” in the country, they’ll probably tell you they work in a call center.

Here, we’ll take a look at the evolution of the term and why it has progressed the way it has.


From Call Center to Contact Center

If we accept the idea that these terms are just trying to explain what this entity we call a “call center” is, then the name shift makes a lot of sense. The first call centers were established in the 1960s and at that time they were known as “Private Automated Business Exchanges” (PABX). It wouldn’t be until 1983 that the far more recognizable “call center” was used.

Call center seemed like a nice fit. It conveyed a centralized collection of agents that made and received calls from a single location. In the 80s and 90s, this would be an accurate description of the locale, but the invention of the internet began to muddle the term.

Email, web forms, chat, video, and other tools began to appear in call centers around the globe, and they had a quick impact on the nature of customer service. Today only ~15% of customers prefer to be contacted by phone. The majority prefer email. Thus, “contact center” began to be used by technology manufacturers like Cisco to describe this new breed of customer service.


From Contact Center to Customer Engagement Center

Today, there is a new shift in the industry to move away from the contact center name and towards the customer engagement center, but this time, it is for entirely different reasons. This is about a change in perception and a change in culture.

The term “contact center” evokes concepts like processing the customer, scripted responses, and an overall robotic approach to customer service. While “contact center” conveys the physical processes of the service, it doesn’t convey the spirit. Customer service is about delighting your customer, connecting with them in a meaningful way, and turning them into repeat customers. Customer service is about engagement. Hence, customer engagement center.


Buzzwords Are Buzzwords

Buzzwords have a purpose. They can help focus our attention on key areas of nebulous concepts, but at the end of the day, the important thing to understand is the concept itself. Understanding what the customer engagement center means, what your role in an organization entails, is far more important than what you call it. So, even if you refer to your workplace as “call center,” be sure to act like it’s a customer engagement center.

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