5 Types of Call Centers: Which Is Right for Your Business?

January 24, 2024 9 min read

Dominic Kent

Dominic Kent


Starting a call center operation is no easy task. You’ve got to find the right staff, the right technology, and, ultimately, the right type of call center.

On paper, it’s straightforward. You need a group of people with the right tools to serve your customers. So, you buy some phones and software and away you go. 

But, there are several types of call center software on the market, each designed to serve a particular type of customer in various ways.

This article will cover the five main types of call centers you can choose from to help you make the right decision for your business.

What Are Call Centers and Why Are They Necessary? 

A call center is a business function that provides a service to customers over the phone. More specifically, we use the term “call center” to describe the technology that enables this function.

Call center applications are call interfaces that are ready to answer inbound phone calls or make outbound calls to customers (or potential customers). You can integrate these applications with customer relationship management (CRM) systems to provide agents with easy access to customer information.

A typical call center setup looks something like this:

Here, you have a hand- or headset for making and receiving calls and a computer interface with call controls such as “answer,” “hang up,” and “hold” and caller details. 

While you can run a call center without this type of software and hardware by using a VoIP phone system and creating call queues, more mature operations or those with a large number of employees (call center agents) use a specialist application to process and manage customer queries.

Specialist call center applications can be installed on-premise or — more commonly in modern times — accessible via the internet. These applications have everything a call center agent needs to handle all customer transactions.

Common types of customer transactions include:

  • Processing orders
  • Managing complaints
  • Processing payments
  • Providing shipping updates
  • Updating contact information
  • Troubleshooting tech support tickets
  • Applying refunds and credit notes
  • Upselling and cross-selling new products

Any type of customer inquiry should enter your business via a call center so that an appropriately skilled agent can handle it and record information about the call.

In every type of call center, the calls made and received will produce vast amounts of data, which can be translated into call center metrics to help you learn about customer behavior and make decisions on staff levels, opening times, and self-service options.

Call center vs. contact center

The main difference between a call center and a contact center is the communication channels available.

A call center solely handles telephone calls: inbound calls only, outbound calls only, or a mix of the two.

A contact center adds extra communication channels, such as email, web chat, SMS, and social media messaging. When you add these channels, customers can choose their preferred contact method to interact with your business.

As in call centers, data and metrics become available following a transaction so that you can report on every customer transaction.

Types of Call Center

1) Inbound call center

An inbound call center only handles inbound transactions. Inbound call centers have call routing features such as auto attendants, interactive voice response (IVR), and call queues.

With a major focus on getting customers to the right agent in the shortest time, call routing is a key enabler of customer satisfaction and team productivity.

Using features such as automatic call distribution and pre-configured call flows, an inbound call center function can become a fluid operation. Calls come in, are answered promptly, and are handled the first time by the right person to solve the customer’s problem. Then, agents can add notes about the call — often called the wrap-up time.

Key metrics

Inbound call centers focus on the speed at which calls are answered and whether agents are handling those calls efficiently: 

Use cases

While inbound call centers can field any type of incoming query, common use cases include:

  • Product and technical support: Customer service representatives help customers retrieve account information, configure products, and troubleshoot other issues.
  • Customer service: Agents can provide support for nontechnical issues, such as booking new appointments or tracking deliveries. 
  • Customer feedback: A call center can be a great place to collect feedback, reviews, and overall satisfaction metrics.

2) Outbound call center

An outbound call center specializes in reaching out to customers. These call center agents make outgoing calls to customers and prospects as opposed to receiving incoming calls.

Outbound call centers allow you to reach, service, and sell to customers over the phone. Due to the different skill set required, outbound agents differ from those handling incoming calls. Using a dialer to speed up the process of making calls is commonplace. Agents may need specialist training to use such software.

Companies use outbound call centers for telemarketing, lead generation, surveys, and market research and to proactively deliver customer service.

Key metrics

Outbound metrics focus on contacts reached, call success, and expenditure.

Use cases

The major use case for outbound call centers is sales outreach, but other common use cases include:

  • Increasing sales: Call center agents can call prospective customers and book meetings with the sales team to discuss products and services in depth.
  • Conducting phone surveys: Agents can ask customers to answer predetermined questions to collect feedback and follow up on previous issues.
  • Onboarding: Customer service teams can call new customers to make sure they’re happy with their product.
  • Upselling: Agents can call existing customers to identify new issues your company can help them solve.
  • Proactive retention: Reach out to customers who are at risk of churning with proactive customer care and resources to drive renewals. 

3) Virtual call center

In the past, technical limitations meant that call centers were centralized in a single location. Businesses would need to install hardware in their communications room or in their agents’ offices. There are still specialist providers of on-premises call center services should your business require one.

However, thanks to the success of cloud technology, you can now operate a virtual call center with professionals distributed across locations, languages, and time zones. In this type of call center, agents only need access to the internet. No physical on-site installation is required.

Virtual call centers can be inbound, outbound, or a mixture of the two — often referred to as a blended call center.

Key metrics

There are several metrics you can track when working with remote and distributed teams:

Use cases

All the use cases that apply to inbound and outbound call centers also apply to virtual call centers.

The most popular use case is for remote customer service teams, which can provide coverage for hours across several time zones. The virtual element of the call center means you do not need agents in a physical location or to spend money on outsourcing so you can hire staff worldwide to provide a 24/7 service.

The virtual environment also opens the door to remote and hybrid working in contact centers. Agents and employers benefit by changing the location or offering the possibility of working from home.

Business benefits of hybrid work often include:

  • Lower carbon footprint
  • Better work-life balance
  • Higher staff retention rates
  • Increased productivity levels
  • Wider talent pool for recruitment
  • Employer savings on furniture, office space, etc.
  • Employee savings on expenses (fuel, food, transport, etc.)

4) Multichannel contact center

Multichannel contact centers work across multiple channels but are isolated to each channel and agent. 

Multichannel contact centers work across multiple channels, so agents will field calls and handle transactions via email, web chat, SMS, and social media. However, they will only work on one channel at a time.

Offering channels in addition to phone calls often increases customer satisfaction, as your customers can choose to avoid call queues and contact you in their own time and on their own terms. For example, using web chat means a customer can dip in and out of the chat while on another call or writing up important documentation.

Likewise, using email, social media, or SMS introduces asynchronous communication, meaning there’s no need for an immediate response. Messages are stored and can be referred back to at any time.

Key metrics

Phone-based metrics are still important in a multichannel contact center. 

You can adjust some metrics to become channel-specific or all-encompassing:

Use cases

Multichannel contact centers are used in a variety of support and sales scenarios, just like blended call centers. When agents are multiskilled, multichannel communication allows you to offer customer support across channels, including phone, email, live chat, social media, and self-serve knowledge bases.

5) Omnichannel contact center

Omnichannel contact centers work across multiple channels and unite all communications in one place.

The best thing about an omnichannel contact center is that agents can switch between channels, can handle all customer requests, and have a holistic view of your customers’ activity in real time.

Unlike multichannel contact centers, interactions are not on a transaction-by-transaction basis. 

When a customer calls in and references their prior web chat or email, agents no longer have to say, “Sorry, I don’t have access to that.” Instead, they can view the entire account, complete with a history of interaction on any channel you offer.

Key metrics

All phone-specific metrics still apply, as you’ll still be receiving (and possibly making) phone calls.

When moving to omnichannel support, you can add a few major metrics:

Use cases

Omnichannel contact centers, like blended call centers, are used in a variety of support and sales scenarios. When agents are multiskilled, omnichannel communication allows you to offer customer support across channels, including phone, email, live chat, social media, and self-serve knowledge bases. Plus, agents can use prior customer data in each interaction.

The major difference between multichannel and omnichannel is the connectedness of customer inquiries. With access to customer history, the use case for omnichannel relates to providing a superior customer experience.

For this reason, many businesses often skip the multichannel contact center altogether and choose omnichannel straight away.

Omnichannel vs. Multichannel Contact Center

Get a Flexible Call Center Platform With Nextiva

When planning a new call center, you will need to consider all types of calls and scenarios. Finding the right call center solution to suit your business needs is paramount. 

Failure to offer the right channels and track the right metrics could lead to unhappy customers and high churn. But what you need when you are starting out may differ from your requirements when you’re scaling in a year’s time. 

Finding the right balance requires a call center solution that’s as adaptable as your business. 

Nextiva’s virtual call center offers all these features:

  • IVR
  • Automation
  • Call recording
  • VoIP numbers
  • Call routing
  • Advanced reporting
  • CRM integration
  • Multichannel
  • Omnichannel
  • Workforce management

With Nextiva, you can automate omnichannel customer support, provide self-service options, set up a basic inbound call center, or enable your outbound sales team.

Whatever you need, whenever you need it, our contact center solution flexes with you.

Know which type of call center you need? Set up a virtual call center with Nextiva.👇

The call center solution teams love.

Sales and support teams use Nextiva to deliver a better customer experience.

Dominic Kent


Dominic Kent

Dominic Kent is a content marketer specializing in unified communications and contact centers. After 10 years of managing installations, he founded UC Marketing to bridge the gap between service providers and customers. He spends half of his time building content marketing programs and the rest writing on the beach with his dogs.

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