Inbound vs outbound call centers: How they differ

by Kevin Payne
Inbound vs Outbound Call Centers

Are you unsure of the difference between inbound vs outbound call centers? What makes them different, and which one is best for your business?

In this post, we want to set the record straight. Since outsourcing to call centers has become an increasingly important part of running a business in the new age of marketing and sales, your company might find itself wondering what the differences are between inbound and outbound call centers.

Each one has its own specific use case for a business, and depending on the kind of business you run, you might only need one, or even both.

To help you figure that out, we want to give you this comprehensive guide to call centers, what makes inbound and outbound call centers different, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and finally what to consider when you’re choosing a call center to outsource important call-related work to.

What is an inbound call center? 

An inbound call center, as the name might suggest, is a call center responsible for inbound calls. Inbound calls are calls that come in for your company, such as calls from existing customers or even prospective customers who are warm enough to turn into sales. 

Inbound call center agents receive and handle calls, so they are trained to react to situations and circumstances that might have these leads and customers picking up the phone to contact your business in the first place. Examples of these situations may be managing customer inquiries about how to configure your products, or even handling customer complaints.

Inbound call center agents are specially trained to resolve customer issues and many inbound call centers operate 24/7 in order to cater to different schedules.

Here’s our detailed guide to inbound call centers.

What is an outbound call center? 

While an inbound call center receives and handles calls coming in for your business, an outbound call center does the opposite. They handle all outbound or outgoing calls on behalf of your company.

In other words, the calls they make are usually sales calls. They could include follow-ups to convert leads into paying customers or calls about subscription renewals, upsells, and cross-sells, as well as an introduction to new products and services.

However, outbound call centers aren’t just limited to sales calls. They can be that extra personal touch you want to provide customers, such as doing live customer feedback surveys and questions, offering free services and appointments, or doing market research.

Since their nature is reaching out to customers, outbound call centers operate during business hours when they’re sure to reach leads and customers at reasonable hours.

Here is a comprehensive guide about outbound call centers.

Inbound vs outbound call centers: In-depth comparison 

Now, let’s take a look at the three ways inbound vs outbound call centers differ.

1. Types of services 

Types of services cover what exactly each type of call center can offer and do for your company.

Inbound Call Center: Inbound call centers are able to receive and handle calls from leads and customers. They’re able to help you provide customer service, be a source of technical support, close inbound sales, and receive incoming orders.

Outbound Call Center: Outbound call centers specialize in reaching out to leads and prospects. They’re great for doing lead generation or telemarketing, creating reminders and appointments, and even collecting payments and dues from customers.

Check out the main call center services you’d want to optimize your business processes.

2. Interaction with customers 

Since these two types of call centers operate differently, the way they interact with customers also differs.

Inbound Call Center: Interactions are first initiated by customers, and inbound call center agents receive and handle customers who call your business. Some agents may be specially trained to handle complex technical support queries and concerns.

Outbound Call Center: Unlike inbound call centers, outbound call centers initiate the interaction with customers. They first reach out to customers for any activities like cold calls, pitches, and reminders.

3. Metrics measured 

Finally, even though each call center manages calls to or from your business, the metrics that you use to measure their success and efficiency actually differ. Let’s take a look at these now.

Inbound call center: 

  • First call resolution (FCR): This measures whether or not a customer’s concern was answered or solved in their first call. This is important because if customers have to repeatedly call to have their queries or problems resolved, that may lead to lower satisfaction rates and increased costs. 
  • Average handle time (AHT): Productivity is key for call center agents, so measuring average handle time tells you how quickly an agent is able to wrap up their call with each customer. The longer the handle time, the more likely it is that agents cannot handle more calls per day, which may result in missed opportunities or unsatisfied customers.
  • Average speed of answer: This metric tells you how quickly agents can answer the call of customers. When speed is optimal, then customer wait times are reduced, which can increase overall customer satisfaction.
  • Average call transfer rate: If customers have to be transferred from one agent to another, or even from one agent to a supervisor, that can lower your customer experience level and decrease FCR (as discussed above) while increasing costs. The lower the average call transfer rate, the better.
  • Abandoned call rate: When customers are left waiting too long, whether for an agent to answer their concern or to get transferred to the right department, they may drop the call altogether. This is why the average speed of the answer and average handling time are important metrics. Are agents spending too long with each customer, or not picking up the phone in a timely manner — thus leading to abandoned calls?
  • Customer satisfaction score (CSAT): You usually are able to see customer satisfaction scores in follow-up surveys or calls. All the other metrics above, when at optimal rates, all contribute to better customer satisfaction overall.

Here is a list of important inbound call center metrics.

Outbound Call Center:

  • Conversion rate: This points to the percentage of calls that resulted in a successful sale for your business. 
  • First call close (FCC): If agents are able to close sales with just the first call, that’s a good sign. The higher your FCC, the better ROI.
  • Calls per agent: How many calls are agents able to make in a day? This metric isn’t the most useful in itself unless you view this with the rest of the metrics above.
  • Calls per account: How many times do agents reach out to a specific account with no success? If you’re constantly calling an account repeatedly with no hits, then you should consider removing this account entirely.
  • Hit rate: Hit rate can be calculated by dividing calls made by each agent by the number of those calls answered by a prospect. A low hit rate may indicate low quality of leads, among other things.
  • Average call length: Just like with inbound call center agents, productivity is often measured by how many effective calls they can make. The longer they spend on the phone with a prospect or customer, the fewer people they’re able to contact or hit per day.
  • Average hold time: If an outbound call center uses automated dialing to maximize efficiency, hold time may occur if potential customers are willing to hold before speaking with an agent. When prospects and customers have to wait long, they may abandon the call altogether.
  • Occupancy rate: This metric measures how long your agents are engaged in work-related activities. If the occupancy rate is low, agents might not be able to contact as many leads as they could if their occupancy rate is better.
  • Call quality: Call quality is measured after reviewing a portion of agents’ calls. Were they able to stick to the script? Were they polite? Did they follow instructions?

Here are the key outbound call center metrics to track.

Advantages of inbound and outbound call centers

contact center vs call center

Now let’s move on and talk about the advantages that each type of call center might have.

Inbound call center

1. Gives you the opportunity to serve customers with a personal touch

When customers are able to get in touch with a real person behind the phone, they may get the help and support they’re looking for. 

This personal touch can then lead to better brand interactions and positive feelings about your business overall. 

Since we know how important customer service and experience is to ensure that you can retain your existing buyers, an inbound call center might be able to take tedious, repeating queries and concerns out of your hands, freeing up your core team’s time for better business growth.

2. Can increase sales

When calls inquiring about your products or services come in, having an inbound call center may be just what you need to close that sale. Imagine if there were nobody to take calls and answer questions personally; it would be like letting customers only look at an FAQ section on your website or watching a sales video. 

Curious prospects might not see how the product or service will be helpful to them, so you may lose out on sales from people that just need somebody to talk to.

3. Manages an increase in call volumes for you

Your business can be run effectively by focusing on the high-level tasks which truly move the needle. The more customers you have, the more likely you are to get phone calls. Whether it is a query, a complaint, or support, you may waste valuable time handling these issues yourself.

With an inbound call center working for you, you’re able to take these tasks off your core team, and rest assured knowing your customers are being taken care of.

Outbound call center

1. Can increase sales in the long term

In their own way, outbound call centers can help you increase sales in the long term. Since you have a dedicated sales staff that is reaching out to leads and prospects, you’re able to increase conversions about new products or increase your average value per customer.

The longer you keep your outbound call center for sales calls and management, the more you can benefit from their sales talents to grow your business.

2. Full cost control

With the right outbound call center, you have full control over the cost of your outsourcing. You can clearly set parameters for your business needs and budget, and you can count on the call centers to stick to these parameters with their own agents.

3. Gives you access to a wide sales team

When you have your own in-house sales team, you lose out on productive days when employees take leave. However, when you outsource your outbound calls and sales, you’re able to benefit from a call center that has a wide talent pool. Most call centers are designed to fill in the cracks for absences or delays, so you don’t have to worry about lost productivity or sales.

Inbound vs outbound call centers: Disadvantages 

Everything has its own disadvantages. Here, we want to go over them so you know what to expect if you decide to outsource to any inbound or outbound call center.

Inbound call center

1. Less control over the quality of customer service

For businesses that want to make sure they can control the quality of their customer service representatives, outsourcing to an inbound call center might require some adjustment.

You aren’t able to choose and discern specific agents you’d want to hire, as you’ll be limited to the agents employed by your chosen call center.

However, if you review each call center’s performance and data from the past with companies and businesses like yours, you can ease your doubts about the quality of their service.

2. Agents may lack company or product information

It is possible that the agents of inbound call centers don’t know about new products, issues, and concerns that have been raised about your company or brand.

For this reason, make sure to keep communication lines open with your call center manager to ensure everyone is in the loop.

This also points to the importance of ensuring that agents are properly trained and briefed about your company, so spare no detail with the information you can provide to agents who will ultimately represent your brand.

3. Cultural barriers

Many inbound call centers are offshore; meaning they may be based in different countries where cost is relatively lower. 

For this reason, your company may have to deal with any cultural barriers and differences. For instance, if your offshore inbound call center has a non-working holiday that doesn’t follow your home country’s holidays, that may be something you need to know beforehand.

Outbound call center

1. Limited knowledge about your products and offers

When outbound sales and leads are outsourced, call center agents may not have all the information they need to answer questions or queries customers ask on a call. 

Even if you provide all the information about your product, there is still a risk that customers ask questions that require more experience or insight about these products.

To alleviate this concern, it’s important to train agents properly. Coordinate with your outbound call center manager to arrange for proper onboarding and product sales training.

2. No control over the quality of salespeople

When you hire in-house salespeople, you’re able to pick the cream of the crop. When you outsource this to an outbound call center, you don’t always have that luxury. Agents who work with your company might be the best salespeople, and you could miss out on valuable sales.

To mitigate this risk, take a look at the outbound call centers’ conversion rates and other important metrics we outlined above.

3. Agents likely handle outbound calls for multiple companies

Outbound call centers manage several clients at a time, so it’s not unreasonable to think that every agent assigned to your business is handling outbound calls to multiple clients as well. Their attention and focus may often be divided, and they won’t always be as devoted or as passionate about your company and products as in-house employees. 

As a solution, be sure your outbound call center has all the scripts and information they need to know the product inside and out so they can deliver the information to customers and close sales more effectively.

5 things to consider when choosing a call center

business etiquette tips

Now that you understand just what makes each call center different, together with its advantages and disadvantages, you may be asking: “how do I know what kind of call center is right for my business?

Here are the top five things you need to consider when you’re choosing a call center for the first time.

1. Business needs 

Does your business actually need a call center for inbound or outbound calls? 

Consider your existing processes. Are your in-house teams swamped with incoming customer service calls? Is your sales team better off doing other important lead generation and nurturing than doing cold calls?

Business size and growth may influence your decision to outsource to a call center eventually, but other factors, like business type, can help you make a decision faster.

For instance, if you manage a medical practice, then you may have a lot of inbound calls from customers who want to consult with somebody at your business before they make an appointment. Customers who have follow-up concerns may call to ask questions about aftercare for procedures or basic information about medicines.

Many businesses are inclined to need help from call centers, so get to know your business’s needs and decide from there.

2. Call center availability 

Call center availability matters. Do you want to work with a call center that offers 24/7 services for customers? Are you willing to look for offshore call centers? 

Depending on your business needs, size, and operations, you may need agents on call at all hours of the day. However, you might also just need agents to operate during your local business working hours, especially for outbound sales calls.

3. Reporting 

When you work with a call center, they’re responsible for managing important aspects of your business, and you need to know how they’re performing.

Great call centers are able to have detailed reports that show you their performance, and you can discern if their reports match with the rewards your business has seen.

Understand what you might need to see from your partner call center before you decide who to work with. After all, not all call centers are created equal. Some call centers will be able to provide basic reports, while others — if you need them — can even provide you with real-time reports, analytics, and even records of the calls their agents make that you can review.

4. Technology 

Jumping off the previous point: what is your call center equipped with? How do they generate their reports? What other call center tools support their operations (that, in turn, help your business)?

For instance, some call centers use robust employee monitoring programs and systems to ensure everyone is as productive as they can be. Others have artificial intelligence, auto-dialers, and more.

5. Budget 

Your budget may play a big role in helping you decide on the best call center for your company. While call centers are meant to pay back your investment in dividends, this will be an ongoing cost for your business moving forward.

You may want to speak with your prospective call centers to find a plan that best fits your needs. They may be able to charge you only per hour worked or per call. Either way, communicate your budget with your prospects so they can provide the best-customized solutions for you.

Key takeaways

Now that you know everything there is to know about the difference between inbound vs outbound call centers, it’s time to decide which one is the best for you.

Keep in mind all the things we discussed in this article, such as the metrics to look out for and top factors to consider when you’re choosing a call center.

Remember that the benefits of outsourcing ultimately should outweigh the cost, so keep an eye on your chosen call center, have open communication lines, and that’s when you start to see your business grow together.

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