What is the difference between a call center and an answering service?
So you've got call centers and answering services, but how can you tell them apart? Here's what you need to know to differentiate between the two.
It's very easy to tell the difference between a call center and an answering service. Call centers are located in tall buildings while answering services are located in short buildings.
Ok. Just kidding. There's a little more to it than that.
Call centers and answering services, for the most part, all look similar. They are located in office buildings. They are filled with cubicles and computers. And, of course, there are lots of phones. The difference between a call center and an answering service is not about the physical location or even what they contain on the inside; it's about how each processes calls.
A telephone answering service technically is a type of call center, but a call center is not necessarily an answering service. Think of an answering service as a specific function that some call centers may have. It has a different name because it handles calls differently than a typical "call center" would.
Call centers and answering services both take inbound calls and can make outbound ones too. However, outbound calls are more frequent in a call center environment when they provide services like telemarketing, welcome calls, and subscription renewal programs. Answering services have a narrower scope of what they do, which includes handling inbound calls, taking messages, and perhaps scheduling appointments. Call centers have the ability to branch out a little more and handle other types of customer service interaction such as email, tech support, and web chat. To really draw a distinction between the two, we have to look at average call duration.
TELEPHONE ANSWERING SERVICE - Telephone answering services are geared to handle high volumes of calls. Operators are trained to handle up to three calls simultaneously, but some providers just focus on one call at a time per agent. The calls themselves are usually short in duration; about 1 to 2 minutes long max. Answering service operators will gather key information from the caller such as name, telephone number, issue at hand and so on (probably 5 or 6 questions worth of information). Then, messages are quickly relayed to the client (via phone call, text, email, secure web portal, or fax) so that they can respond accordingly. Answering services handle everything from basic message taking to emergency call situations and can serve thousands of different clients across dozens of industries.
CALL CENTER SERVICE - Call centers, as most people understand them, are designed to handle just about any question or issue that a caller might have. Call centers operate in a "scripted" environment where customer service reps can handle everything from tech support issues to billing problems to order taking. Calls are generally more complex and thus call durations are usually longer in a call center; about 4-5 minutes minimum. It is not unusual to handle calls that are 15 minutes longer or more. When you have calls of this duration and complexity, the answering operator is assigned a single call at a time. The operator will stay with that caller until the all issues are resolved. Then they will be assigned another call. This is different than some telephone answering services in which several callers are handled at the same time. Call centers can support very complex calls that require focus on a large number of details and that's why the calls are longer and require plenty of attention.
Some companies, like Sound Telecom, can offer the best of both worlds and provide both answering and call center services for customers. So remember, the difference between a call center and an answering service is mainly found in the average duration of the calls handled. Answering services handle shorter duration calls while call centers process longer duration calls.