What is an Inbound Call Center? Simple Definition + FAQ

    An inbound call center is responsible for receiving incoming customer calls and providing assistance, support, or information to the customer.

    Inbound call centers are normally associated with a business or other organization and, 99% of the time, the calls they receive will be about that entity’s products or services.

    The agents that make up the inbound call center are aiming to deliver answers in a timely, efficient manner, and keep the customer satisfied while doing so.

    Okay, that’s the crux of it. If you’re just here for the simple definition, feel free to clock out.

    For the rest of you, keep reading, because we’re going to explore the purpose of an inbound call center, reasons why businesses need them, and the difference between inbound and outbound call centers. Let’s keep going.

    What is an inbound call center? Defined + explained

    Before we move on, let’s clarify that definition.

    An inbound call center handles incoming calls, typically from existing customers seeking support regarding the products or services a company provides.

    It can be in-house or outsourced, but its basic function of handling incoming customer calls remains the same.

    Here’s how a typical inbound call goes:

    1. A customer calls looking for support, or hoping to find an answer to their question.
    2. An agent answers and solves all their problems.
    3. Everyone goes home happy.

    Okay, as anyone who has ever worked in a call center knows, it doesn’t always go so smoothly, but that’s basically your ideal inbound call.

    Of course, the ideal call doesn’t happen all that often and customer satisfaction is never guaranteed. More on bad customer service here.

    It’s important to note the word ‘call’ is something of a misnomer. While we still use the term call center, what most organizations use these days is actually a contact center. This is a more accurate term, as a phone call is no longer the only channel of communication for customer support. A call center may actually handle:

    • Phone calls
    • Live chats
    • Text messages
    • Emails
    • Video calls
    • Social media messages and comments
    • Carrier pigeons
    • Morse code
    • And any other relevant channel

    No matter the channel, the aim remains the same. An inbound call center wants to address the customer issue as quickly and pleasantly as possible, using a combination of technology and high-quality service provided by human agents.

    Now, let’s look at some examples of the types of calls an inbound contact center would typically handle.

    10 types of calls handled by inbound call center agents

    An inbound customer service call could be about pretty much anything, so it’s important that agents are adaptable and ready to handle any query that comes their way.

    As a customer, whether I’m checking the status of my delivery or seeking the meaning of life, I want answers.

    Nonetheless, some inquiries are more common than others, so we’ve narrowed it down to the 10 most frequent calls you might face if you’re an inbound call center agent.

    1. Technical support: A piece of software, or hardware, isn’t working and the customer needs some help troubleshooting the error message.
    2. Product inquiries: A prospective customer wants more information about your company’s product before taking the plunge and making a purchase.
    3. Complaints: A delayed flight, an undelivered package, a poor service experience, etc. The customer wants the issue rectified or to be compensated.
    4. Billing problems: Customers may call to dispute an incorrect charge on their bill. Common for utility companies, internet service providers, subscription services, etc.
    5. Placing orders and processing payments: A broad spectrum. The customer could be purchasing anything from takeout sushi to a new television and they need to complete the transaction.
    6. Setting appointments: Dentist, doctor, haircut—whatever it may be, the customer is calling to schedule an appointment.
    7. Subscriptions, renewals, and upgrades: The customer is signing up for a new service (Netflix, Hulu, etc.), renewing their existing subscription, or upgrading to a premium version.
    8. Processing claims: A staple for inbound call centers attached to insurance companies—a policyholder calling to file a claim after an accident.
    9. Account management: Self-service often handles these inquiries nowadays, but they’re still important. Think of a customer calling to check their account balance or recent transactions.
    10. Pretty much any customer service inquiry: If you can think of a question, it’s likely that a customer service rep somewhere has heard it.

    What’s the difference between an inbound call center and an outbound call center?

    Let’s start with the simplest possible answer here:

    Inbound call centers handle incoming calls. Outbound call centers handle outgoing calls.

    Makes sense, right? Well, yes, but there is a little more to it. Let’s take a closer look at the responsibilities of inbound call centers vs. outbound call centers so we can clearly highlight the key differences.

    difference between an inbound call center and an outbound call center

    Inbound call center technology + solutions: 4 main examples

    We’ve briefly touched on it in the table above (in the ‘relevant technology’ section) and now we’re going to look closer at the most common technologies and solutions that inbound contact centers use to achieve goals like:

    • Enhanced operational efficiency
    • Increased customer satisfaction
    • Stronger agent performance

    Interactive voice response (IVR) and intelligent call routing

    Customers want answers and they want them now.

    With interactive voice response (IVR) and intelligent call routing, inbound call centers are ensuring that a customer reaches the person most capable of solving their problem, as quickly as possible.

    An IVR is often the first point-of-contact when you’re making a customer service inquiry. You’re probably familiar with them already (“Press 1 to check your balance, press 2 to top up your account, press 3 to speak to a customer support specialist” and so forth).

    Basically, you’re given a menu of options, so you can either self-serve for simple inquiries like checking your balance, or connect with a customer service rep to get the help you need.

    The advent of artificial intelligence in the call center has also expanded the capabilities of intelligent call routing systems. Based on their IVR selection, or sometimes existing customer info in the CRM database, they will be routed to the best-suited agent or department based on factors like:

    • Agent skill set or specialization
    • Language proficiency
    • Nature of the inquiry
    • And more

    Quality assurance solutions

    For inbound call centers, it’s not just about solving the problem and saying goodbye, you’re aiming to score high on customer satisfaction (CSAT) too. To maintain high service standards and keep customers happy, most contact centers have a quality assurance program in place.

    Typical functions that a QA solution will support include:

    • Evaluating and scoring interactions: QA platforms include scorecards and call monitoring tools, so you can evaluate agent-customer interactions against predefined criteria (script adherence, product knowledge, empathy, etc.) and give a score. This ensures regular feedback for inbound call center reps, so they’re always improving their performance.
    • Reporting and analytics: Each interaction generates a ton of data around agent performance, customer sentiment, and more, so you can easily build reports in your QA solution. These reports help to uncover areas where agents need to improve, recurring customer issues, process flaws, and more.
    • Informing training and coaching: Carrying on from our last point, the analytics and reporting function of QA uncovers insights that drive training programs and coaching sessions. Additionally, many QA tools have call recording features, so you can review with agents, and use them as onboarding tools for new hires.
    • Ensuring regulatory compliance: Anyone involved in the contact center industry knows that ensuring compliance is a cornerstone of QA. This is especially true for sensitive industries like healthcare and finance, and pretty much every QA solution will help you to maintain an audit trail and ensure regulatory adherence in your inbound call center.

    CRM integrations

    Inbound contact centers are all about keeping the customer happy, and a customer relationship management (CRM) tool is essential to this. CRMs give agents instant access to key info about the customer’s preferences, previous interactions, and overall history with the company.

    Modern CRMs are integrated alongside your communication infrastructure so they can automatically log new information and build up a detailed customer profile. The agent can then refer back to this profile at any point.

    In an inbound environment, this is especially useful for personalizing the customer experience. You can make note of customer details like their location, their dog’s name, or a hobby they might have, and then refer to one of these details in future.

    Workforce management (WFM) software

    To run an inbound call center, you need the right people in the right place at the right time.

    Okay, that’s a bit vague.

    What I mean is, you need a sufficient number of agents working at any given time to satisfy the volume of incoming customer calls—and this is what workforce management is all about.

    WFM software is a big industry, with a ton of solutions out there to support key functions like:

    • Forecasting and scheduling: Analyzing historical call volume trends and patterns to forecast future demand, so you can nail your scheduling. This helps to avoid overstaffing (expensive!) and understaffing (weak CX!).
    • Real-time monitoring: Managers and supervisors can use WFM tools to monitor the day-to-day operations of their inbound call center, keeping an eye on call volumes and agent performance so they can reallocate resources (if needed) on the fly.
    • Performance tracking and analysis: Another aspect of WFM is monitoring agent productivity and efficiency to help you find areas for improvement. For example, you can ensure that agents are adhering to their schedules and assigned break times.

    Why should I use an inbound call center? Top 4 benefits

    An inbound call center can benefit businesses of any size, whether it’s in-house or outsourced. Outsourcing can be particularly useful for handling large interaction volumes when you don’t have an adequately sized in-house support team.

    Whichever way you choose to go, you’ll see many of the same positive outcomes. So let’s have a look at them.

    To manage all those incoming calls efficiently

    Well, this one might seem obvious, but it’s worth stating for the record. If you’re getting a ton of incoming support calls, you want to be able to handle them in an efficient manner.

    You definitely don’t want customers waiting on hold for an eternity or, worse yet, not getting a solution for their problem. A well-run inbound contact center will enhance the productivity and efficiency of your customer support function.

    To keep your customers happy (and loyal)>

    At its core, an inbound call center is about solving customer problems, and solving them with a smile (even over the phone). If it does this, it keeps your customers happy, increasing retention and keeping them loyal to your brand. This, obviously, is pretty good for business. In fact, existing customers spend 67% more than new customers, so it’s worth investing in your contact center to keep them around.

    To build your brand image

    If you’re doing it right, your inbound call center can act as a powerful driver of brand image and reputation. Think about it, if your customers end the call thinking, “Wow, that rep was so helpful—and friendly too!”, then word will spread. This positivity can draw in new customers through word-of-mouth referrals, glowing reviews online, or even a few comments on social media.

    To get insights into your own products and services

    Nobody wants to hear complaints or bump into questions they can’t answer, but these difficult situations can serve as incredible learning opportunities.

    Every time a customer reaches out, they’re actually teaching you something about your business. All those little interactions build up a detailed picture of what’s working and what isn’t and, using something like a QA platform, you can dig into this interaction data to identify trends and patterns.

    Inbound call centers: Your key to customer satisfaction

    Let’s recap.

    Inbound call centers receive incoming customer calls and provide support and information about a company’s products or services. They’re problem-solving centers, delivering the right answers in an efficient manner, while striving to keep customers happy.

    They’re essential for cultivating loyalty, managing interactions, and ensuring customer satisfaction.

    However, an inbound call center can only deliver these positive outcomes if you keep it running like a lean, mean friendly customer-serving machine.

    As we’ve discussed, a QA platform helps to ensure high-quality service and drive efficient operations. Scorebuddy leverages AI auto-scoring, evaluator assistance, and 100% interaction analysis to ensure your inbound contact center always performs at its peak.

    Request a personalized demo today and see Scorebuddy in action.


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      What is an outbound call center?

      Outbound call centers are responsible for outgoing communications. The onus is on the agent to reach out, and they’re more concerned with sales, lead generation, and market research. Scroll back up and check out the side-by-side comparison between inbound and outbound call centers for a more detailed explanation of the differences.

      Why is an inbound call center important for my business?

      An inbound call center is critical to your customer experience which, in turn, is essential to achieving your wider business goals. Positive CX ensures customer retention, drives revenue, and boosts customer lifetime value.

      Weak CX, on the other hand, is like a leak, siphoning customers every day. Nearly 90% of customers will leave a brand after just a couple of bad experiences.