Understand the Difference Between Inbound and Outbound Corporate Call Centers

Isn’t all call center work the same? It doesn’t matter if it is inbound or outbound, a call is a call, right? Wrong. There are significant differences between inbound call center work and outbound call center work, but most corporate business leaders fail to understand the distinction, putting the efficacy of their call center at risk. But if you didn’t know this, don’t feel bad; it’s a common misconception. Here are the basics: Inbound Call Centers: Inbound call centers answer and respond to incoming calls. They hire agents who are good at reacting to situations. They wait for people to call them. Inbound call centers schedule staff according to the anticipated number of calls they expect to come in at a given time, generally tweaked to the hour and often fine-tuned to fifteen-minute increments. Most consumers expect inbound call centers to take their call at any time day or night. This means that inbound call centers should be staffed 24/7, including weekends and holidays. Finding qualified staff to work around the clock is an ongoing challenge for most call centers. Matching around-the-clock staffing is around-the-clock supervision and support. Most inbound call centers never close and can’t afford downtime. Agents at inbound call centers are selected for their calm demeanor, customer service skills, ability to react fast, and attention to detail. They earn an hourly rate. Though they might have some performance bonuses, these – if they exist at all – are usually a small part of their overall compensation. Inbound call centers use ACDs (automatic call distributors) and IVRs (interactive voice response), along with a host of related support technology and databases. Outbound Call Centers: Outbound call centers, sometimes call telemarketing operations, place calls to people. They hire agents who are good at being proactive, who can take initiative and make things happen. Outbound call centers schedule staff to work when the businesses or consumers they are calling are most likely to answer the phone. For business contacts this is generally during normal business hours, Monday through Friday, which allow most outbound business-to business agents to work full time or nearly so. For consumer calls, this usually occurs in the evening, with legal restrictions limiting how late calls can be made. Unless calling happens around the globe, outbound call centers have limited hours of operation and shut down each evening. Agents at outbound call centers are hired for their persuasiveness, outgoing personalities, willingness to be proactive, and desire to earn rewards for their individual success. They are generally compensated with a minimal hourly base pay, which is heavily supplemented with performance pay and bonuses. In some high-performance environments, outbound agents are paid straight commission. Outbound call centers use varying types of dialing equipment, such as preview dialers or predictive dialers. Few call centers manually dial numbers any more. Essential to placing calls is access to or connection with do-not-call lists, as well as campaign centric and industry specific monitoring to ensure compliance in order to avoid fines. While both inbound and outbound call centers face an increasing amount of regulations on the national, state, and local level, the outbound call center is far more controlled. Outbound calling is subjected to substantial punitive damages for oversights, such as calling at the wrong times, dialing numbers on the do-not-call list, or reaching people who have asked not to be called any more. Fines can quickly accumulate to the millions of dollars. Conclusion: While inbound and outbound work both share the common label of call center, that is where the similarities end. An inbound call is quite different from an outbound call, just as are the agents who handle those calls, their management, and the technology behind them. Know these differences and embrace them. Janet Livingston is the president of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier consultancy for corporate call centers, whose team possesses decades of relevant business and call center experience. Contact Janet at contactus@callcenter-salespro.com or 800-901-7706.Peter Lyle DeHaan  is a freelance writer from Southwest Michigan.