Article

Inbound vs outbound call centres: What’s the difference?

Learn how inbound and outbound call centres can help you reach customers.

By Liz Bauer

Published May 1, 2020
Last updated December 21, 2020

In a world of chatbots and email, you might think that shoppers today rarely call businesses. The opposite is true. According to The Zendesk customer experience trends report 2020, the phone is still the most common tool used by customers to resolve problems with a company.

This is true even for millennials and Gen Z. An analysis of 45,000 companies shows that more than 50% of their millennial and Gen Z customers call businesses. It makes sense for companies to increase their capacity for handling incoming and outgoing calls. In other words, they should consider investing in inbound and outbound call centres.

Not sure how inbound and outbound call centres differ? We’re here to help. In this post, we’ll cover the key differences between each type of call centre, along with the different types of inbound and outbound call that your team can make to reach customers.

Inbound vs outbound call centres

An inbound call centre receives incoming calls from customers. Support teams generally monitor inbound centres, as the calls tend to come from existing customers with problems or questions.

An outbound call centre, on the other hand, makes outgoing calls to shoppers. Sales teams generally run outbound centres to cold call potential customers about their products. Companies might also make outbound calls to survey shoppers and collect market research.

Where do these centres exist? Companies either run them internally at their offices or they outsource inbound and outbound calling to external centres. To learn more about the trade-offs of insourcing or outsourcing these calls, have a look at this resource.

Inbound call centre services

Customer service is probably the best known function of an inbound call centre. That said, inbound call centres can do more than that, including generating revenue with cross-selling and upselling. Here’s a look at some common services provided by inbound call centres:

    • Product and/or tech support

      Changing passwords, updating account information, responding to complaints – inbound call centre agents help customers solve a broad range of problems. For problems involving advanced technical support, agents may use a help desk tool – such as Zendesk – to route customers to IT specialists.

    • Payment and order processing

      Though online ordering is incredibly popular, many shoppers still make orders over the phone. Inbound call agents can help customers complete their purchases over the phone. In addition, shoppers may contact a company to ask questions about their billing or resolve online payment problems.

    • Upgrade and renewal enquiries

      Subscription-based businesses, such as subscription boxes or SaaS companies, may receive calls from customers who want to expand their current plan. In this case, inbound call agents should be trained either to upgrade shoppers’ plans themselves or redirect the call to a sales agent, who can process the plan's expansion.

    • Outbound call centre services

      At outbound call centres, sales reps primarily make calls to reach and attract prospective customers. Companies also use outbound call centres to conduct market research. Agents can call shoppers who match their target customer to learn more about their requirements and interests.

    • Making appointments

      Just as a sales development rep (SDR) would book meetings for an account executive (AE), outbound agents do the same for your salespeople.

    • Lead generation

      Outbound call centre agents can help salespeople generate and qualify leads. Cold outreach is used to identify opportunities, and collecting information over the phone can help identify whether these leads are qualified to purchase (i.e. is the timing right, and does the lead have the budget?).

    • Telemarketing

      Despite its reputation, telemarketing has shown solid growth over the last five years. When you think about it, telemarketers are similar to door-to-door salespeople. But instead of going house to house, telemarketers pitch their products phone number by phone number. They’re a valuable resource in that they help spread awareness of and pitch products to potential customers in a wider pool of locations and demographics.

    • Telesales

      While telemarketers are tasked with engaging with potential customers in any way possible (generating brand awareness, leads or scheduling appointments), telesales is focused solely on closing deals over the phone. Sometimes referred to as inside sales, telesales agents pursue promising leads in the hopes of improving conversions and increasing revenue.

    • Market research

      Market research is conducted by outbound call centre agents to develop a better understanding of their customers and their competition. For example, market researchers might conduct phone surveys to determine their target audience’s top pain points, which products they’re currently using as a solution and what they wish those solutions did better. With the results from market research, engineers can improve their product design, marketers can improve their messaging and reps can develop more effective sales pitches.

    Both inbound and outbound call centres create opportunities for your company to offer a wide range of customer services and benefits. The type of call centre or service that you decide to implement will depend on your overall goals, the number of employees available and your budget.

    A hybrid call centre for your inbound and outbound requirements

    After reading this guide, you may wonder, 'What if my company could use both inbound and outbound call centres?' Luckily, you don’t have to choose one or the other. Instead, you can create a hybrid call centre.

    In a hybrid centre, agents are responsible for both receiving calls and contacting shoppers. This centralisation of communication creates a seamless, consistent customer experience. Your organisation can change and improve call guidelines easily because all the communication is via one channel.

    To run a call centre – hybrid or otherwise – you need the right software. Zendesk can help support you at every stage of your call centre development.

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