Contact Center Channels: Definitions, Types & Uses

Jayadeep Subhashis

December 20, 202311 min read

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With WhatsApp rapidly gaining traction as a customer service channel, two things have become clear:

  1. The competition to deliver exceptional customer experiences is intensifying.   

  2. From here on, each new communication medium becomes a potential contact center channel.   

So, if you’re a seasoned professional in the customer experience industry or a business owner looking to leverage digital channels to deliver efficient customer service, it makes sense to know which communication medium as a contact center channel is worth your time and investment.   

Interesting Read: Top 8 customer service channels [& how to pick the right one]  

In this blog, we delve into the key contact center channels used globally for customer communication, explore the factors influencing channel preferences among customers, highlight the benefits of each and guide you on incorporating AI as a service differentiator.  

Table of Contents

The significance of multichannel support 

According to the latest call center statistics

  • Over half of the retail customers with urgent issues prefer having support conversations over the phone, followed by text messaging, which is preferred by about 30% of customers. 
     

  • Almost 62% of millennials and 75% of Gen-Z customers prefer customer self-service almost all the time, even when they have an option of contacting support. 

In the ever-evolving landscape of customer service, the rise of multichannel support marks a pivotal shift from traditional single-channel approaches, especially as product differentiation diminishes.    

Contact center channels have become increasingly important as they establish two-way communication, transforming each conversation into a vital touchpoint in the intricate web of the customer journey.   

As a result, multichannel support emerges as a strategic response, acknowledging the dynamic expectations of a diverse customer base, who now seek flexible, seamless interactions across their preferred contact center channels. 

Types of contact center channels 

Understanding that new contact center channels have been introduced to promote automation and make personalized service scalable is essential. However, the traditional method of communication, such as voice calls, holds significant importance even today because it’s often the first choice for elderly and non-tech-savvy customers.   

Here’s how the contact center channels are categorized. 

Communication medium 

Types of contact center channels 

Voice channels

Phone 

VoIP 

Virtual phone system 

Digital channels 

Email 

Live chat 

SMS 

Social media 

Instant messaging services 

Video chat 

Web forms 

Self-service channels 

IVR 

Chatbot 

Virtual assistant

1. Voice channels 

Call it a traditional contact center channel, but fact is that voice remains the most preferred communication medium for many. As per a Statista report, 30% of consumers in the US prefer phone over any other channel.   

The reason is relatively straightforward, too – convenience, efficiency and the human touch. Who wants to talk to a bot for missing luggage when you have a connecting flight in another hour?   

With the advent of cloud contact centers, here’s how voice channels have further evolved.   

Voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP): A technology that enables voice communication over the internet, converting analog audio signals into digital data packets for transmission. It offers cost-effective, flexible voice communication solutions, often replacing traditional phone systems.   

Virtual phone system: It is a cloud-based communication platform that provides businesses with a professional phone presence without needing physical hardware. It typically offers features like call forwarding, voicemail and automated attendants, enhancing communication efficiency and scalability.   

2. Digital channels  

Email 

Email is a relatively low-cost communication channel compared to phone calls, allowing businesses to handle a high volume of customer inquiries without incurring significant expenses.  

Furthermore, email allows for asynchronous communication, meaning your customers can send inquiries and respond at their convenience without the pressure of a real-time conversation. This flexibility benefits customers in different time zones or with busy schedules.  

Additionally, email offers excellent documentation of issues and can be valuable for future reference, troubleshooting recurring issues and training new agents. Here is a detailed blog on customer support email etiquette that you would love to share with your team.     


Live chat
 

Live chat is one of the most popular contact center channels, facilitating real-time, text-based interactions between you and your customers. This channel has gained prominence due to its immediacy and convenience, enabling customers to seek assistance at their own convenience and receive responses instantly.  

In the contact center landscape, it promotes efficiency by allowing agents to handle multiple chat sessions simultaneously, optimizing resource utilization. Secondly, it provides a written record of interactions, aiding in reviewing and analyzing customer inquiries and agent responses.  

Additionally, live chat allows for proactive customer engagement, enabling businesses to initiate conversations with website visitors and address potential concerns in real time.   


Short message services (SMS)
 

Leveraging the ubiquity of mobile devices for seamless communication, SMS serves as a contact center channel particularly effective for delivering quick updates, and notifications or resolving simple queries without needing a live conversation.  

One of the notable benefits of SMS is its high open and response rates, as text messages are often read within minutes of receipt. This immediacy makes SMS an effective tool for time-sensitive communications, ensuring that critical information reaches customers promptly. 

Good to know: Today, SMS is being widely used to provide predictive customer service. You can convert all private messages or only engageable messages into tickets so your agents can focus on conversations that warrant a response. The unified agent console offers a 360-degree view of tickets, which helps resolve issues faster and increases customer satisfaction.

SMS  customer support with Sprinklr Service


Social media
 

Social media as a contact center channel enables you to respond promptly to customer queries in real time, address concerns and build customer loyalty. The transparency of social platforms encourages you to showcase your commitment to customer satisfaction and demonstrate responsiveness.  

Additionally, one of the distinguishing features of social media as a contact center channel is its interactive nature. Your customers can engage in public discussions, and you can utilize private messaging for more personalized interactions.  

The visibility of these interactions also provides businesses with opportunities to showcase exemplary customer service, turning satisfied customers into brand advocates

Learn more: Your A-Z Guide on Social Media Customer Service 


Instant messaging services

Instant messaging services have become a pivotal component of the modern contact center channel setup, enabling real-time customer communication. Platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Telegram allow you to engage with customers instantly through text, images and multimedia content.   

Moreover, the appeal of instant messaging lies in its accessibility and familiarity, aligning with the preferences of a digital-savvy audience. Customers can seamlessly initiate conversations with contact centers, making it a preferred channel for quick inquiries, issue resolution and general support. 

Do you know: 74% of consumers prefer WhatsApp for messaging businesses? You would be happy to know that modern unified customer support solutions come with native integration with WhatsApp. You can deploy WhatsApp as a contact center channel on your existing customer service number in one click — without coding or implementation hassles.   

Learn more: WhatsApp for customer service 


Video chat
 

Video chat is a widely used contact center channel, especially in B2B customer service. This channel allows you to engage with customers in real-time straightaway, offering the crucial human touch in customer service. 

Also, since video chat offers an immersive and collaborative customer experience, it is particularly effective for complex issue resolutions, product demonstrations and personalized consultations. 


Web forms 

Web forms play a vital role as a versatile contact center channel, enabling customers to submit inquiries, feedback, or requests in a structured manner through online platforms. Additionally, these forms can be seamlessly embedded on your business websites or customer portal, providing a standardized format for conducting customer surveys.

3. Self-service channels 

IVR  

Interactive voice response (IVR) is a contact center channel that utilizes automated voice prompts to guide callers through options. Callers can interact with the system using their voice or keypad inputs, allowing them to navigate to the relevant department or information without direct agent intervention.   

IVR computer telephony integration


IVR is an efficient tool for handling routine inquiries, directing calls to the appropriate resource and providing customer self-service options, contributing to quicker issue resolution and improved customer experiences. 

Sprinklr Tip: Choose conversational IVR software for a smoother experience using intelligent voice bots, facilitating effortless self-service and intelligent agent routing. Gain insights into IVR options' popularity by demographics and locations through comprehensive reporting. Utilize these insights to optimize your IVR flows for enhanced efficiency. 

Identifying top contact drivers and customer sentiment with Sprinklr Conversational Analytics


Chatbot
 

A chatbot is a computer program that simulates user conversation, typically through a chat interface. They serve as an automated communication channel, engaging with customers in real time.  

Also, chatbots can provide instant responses to frequently asked questions, assist with basic problem-solving and even initiate transactional processes. They enhance efficiency by handling routine queries, freeing up human agents to focus on more complex issues.   

Learn more: Improve your customer service with AI-powered chatbots (2023) 


Virtual agent
 

Like a chatbot, a virtual agent is an AI-powered program that can perform tasks or provide information through natural language interactions. Virtual assistants are more sophisticated than chatbots, often capable of understanding context, learning from interactions and serving a wider range of functions. 

Intelligent virtual agents can handle complex inquiries, personalize interactions based on customer history and seamlessly integrate with other systems to provide comprehensive support.   

Good to know: Contemporary agent assist solutions can expedite the resolution of customer queries by 50%, utilizing real-time nudges, contextual recommendations and AI-generated smart responses. Learn more about Agent Assist

Agent Assist Software Powered by Sprinklr Service

In the face of escalating customer expectations and increasing call volumes, reducing response times and enhancing efficiency has never been more crucial. To meet this demand, customer-focused brands are increasingly relying on Gen AI. With its ability to swiftly analyze and generate contextually relevant responses, GenAI effectively addresses delays in query resolution, ensuring a quicker and more personalized customer support process.  

How generative AI is transforming conversations across contact center channels 

Today, in each contact center channel, Generative AI adds a layer of intelligence, ensuring that customer conversations are not only responsive but also contextually aware and personalized. Let’s see how. 

Contact center channel 

Challenge 

How generative AI helps  

  Email 

Emails require a personalized touch and timely responses. 

By analyzing the email and generating context-aware responses. 
Example: A customer inquires about product features via email; Generative AI crafts a detailed, personalized response. 
 

Live chat 

Live chat demands real-time responses and an understanding of customer queries. 

By powering chatbots with natural language understanding for instant support.  

Example: A customer queries order status via live chat; a Generative AI-driven chatbot provides real-time information. 

Voice (phone calls) 

Voice interactions require a conversational tone, and agents must transition between channels while maintaining context. 

By providing real-time contextual information.  

Example: A customer who chatted previously calls for assistance; Generative AI ensures the agent knows the chat history. 
 

Social media 

Social media interactions are public, demanding careful brand management. 

By generating responses aligning with brand guidelines and maintaining a consistent tone.  

Example: A customer posts a service query on social media; Generative AI generates a brand-aligned response. 

Video chat 

Video chat requires a personalized and visually engaging experience. 

By analyzing customer preferences for a more personalized engagement.  

Example: A customer schedules a video chat for a product demo; Generative AI ensures a tailored demonstration. 

Get started with GenAI: Sprinklr AI+ empowers enterprises to merge unstructured CX data from over 30 digital channels, encompassing social and messaging platforms, along with extensive data from public news, blogs and review sites. It integrates with prevalent GenAI models such as ChatGPT and Google Cloud’s Vertex to craft content, enhance feedback and assistance and expedite the identification of insights and subsequent actions.    

Benefits of omnichannel support  

While a multichannel contact center allows customers to choose their preferred channel, it lacks the cohesiveness and context preservation that an omnichannel contact center offers. Imagine a customer starting a conversation on live chat, seamlessly transitioning to a phone call without repeating information, and submitting feedback on their experience on WhatsApp— the hallmark of omnichannel customer service
 
In addition, here are some key benefits of omnichannel support in a real-life scenario. 

  • Enhanced customer experience: Providing a seamless and unified experience, omnichannel routing ensures customers are assigned to suitable agents and receive personalized interactions across various channels, leading to heightened satisfaction and loyalty. 
     

  • Consistent conversation across channels: Omnichannel support maintains a coherent and uniform conversation flow, allowing customers to transition between channels effortlessly while preserving context, fostering a smooth and uninterrupted communication experience. 
     

  • Operational efficiency: Streamlining processes and utilizing intelligent routing and omnichannel support enhances operational efficiency, enabling you to improve response times, optimize resource allocation, and respond to customer queries more promptly and effectively. 
     

  • Increased flexibility: By offering omnichannel support, your customers can choose their preferred channel to interact with you. This adaptability accommodates diverse customer preferences and enhances overall satisfaction with the service experience. 

How to get started with omnichannel support  

Embracing omnichannel support in your contact center is a strategic move toward delivering cohesive and exceptional customer experiences. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to get started:

1. Assess your current infrastructure

Evaluate your existing contact center setup, including communication channels, technology stack, and customer touchpoints. Identify strengths and areas for improvement to lay the groundwork for omnichannel integration.

2. Define your customer journey and identify your top channels  

Map out the typical customer journey across various touchpoints. Understand how customers move between channels and where they might encounter friction. This insight is crucial for meticulous customer experience management and designing a seamless omnichannel journey.  

3. Choose the right omnichannel platform 

Select a robust omnichannel platform that aligns with your business needs. Ensure it integrates seamlessly with your existing systems, supports the desired communication channels and provides analytics for effective contact center management.    

4. Train your team

Equip your customer service team with the necessary skills to handle omnichannel interactions. Training should focus on maintaining context across channels, utilizing omnichannel tools and delivering consistent service quality.   

5. Implement intelligent routing  

Leverage intelligent routing systems to ensure customer queries are directed to the most suitable agents, regardless of the chosen channel. This optimization enhances efficiency and contributes to a personalized customer experience. 

In the evolving customer service landscape, the original objective of contact centers, focused primarily on cost reduction, has undergone a significant shift. With customers increasingly engaged in comparison shopping and brands placing greater emphasis on delivering exceptional experiences, the central focus for CX leaders is now achieving cost-effectiveness while ensuring customer satisfaction. 

Recognizing this paradigm shift, Sprinklr Service emerges as a comprehensive solution for unified, omnichannel customer service. 

Positioned on the pioneering Unified-CXM platform, our robust solution empowers you to seamlessly gather customer interactions across various channels, consolidating them into a unified interface. This strategic approach enables you to engage in personalized conversation with every interaction, aligning with the elevated expectations of today's discerning customers. 

Register for a customized demo today or take a 90-day Free Trial and explore at your own pace. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Businesses can integrate social media by deploying social listening tools to monitor brand mentions, engage with customers in real time and seamlessly transition conversations from public threads to private messages for efficient issue resolution.

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