Device Type: desktop
Skip to Main Content Skip to Main Content

Say Hello: An Introduction to Call Center Software

This article was updated on February 7, 2024

Whether a call center employs five agents or 500 agents, the right software helps companies deliver consistent, exceptional customer service. There are several different types of call center software to consider, depending on the features and functions needed to deliver a customer experience that can help an organization rise above the competition. Learn about the basic features of call center software and some tips for finding the right system for your business.

Photo of a call center; we see a side view of a row of working agents in a darkened room, their faces illuminated by the monitor screens in front of them.

Call Center Software Explained

Modern call center software has certainly come a long way since the first Private Branch Exchange (PBX) technology emerged in the 1970s. While this technology started out as fairly cumbersome and limited in its capabilities, it still represented a sizable leap in what it could do.

Prior to the emergence of PBX systems, companies had to rely on switchboard operators, receiving inbound calls and connecting them to the right person or department. Through the use of a PBX, however, companies could leverage a hardware solution to serve in this role. This was a major breakthrough — but it still presents challenges for modern call centers, like making it easy for:

  • Customers to reach a company and be efficiently routed to the appropriate individual or department

  • Agents to receive calls and assist customers

  • Call center leaders, managers, and administrators to design routing parameters, staff lines appropriately, and more

Fast forward to present day, and PBX is largely considered to be a legacy term, with those old PBX solutions now hardly seeming recognizable as call center technologies. Today, even simple call center software solutions can deliver a whole host of diverse features and benefits, including advancements like …

  • Using virtual receptionists, interactive voice response (IVR) menus, and basic call routing systems

  • Employing VoIP technology to lower costs and improve call/sound quality

  • Leveraging the cloud for increased security and scalability

  • Transitioning from a purely call-based environment to unified, omnichannel communication solutions for increased versatility

That might sound like a lot, but it’s probably much simpler than you think! Let’s back up a little bit. If you have questions, like “What software and equipment do you need to set up a call center?” you’re in the right place. This article will break down everything you need to know to understand today’s options for call center software. You can use this practical and actionable guide to answer key questions, including how to find the best platform for your business (and customers).

Why Do Call Centers Need Technology?

The purpose of call center technology is simple — to help connect customers with your business. Whether your agents are primarily in sales or support roles, connecting customers with the agent or team best equipped to handle their call is one of the most important aspects of developing strong customer relationships.

Simply put, the right contact center technology helps make the processing and routing of inbound calls more efficient and effective, a crucial consideration for companies that rightfully prioritize customer experience. In addition, call center software empowers agents to perform their best work in answering customers’ calls, knowing who they’re talking to and appropriately addressing their needs.

Ultimately, whether you’re a small, medium, or enterprise-level company, investing in the right technology can be transformative. Plus, modern call center software solutions are versatile, scalable, and secure, which means they can expand and evolve as a company’s needs — or customers’ expectations — change over time.

What Is Call Center vs Contact Center Software?

Today, these terms are often used interchangeably, but the original distinction between the terms is fairly simple. The phrase “call center” came first, originating from an era where offering phone-based customer service was the groundbreaking — and only — option. At the time, communication channels like instant messaging or video conferencing hadn’t really been developed for customer service use.

As technology has advanced over time, so have customers’ preferences. After all, customers hate waiting and often loathe calling a company’s customer service line for that very reason. So companies began to discover the power of these alternative, added channels. Thus, the phrase “contact center” became more widespread, as fewer organizations were offering purely phone-based communication options. As a result, software vendors took note and began to promote omnichannel “contact center software” as a more comprehensive and future-ready technology.

What Software Do Most Call Centers Use?

Two of the most important types of call center software — which are often used in tandem with each other in order to set up an effective call center environment — are:

  • Customer relationship management (CRM) software platforms, which store vital customer and account information, including their transaction and communication histories

  • Call routing software, which works to process inbound and outbound calls, including directing inbound calls to the appropriate agent or department

In the following sections, we’ll take a closer look at each of these technologies and how they can be leveraged to improve call center operations — and build stronger customer relationships.

How Do Call Centers Use CRM Software?

Call center services use CRM software to effectively track, manage, and strengthen customer relationships. Whether a call center is primarily inbound- or outbound-based, sales- or service-oriented, a CRM provides a single source of information agents can use to provide the kind of consistent, personalized experience customers increasingly expect from the brands they choose to work with.

A well-organized CRM helps agents to better understand a customer’s overall relationship with your company, including major sales or support milestones, past communication, transaction history, and more.

Two of the most beneficial call center CRM features for small or medium-size businesses include:

  • Keeping detailed, organized records of customer interactions, as well as account and transaction histories

  • Providing call center agents with a “single source of truth” or “360-degree customer view” that enables agents to quickly identify who they’re talking to — and to avoid making customers repeat themselves across multiple conversations or interaction types

In other words, a call center CRM integration can help businesses of virtually any size or complexity to improve their customer data management and personalization capabilities.

image depicts frustrations when customers try multiple ways to contact a business, but cannot reach anyone Avoid the No-No's
Three No-No’s That Make for a Bad Customer Experience
You’re a customer-focused leader … not to mention a consumer and human being — which means you’ve had your share of head-shaking experiences. Let’s put these together and review the business implications of a bad CX.

What Are the Different Types of Call Routing Software?

Not all call center software is created equally, which means it’s important to do a little research to find the solution that is best-equipped to meet an organization’s most pressing needs and priorities. When it comes to the different varieties of call center software, particularly the technology for processing and routing inbound calls, there are a few ways to categorize the products and services you might choose from.

For example, these solutions may …

  • Be tailored for inbound, outbound, or hybrid call center environments

  • Be on-premises, cloud-hosted, or cloud-native software

  • Leverage Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or Unified Communications (UC) applications

  • Include in-house, outsourced/offshore, or virtual call center software

Next, we’ll explore what each of these distinctions means, so you can determine the best call center software for your small business.

What Are Inbound, Outbound, and Hybrid Call Center Solutions?

These different types of solutions are based on whether a company’s agents primarily receive inbound calls, place outbound calls, or need to be able to handle both.

Inbound Call Center

Solutions designed for inbound call management are designed for organizations that receive incoming calls from prospective and current customers. Many inbound call centers are focused on offering customer support, whether customers are calling to ask about their account, looking to upgrade their services, or require expert help in using the products or services they’ve previously purchased.

By providing an easy and effective way to contact your company’s best-equipped support agents, an organization can differentiate itself from its competitors through elevated customer service. Inbound call center software includes features like Interactive Voice Response (IVR) menu configuration, intelligent and customizable call routing, and a host of related services.

Outbound Call Center

Outbound call center software solutions are typically used by sales organizations. Sales agents might use an outbound call center solution to make cold calls, nurture high-value prospects, or even close key deals. Depending on the company’s needs, some of the most impactful outbound-based call center features include automatic dialers, scheduled callbacks, and even call monitoring and recording.

The goal of outbound call center software is to make it easier for agents to reach the right prospects or customers, at the right time, with the right information to effectively nurture leads and enhance the experience of existing customers.

Hybrid (or Combination) Call Center

Whether it’s referred to as a blended, hybrid, or combination call center, this type of environment handles inbound as well as outbound calls. Adopting a hybrid call center platform is often a cost–effective measure organizations can take to consolidate and streamline their tech stack and vendors so they can leverage a wider array of tools and technologies.

Learn more about how Vonage Business Communications equips call centers with the kind of intuitive, versatile technology they need to provide excellent customer service.

What Are On-Premises, Cloud-Hosted, and Cloud-Based Software?

These distinctions relate to whether the software requires physically installed infrastructure or leverages technology that was either developed for or hosted in the cloud.

On-Premises Call Centers

On-premises call centers are largely outdated; for most organizations, they represent a “legacy” solution that would likely benefit from the adoption of a cloud-hosted or cloud-native solution. In this modern era, on-premises call centers simply don’t provide the level of flexibility, scalability, or support needed to maintain productive relationships with customers. This predicament leads many small and medium-size call centers to begin evaluating cloud-based or cloud-native solutions.

Cloud-Based (or Cloud-Hosted) Call Centers

Cloud-based or hosted call center applications — often categorized as infrastructure-as-a-service — provide a number of advantages as an upgrade over on-premises systems. Because they are deployed in a cloud environment, it frees local or on-premises data servers up for other uses. When a cloud-based application’s servers need to be reconfigured, scaled, or upgraded, the company can work with their cloud calling provider to make any needed changes.

It’s worth noting that certain types of cloud-based call centers are also known as virtual call centers, which simply means agents aren’t all working within a shared location — like a physical office. When they opt for a virtual call center, companies are able to accommodate a workforce that may be geographically dispersed or heavily dependent on remote workers.

Cloud-Native Call Centers

Finally, cloud-native call center technology is hosted and run via the cloud. By leveraging a cloud-native solution, small and medium-size companies can significantly enhance their ability to provide modern solutions to their agents and customers. Many of the benefits align with the basic principles of effective cloud computing, such as the use of a microservices architecture that allows for quicker application developments and iterations as needed, API-based integrations with other essential software, and more.

What Is the Difference Between VoIP and Unified Communications?

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and Unified Communications (UC) relate to the scope of services included in a particular software. Developed well before the first UC solutions hit the market, VoIP technology was revolutionary for the simple fact that it enabled internet-based calling.

VoIP solutions offer the same basic functionality of a landline or PBX system but with a great deal more flexibility. For example, with VoIP software, agents can make or receive calls from a wide array of devices — rather than being tied to a conventional phone on a desk.

Unified Communications enhances basic VoIP features and functionality by bringing non-voice communications into the mix. For example, a UC solution might enable customers and agents to leverage additional communication channels, such as instant messaging, website chat, video messaging, and more.

Companies, of course, can offer multiple communication channels to their customers, but if they’re piecing them together rather than seeking out a unified solution, it may require extra work. Importantly, processing and organizing all customer communications and related data within a single system would be beyond cumbersome to do manually.

You can learn more about how to determine whether VoIP or UC is best for your business in this guide by Vonage.

man and woman sitting at a desk and talking in front of a computer screen Get your copy
A Half-Dozen and One Ways SMBs Use UCaaS to Beat Out Competitors
A unified communications as a service (UCaaS) platform lets the small or medium-sized business (SMB) team work anywhere without skimping on communications. And that’s something their competitors without a UCaaS platform just can’t do.

What Are Some of the Most Important Call Center Services for Small Businesses?

Especially if budgets are tight, it’s important to make informed decisions when it comes to the software solutions to be invested in. We’ll discuss how to find and implement the right call center software for your small business needs shortly. But first, we’re going to explore a few of the must-have features — starting with virtual receptionist or interactive voice response (IVR) functionality and customizable call queues.

What Is a Virtual Receptionist?

As the name suggests, a virtual receptionist is an application that can greet inbound callers and help transfer their call to the appropriate department or individual extension. The simplest example is what’s also known as an auto attendant.

This basic feature is something most people have likely experienced at some point, where a caller is greeted with choices like “Press 1 for Sales, Press 2 for Service,” etc. An auto attendant or virtual receptionist can handle these initial stages of an interaction, helping to address customer needs quickly. When necessary, these systems can efficiently transfer their inquiries to the right place — without requiring a human receptionist to perform such routine tasks.

A virtual receptionist can also consider office hours and staffing levels when making routing decisions. For example, if a call comes in during a time when no one is available, or on a holiday, it could be programmed to confirm the business hours or holiday observance so the customer knows when to call back to speak with someone.

What Is an IVR Menu?

Interactive voice response, or IVR, functionality basically takes an auto attendant to the next level. Rather than simply being programmed to follow simple instructions (e.g., “If the customer presses 2, transfer that call to the support department or queue,”) an IVR can consider a wider range of inputs from a caller.

An IVR will sometimes ask open-ended questions, like “What is your reason for calling today?” and then apply logic to interpret the customer’s response. For example, if a customer says, “My application password isn’t working,” the system may hear the word “password” and recognize that the caller should be sent to the support queue for account help.

What Are Call Queues?

Call queues enable call center managers or leaders to define and designate specific agent groups for certain conditions or types of calls. There are several compelling reasons to create custom queues within a call center, not the least of which is that customers absolutely hate having to wait for extended periods of time or to repeat their issue to multiple agents if their calls are transferred.

Here’s a basic example of how call queues can help connect customers with the right agent while minimizing their wait times.

  • Let’s say an inbound call is received. An auto attendant offers the caller the options to press 1 for sales, or 2 for support.

  • The caller presses 2, and the call is automatically transferred to the support team’s queue. From there, depending on how that call queue is set up and which agents are available …

    • The call may “ring” all support agents who are logged in and available; whichever agent picks up the call first greets the caller and works to solve their issue

    • The call may be automatically assigned to whichever available agent has had the longest time since the last call they’ve handled

    • The caller might be told that “all agents are currently busy” and that their call will be connected to the next available agent

What Are Call Monitoring and Call Recording?

Call monitoring and call recording are essential administrative capabilities that many call center software solutions include. What are these features, and how can they improve a call center? We’ll cover that next.

Call Monitoring

Call monitoring is an administrative feature that allows users with the appropriate permissions to listen in on live calls as they occur. It’s often used during new agent onboarding or for related training purposes. There are a few different types of call monitoring, including:

  • The ability to simply listen in on a call as it occurs, but not be heard by either party

  • The ability to listen to a call as it unfolds and communicate with the agent without being heard by the customer (known as “whisper”)

  • The ability to join (or “barge”) in on a call in real-time, as a third party that contributes to the conversation as needed.

Learn more about how Vonage’s software can accommodate a wide range of call monitoring applications.

Call Recording

Many customers have grown accustomed to hearing variations of, “This call may be recorded for quality and training purposes,” as they have become fairly commonplace over the years. This is for the exact reasons stated in the message — so companies can develop quality assurance programs and create training opportunities based on actual calls. When call center administrators can access a full repository of recorded calls, they are able to pinpoint areas for agents to improve through increased training.

Depending on the organization's needs, call recording may happen automatically. Alternatively, call recording rules may be configured to record certain calls based on department, extension, or even user.

Learn more about Vonage’s business call recording services.

What Are the Most Important Call Center Software Admin Privileges?

Call center administrators should be able to create and edit various aspects of their call center software, including:

  • Adding, creating, editing, or deleting users

  • Provisioning individual accounts and extensions

  • Creating or modifying call queues and call flows

  • Viewing historical as well as real-time insights into call volume, agent availability, and more

Vonage Business Communications offers call center leaders the actionable insights they need to understand, manage, and optimize the customer experience. Within the admin portal, Vonage Business Communications admins can see, at a glance, information about …

  • How many agents are assigned to a given queue

  • Which agents are active, logged in, and available for calls

  • How many calls are currently in progress (and how long they’ve been connected)

  • How many calls are waiting in a queue (and how long they’ve been waiting)

By making all of this data accessible to call center leaders, they can take timely steps to reduce caller wait times while improving efficiencies throughout the call center. Additionally, recognizing trends in this data can help inform staffing decisions, including knowing when it’s time to consider hiring additional agents or potentially cross-training agents so they can handle more call types when needed.

How Do I Set Up a Small Business Call Center?

Start with Vonage. We offer flexible, scalable solutions that can improve your customer service experience, increase agent productivity, streamline operations, save costs, and so much more. If you’ve been settling for call center software that’s “good enough,” you should know that your competitors might not be quite so complacent. So unless your customers are highly loyal, you risk losing them to companies that are actively trying to improve their customer experience.

Fortunately, it’s easier to switch to Vonage than you might expect.

Throughout this guide, we’ve intentionally covered a lot of possible ground from a high level, to help you develop a full view of the most important considerations related to small business call center software. Whether your call center is large or small, well-established or just an upstart, we tried to cover the most important features to look for while introducing a few ways in which Vonage Business Communication could elevate your call center’s operations.

You can learn much more about how the right call center technology can transform your operations in our “Five Steps to an Exceptional Contact Center” whitepaper. And check out our full range of Unified Communications features.

Contact Us

Let's connect!

Want to know more about how to put together an affordable, effective call center? We’re here to help! Call us at 1-844-365-9460, or fill out this form! A dedicated specialist will show you:

  • How the right call center software can help your agents deliver fast, effective customer service that builds long-term loyalty
  • The importance of CRM software to track, manage, and strengthen customer relationships
  • The role played by call routing, whether it's tailored for inbound, outbound, or hybrid call center environments

Reach out

Oops! Something isn't right. Please try again.
This field is required
This field is required
This field is required
This field is required
This field is required
This field is required
This field is required
This field is required
requiredFieldMsg

By submitting your information, you agree to be contacted via phone and email regarding your interest in our products and services. We will treat your data in accordance with our privacy policy.

celebration

Thanks for reaching out!

We'll get back to you as soon as we can. In the meantime, feel free to explore more about Vonage and how we're making communications more flexible, intelligent, and personal so our customers can stay ahead.

Deskphone with Vonage logo

Speak with an expert.

US toll-free number: 1-844-365-9460
Outside the US: Local Numbers