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by Daniel Harris,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: October 21, 2016

Call center systems share characteristics with both standard business phone systems (also known as PBX systems) and customer service/help desk solutions. At the same time, call center software offers a number of dedicated features for both agents and supervisors that can’t be found in other types of business communications solutions.

This buyer’s guide will cover the major differences and points of overlap between these software categories to help you understand which best fits your needs. We’ll also highlight the specific functionality that can only be found in a true call center solution.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Is Call Center Software?
Standard Features and Applications
How Call Center Software Differs From PBX and Customer Service Software
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Market Trends to Understand
Recent Events You Should Know About

What Is Call Center Software?

Simply put, this is an umbrella term for applications dedicated for use in either a formal or informal call center. The closely related term “contact center software” is in many cases a synonym, but also refers to features used in call centers that handle a number of communication channels in addition to voice (e.g., email, instant messaging, SMS text, social media and live chat).

Call center software supports the agents whose job it is to assist customers over the phone, or via one of those other channels. It also supports the supervisors who oversee the call center's operations.

Standard Features and Applications

Here are some common functionalities you can expect to find in a typical call center software package:


Agent Desktop Interface in Five9

Automatic Call Distribution (ACD)

Parks incoming calls in a queue, where callers wait until an agent is available.

Most call center systems are capable of a special mode of ACD known as skills-based routing, which distributes calls to agents based on rules that factor in agent skills and performance metrics.

Simpler modes of ACD can be found in standard business phone systems.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

The technology underlying the voice menus that allow callers to complete actions over the phone via voice or keypad input.

IVR systems share similarities with auto attendants, but are much more flexible, enabling callers to do things like paying a bill or checking an account balance.

IVR systems are defining components of inbound call center solutions. Businesses that only need to direct callers to the right extension don’t need IVR; a standard business phone system and an auto attendant will suffice.

Computer Telephony Integration (CTI)

A jargon term for integrations between phone systems and customer relationship management (CRM) systems. CTI integrations add features both to CRM systems and call center systems.

CRM systems gain click-to-dial functionality, where agents click on a customer’s phone number in a database of contacts to dial out.

Contact center systems gain “screen pop” (screen population) functionality, or displays that instantly appear on contact center agents’ screens when they receive an inbound call.

Screen pops pull data about the inbound caller from the CRM system to help the agent better manage the interaction.

Auto dialers

Applications that automatically dial numbers from a list or at random. There are 3 major types:

  • Progressive dialers automatically dial a new number when an agent becomes available.
  • Predictive dialers dial multiple phone numbers at once and distribute the answered calls to agents based on availability and wait time.
  • Preview dialers are progressive dialers that allow agents to see details about the upcoming call in the dialing list and choose to accept or reject it.
Workforce scheduling

Enables forecasting of staffing requirements based on historical data.

Performance analytics and reporting

Captures and analyzes information about agent interactions (frequently via integration with a call recording application for easy retrieval of problem calls).

This information is fed into agent scorecards and reports on team-wide statistics such as abandonment rate and average time in queue.

Call center scripting

Enables supervisors to program agent scripts for sales calls and customer service calls. Also allows supervisors to control operational rules for calls and generates fields that feed data from calls into the CRM system.


These are three standard call control features used by call center supervisors:

  • Monitor allows supervisors to listen in on calls without the agent or caller knowing.
  • Whisper allows supervisors to coach agents without the other party on the line hearing.
  • Barge allows supervisors to immediately join the calls they’ve been monitoring.

How Call Center Software Differs from PBX and Customer Service Software

Call center systems are built on the same technology as business phone systems, and offer many of the same features. Additionally, help desk and customer service solutions can be viewed as a specialized category of contact center software.

Here are the major differences:

  • Standard business phone service providers don’t offer applications such as IVR, dialers and skills-based routing.
  • Call center systems are only appropriate for employees who are working in sales or support teams, though some systems include features for front office employees. Many call center vendors also offer standard phone systems and can deploy both, if needed.
  • Licenses for call center systems are, on average, significantly more expensive than licenses for standard phone systems.
  • Help desk and customer service solutions offer “trouble ticketing” functionality, i.e. when a customer contacts support, a ticket is created to help agents track the issue until it’s resolved. This functionality can be added to call center systems, but it requires integration with a CRM system.
  • Help desk and customer service solutions are only appropriate for inbound contact centers—they don’t offer features for managing sales campaigns in outbound contact centers.

Similarities and Differences Between Call Center, PBX and Customer Service Software

What Type of Buyer Are You?

We’ve already seen that there’s significant overlap between call center systems, business phone systems and customer service systems. Different categories of buyers will need different types of solutions:

  • Small offices needing call queueing can usually make do with a standard business phone system. (See examples here.)
  • Outbound call centers focusing on sales will need a dedicated call center system such as the examples listed on this page.
  • Inbound call centers focusing on support can use either:
    • A call center system integrated with a separate CRM system for trouble ticketing functionality.
    • A customer service or help desk system with built-in trouble ticketing functionality.
  • Collections agencies need to work with vendors specializing in deployments for this industry segment. These vendors offer tools to help maximize debt recovery rates and to ensure that call centers operate in compliance with applicable regulations.
  • Virtual contact centers, i.e. contact centers that rely heavily on remote workers, will need solutions that offer robust mobile apps and softphones.

Market Trends to Understand

Contact center software has evolved as customers’ expectations and needs have shifted with the rise of mobile devices and social media. The following trends are particularly important to consider when selecting a solution:

Multi-channel contact centers. As more customers seek to engage businesses through other channels than voice (e.g., SMS text, live chat and email), contact center software has evolved to enable agents to interact via these additional channels. Interactions across all channels in a multi-channel system feed into a unified agent queue.

Social media. Contact center software vendors are increasingly offering modules that allow agents to manage interactions via social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. New analytics tools also help businesses data-mine social media for signs of potential customer issues before phones start ringing.

Virtual queuing/Web callback. Traditionally, callers had to wait on hold to maintain their place in an ACD queue. Now, a new technology known as Web callback or virtual queueing allows callers to “virtually” hold their place in the queue after they hang up in order to receive a callback later.

While this technology has proven popular with consumers, it’s still not a standard offering in call center systems. If this is a must-have feature, you’ll need to shortlist vendors that offer it.

Speech/text analytics. Call center reporting traditionally focused on metrics such as call length and call abandonment. Now, systems are emerging that can analyze audio data to detect anger, frustration and other emotions in callers’ vocal tones. The results of this analysis can be used to identify trends in the performance of agents and the contact center as a whole.

Text analytics is used to scour textual interactions (e.g., emails, SMS text messages and instant messages) for certain keywords that indicate frustration or satisfaction on the part of the customer. While powerful, these tools are still relatively rare offerings compared to standard applications such as ACD and call recording.

Recent Events You Should Know About

Trans-Pacific Partnership may cost U.S. call center jobs. A 12-nation trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was signed in February of 2016, is poised to slash U.S. call jobs by allowing federal contract work to be offshored.

BroadSoft acquires Transera. In February 2016, BroadSoft announced the acquisition of Transera, a leading provider of cloud-based contact center solutions for small businesses and a contender in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Contact Center as a Service.

8x8 acquires DXI. In May 2015, 8x8 announced the acquisition of UK-based contact center software vendor DXI, a specialist in solutions for small-to-midsized businesses, for $25.3 million. The move is expected to strengthen 8x8’s Virtual Contact Center offerings.

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