What is the difference between BPO and call centers?

BPO and call centers are fast-growing industries that play a pivotal role in streamlining business processes and enhancing customer service. While they have similarities, they are not synonymous and have different scopes and objectives.

What is a BPO?

BPO, or Business Process Outsourcing, refers to the process where companies delegate specific business functions to external service providers. These processes can encompass a diverse range of activities including:

BPO aims to leverage specialized expertise offered by external partners, allowing organizations to focus on their core business tasks. Outsourcing certain processes can improve operational efficiency, lower overhead costs, and boost customer satisfaction.

Companies are increasingly recognizing the value of outsourcing and the UK BPO market was valued at roughly £68.1bn in 2022.[1]

Is a BPO and call center the same thing?

The terms BPO and call center are often used interchangeably, but they aren’t the same thing.

A call center is a fast-growing subset of BPO that focuses exclusively on telecommunications customer support. Call centers act as the direct point of contact between a business and its customers, playing a crucial role in building and nurturing relationships. There is an increasing demand for contact centers in the UK and the market was valued at £2.5bn in 2022.

On the other hand, BPO agents typically work behind the scenes and handle a wider range of processes. This may include everything from back-end admin work to technical IT support.

How is an outsourced call center different?

Call center outsourcing involves a business partnering with a third-party company and allowing them to handle some or all of their customer service operations. The third-party will usually be responsible for monitoring communication channels, addressing customer enquiries, and resolving issues.

Outsourced call centers operate as an extension of the company, upholding its brand image and customer service standards. The agents have the skills and expertise to handle customer enquiries swiftly and provide efficient customer service. This allows companies to focus on core business tasks while knowing that their customer needs are being met.

The latest report by the Call Center Management Association revealed that more businesses are leveraging outsourced customer service to enhance customer experiences. For instance, the majority of center outsourcing partners now provide multi-channel support, with 80% or more providing SMS, webchat, and email services.

BPO and call center differences

Scope of services

As mentioned, the key difference between BPO and call centers lies in the area of operations. BPO covers a broad range of services beyond customer support. BPO agents are trained to handle IT support, data entry, payroll processing, and many other back-office tasks.

Meanwhile, a call center specializes in customer support communications, usually focusing on customer enquiries, issue resolution, and sales.

Business impact

Call centers play a pivotal role in modern businesses, but BPO typically has a larger impact on a company’s overall operational efficiency. This is because BPO partners focus on optimizing various business processes, while call centers usually only have a direct impact on customer relationship management.

Skill requirements

BPO agents handle a broader range of business processes so they often require a diverse set of skills. They may require expertise in order fulfilment, accounting or HR, depending on the tasks being outsourced. On the other hand, call center operatives must have exceptional communication and problem-solving to handle customer enquiries effectively.

Relationship management

There is often more in-depth collaboration involved when companies partner with external BPO providers. In most cases, the third-party partner will provide strategic insights to improve various operational processes within the business. Whereas outsourced call centers tend to be more transactional, focused on customer interactions and issue resolution.

Final thoughts

BPO and call centers represent distinct concepts within the realm of business operations. BPO covers a wide range of functions aimed at optimizing processes, while a call center specializes in managing telecommunications to enhance customer satisfaction.  

Understanding the difference between BPO and call center functions is crucial for companies looking to make well-informed decisions about outsourcing and customer service improvement. 

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