In 2016, 62 percent of U.S. companies considered customer experience a competitive differentiator for businesses. A crucial part of the customer experience is delivered via partnered contact centers, so it’s important to ask: What makes an effective contact center, and how can you tell if yours is successful?

1. Multi-channel hubs

As a branch of customer service operations, a contact center is the part of a business that acts as a hub for maintaining relationships with its clients, partners and customers.

“Traditionally, a contact call center has been a function for handling inbound and outbound calls,” says Lisa Oswald, senior vice-president of customer service at the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals in Business. But modern cloud-based contact centers are now entities that “handle multiple channels, like emails, phone calls and chat, all within the contact center.”

When it comes to the contact center’s success, there are two areas of interest, says Oswald. “First and foremost: reliability, performance, quality and technology.” These are the quantitative points that are measurable on the so-called “hard side of business.” But the most important element is qualitative: the people. “Whether it’s your business partner or internal employee, the team should have 100 percent alignment on company goals and brand values,” says Oswald. “The contact center is the face of your brand.”

The role of a contact center is about protecting your brand reputation, which is done through offering great performance, efficiency, knowledge and accuracy. But the contact center is “really the heart and soul of any brand’s business,” says Oswald. “That’s where you’re having those conversations with consumers that make or break loyalty and trust.” Those are two factors that can also make or break a business.

2. Supportive partnerships

Like the rest of our technology, contact centers have seen dramatic changes over the course of the last decade. One of the most noticeable differences is the wide recognition of cloud-based contact centers as a valuable, strategic business unit that creates loyalty and retention, which in turn drives revenue.

“There are so many factors that impact the partnership and quality of contact centers,” says Oswald. When a business is ready to develop a contact center partnership, there are a few key things to look for such as business process expertise, performance, quality assurance, privacy and security, technology, reliability, employee and customer retention and recruiting.

“The best relationships between brands and contact centers are those that are working together as equal partners with lots of transparency,” says Oswald, citing the importance of trust in these types of relationships. “Everything the brand and partner are doing should be completely aligned to support the company’s goals.”

3. Sophisticated customer response

Historically, the industry reviewed contact centers exclusively by operational metrics such as how fast phones were picked up, average wait times and average handle times. While these factors are still crucial to overall success, they aren’t the only factors as they ignore the quality of experience the customers are having. “More and more brands have switched to qualitative elements,” says Oswald. “The true measure is how your customer perceives the quality of your service.” So for measuring the customer response, it is important to use member-driven efforts (e.g., customer surveys).

Overall, says Oswald, “The contact center industry is becoming more sophisticated.” They are taking a “consultative approach with their brand partners, hiring more and better skilled account managers,” and developing business partners, not just outsourcing. By focusing on the customers and different types of technology those customers use on a daily basis, contact centers help businesses not only stay competitive, but also provide a one-stop solution for customers to connect via chat applications, SMS texting, phone calls or customer service surveys.