The Difference Between Call-Backs, Click-to-Call, and Virtual Queuing

Call Backs | 4 minute read

Call-BackIn the battle to improve the call center experience, three frequently used terms are: call-back, click-to-call, and virtual queuing.

These terms are closely related and often confusing, so I’m going to explain the differences between them in this post.


Of the three terms, this is the easiest to understand because it’s part of our vocabulary for plain old inter-personal calls: “Hi. Can’t talk right now. Call you back in 5?”

When used for a “person-to-company” call, call-backs can take several forms but what’s always common is that the direction of the call gets reversed. That is, you want to talk to Acme but the call comes from them to your phone.

There are several incentives for companies to offer call-backs:

    1. Lower Cost
      Companies pay a premium to accept toll-free calls. Call-backs allow a company to make cheaper outbound calls. This is more relevant for smaller companies.


    1. Virtual Queuing
      A company can offer you a call-back as an alternative to keeping you on hold. They can give you the option to get the call when the next available agent is free, or in a time window you specify. (If it’s the latter, we call it a “scheduled call-back.”)


    1. Added Context
      This is the most powerful of the three, but used the least. Call-backs provide a way to tie a more advanced interface like the web or smartphone to a standard phone-call, which is plagued with a very poor interface (no visual display and only a 12 button keypad). For example, you could use the web interface to answer questions that the agent will need before the call. Or, if you are already logged in to a company’s website, the agent can skip the chore of asking security questions.


You can characterize a call-back by how it was “triggered”. That is, how did you, the customer, request the conversation? You can dial-in and get the offer by automated speech (“To get a call-back when an agent is ready, press 1”). Or you can go click a button on the company’s website. Or you can tap a button on the company’s mobile app. This is called Web Call-Backs (formerly Visual IVR).

With that said, the term “click-to-call” is pretty straightforward. It is a web-triggered call-back.

Note that the term itself is a bit misleading because it should really be “click-to-get-a-call-back”, but that’s too unwieldy.

Some further wrinkles:

The industry is still undecided on what to do with the mobile case. A call-back requested through a mobile app is still generally labelled “click-to-call”. I’ve been saying, half-jokingly, that this case should really be called “tap-to-call”. (And if you want to follow me down that rabbit hole, consider the case where you use your mobile browser to open a web page that has click-to-call functionality. Is that “click-to-call” or “tap-to-call”?)

This term has a long history and has been connected with a very large range of products. For example, Vonage has a click-to-call feature that lets individuals put “call me” buttons on the web; a similar concept but stripped down to the bare minimum. Skype’s click-to-call product is totally different thing: a browser plug-in which triggers an outbound Skype call when you click a phone number.

There are confusing definitions floating around, including Wikipedia’s:

“Click-to-call, also known as click-to-talk, click-to-chat and click-to-text, is a form of Web-based communication in which a person clicks an object to request an immediate connection with another person in real-time either by phone call, Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP), or text.”

Horrible. Click-to-call is certainly not an alias for click-to-chat. That’s a different concept altogether.
And it’s wrong about the “immediate connection” part. (To be fair, though, the Wikipedia article corrects some of that further down the page.)

For all of these reasons, I would retire the term “click-to-call” entirely, if it were up to me. It adds a lot of confusion to the market. Unfortunately, it still has a lot of momentum so we’re going to be stuck with it for a while.

Virtual Queuing

Of all the terms, virtual queuing is the most specific. It means exactly this: Replacing hold-time with a call-back.

This concept has been around for over a decade. It’s the phone-based equivalent of the “take-a-number” system that we’ve all seen at the driver’s license office.

Virtual queuing always requires a call-back. But the reverse is not true. That is, companies might offer call-backs but you would still end-up waiting on hold after you answered the call.

Not all virtual queuing involves click-to-call. You can dial-in to a call center and get offered you a call-back when an agent is available to take your call. You could call that “dial-in triggered virtual queuing”. That is, in fact, the most common type of virtual queuing today.

Bonus term: People sometimes use the term “Virtual Hold” when talking about Virtual Queuing. The confusion is understandable since “virtual hold” is actually more descriptive. But Virtual Hold is a trademark of Virtual Hold Technology, LLC which offers dial-in-triggered virtual queuing product. That term only refers to their product. (So this is a case like “kleenex” and “tissue”).

See my posts about Virtual Hold here and here.


Stripping it down to the basics:

  • Call-backs are a way for a company to connect customers with agents while providing lower costs, virtual queuing and added context.
  • Call-backs can be triggered by dialing-in, clicking on a web page or tapping on a mobile app.
  • Click-to-call refers a call-back service triggered by a web click. (Although it is also used for a variety other things).
  • Virtual queuing replaces hold-time with a call-back. (But not all call-backs have virtual queuing).

I hope that this clears up some of the confusion.

What do you think? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section below or contact us.

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