This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions
Most firms that are small-midsized businesses or SMBs have to be lean, flexible and very responsive to customers’ needs to survive and grow. The smarter mid-sized enterprises, stung by the economic downturn, are adopting the SMB philosophy to increase profits.
To those ends, SMBs are now formalizing their customer service and support and sales into organized contact centers with dedicated teams to deliver more effective, efficient and trackable performance, with tools to identify and respond to service issues and sales opportunities. At the same time midsized and “lean enterprises” are looking at ways to do more with less from their existing contact centers to improve results. Both business types are seeking more direct control over their customer interaction quality and costs.
Enter SIP Print (News - Alert) (www.sipprint.com) which has been supplying SIP (session initiation protocol) and VoIP call recording appliances to SMBs and midsized enterprises since 2008. It had developed a patent-pending hardware-appliance-housed solution that taps calls off of IP packets by connecting into port-mirroring switches that copies them for relaying to the units. The need was there; SIP/VoIP was coming into its own, says the firm, but there was no solution then on the market that was affordable for SMBs. Since then the company says it has come to dominate the SMB recording field as its solutions offer lower price points with faster installation and greater reliability than competing products.
Now to meet SMB and lean enterprise contact center needs, SIP Print has built out and has begun marketing a series of targeted applications, available a la carte via its channel partners or from cloud providers that have the SIP Print line, built on the SIP Print appliances. These are:
1. SIP Print Call Recording: Express, SMB and SME 2. SIP Print Screen Capture 3. SIP Print Quality Assurance 4. SIP Print WFM (workforce management)
5. SIP Print Call Accounting
6. SIP Care Donald Palmer, SIP Print’s CEO, founded the firm with Jonathan Fuld, the company’s CTO. Palmer, who started in the communications business as a lineman in 1979 developed a blended digital and analog TDM call recording solution in the late 1990s.
“About six months ago I said to Jonathan that a lot of these small companies now have separate customer service departments: mini call centers if you like with an average of 30-40 people down to a 6-8- or 15- person call center,” recounts Palmer. “They needed to record calls, but they also needed to have customer interaction data with some of the same key features as used in the bigger contact centers. But there was nothing on the market for them. Same conditions when we launched SIP Print.”
As with call recordings, it is not just small companies that are showing interest in SIP Print’s new offerings, which have been in the works for 15 months.
“We’ve already had interest by customers with upwards of 500 to 2,000 users–contact center agents who have looked at our product and said that to adapt to it is very, very easy,” says Palmer. “They liked that we have kept it simple and with a solid value proposition.”
SIP Print is hoping to achieve the same success marketwise with its SMB/lean-enterprise targeted contact center solutions as it has in SMB-aimed call recording.
“With our high-value offerings we believe that SIP Print products will dominate the contact center market like it has dominated the SMB SIP/VoIP recording market,” says Palmer.
The SIP Print Answer
The SIP Print CEO appears to have a strong foundation for his projection. The new SIP Print products are simple and flexible for SMB contact centers, providing them with vital capabilities–screen recording, quality assurance (QA) and WFM that are found only in more costly enterprise-class products. The SIP Print line is modular, the solutions can be purchased all-in-one or mix-and-match and acquired when they are needed. Yet the applications are strong and supple enough for enterprise-level centers; each appliance can support up to 200 seats and can be clustered to carry the load for an unlimited number of users.
The SIP Print applications can also support home-based agents and remote staff such as field sales reps and techs. Supervisors can log into them and monitor performance remotely.
The SIP Print products are very affordable; they cost 75 percent or less than competing solutions–$200-$350 per channel versus $450-$600 per channel for call recording alone. They can be installed in just 2 to 4 hours compared with two or three weeks for competitors’ solutions.
One key to the benefits of these new products lies in the appliance model, which also includes built-in APIs, which Palmer says permits far easier integration to third party applications such as analytics, CRM and data warehousing, as opposed to loading software onto virtualized servers that are shared with the other solutions. This also makes integrating easier with legacy software applications, which is a key consideration for lean enterprises as it avoids expensive and disruptive forklift rip-and-replace.
Another key is that SIP Print focused its product lines on the basic functionalities that its research found that most existing and prospective customers were looking for. They eschew the add-ons (i.e. bloatware) typically found in competing products that 99 percent of the SMB and midsized companies have no need.
“Some of the other major suppliers’ products come with so many additional features that most customers and contact centers will never use - that it is ridiculous,” Palmer points out. “We decided that we’re not going to do that. We’re going to keep our products very functional and cost-effective.”
At the same time, none of SIP Print’s major competitors reportedly offer call accounting applications. And even though VoIP methods like SIP is less expensive than traditional higher-cost circuit-switched or PSTN/TDM and are gradually replacing it, such calls still incur expenses that must be tracked and managed. SIP Print has developed Call Accounting for SIP/VoIP telephony, a tool as important to the call center as is the leader board.
Conscious that SIP and IP Telephony is still a relatively new technology for many companies, especially SMBs, SIP Print introduced SIP Care to help them ensure network reliability. SIP Care, available hosted, permits network managers to monitor all the devices on their network, SIP, data or mixed, physical or virtual LAN (VLAN), view reports and see real time analytics of what issues are happening, and allows those managers to remotely respond to them.
Yet companies often have unique needs. But instead of larding solutions with added features up front, SIP Print can, will, and has developed new customized applications to meet their specific requirements.
As one example Palmer’s firm was receiving calls from customers who have ShoreTel (News - Alert) switches but they could not tell whether the calls being made over them were inbound or outbound and needed to know. ShoreTel, he explains, does not use SIP on its switches. Instead it uses an IP protocol called MGCP. While SIP Print’s recording appliance can capture ShoreTel’s MGCP-based voice packets, it could not determine the origin. So his company created a customized application for those customers.
“We’re so flexible in our product development/professional services that we can go back and customize various features, but we’re not going to be jamming out all of these little nuances,” says Palmer.
Appliance Versus Hosted?
SIP Print’s new contact center application set is coming into a market that is already seeing many similarly basic features offered on a low-cost, flexible and pay-as-you-go cloud/hosted models, aimed at the same customers. More of its competition in the contact center space is reportedly beginning to host recording and WFM applications themselves rather than reselling through third parties. So why should SMBs and lean enterprises go to the SIP Print appliance-based offering?
Palmer doesn’t see the market evolving that way. His competition is the software-only products. Instead he reports that the third-party hosting firms are coming to SIP Print as customers, reselling his firm’s solutions on a hosted model. Even so, he thinks most companies will still want applications housed in on-premise appliances.
“There’s a new small market for cloud and the cloud is going to get bigger but right now executives and managers want a product they can see and look at and know that it is working,” says Palmer.
So what are the next steps for SIP Print? One move is into offering IP phones, which would tie nicely into the new contact center applications, though Palmer concedes there are many players in that market.
One of the big areas under consideration by SIP Print is how to capture social media–comments made about firms on sites such as on Facebook (News - Alert) and Twitter and on social collaboration sites that ideally leverage SIP Print’s appliance-based model.
“You have to look at these needs and at how you can meet them, because if you do not you will be left behind, “says Palmer. “Like our competitors in the PSTN/TDM market who said they would not go into VoIP no matter what and they’re now out of business.”
Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Jennifer Russell