This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions
Hosting, also called cloud-deployed software, is becoming a much-discussed and tested option to buying, installing and maintaining/upgrading contact center solutions on premises servers. The benefits include increased flexibility and scalability, low or no upfront costs, reduced upgrades and support costs and business continuity/disaster recovery.
The proof lies though in the doing. Here are three examples of centers’ experience with cloud/hosting:
CLEARLINK’s Clear Choice
CLEARLINK is a leading provider of content and conversion services for top consumer brands and small to medium businesses. The firm has a 250-seat contact center located in Salt Lake City, Utah, handling inbound sales and service. The center has an ACD with an IVR front end that asks questions to callers and routes the calls to the agents.
CLEARLINK realized by summer 2007 that its on-premise solution lacked sufficient routing flexibility to different agents and that it needed to handle changing marketing campaigns. It also wanted business continuity/disaster recovery functionality and the ability in the future to support home-based agents that the existing installation could not provide.
CLEARLINK had considered upgrading its existing contact center hardware and software. Yet that choice would have cost $2 million-plus, both upfront and over the next five years in added features, maintenance and updates, explains Brandon Russell, director of call center operations. Newer premise-based solutions still would not have provided the desired flexibility.
In summer 2007, CLEARLINK began researching hosted suppliers and later that year selected and went live with inContact. inContact provided CLEARLINK with IVR, skills-based call routing, customer survey, eLearning, recording and workforce optimization (WFO). The reasons included flexibility and technology and the hosting firm’s commitment to keep the solutions current.
“We didn’t want to build a traditional call center,” says Russell. “We’re really big on getting cutting-edge technology. Not only does inContact provide us an elite system, but they’re always upgrading it, making it better and better with all the features we wanted at no additional cost to us. That’s a big reason why we went with inContact’s ‘in the cloud’ solution.”
CLEARLINK did have initial concerns over uptime with the hosted solution: “You can’t go over and look at it to see if it working,” says Russell. These were assuaged by InContact’s reassurance and by the firm’s own and positive experience hosting its Microsoft (News - Alert) Exchange server.
The hosted inContact solution has been a success. With it CLEARLINK, avoided the capital outlays and it has saved over $100,000 in payroll costs from WFO, plus it eliminated downtime and associated lost revenues from premise-licensed upgrades.
The outsourced deployment permits CLEARLINK to scale agents up or down depending on demand and change IVR features and recordings in under an hour. The skills-based routing helps the firm grow its revenue. It can for example automatically route more profitable marketing channel calls to its tier 1 agents or to a specific agent that is best able to handle those calls.
“InContact’s solution gives us the ability to manipulate the phone system based on our continually changing marketing needs and that’s a really big deal for us,” says Russell. “The high degree of flexibility that inContact provides has become a significant profitability driver for CLEARLINK as well. We’re always experimenting with better ways to attract customers.”
Hosting can encompass more than just the contact center applications. It can include the core PBX, auto-attendant and include voice/data connectivity for seamless, robust delivery.
AmeriFlex is a midsized independent benefits administrator providing technology-based, consumer-driven benefits and compliance solutions. It has 100 employees working from two primary operations centers, in Mount Laurel, N.J. and in Frisco, Texas, where it is headquartered.
The firm had a PBX (News - Alert) that by 2008 was aging and no longer meeting its needs, recounts Bart McCollum, chief operating officer. The solution also required additional telephony knowledge that it did not have on staff.
In early 2009 AmeriFlex decided to go hosted rather than to stay with premises equipment. It implemented that move in March.
“Hosted seemed like a better option for us given the price comparison between the two options (on-premise and hosted) and how it coincided with our growth, expansion goals, function and feature requirements,” explains McCollum. “The hosted solution also allows us to have a more advanced and managed MPLS network between our two locations as well as a more protected WAN infrastructure.”
AmeriFlex selected Evolve IP (News - Alert) to provide a wide range of hosted solutions. These include Evolve IP’s IP PBX, auto-attendant, ACD functionality, voicemail to e-mail and ACD and toll-free reporting. The firm also selected Evolve IP for its fiber and copper connections, T1s, DS3s, connectivity to the Internet and managed firewall services.
“We picked Evolve IP due to its local presence, pricing considerations and overall slickness of product; especially considering our firm’s size,” says McCollum.
The Evolve IP implementation took approximately one month. It encompassed extension numbering design, network segmentation to assure VoIP quality of service, ACD and contact center software roll-out as well as employee training on new handsets.
AmeriFlex is pleased with the move to the Evolve IP solution. So much so that the hosted application is “evolving”; the firm has tapped Evolve IP to provide it with IVR, replacing a legacy product, via a vendor that the hoster has forged a relationship with and which will rest on that supplier’s server. The hosted IVR will go live at an as-of-deadline undetermined date.
“With Evolve IP we’ve had the ability to take advantage of the software and service offerings as well as of the network infrastructure provided to us to facilitate internal communications and Internet communications,” says McCollum. “We look forward to continuing to work with Evolve IP to figure out ways to cost-effectively add the latest and greatest enterprise-level phone system features to a mid-sized operation like ours.”
Walking the Walk: on the Cloud
salesforce.com has been one of cloud computing’s biggest champions through devising and delivering its cloud-based CRM, collaboration, and platform services to its customers. So it was in the firm’s DNA to choose a cloud-based solution for its contact centers located in the United States, Canada, Costa Rica, Ireland, Japan, Australia, India and the Philippines.
Delivering an exceptional customer experience is the most important part of salesforce.com’s business. The firm needs to continually “walk the walk” as its cloud-based CRM services are designed to help companies deliver exceptional customer experiences themselves.
salesforce.com’s products have become so popular and integral to its clients’ business processes that by 2007 the need to supply superior customer service and support outstripped the capabilities of its existing contact center solutions, according to Radha Penekelapati, director of Global Support Operations at salesforce.com
salesforce.com chose LiveOps On-Demand Contact Center Platform as it provides scalability, global skills-based routing and real-time visibility into activities, processes, agents and calls across centers through a comprehensive and customizable dashboard.
LiveOps also offers 100 percent inbound call recording across all locations and instant access to playbacks directly from within salesforce.com’s Service Cloud. LiveOps can also stay ahead of salesforce.com’s business requirements, for example, enabling management to move bundles of calls from one call center to another and make administrative changes on the fly.
Since the first call center went live with LiveOps in April 2009, salesforce.com has leveraged advanced features like the ability to identify customers based on the incoming phone number. Using the phone number, the customer is routed to the agent who already knows them, anywhere in the world, without any input from the customer. Additionally, salesforce.com leverages a dynamic 24/7 failure recovery system in all contact centers. The company also routes calls from end users and advanced salesforce.com users to different teams to ensure it matches the product expertise of the callers with the agents.
The results have exceeded expectations. The LiveOps platform has handled these scenarios successfully, allowing business operations staff to make routing changes on the fly using administrative tools. It enables salesforce.com to substantially improve key performance metrics, including reduced average call handling time and improved first-call resolution rates through the skills-based routing features.
Since salesforce.com deployed LiveOps, it has opened multiple new centers. LiveOps helps keep overhead minimal when adding agents to its global platform.
salesforce.com has been pleased with the LiveOps platform. It says it will continue to leverage it to serve its customers’ needs wherever, whenever.
“LiveOps, combined with the Service Cloud, has helped make our cloud-based service and support operations agile and scalable,” says Penekelapati, director of Global Support Operations at salesforce.com. “There’s no letting up when it comes to ensuring customer success.”
Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi