Hosted Call Center Solutions Give Seasonal Merchants an Edge
October 08, 2009
By Patrick Barnard
, Group Managing Editor, TMCnet
Retailers got a bit of positive news this week: A survey
of top U.S. retailers conducted by Thompson Reuters (News
) shows that consumer sales for the month of September increased 0.6 percent over September 2008. Even though September 2008 was a dismal month for retail sales, some analysts are expressing optimism
that this might be a foreshadowing of better-than-expected holiday sales for 2009 and the beginning of a possible rebound in the economy.
In addition, the National Retail Federation’s 2009 holiday forecast
predicts that holiday retail sales will decline only one percent this year, compared to 2008, to $437.6 billion. While this number is far below the ten-year average of 3.39 percent holiday season growth, the decline is not expected to be as dramatic as last year’s 3.4 percent drop in holiday retail sales -- nor as severe as the 3 percent decline in annual retail industry sales expected for all of 2009.
So there are some “shafts of light” breaking through the proverbial dark storm clouds of this economic recession. When the skies will clear is still just about anyone’s guess -- this year’s Halloween sales will also serve as an indicator of where things are headed -- but for now there seems to be some optimism, even among analysts, that this year’s holiday sales won’t be as bad as many were expecting.
In the meantime, merchants must move forward with their holiday season planning – and for many of them that includes the extremely difficult task of determining staffing levels for their call centers. While most companies have no doubt already recruited and hired their seasonal call center help for this year, most of them are staying loosely committed to their staffing plans, should their holiday forecasts end up not as accurate as expected.
On the other hand, based on this week’s “good” news, things could turn out to be much better than expected for some retailers. The question is, will they be prepared to handle a delightfully-unexpected increase in volume?
Merchants which have deployed hosted call center software will be better positioned to react to these unexpected peaks in volume, compared to their competitors with “on premises” call center systems. That’s because today’s hosted call center solutions offer increased scalability – which is the ability for the system to accommodate additional agent seats and phone ports in on-demand fashion.
In fact, increased scalability is one of the leading reasons merchants (and other types of businesses that experience seasonal peaks in volume) are migrating hosted call center systems in droves
. With a hosted or software-as-a-service based call center system, a business can rapidly expand its call center operations from, say, 20 agents to 200 agents, in a matter of hours. All that is needed are the work stations, computers and a high speed Internet (T1/E1) connection.
So, for example, an e-commerce company that is seeing a significant increase in activity as a result of a holiday marketing campaign is able to immediately increase the number of seats in its call center from, say, 100 to 120, and schedule additional agents to handle the extra load. The vendor can deliver this increased capacity simply by allocating additional server space in its data center where it is hosting the software. In some cases seats can be added in as little as minutes.
The scalability that is inherent with today’s hosted call center systems results in a level of flexibility that hardware-centric on-premises systems cannot deliver – at least not without significant capital investment and IT resources. This is where today’s hosted call center systems hold a significant advantage: These systems can be quickly scaled up and down with little to no involvement from a merchant’s IT team. Because the software is delivered as a managed service, the vendor is responsible for maintenance of all hardware and infrastructure, including the optimization of the delivery of the software to each customer location.
Patrick Barnard is a contributing writer for TMCnet. To read more of Patrick’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Another significant advantage of today’s hosted call center systems -- and this is related to scalability -- is their ability to unify disparate, geographically-dispersed centers on a single call routing platform. That means the system be readily scaled to support additional agents on a per-location basis – e.g. “We need 15 additional seats for call center ‘A;’ 24 additional seats for call center ‘B;’ and 40 additional seats for call center ‘C.’” And it can be done as quickly and easily as adding items to your shopping cart when visiting and e-commerce merchant’s website (pun-like analogy intended).
As such, today’s hosted call center systems enable merchants to quickly adjust their call center IT spend based on forecasted call volume and other internal/external activities. In this regard these systems help merchants react quickly to changing market conditions, thus enabling them to realize call center operational efficiencies and bottom line cost savings that on-premises systems can’t deliver.
One final point: The increased scalability provided through hosted call center systems is just as much of an advantage for a merchant that witnesses decreased holiday sales as it is for a merchant that sees increased sales. Just the same way these systems can easily be scaled up, they can also be readily scaled down in the event a merchant’s forecast is way off. For example, a merchant that hired an additional 200 agents for its call center, based on its initial sales forecast, marketing campaign, new product line or other factors, might decide to let 20 or 40 agents go before the holiday season has even finished, based on subsequent forecasts and call volume. And not having to pay for those additional software licenses, or seats, let alone those agents salaries for the month of December could be the deciding factor in whether a merchant has a make or break season.
is a leading provider of state-of-the-art hosted call center solutions that scale like no tomorrow. The company’s on-demand call center software is ideally suited to businesses with seasonal sales cycles or which are prone to experiencing sudden and unexpected peaks in call volume. To learn more about Contactual’s (News
) on-demand call center platform, click here
Edited by Patrick Barnard