Contactual on the Hosted Contact Center Value Proposition
January 31, 2011
By Brendan B. Read
, Senior Contributing Editor
Contact centers are continually looking for “practical-edge” solutions that boost productivity, lower costs, adapt seamlessly to changing demands and need at high security at a rapid return on investment.
Hosted contact center platforms can provide the value proposition that contact centers are seeking. To find out more TMCnet recently interviewed Wendell Black, Vice President of Worldwide Sales and Marketing, Contactual:
TMCnet: Outline the hosted value proposition. Has it changed over the past year coming into this year and, if so why?
WB: The value proposition for hosted contact centers remains compelling and is rooted in cost savings, increased flexibility and agility and overall ease of use. Cost savings are realized through the elimination of the hidden costs associated with the on-premise delivery model; these are the upgrades, maintenance contracts, and the dedicated IT resources required to administer the system. Movement from capex to opex spending remains attractive, as well as paying only for capacity that is needed.
Hosted solutions allow contact centers to be more flexible and agile so they can adapt quickly to changing business conditions. Organizations can embrace flexible agent-staffing models, including home-based agents and virtual agents, more easily as the more advanced SaaS (News - Alert) (software as a service) - based solutions require nothing more than web browsers, Internet connections and phones. Hosted solutions also offer ‘bursting’ capabilities that help organizations scale up quickly for seasonal or event driven demand.
All of this comes in an application that is dramatically easier to use than its hardware/software, server-heavy predecessors. In many cases hosted solutions eliminate the need to integrate and manage multiple point solutions. Many of the solutions on the market today were developed with multimedia interaction management in mind, so they seamlessly support different media interaction types within a single, easy to use interface. These solutions also empower call center administrators to make changes to call flows, update queues and agent skills, define schedules and change IVR scripts and other tasks without needing certificates in computer programming.
It’s important to note that within the hosted contact center space there are different delivery models as well. The SaaS model, which Contactual (News - Alert) has used from day one and the managed services model whereby a CPE-based solution is hosted and managed in a data center by a third party. In the case of a managed service model, many of the flexibility and ease of use benefits are diminished due to the limitations imposed by the fact that at its core a managed solution is still premises-based.
TMCnet: What, if any, changes have there been in the demand for your hosted services and what are the drivers? Is this predominantly coming from contact centers dropping their premise-based solutions, from OEMs offering hosted versions of their own software or from organic demand?
WB: Demand for Contactual’s OnDemand Contact Center remains high as continues to increase year over year. Awareness of hosted solutions has increased dramatically in the marketplace, due in large part to the immense success of the hosted delivery model for other core business applications such as CRM (salesforce.com) and ERP (NetSuite (News - Alert)).
Demand has quickly evolved beyond the early adopters: small and medium sized organizations that saw the hosted model as a way to gain contact center functionality that had been out of reach due, primarily, to financial limitations on their end. Today enterprises and larger call center deployments are discovering the numerous benefits a hosted solution can deliver to their organizations. These larger organizations are frequently mandating that hosted solutions be considered as they look for more innovative methods to keep pace with the demands of delivering a high-quality customer experience: but with the constraints of fewer people and dollars to do so.
Where this demand is coming from, at Contactual we see the following, in rank order:
1. Existing contact centers moving from on-premise to hosted solutions. We expect this trend to continue as existing premise-based systems require significant upgrades or approach end of life
2. Organic demand from new contact center deployments. Two years ago this was the number one demand area for Contactual, but with the increased awareness and acceptance of hosted solutions this scenario has dropped down to number 2
3. OEMs offering hosted versions of their software. Quite frankly we still see reluctance on the part of some of the OEMs to fully embrace hosted solutions, and we are surprised by their lack of movement
TMCnet: Are your customers purchasing the entire platform or portions of it: and if the latter which pieces? Are their strategies testing the hosted platform before shifting their entire contact centers or do they only want hosted for certain functions and departments? For those only having portions why are they not buying the whole solution?
WB: The Contactual OnDemand Contact Center is a fully integrated solution so customers purchase the entire platform, although some portion of the feature set is optional. This concept is very attractive to our customers as they are looking for a solution that provides all of the functionality they need in a single, easy to use application.
Many Contactual customers were previously managing multiple vendors and applications for ACD, IVR, e-mail and chat interaction management and other similar functions. They are thrilled to consolidate everything down to a single application from one vendor.
Quite often customers will begin with a deployment to a particular department or group of agents: typically an area in their contact center that has an immediate pain point that needs addressing. Once they experience the benefits of our solution first-hand they expand the deployment to other agent groups, departments, physical contact centers and even subsidiaries.
TMCnet: Concerns have been raised about cloud/hosted platforms including:
* Portability (e.g. ease of transfer in case contact centers want to switch hosted suppliers or go to an on-premises solution
* Interoperability with other platforms e.g. at other contact centers, and solutions
Have you heard these concerns and if so how are you addressing them?
WB: While these types of concerns have been raised, much has also been written by analysts and other industry leaders about how these concerns are really persistent myths; myths that were also present in the hosted CRM and ERP markets. The hosted contact center marketplace has matured and evolved in such a way that most of these myths have since been debunked.
Of course each vendor has different capabilities, so these are key areas that should be fully explored during the evaluation process.
Solution providers host their platforms in Tier 1 data center facilities that employ stringent physical and electronic security measures. Contactual has passed rigorous security audits by numerous Fortune 500 companies and as such we are able to quickly overcome this concern.
Hosted solutions offer a great deal of flexibility and extensibility through integration/interoperability with other applications. In many cases, pre-built integrations exist for numerous business applications, such as CRM solutions. For example, Contactual’s solution is frequently deployed as an overlay to an existing PBX (News - Alert) solution and our customers have integrated Contactual with everything from their ERP application to home-grown CRM systems.
The issue of portability is not unique to hosted solutions. Contact centers with on-premise solution must deal with this issue as well if they decide to change vendors, either moving to another on-premises provider or to a hosted solution.
TMCnet: What changes and new offerings have Contactual made and are planning to make to your hosted solution (including pricing and terms) and why? What are the benefits to your customers?
WB: Customers continuously look for flexible ways to acquire and deploy technology, and we continue to bundle and unbundle our multi-channel service to meet their needs. This has led us to offering basic packages that allow the customer to start with a smaller feature set that is more in line with their needs today and add options later as they see the need.
Our CRM customers have also asked for and we are delivering a new Campaign Manager for outbound dialing integration that helps streamline business processes for sales and customer service follow up activities. Customers like our “One Click” integration with CRM applications like Salesforce CRM and we are bringing out new additions to our supported CRM list with this “One Click” model.
Contactual deploys in our data centers quarterly so that we bring new functionality to our base of customers on a rapid basis. We are continually building on our solid foundation so that customer needs are met and they in turn are better equipped support their business objectives.Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Chris DiMarco