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The software as a service (SaaS) trend is revolutionizing the call center industry, as companies of all sizes are now discovering the advantages of going with hosted versus on-premise solutions. With SaaS for the call center, applications such as IVR, ACD, predictive dialing, workforce management and CRM are hosted on a shared platform in a data center and delivered to the agents via the Internet or dedicated network.


Because they are completely Web-based, these solutions are quick and easy to deploy – and furthermore require very little up front investment, as there is usually no additional equipment needed. Because the software is delivered over the Internet “as a service,” the traditional software licensing model is replaced with a “subscription” model, or “leasing” model where the software is “rented” based on the amount of time it is used, multiplied by the number of seats. This “pay-as-you-go” model makes today’s SaaS solutions analogous to a utility: You pay for only the amount you use.

Today, there are even affordable Web-based call center solutions geared for small businesses with under 12 agents. Despite their low cost, these solutions don’t skimp on features: They offer many of the same capabilities found in much larger, much more expensive on-premise enterprise systems. Many small companies are already having great success with these hosted solutions and are realizing ROI in a very short time frame.

If you’re running a growing small business and you’re thinking about setting up your own in-house VoIP call center to better serve your customers, gain new efficiencies and improve the bottom line, you should definitely consider the SaaS model to meet your call center software needs.

The first and most important step is to determine whether the SaaS model is the right fit — for example, some SaaS solutions are better suited to out-bound call or contact centers, where as others are geared for inbound or blended service.
Let’s take a closer look at the advantages today’s SaaS solutions for the call center bring.

Lower Up-Front Costs
Generally speaking, the biggest factor driving adoption of SaaS is lower up-front cost. Companies which decide to go with SaaS for their contact center save initially by avoiding the need to shell out capital for on-premise equipment and installation services. In fact, with most of today’s hosted solutions, all you really need to launch a new VoIP call center is a room full of PCs, each with its own high speed Internet connection, some headsets, the agents, and that’s about it!
Also, SaaS enables companies to avoid having to pay for the licensing of new software in a lump sum -- rather, they simply lease the software on a subscription or “pay-as-you-go” basis. Not only is this pricing model more economical, it’s easier to predict and manage, and affords simplified financial reporting: Rather than paying out chunks of capital all at once for upgrades or replacements of on-premise systems, call centers now have the ability to include the cost of their SaaS service as a recurring line item in the monthly operating budget. In addition, the ability to access and use new applications immediately as they become available is a huge cost saver, because it allows call centers to trial new applications as they come out.

Reduced Ongoing Costs
SaaS solutions also deliver lower ongoing costs because typically the provider takes on the maintenance of the system — including software upgrades, equipment replacement and troubleshooting. This reduces the strain on existing IT staff (and if you’re a small business, maybe you don’t have an “IT staff”) and also lets companies avoid having to hire specialized IT teams to oversee their VoIP call center system.

Ongoing costs are also reduced because services can be added or customized more quickly, without adding significantly to the overall cost of the service, and without have the vendor’s tech support “truck roll” back to your premise every time a change needs to be made. In fact, most aspects of managing the system, including new software launches, adding new features, adding or adjusting call routing schemes, adding or dropping agents, creating reports, etc., can be handled centrally through a user-friendly, Web-based interface. This mean less need for IT support, as call center supervisors and managers can now handle daily management of the system.

SaaS solutions also deliver savings over time because of their high scalability. As a business grows or shrinks in size, and as cycles change based on the economy or the time of year, a hosted system can be correspondingly scaled up and down, based on the amount of volume and the number of agents needed. This flexibility leads to pricing schemes where ongoing cost savings can be easily realized. For example, depending on which service you select, you can pay based on the number of agents you are currently using (i.e. some vendors offer a flat fee for using the software, multiplied by the number of agents). In addition, some vendors are offering pricing on a “per seat” basis, which is particularly beneficial if you happen run a call center where most of your agents are part time.

Faster Time To Market
This is arguably the biggest advantage of the SaaS model. As mentioned earlier, if you want to get a VoIP call center up and running quickly, SaaS is the way to go, as all you will need only a broadband connection (typically T1/T3 or Ethernet), some computers, some headsets and some agents. The rest is all choosing which software you want to use and configuring it properly. Obviously, this ease of deployment gives SaaS a huge advantage over on-premise systems, which can be costly and time consuming to set up.

Fast integration with existing IT systems is also where SaaS now has a big advantage. Most vendors are now providing pre-integration for legacy CRM and business systems, which helps the integration piece go a lot smoother. In fact, many systems now offer support for Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), which helps companies save money because they can keep their existing legacy software and servers, yet they can access their customer data the same way they always have. This means the agents have access to any historical data they need while they’re on the line with the customer, and can have it displayed right on their desktop, which in turn leads to better customer service. This is an area where today’s SaaS solutions have made great strides.

Also, with SaaS, “faster time to market” doesn’t just pertain to the time it takes to establish a new VoIP call center — it also pertains to the ease and speed with which one can add new software and services at any time. With SaaS, a company can start out with the basics and then add new apps in “piecemeal” fashion, thus giving it the ability to quickly adapt to rapidly changing market conditions.

Faster Access To New Technologies
Another major advantage of the SaaS model is the ability to get new software releases as soon as they become available. This means customers can quickly access and “trial” new applications and beat their competitors to the punch with the deployment of advanced new software which can bring new efficiencies. In addition, SaaS typically means you get the most up to date hardware and computing technology -- all the way down to the processors used in the servers. Plus, with advanced encryption and security technologies, plus fail-over locations for built-in redundancy, today’s data centers are more secure than ever, thus giving companies greater peace of mind.

Enabling The “Virtual Contact Center”
Another advantage of SaaS solutions is the fact that they are ideal for facilitating the “virtual contact center,” a term used to describe a contact center which can be accessed remotely from any computer with a high speed Internet connection. There are many advantages to this architecture, perhaps the most compelling being the ability to use remote or home-based agents, which in recent years has become a very hot trend. With today’s SaaS solutions, remote agents can have calls and other contacts routed to them just as if they were in the main center — plus they have access to all of the same software and features that their co-workers use, including access to legacy systems, “presence” and whatever else has been bundled with the solution. Obviously, this type of architecture is ideal for companies with geographically dispersed centers.

Additionally, the SaaS model enables companies with multiple contact centers to tailor or customize their solution sets for each individual center’s needs. As companies often assign different tasks to different centers, each center typically needs its own suite of software. At the same time, all end points on the network are part of the same unified system, so things like call monitoring, call recording, workforce management and just about any other administrative function can be carried out from a central location for each center, each defined group of agents, or each remote agent.

The SaaS model is also ideal for facilitating the “informal contact center,” a relatively new concept in customer service wherein the contact center is extended out to other “knowledge workers” in a company or organization who can handle more complicated customer issues that can’t be handled by an agent. (This where the “pay-as-you-go” pricing model is best applied, as you don’t want to pay by the seat with the “informal contact center” model.)

Improved Agent Efficiency
Today’s SaaS solutions also bring improved efficiency through more intelligent routing of customer contacts. With the SaaS model, contacts can be distributed intelligently among all agents, at all locations, thus leading to vastly improved agent performance. This has obvious benefits for “multimedia” contact centers which handle a range of IP-based channels, such as VoIP, video-over-IP, IVR, Web chat, text messaging and email. For example, if a particular agent’s phone calls dry up for a period, then that agent can jump in and start taking emails or web chats which are in other queues, instead of just sitting there, waiting for the next call to come in. This intelligent routing of contacts results in economies of scale in terms of agent performance, because each agent’s unique range of skills is put to more efficient use. Furthermore, “virtualizing’ the contact center gives customers a sense that they are contacting a whole, cohesive company — not just the phone department, or the email department, or the Web chat department. And as the experience becomes more seamless, customer satisfaction increases.

High Scalability
SaaS solutions also enable VoIP call centers to more readily handle sudden spikes in call volume. A good example of this is a product recall, where suddenly your contact center gets flooded with complaints from angry customers. But there are more common occurrences, like, for example, an online retailer which does most of its business during the holiday season. As holiday time approaches, a company using SaaS for its contact center can ramp-up agent capacity as needed. Yet another example might be a not-for-profit running a fundraising campaign – or a government agency, such as the IRS – which also see spikes in call volume on a seasonal basis. This ability to scale rapidly is a key advantage which SaaS has over on-premise systems.

Better Control Over Business Rules
SaaS solutions also give companies improved ability to apply business rules across all contact center locations. So, for example, agents can only log onto the system when they’re scheduled to; can only access the applications and network resources they’re allowed to use; or can only contact others within the company based on their “presence” or availability. In addition, contacts can be routed to each agent based on pre-defined, yet fully configurable rules, based on which types of contacts (or customers) that agent is best suited to handle. As another example, custom scripts can be delivered to a certain agent, to handle a certain call, thus enabling the agent to calm the customer down and resolve the call, or perhaps up-sell and cross-sell at junctures which are determined by management. All of this means companies can create their own unique customer service experiences in order to differentiate themselves from their competitors. That is what makes today’s SaaS solutions a far cry more sophisticated compared to the ASP offerings of a few years ago.

Improved Customer Satisfaction
All of the above advantages combine to create a radically improved customer experience (and agent experience). By “virtualizing” the contact center – and by unifying all of the software into one cohesive whole – agent performance is improved and customer satisfaction is increased. This not only springs from the fact that agents are able to display all of the relevant information about the customer on their desktops, but also because today’s SaaS systems do a very good job of “identifying” customers based on their historical data. For example, a common complaint with many call center systems is that, after the customer enters his or her account information via the IVR, very often the agent has to request that information again (this typically stems from poor integration between the IVR and ACD).

But with today’s advanced solutions, the customer’s information “goes along with them” as their call proceeds through various stages in the call center. By being able to identify the customer, using information from their past purchases and interactions, agents can provide more tailored, or “personalized” service, thus giving the customer a feeling that the company really knows them, and wants their business – not that they’re “just another call in the queue.”

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