Todays call center managers face a continual struggle to improve productivity and customer service levels while keeping costs down. This is especially true for the 90 percent of U.S. contact centers that have less than 100 agents. These centers find it particularly difficult to cost-justify the purchase of traditional premise-based, advanced contact handling features that bolt on to an existing PBX or phone system. As a result, many companies are finding hosted IP services more attractive because of the ability to gain access to these productivity-enhancing features without the heavy, upfront capital expenditure.
While many companies are exploring VoIP, many are under the mistaken impression that VoIP equipment is required at their premises in order to take the next step in their call centers. In reality, companies are able to deploy a hosted solution on a VoIP network using their existing phone systems. Now, a company can access advanced technologies without the hassle and expense of purchasing new phone equipment.
Managed and hosted contact center services are typically paid for on a monthly or usage basis, with little upfront cost. This means that rather than committing significant upfront capital expenditure, contact center technology is purchased as an ongoing operational expenditure. According to Datamonitor, small organizations with tight controls on cash flow and capital expenditure benefit the most from this approach, but the cost measures and limits on capital expenditure are currently being experienced by organizations of all sizes.
Hosted services offer several advantages over premise-based solutions. Most customers of less than 100 seats are not able to cost-effectively deploy systems that have the capabilities found in standard offerings from the best hosted service providers. In addition to the costs associated with acquiring, installing, and integrating these advanced systems, scalability of each of these system elements also has a big impact on the cost structure of the operation.
For example, with an on premise solution, the operation must build out each system element to support peak periods. That means the capacity to support all call center functions during seasonal spikes must be accounted for in available phone lines and circuit cards. Its a fixed cost that can not be turned off during slow times.
With hosted services, companies are able to manage capacity on a week-to-week basis, scaling up one week and scaling back down, if need be, the next. Companies utilizing a hosted solution only pay for capacity as they need it.
Another advantage of hosted services is that feature integration and upgrades are handled by the system provider and are no longer the regular responsibility of the end user. This is especially beneficial to smaller businesses that do not have the time or technical team to deal with system integration and maintenance issues.
Datamonitor has also said, purchasing a premise-based all-in-one solution rather than integrating a number of best-of-breed components will reduce integration and installation costs, but a managed or hosted service offers a number of other benefits on top of that. These benefits derive from the expertise and economics of scale that a service provider can achieve, and that very few enterprise or public sector bodies could.
A common myth among call center managers is that you lose control with hosted services. While this is true with some hosted providers, companies utilizing the better service providers have found the opposite to be true. The best hosted services conform to the specific requirements of the business, rather than forcing the business to conform to capabilities of a canned solution. Hosted services today offer a level of configurability and flexibility that was only dreamed of by customers utilizing the traditional equipment of the past. Customers are finding the new breed of hosted systems to provide an even greater level of functional control than they currently experience with their on-site equipment while simultaneously ridding themselves of the burdens of day-to-day management.
Hosted services can provide the benefits of VoIP without requiring the customer to upgrade on-premise telecommunications equipment. One of the biggest motivations behind moving to VoIP for many companies is the fact that they can seamlessly connect multiple sites and at-home workers with one unified system. However, some companies incorrectly see new IP-based phone equipment as the only solution.
Some hosted vendors actually enable a company to keep its existing phone system, yet obtain the advantages of an IP-based telephone system. These solutions allow customers to create any combination of TDM and VoIP connections. Agents at home might opt for a VoIP connection while agents at the corporate headquarters utilize their existing corporate PBX-based telephones. Since the system capabilities exist in the VoIP network, each connection, regardless of type, is viewed as a virtual extension. Each user, regardless of location, has the benefits of the network-based VoIP system.
The flexibility provided by blending TDM and IP connections to VoIP services enables a customer site to receive the benefits of a VoIP solution without the hassle or expense of switching over to VoIP-based equipment. As a result, the cost and risk of obtaining the benefits of VoIP is drastically reduced.
IDC predicted that, by 2008, IP will account for 72 percent of new telephony connectivity. Companies are moving to VoIP, but they can now immediately realize the benefits of VoIP but transition their equipment on their own schedule. With the maturing of VoIP technology and the availability of advanced contact handling technologies in a hosted environment, companies have a very low-risk option. They are able to make the transition from a premise-based environment to a hosted solution with minimal disruption and expense. IT
Michael Shelton is chief technology officer at UCN. For more information, please visit the company online at www.ucn.net.
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