Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

Article: Call centre solutions

Originally published in

If the network is the application, it might help explain why the contact centre industry is moving away from premise-based systems and towards hosted solutions.

Today’s contact centres contribute 24×7 to strategic goals, managing relationships and generating revenue along the way. As a result, buyers of contact centre solutions demand systems that deliver more ROI than ever before, with fewer risks.

That’s why hosted solution providers leverage their expertise in all communication areas – phone, email, fax, chat – in one package. Customers don’t have to build, maintain, or upgrade hosted systems.

Initial capital costs for premise-based solutions are hefty, says Roberta Fox, senior partner with the telecommunications consulting firm Fox Group. “We’ve worked on multimedia call centres. They are complex to install and maintain.”

Fox can sympathise. Her own office has a contact centre system. “Frankly, I’d rather not have the equipment here,” she says. (Hosted solutions weren’t available when Fox Group bought its system.)

Small- to medium-sized businesses want the ROI, but scaling large solutions is not cost-effective. Kevin Hayden, Director of Integrated Contact Centre Solutions at Telus, estimates the size of the issue: “75% of Canadian call centres are under 50 seats.”

“Small companies need the technology, but they don’t have the ability to house it themselves,” says Michael Hall, a manager for the Richmond Hill contact centre solutions provider ComputerTalk Technologies, “so they go to a provider for hosting.”

Hosted call centre systems generally prove less daunting to try. “(It’s) a more cautious approach. Buy five seats of a call centre and see if it gives benefits,” Fox says.

Hayden recounts the fears of a Western Canadian client for which Telus implemented CallCentreAnywhere (CCA). “They never had a call centre before. They were overwhelmed by the challenge of building one,” he says.

Solutions like CCA and ice³ (ComputerTalk’s offering) reduce configuration questions to a graphical user interface. If the product meets customer requirements, “we can get the call centre up and running in days,” Hayden claims.

Non-technological issues could also prove difficult. In Fox’s call centre implementation experience, “the prohibitors were the (relationships) between IT and telecom.” With a hosted solution, the vendor delivers it for you. “That negates some potential organizational issues,” she says.

Managers who fret when IT projects exceed their budgets favour the cost certainty of hosted call centre contracts, which clearly define services and operating costs. Sometimes, “it’s more defined in these types of relationships than it (would be) internally,” says Fox.

Having to modify and upgrade premise-based systems annoys some firms. “Every time we make a change, we either do it or have our service people do it,” Fox says. “It’s a matter of making the time to get it done.”

Sometimes a crisis shows a system’s shortcomings. Hayden recalls the Canadian Red Cross experience late last year. “When the tsunami hit Asia, (the Red Cross couldn’t handle) the incoming flood of calls.”

Speaking of Telus’s work for the Red Cross, Hayden states that hosted call centres are more scalable than premise-based systems: “We can now expand capacity on demand for a specific customer,” he says.

Hayden also extols the “virtualization” of agents, where subject matter experts take calls regardless of location. For the Red Cross, agents who speak various languages can now take calls more quickly, wherever they are.

Hall mentions one continuing market for premise-based installs. “Generally, larger clients with large call centres run their own solutions because they want more control, they have the infrastructure and they have the talent.”

Imagination and unusual needs may call for pared-down systems too. Earlier this year, Hall’s team implemented a dairy producer organization’s fourth annual promotional contest, the Bovine Phone Line. The contest runs for 70 days each spring, during which time callers play a game with an intelligent voice response (IVR) system. The only time employees got involved was to contact winners. While not a call centre, “it’s an example of a successful hosted application,” says Hall.

The success of any application depends on several factors. Hall explains: “If you’re only replacing one person, your ROI is spread out over a longer period of time than if you were to replace 100 people.”

Fox sees this ROI firsthand. Not needing people to take calls, “I have staff doing other things that are more productive for the business.”