Stop Making Excuses! Put Your Contact Center in the Cloud


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Over the past few months I’ve been hearing more and more about contact center solutions “in the cloud.” I think it’s time for more companies to embrace this trend, and stop making excuses.

The reason I’m interested in this trend is that I’ve had a front row seat to the emergence of the SaaS industry, with companies like RightNow, NetSuite and leading the way. Ten years ago, the naysayers were out in force, but now it’s clear that “cloud-based” software can serve companies of any size, with the necessary reliability, security and integration into legacy operations.

However, contact centers have proceeded more slowly. Some vendors sound like the SaaS naysayers of a decade ago, claiming that their customers (typically the IT departments) don’t think hosted is a good option, for all the usual reasons. But is this the real reason, or just an excuse to maintain the status quo?

The contact center industry is massive, much larger than the CRM software industry. There are lots of vendors, consulting/integration firms and IT departments that have vested interests in the conventional method of implementing an on-premise contact center. I wouldn’t expect these players to lead the way towards contact centers in the cloud, any more than Oracle or SAP pioneered SaaS.

But my question to business leaders is this: Can you just plug into a contact center solution and get access to all the technology you need (including more advanced applications like speech analytics) and respond quickly to market changes? No? Then maybe you should push your CIO to look harder at the viability of hosted contact centers.

For example, EchoPass is one pioneer that provides call center infrastructure to mostly large companies, as a hosted service. Speaking with CEO Vin Deschamps recently, he told me that typically enterprise customers use a dedicated VPN to access the EchoPass datacenter with high performance, although employees working from home can use consumer options like DSL.

Deschamps says flatly that there is “no limitation to delivering technology through hosted model.” EchoPass can even provide speech analytics, a capability that Deschamps says everyone asks about, but few (around 5%) actually use.

EchoPass was founded in 2000, around the same time that SaaS got going. But progress has been much slower. Frost and Sullivan (per Deschamps) estimates the hosted contact center space is now just $400M per year, while in the SaaS industry alone books over $1B per year. However, the hosted contact seems to have finally passed its early adopter phase and is growing nearly 50% per year.

Deschamps cites a number of factors can drive a company to consider a hosted option, but it usually boils down to speed and flexibility. Instead of taking a year or more to implement a conventional contact center, EchoPass can have one up in 60-90 days, he says. The economy has boosted demand for those with limited CAPEX funds, or those that need to respond quickly to market conditions with limited internal resources.

Verizon is another key player in the hosted game, although with a more SaaS-like strategy. The company recently announced Web Center Voice as a basic voice-only service that essentially plugs into their network. It’s designed to support basic needs quickly at a reasonable cost, not a bad idea in this environment. And let’s face it, phone-based support is not going away anytime soon. To get started, you just need a phone and a phone line.

This new no-frills offering is designed to appeal to business with 50 agents or less, for a price that run runs about half of the full multi-media offering. According to a statement from the company, Verizon provides the service on a user-based pricing model (no start-up or license fees) with costs typically running $75-$125 per agent per month.

Verizon offers a basic CRM capability or can integrate with a CRM system of the customer’s choosing, according to to product management director Alla Reznik. Web Center Voice can be upgraded to add support for email, chat, web callback and call recording.

EchoPass and Verizon aren’t the only options in this growing market, of course. Big brands like AT&T and Nortel are in the game now, competing with Contactual, Five9 and others.

Contact centers are on the front lines of how you serve customers. Hosted technology has matured and there are plenty of options for companies of all sizes. Isn’t it time to stop making excuses and take a serious look at moving your contact center into the cloud?


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