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The top 10 advantages of software as a service for the call center.

Adoption of the software as a service (SaaS) model is rapidly increasing across the enterprise, but particularly in the call center as companies are discovering the advantages today's hosted solutions offer over premise-based systems. Applications such as IVR, ACD, speech analytics, predictive dialing, workforce management, call recording and CRM can be hosted on a shared platform in a data center and delivered to agents via the IP networks, enabling companies to deploy a full-featured contact center system for a fraction of the cost of licensed software. These new solutions, which have much greater power and flexibility compared to the early hosted or ASP-provided solutions of a few years ago, are now opening a new frontier for customer care.

Industry research shows there is increasing adoption of SaaS solutions in practically all the vertical markets. According to a March report from Gartner, the worldwide SaaS market is expected to grow to $19.3 billion by the end of 2011, up from $6.3 billion in 2006. In addition, DMG Consulting predicts that 20 to 30 percent of all new contact center seats will be hosted by the end of 2007.

So how to get your feet wet with SaaA? The first and most important step is to determine whether the SaaS model is the right fit for your company and then carefully select the solution that best meets your overall needs. Let's take a look at the advantages SaaS brings to the call or contact center:

1. Lower Upfront Costs

In general, the biggest factor driving adoption of SaaS is lower up-front cost. Companies that adopt the SaaS model save initially by avoiding the need to shell out capital for premise-based equipment and installation services. With most of today's hosted solutions, all you really need to launch a new center are agents with headsets and broadband-connected PCs--and these agents may be either in a physical call center or in remote locations distributed around the world.

Also, companies that go with a SaaS solution avoid having to pay for the licensing of new software--instead, they simply "lease" the software on a "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 for upgrades or replacements of on-premise systems, call centers now have the ability to include the cost of their SaaS service in monthly expense reports as a recurring line item.

"Hosted solutions enable call centers to add new technologies quickly and at a low startup cost," said Donald Koosis, Chief Training Officer of hosted solutions provider ISC. "In this respect, premises-based hardware and software just can't compete. For example, in an extreme case, an outsourcer can add a complete suite of call center resources to support a new customer within a matter of days without any additional hardware. This includes support for CRM, workforce management, IVR and ACDs."

2. Reduced Ongoing Costs

SaaS solutions also deliver lower ongoing costs because the hosted provider takes on the maintenance of the system, including software upgrades, equipment replacement and troubleshooting. This reduces the strain on existing IT staff and also lets companies avoid having to hire specialized IT teams. In addition, services can be added or customized quickly via a single, Web-based interface, without adding significantly to the overall cost of the service.

"The call center can use a hosted solution without having to purchase and manage the IT infrastructure required to host a service desk solution themselves," said Mark Krieger, VP of product development for Numara Software. "Often, the IT department, which would need to help set this up and manage it for the call center, has other priorities, so having the hosting center take care of all operations--including setup, backup, hardware and software configurations--can save the call center enormous time and money."

3. Faster Time To Market

Rapid deployment is another advantage SaaS offers. Setting up a new on-premise system can be costly and time-consuming. One large headache for licensed software is that of integration with existing CRM and other business systems (and furthermore carrying out that integration without disruption to customer service).

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Today's hosted solutions, however, offer fast integration with existing IT systems and support for service-oriented architecture (SOA). Most vendors are now providing pre-integration for legacy CRM and business systems. Plus, support for service-oriented architecture (SOA) 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.

Steve Kowarsky, executive VP of CosmoCom, points out that with today's SaaS solutions, a contact center can be set up within minutes: all you need is the PCs and an Internet connection. The software, he said, is delivered "almost like electric service--like a utility. All you need to do is add hot agents."

"If I go to a service provider that has a shared platform that is already sitting there, all they have to do is create a tenant on the platform, which takes like three minutes, and then turn on the agent capacity," said Kowarsky. "Anywhere there's an Internet connection with good performance and an ordinary PC with a browser, you can have an agent. That's the shared platform model--and that is really where you see the faster time to market."

4. Faster Access To New Technologies

The SaaS model also means customers can get faster access to new software and features. Most SaaS providers offer a range of software which customers can combine to make their own custom suites. Customers can quickly access and "trial" new applications as soon as they become available.

5. Enabling The Virtual Contact Center

SaaS solutions are ideal for facilitating geographically distributed and/or virtual contact centers. Perhaps most compellingly, SaaS enables the increasingly popular home agent model. Additionally, SaaS enables companies with multiple contact centers to tailor or customize the solution for each individual center's needs. The SaaS model is also an enabler of what's known as the "informal contact center," which allows companies to extend the contact center out to other knowledge workers.

6. Improved Agent Efficiency

Today's SaaS solutions bring improved efficiency through more intelligent routing of customer contacts. Contacts can be distributed intelligently among all agents at all locations, leading to improved agent performance. This has obvious benefits for multimedia contact centers that handle a range of IP-based channels, such as VoIP, video-over-IP, IVR, Web chat, text messaging and e-mail. If an agent's phone queue goes quiet, that agent can switch to answering e-mail or Web chats in other queues, instead of wasting time waiting for the phone to ring.

7. Scalability

SaaS solutions enable organizations to scale rapidly to meet sudden spikes in call volume. SaaS provider Angel.com provides an example of a special call center rapidly set up for the purpose of handling additional call volume due to the product recall of tainted pet food. "The company was able to sign up for our hosted service and, within minutes, they were up and running," said Angel.com CEO Mike Zirngibl, adding that his company was able to come up with a customized solution in less than an hour. "They had all the agent capacity they needed. They turned the application on at 8 a.m. and immediately received more than 1,000 calls. These are the kinds of things you could never do with an on-premise deployment."

8. Better Analytics And Reporting

Most SaaS solutions deliver best-of-breed call recording, speech analytics and reporting capabilities, which can help a company gain detailed insight into customer habits and agent performance and then package those data into useful reports. These solutions give call centers a way to measure performance and customer satisfaction, in some cases via today's advanced speech analytics solutions which can search through thousands of hours of stored call data very quickly.

9. Better Control Over Business Rules

SaaS solutions offer the ability to apply business rules across the whole contact center so agents can log onto the system only when they're scheduled to; can access only the applications and network resources they need to see; or can contact others within the company based only on their "presence" or availability. Contacts can be routed to each agent based on predefined rules based on which types of contacts or customers the agent is best suited to handle. Agents can be instantly delivered custom scripts during a call, helping them to calm an irate customer or upsell and cross-sell at specific junctures predetermined by management.

10. Improved Customer/Agent Satisfaction

All of the above advantages combine to create a radically improved customer and agent experience. By "virtualizing" the contact center and by unifying all call center functions into one cohesive whole, agent performance is improved and customer satisfaction is increased. Today's SaaS systems can identify customers based on their historical data and thus streamline the interaction. A common complaint many customers have today is the need to re-enter their account information via the IVR or repeat it to the live agent. With today's SaaS solutions, the customer's information arrives on the agent's desktop along with the call, enabling the agent to provide more tailored service, helping the caller to feel like more than just another call in the queue and helping agents to feel they are doing their jobs effectively, which improves agent job satisfaction and retention.

So where are SaaS solutions for the call center headed from here? Most believe we will see increased adoption of these solutions over the decade; however, how much market penetration they will gain is still open to debate. Those already operating in the SaaS realm see endless possibilities for the model.

"We believe the future of all business software is on-demand, and the growing roster of our customers and users believe in that vision," said Kendall Collins, senior vice president of product marketing for Salesforce.com. "IDC recently estimated on-demand CRM market growth at 31 percent CAGR from 2004 to 2010. McKinsey found that adoption of SaaS among large enterprise grew 61 percent in 2006. The on-premise, client-server applications of the 90s have let call centers down, because they failed to deliver on their promise of increased productivity and customer satisfaction."

The industry is certainly looking to the software-as-a-service model as a promise. Early examples of its accomplishments and potential point to the fact that it's a promise that just might be kept.

By Patrick Barnard, Associate Editor, Customer Interaction Solutions

The following companies contributed to this article:

Angel.com

www.angel.com

CosmoCom

www.cosmocom.com

Five9

www.five9.com

ISC

www.isc.com

Numara Software

www.numara.com

Salesforce.com

www.salesforce.com
COPYRIGHT 2007 Technology Marketing Corporation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:CONTACT CENTER TECHNOLOGY
Author:Barnard, Patrick
Publication:Customer Interaction Solutions
Date:May 1, 2007
Words:1776
Previous Article:Achieving differentiation through customer centricity.
Next Article:Five things to know about IP call recording for the contact center.
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