Hosting Offers a Fast Track to Superior Customer Service

By John Joseph

What if you could snap your fingers and instantly transform your contact center into exactly what you need to delight customers and enhance agent effectiveness?  What if it could constantly update itself with the newest technologies to drive higher and higher satisfaction and productivity ratings? What if you could simply say, “I need to let my customers place orders 24 hours a day,” and an expertly designed solution could materialize overnight?

We all recognize that this is a pipe dream, but it may be closer than you think. Today, hosted contact center solutions offer clear benefits that help streamline technology issues and provide the expertise you need to make superior customer service a reality.

Keeping Up with the (Technology) Joneses: Hosted solutions are a good tool for reducing the risks associated with adopting new, rapidly changing technology. In the case of hosted Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and contact center solutions, speech technologies – such as speech recognition, speaker verification, and Text-to-Speech (TTS) – are all rapidly advancing technologies. VoIP itself is also a rapidly changing technology because of the adoption and evolution of the SIP standard. Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) solutions provide clear agent productivity advantages but can be difficult to implement from one environment to the next.

To a large extent, hosted services shield their users from these underlying technologies. The hosted service provider must incur the costs of staying up-to-date with technology advances. If they don’t, their customers can readily switch to another hosted service provider. Enterprises that use hosted solutions, therefore, can respond to market changes and new technology faster because they don’t have a capital investment in their own software/hardware infrastructures.

Accessing Experts: The technical expertise needed to design compelling customer service solutions is astounding. Take speech solutions as an example. To design an effective solution requires a team of experts. Voice user interface design is a highly specialized skill that is extremely important to the process. These experts focus on branding and persona as well as ensuring fast, simple navigation for the robust service options speech offers. Grammar developers are needed to create a careful match between prompts and grammars to ensure the best recognition of caller utterances. System architects are needed to specify which technologies, standards, speech products, and IT infrastructure configurations are needed to avoid the latency delays that can confuse and frustrate users. Application developers are also required to program the solution and integrate it with existing business systems. Telephony system experts are needed to provide the connection from the speech application to the telephony systems. Maintaining these resources on a full-time basis can be extremely costly.

Hosting companies are better able than an in-house IT department to carry a full complement of voice solution development skills. Even at a large organization, these tasks are sidelines, not the primary business. A hosting company’s focus on developing voice solutions enables it to maintain those skills more cost effectively than could be done by an in-house IT group.

The Agility Factor: Hosted solutions have always been a great way to manage growth, especially in organizations experiencing rapid growth and uncertain conditions, such as demand spikes and seasonal demand. Additionally, they offer the ability to quickly launch new services, tune existing solutions, and jump to the newest technologies. This enables continuous improvement in operations and a maximization of the level of service that customers receive.

Strategic Considerations: To host or not doesn’t have to be a black-and-white decision – on-premise and hosted solutions each have their own advantages and drawbacks. To maximize the benefits, consider a mixed model where outsourcing is used to augment in-house capabilities, test new applications, and create your organization’s technology roadmap.

The key to developing a strong hosting strategy is examining each piece of your customer service operation at its most basic level. How critical is it to the business? Does the application require frequent changes? What technologies are needed to support it, and do you require outside assistance to deliver the necessary reliability? Are you getting adequate expertise and support from in-house sources? Apply this thinking to each functional area (such as inbound and outbound), technology element (IVR, CTI, video), self-service option (account information, order taking, etc.), and job function (VUI design, agent management, etc). This will provide an extremely detailed map of what you should keep in-house and where engaging a hosting partner could help.

The strategic use of outsourced solutions will boost results by providing greater flexibility, faster time-to-benefit, better solutions, and higher cost savings. You can operate more efficiently if you get experts to handle the tasks for which you don’t have bandwidth. Look at it as a fluid process – deploy new applications and technologies in a hosted environment and bring them on premise as you gain in-house expertise and economies of scale are achieved.

A Few Last Words: Opting for a hosted contact center solution enables you to set aside technology, design, and implementation issues and focus your attention on the business of serving customers. The time-to-market advantages inherent in a hosted environment serve to greatly reduce the entire project time – from kickoff to a fully accepted solution. Hosting also provides the flexibility to rapidly adapt to evolving customer requirements. Choosing a hosted contact center solution enables call centers to concentrate on delivering excellent customer service and focus on clients and their callers.

John Joseph is the vice president of corporate marketing for Envox Worldwide. The company offers Envox OnDemand for organizations looking for high-powered hosted contact center solutions.

[From Connection Magazine September 2007]

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