Let Your Next System Upgrade Be Your Last

By Cary Fulbright

Nothing scares contact center managers as much as the looming need for a system upgrade or the end-of-life of existing systems. These changes are inevitable for businesses who buy, install, and maintain their own call center systems. However, unlike death and taxes, system upgrades can be avoided.

Taking advantage of Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings provides call centers with a variety of benefits and is an affordable alternative for call centers of any size. The SaaS model means never having to do another software upgrade or purchase additional infrastructure to accommodate your growing call center. Plus, when using SaaS, the software is always current since it is upgraded by the provider as new releases are available.

What is Software as a Service (SaaS)? SaaS is a model of software delivery where a company provides customers access to software, eliminating the need for that customer to conduct maintenance and daily technical operation and support of business software. SaaS is a model of software delivery rather than a market segment so it can include a variety of software.

Key Characteristics of SaaS Software: The key characteristics of SaaS software include:

  • Internet-based access to, and management of, commercially available (that is, not custom) solutions.
  • Easy and rapid deployment because hardware and software systems are already installed, configured, and running. This means that it takes weeks versus months for a roll-out.
  • Subscription licensing means no upfront capital expenditures, low pay-as-you-go operating expenses, and the ability to scale capacity up or down over time to meet needs.
  • The solution provider handles all system software and hardware upgrades, updates, patches, and maintenance, without customers needing to do anything on their end, so every customer always has the most current release.

What Does This Mean for Your Call Center? This last point is the most exciting to many contact center managers. SaaS call center solutions take the entire burden of system upgrades off your hands and your project calendars. There’s no longer the disruption of installing new components, integrating them into your existing infrastructure, and training your staff on all the changes. No more escalating maintenance costs and contracts until it gets to the point that it’s cheaper to throw out what you have and start over. Call center managers can stop being systems administrators and can focus on their real business.

SaaS software can benefit call centers of all sizes by enabling them to build a comprehensive, feature-rich call center – anywhere in the world – without any hardware, software, or upfront capital expenditures. In addition to the cost-savings and benefits to the business bottom-line that the SaaS model can bring, this type of on-demand, hosted service allows for easy set-up and administration of at-home agent workforces as well as singular or distributed, multi-site centers acting as one, regardless of geographic location.

What’s in SaaS Call Center Solutions: A comprehensive and integrated call center software should allow any business with just a PC and a broadband connection to deploy an integrated suite of powerful capabilities including call blending and prioritization, predictive dialing, Automatic Call Distribution (ACD), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Interactive Voice Response (IVR), Computer Telephony (CTI), remote agent capabilities, skills-based routing, call recording, do not call list and call abandonment compliance, silent monitoring, real-time reporting, and centralized management.

Key Points to Consider When Selecting SaaS: Along with ensuring that you have the right features to meet your needs, there are five key areas to consider when selecting the right solution for your call center.

Do your homework: Understand the key features of a good on-demand solution and ask to speak to customers using the solution in a similar way to how you will be using it. The quality of VoIP may vary with different solutions, so make sure you are receiving business-quality VoIP. Check the difference between the features they offer and the solution’s ability to integrate with existing programs that your business uses.

Assess your business needs: Consider what the call center will be used for – the number of seats you will need, whether it will be used for inbound calls only, outbound calls only or both, what CRM features you need, where your agents will be located, and so forth.

Deployment and training: Ensure deployment can be done quickly and can be done with your existing telephone service. Additionally, make sure agents will be able to quickly use the solution. How easy is it to learn and how are agents trained?

Assess workforce needs: Consider the location of agents and what type of management and support needs they have. If you will be linking multiple locations or at-home agents, what kind of tools exist for agents to interact with one another and management for support on the job? What tools exist for management to monitor and help agents that they are not in physical proximity to?

Technical support: Review support offerings. What will be available to you and how will the vendor work with your in-house technical team? Make sure that whatever the problem may be, you can work with the vendor’s team to quickly resolve issues. Support offerings can include 24/7 phone or email support, comprehensive FAQs for solving questions yourself, training and manuals.

SaaS solutions can lower overall costs, provide greater flexibility, and ensure that your call center is automatically updated with the newest software releases and features. However, as important and powerful as these benefits are, selecting the right solution for your call center needs is critical to helping you achieve the benefits that SaaS can offer. There are a number of SaaS solutions available on the market, but doing your homework is a must before committing to one.

Cary Fulbright is VP of marketing and products for Five9, Inc., a provider of on-demand telemarketing, customer service, and call center solutions for customer interaction management. He can be contacted at cfulbright@five9.com or 925-201-2215.

[From Connection Magazine June 2006]

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