According to a 2011 Frost & Sullivan report, call centers can lower the cost of their contact handling and workforce optimization infrastructures by up to 43 percent during a five-year period by using cloud-based offerings rather than installing equipment in their own facilities.
The evolving shift from legacy, premises-based services to a fully hosted call center offering is fueled by executives and call center decision makers seeking to reduce and even eliminate capital and operational expenses, leverage advanced features for improved productivity and customer service, and quickly and reliably scale to meet current and future customer support requirements.
While the case for a hosted call center solution has become clearer, enterprises remain challenged to sift through a complex landscape of premises-based vendors, upstart cloud entrants, and CRM software providers.
Enterprises today that have not yet shifted to the cloud are likely leveraging premises-based solutions that use their PBXes for some basic call center capabilities, such as hunt groups, queuing, and basic announcement functionality. They also might be complementing their PBXes with bolt-on automatic call distribution (ACD) platforms that provide more sophisticated call distribution and routing features.
An enterprise might be using a premises-based approach as a result of past investments made in premises-based systems that still have functionality, a situation where the call center wants to retain tight control over the system or circumstances where a high degree of customization has been performed. For enterprises with premises-based PBX equipment at the end of its lifecycle, call center decision makers must decide whether to replace/upgrade the equipment with another premises-based solution or explore the benefits of shifting to a hosted model.
Benefits of Hosted Call Center Platform
Before determining which hosted offering is best suited for your organization, it is important to highlight the key benefits a cloud-based solution can deliver.
Dramatically reduces costs
A hosted call center offering can be 40 percent less costly than a premises-based system when amortized over a five-year period, and enables predictable operating expenses. Cost savings are realized because the organization does not have to incur the capital expense of buying PBX equipment and software required with premises-based call center solutions.
More efficient call queuing and handling
The traditional concept of a premises-based call center is to queue the calls on the enterprise site and wait for an available agent, which requires enough trunks for both the active calls with agents and the calls waiting for agents. A benefit of a hosted call center solution is that the call can be queued within the provider's 'cloud' network, and they will route calls to the agents only when they are free.
Additionally, an inherent cost driver of premises-based call centers is the need to 'trombone' calls back out from a physical site if the call needs to be rerouted to an alternate site or to a remote agent. The result is the organization pays unnecessarily for two trunks, one for incoming and one for outgoing, despite not really having done anything productive with the call. In a hosted call center environment, the call is not routed until the ultimate destination is known, resulting in a more efficient queue design that eliminates site location as a cost driver.
More seamless scalability
Premises-based systems are confined, in effect, by the underlying hardware that was originally purchased for the system. The hardware is often bought in increments to support a certain number of users, and it is costly to add hardware to scale to more users after the core system is implemented. With a hosted system, the platform can scale up or down without the expense of installing additional hardware. And it does not matter if the call center supports five users or 5,000.
Benefits of Service Provider Cloud Call Center Offering
Once an enterprise has committed to a cloud approach, it must evaluate which type of cloud provider can best meet its needs. Hosted offerings from both the pure-play call center providers and the service providers each bring value, but leveraging your service provider holds some additional tangible advantages relative to pure-play cloud providers.
Bundled, end-to-end offering
Service providers are positioned to deliver a level of simplicity, cost savings, and control by bundling call center services with broadband and telephony. Enterprises can have it all integrated in a single bill with a single point of contact to ensure that issues can be easily addressed. A complete offering eliminates the need for enterprises to integrate disparate platforms, and as a result enterprises benefit from the integration of best-of-breed solutions without the costs and complexity associated with having to assemble them internally.
Service providers that leverage carrier-class platforms can scale to support millions of users, deliver sophisticated features and functionality required for today's call center, and drive down upfront capital costs significantly at a level that pure-play hosted call center vendors have been hard-pressed to match. This is a change from recent years, when service providers were limited to offering a Centrex-type service that lacked sophistication, scalability, flexibility, and reliability.
Service providers now have access to application platforms complete with built-in mobility functionality, which is increasingly relevant as more enterprises rely on geographically dispersed call centers and agents. These emerging platforms enable service providers to route calls to users rather than devices, and can provide the mobile agent or manager with fully featured voice, video, unified messaging, and collaboration from any location.
Seamless integration with unified communications services
Service provider-based solutions are 100 percent hosted, providing PBX and ACD functionality and eliminating the need to maintain desktop clients. By enabling more full and seamless integration of UC services, such as videoconferencing, instant messaging, presence, and Web collaboration, users can easily transition between different environments (home, office, remote), while organizations can ensure a more consistent customer experience.
The emergence of the service provider as an option for hosted call center services coincides with an enterprise market seeking the cost, productivity, and advanced feature set benefits the cloud can deliver while maintaining carrier-grade reliability needed to operate a call center effectively. While historically a number of factors have prevented service providers from offering an end-to-end cloud-based call center solution, recent advancements in underlying platforms, technology, and applications now position service providers as not only a viable option for the enterprise, but in many cases a superior alternative.
Paul Adams is director of product management at BroadSoft, a provider of IP-based communications services to the telecommunications industry.
 "VoIP and lower TCO will drive adoption of hosted on-demand Contact Centers," Yankee Group, April 2006.