• April 15, 2004
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

Hosted Service Is Picking Up Steam

Echopass has unveiled its upgraded TeleCenter 2.0, a hosted call center suite, which makes use of a partnership with Salesforce.com and Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories. The new solution provides small and medium-size enterprises with a completely hosted Web, email, voice, and CRM platform -- and capitalizes on the growing popularity of hosted service applications. The partnership expands Salesforce.com's agent facing capabilities to include workflow features to streamline inbound and outbound communications, such as placing and answering calls, scheduling callbacks, and responding to voicemail, email, and Web chats -- all without requiring agents to leave the Salesforce.com application. The upgrades include IVR integration with Salesforce.com for data-directed call routing, enhanced screen-pop capabilities to search and pop any Salesforce.com tab, and scripting enhancements for logical branding and to allow reps to collect and edit prospect information during a call and to automatically save that data in the appropriate Salesforce.com record. Inbound emails and Web chat transactions can be automatically saved to Salesforce.com's activity history. Plus, enhanced outbound list management, as well as preview and progressive dialing. Chris Homer, Echopass director of product and marketing management, points out the importance of the last two enhancements. With the previous version, agents were required to read from the Genesys scripting solution and toggle back and forth between the script and the Salesforce.com customer record to make any necessary changes. Now, agents can enter the information into the script, which is then dynamically passed into the Salesforce.com record. "It's an extremely valuable efficiency tool," Homer says, adding that this feature alone could prompt a 30 to 50 percent improvement in call handling time. The enhancements to the outbound list management and progressive dialing enable more efficient call management, Homer says. Previously, agents would cherry pick the phone numbers they were to dial when making outbound calls. They might select a phone number based on what the particular agent feels is relevant -- looking at a company name for keyword associations, for example. In doing so, however, they may have been overlooking potential customers. TeleCenter 2.0 can present agents with a customer record, dial the number, and immediately disconnect at the sound of a busy signal or an answering machine, providing more efficiency over traditional manual dialing, plus helping to boost results. "We've seen organization improve the qualified contacts they're able to make per day by 200 percent and more," Homer says. "The good news is that a hosted Genesys offering protects companies from some of the complexity of multiple servers, multiple applications, and complex integration that comes with an on-premise Genesys implementation," says Erin Kinikin, vice president and research director at Forrester Research. "The bad news is that a lot of that complexity still exists behind the scenes -- hosted Genesys is less about lowest cost and more about cost and expertise sharing and lower risk. Genesys's strength is integration with a multitude of phone switches and legacy technology. That means it may be pre-integrated to Salesforce.com, but you still have to integrate it with your telephony system if you're not using IP telephony." Integrating CRM applications with telephony services has become a hot topic among CRM enthusiasts. White Pajama, an Echopass competitor, announced last month that it integrates with Salesforce.com. Comparing White Pajama to Echopass, Kinikin says, "While both companies claim to be targeting the small to mid-market, the Genesys solution looks like it's aimed at a more sophisticated customer with more agents and more infrastructure integration requirements." Incidentally, both of these Salesforce.com partnerships come after Siebel acquired another Echopass competitor, Ineto Services. Understandably, CRM vendors have increasingly become attracted to the promise of hosted telephony solutions, which take the overwhelming costs of a CTI implementation out of the customer support equation for small to medium-size businesses. But even among the hosted telephony providers, there are large pricing discrepancies. Echopass integrates with Salesforce.com's Enterprise Edition, which costs roughly $125 per user, per month. After factoring in Echopass's TeleCenter, as well as its hosted voice and e-service solutions, the total cost can reach as much as $400 per user, per month. Although Homer insists Echopass's features and functionality surpass that of Siebel Systems' hosted contact center solution, which costs $150 per agent, per month for Siebel's Contact On Demand combined with its CRM On Demand, Chris Selland vice president of sell-side research at Aberdeen, says the price differential is due mostly to the integration costs. "If the product is not provisioned to be hosted, it's expensive to be hosted that way," he says, referring to Echopass's integration with Genesys solutions, which were retrofitted for the hosted model. Selland adds that because Siebel acquired Ineto, it can provide tighter integration between its products.
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