Contact Centers' Next Development

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The Internet and IP telephony have changed the way call centers are implemented and managed around the world. Because of the revolutionary changes brought on by these technologies, multisite centers and the efficient, effective use of remote agents have become commonplace components of modern contact-center business operations. Full-featured, IP-hosted solutions are alternatives to the more traditional on-site enterprise-based products of the past. Providers of these so-called on-demand contact centers (ODCCs) have done a good job of redefining three of the traditional "Four Ps" (product, promotion, and place) of contact center marketing. However, the fourth "P" (price) has yet to go through a complete change. IP-hosted contact centers eliminate the up-front capital expenditures on contact center hardware and software. However, the fixed, recurring monthly usage fees for a hosted solution--based on the number of agent seats required to support the center--tend to scare off many potential users. This is especially true for centers with volatile, unpredictable levels of traffic that may fluctuate based on varying levels of customer demand, changing promotional campaigns, and business seasonality. Now that the technology has been bolstered by IP telephony, IP-hosted call center solutions, such as those offered by Angel.com, Contactual, EagleACD, EchoPass, and Five9, are truly competing with the more traditional enterprise call center solutions of the past. Customers are including IP-hosted solutions on their product evaluation short lists, and hosted contact centers are becoming a rapidly growing portion of total contact center purchases. The main potential throttle to sales growth in the future is vendors' reluctance to be aggressive and innovative with the ODCC pricing model. It is time to assess the needs of the customers and change the pricing paradigm, putting the focus on more risk-aversive pricing models. It's time for new ideas regarding on-demand pricing models designed for companies trying to keep a close correlation between fluctuating revenues and business expenses to better manage cash flow. A utility-grid usage-pricing approach to IP-hosted contact center offerings allows customers to select exactly the features they require and pay for only the minutes and functionality used. It caters to end users wishing to mitigate their financial, as well as their technological, risk. According to the founder and CEO of EagleACD, Kent Charugundla, the company has experienced a high level of success helping call center operators outsource their telecom and data infrastructure without imposing up-front capital investment or fixed monthly expenses. Instead of charging a startup fee and a fixed monthly fee based on the number of agents required, the company offers a no-minimum, pay-as-you-go pricing model. EagleACD charges a per-minute agent-usage rate based on the feature package selected. Customers are billed at $0.06 per minute for inbound voice calls and $0.03 per minute for Web-chat calls. Predictive dialing (outbound) calls, if required, are also charged by the minute. Customers are not required to pay up-front fees, fixed monthly charges, or any other extras. This approach is certain to be popular. The convergence of the Internet, VoIP networking, and creative pricing models is likely to change the contact center landscape. The IP-based, hosted contact center offers connectivity and integration of multiple distributed centers and applications (ACD, chat, IVR, email, etc.), virtually unlimited scalability, and more effective use of both on-site agents and globally dispersed remote workers. With creative, attractive pricing there can be little economic risk to the user. We are looking at a future in which an enterprise may never again have to buy hardware or software to provide superior and cost-effective customer care and service to end users. Ken Landoline is a principal analyst of Saddletree Research, which specializes in contact centers and customer service. Contact him at klandoline@saddletreeresearch.com
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