Contact in the Cloud

By facilitating integration with hosted applications, cloud computing has permanently changed what you can expect from a contact center, and in turn, has changed what customers can expect in terms of sales, support, and service. Hosted offerings have enabled businesses to access a wide range of technologies over the Internet, without going through the costly processes of licensing software, purchasing hardware, building infrastructure, and dedicating internal resources to maintain and upgrade their technologies. In turn, companies can focus on their customers and improving business processes instead of maintaining complex call center infrastructure.

Cloud computing promises to move several industries toward becoming better, faster, and cheaper, but it will do the most good in areas where companies are shackled to expensive hardware and software that are confined to a physical location. The old call center exists in this kind of environment. Those that have made the leap into a hosted call center, however, have found they are not only freeing up budget and technology staff for better uses, but they are also freeing agents who can provide better service and reducing customer frustration. Since we began offering the first on-demand call center in 2000, three prominent trends that take full advantage of the flexibility of cloud-powered customer care have emerged:

Trend 1: Proliferation of home-based agents.

According to IDC, there are currently about 150,000 home-based agents in the United States and this number is expected to exceed 300,000 by the year 2010. The hosted contact center has made the home-based agent a viable option.

Home-based agents are, nearly by definition, the most qualified, stable, loyal, and self-motivated candidates for the job. Location is no longer a barrier for companies looking to hire the best talent. Home-based agents enjoy the lifestyle benefits of working from home, and employees who are happier stay longer, learn more, and become better employees as time goes on. These developments allow companies to better serve customers, leading to higher customer retention and a healthier business.

Trend 2: Customer service through social networking.

A growing number of businesses are looking toward social networks as a key component to the next generation of customer service. Social networks are opening up communications channels that, until a couple of years ago, didn't exist, and their application is empowering businesses to interact with their customers in more impactful ways. 

Additionally, the influx of Generation Y'ers (people born between 1977 and 1994), who already have an inseparable connection to technology, will have a significant impact on how businesses interact through social networks in the coming years. Facebook, Twitter, SMS, wikis, email, and instant messenger are already the de facto tools in their communications repertoire and this next generation workforce will demand that these interaction options be adopted by their employer. Moreover, businesses must realize that these communications channels will need to be integrated in their contact centers to ensure the best and most immediate customer service; otherwise they will risk losing customers to more nimble and responsive competitors.

Because most social networking tools operate on cloud-computing platforms, they can easily be integrated into hosted applications. Unfortunately for companies that still embrace traditional communications infrastructures, on-premises solutions are not built to integrate with cloud-computing platforms and will have to undergo a complete overhaul before they can take full advantage of these new ways of communication.

Trend 3: Transformation of the contact center agent into revenue generating representative.

Contact centers will play a vital role in customer retention and revenue generation as businesses continue to fight to maintain growth and bottom-line revenues. Customer service plays a vital function in the customer lifecycle and the implementation of hosted contact centers will play a key role in maintaining the integrity of this lifecycle. When on-premises was the only available option, businesses that sought to elevate the effectiveness of their customer service departments and better integrate them across the larger organization faced making significant investments in complex, cumbersome, and expensive infrastructures. Today, cloud computing provides organizations with an easy, affordable path to add capabilities and enhance their customer service initiatives. For example, if a customer is reconsidering whether or not to switch to a competitor, a well-trained contact center agent, who has access to resources that address the concern, will be able to leverage her expertise to help save the at-risk account and resolve the dispute. Additionally, the next generation of contact center agents will be well positioned to take advantage of their relationships and expand their duties from service agents to revenue generating representatives.

These trends illustrate the important role that cloud-based and hosted environments will play in the future of the contact center. Contact center managers must realize that their technology and infrastructure must be nimble enough to respond to future trends and the only way to do that is to adopt a cloud-based solution. New communications channels are proliferating on a near-daily basis and only those that can adequately adapt will enjoy a thriving business and the freedom to experience the next generation of what lies ahead.

About the Author

Mansour Salame (mansour.salame@contactual.com) is chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Contactual. Salame founded White Pajama--the company that is now Contactual--based on a commitment to the virtual agent model, the open source operating environment, and his belief that usability is the preeminent software feature. Prior to establishing Contactual, Mansour was the founder and chief executive officer of NextAge Technologies, a forecasting and scheduling software company which was acquired by Alcatel. Mansour holds a master of science degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University and a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from Northwestern University.

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