The Cloud as the Great Equalizer for Small Contact Centers

The Cloud as the Great Equalizer for Small Contact Centers

By Blair Pleasant May 8, 2013 2 Comments
Interactive Intelligence
The Cloud as the Great Equalizer for Small Contact Centers by Blair Pleasant

To answer an age-old question, does size matter, the answer is yes, at least when it comes to a company’s ability to provide effective customer service. Companies of all sizes, not just large enterprises, recognize the importance of providing exceptional customer care and responding to customer inquiries in a timely manner. Contact centers are the primary point of contact for businesses, regardless of their size. Unfortunately, small-sized organizations have fewer options, and more limitations when it comes to customer care. Most contact center products are aimed at medium or large organizations that have more financial resources and staffing resources needed to invest in these products. While there have been more products introduced in the past few years aimed at contact centers with under 100 or 200 agents, the options for businesses with fewer than 50 agents have been limited. Enter, the cloud. The cloud is becoming the great equalizer for small contact centers, providing a way to get the functions and capabilities needed, but at a relatively low price point.

Understanding Small Contact Centers

While there are no hard and fast definitions, small contact centers are generally those with 10 to 50 agent positions, while medium-sized contact centers support 51-200 agents, and large contact centers are those with over 200 agents. Contact centers outside of the United States are generally smaller than those in the U.S., and approximately 65 percent of the contact centers in the world have fewer than 50 agents.

Small contact centers can be found in both large and small companies and can be used for a variety of functions, including:

  • Customer service

  • Technical support, including IT Helpdesk

  • Marketing (social media)

  • Sales (inside, support), including lead generation, sales inquiries, sales Order Processing

  • Order tracking

  • Service fulfillment

  • And more.

Customers have the same expectations for small contact centers as they do for big ones. When you contact a company for customer service, are you thinking to yourself, “This is a small company with a small contact center, so I shouldn’t expect the customer service to be as good as when I contact a large company”? Of course not. Customers won’t accept poor customer service just because it’s from a small company, and they don’t care whether the contact center has five, 500 or 5,000 agents. All they care about is that they get their questions answered and their problems solved quickly and efficiently. If an interaction is positive, the customer is more likely to remain a customer. If it’s a negative experience, the customer is likely to take their business elsewhere. For a small business, the loss of even one customer can have a detrimental impact. This means that small contact centers need to have the same core functionality as mid-sized and large contact centers for servicing their customers.

The Small Contact Center Dilemma

Small contact centers have specific needs when it comes to technologies, products, and services. While large contact centers generally look for products that are sophisticated and have many capabilities (“bells and whistles”), as well as solutions that can be tailored to their specific needs, small contact centers generally want solutions that require little or no professional services and customization, are simple to use, simple and inexpensive to maintain, and do not require a complex IT infrastructure.

As most vendors have focused on large organizations that require sophisticated (and expensive) contact center solutions, small companies have been underserved by those considered to be market leaders in the contact center. These small contact centers have had limited options when it comes to economical and manageable access to market-leading platforms/providers and differentiated functionality. Historically, the market leaders haven’t served this market aggressively and as a result these small contact centers haven’t been able to provide the same level of service to their customers. The result is that small contact centers have found it hard to deliver the same level of customer service as their larger contact center counterparts.

Good News - Times are Changing

The cloud levels the playing field, and market leaders are now using the cloud to provide small contact centers with economical and manageable access to the same rich capabilities that their larger counterparts enjoy. And, many of these cloud solutions have been specifically designed for small contact centers, providing the simplicity, reduced risk and scalability that are needed.

With the cloud as the great equalizer, vendors have been aggressive in offering services that make it easier for small contact centers to provide the same customer experiences to their customers, while reducing risk and simplifying deployment. In the past couple of years, several vendors have introduced or enhanced their cloud offerings for small contact centers.

One example of this is Interactive Intelligence’s CaaS Small Center offering. According to Jason Alley, Cloud Solutions Marketing Manager, foreseeing the growth of the cloud communications market, Interactive Intelligence re-architected its cloud offering and began a hard push toward the cloud in 2009. The results show this strategy has been a successful one – cloud orders accounted for 35% of the company’s total orders in 2012, up from 5% in 2009. Recognizing the small contact center market was greatly underserved, Interactive Intelligence decided to extend their cloud reach by providing a solution specifically designed for small centers.

I asked Jason about the benefits or value proposition that CaaS Small Center provides, and he noted that there are four key areas:

  • Product maturity “to deliver a great customer experience.” The service offers broad functionality, including multichannel communication, real-time speech analytics, integration with, and other capabilities. In addition, while Caas Small Center supports 10-50 contact center agents, it also supports up to 100 business users that need access to UC functionality. Reliability and security are key components of product maturity and, importantly, Caas Small Centerruns the same technology platform that runs Interactive Intelligence’s enterprise platform, which is a mature platform with almost a 20-year history.

  • Simplified offering, providing lower TCO and reduced impact on the customer’s internal organization. Pricing and packaging is simple – customers pick their media option (voice or multichannel), add-on modules, and indicate how many contact center agents and business users they have. The entry price is $99 per agent per month, and implementation includes packaged professional services and web-based interfaces, without the need to install software. Everything is done over the phone, with no need for techs to go on site, and customers are guaranteed to be up and running in 15 business days.

  • Reduced risk, offering expense protection and a safer migration to the cloud. Caas Small Center comes with a month-to-month contract, no long-term commitment required. A dedicated implementation manager is assigned to each customer so they don’t have to worry about getting lost in the shuffle and to ensure their deployment is successful. Customers can also “try before you buy” with CaaS Quick Spin and kick the tires before spending any money.

  • Scalability, providing long-term investment protection with an upgrade path for customers as they grow or their requirements become more complex. They simply move to another CaaS edition that meets their needs, without the need to change providers, platforms or applications or additional training. Customers that expand to over 50 agents can move to Standard Edition, which supports up to 500 agents.

Some of these benefits or features are not unique to Caas Small Center. For example, several cloud providers offer simple packaging and dedicated implementation managers. While Interactive Intelligence will encounter competitive pressures in this new market, they have a strong history of contact center success to draw upon. The good news is there is ample opportunity for all the various vendors targeting the small contact center segment in the cloud.

Size No Longer Matters

Small contact centers have the same or similar goals as large contact centers, including the need to provide exceptional customer experience and respond to customers in a timely manner, helping to grow revenues for the business while managing costs, and contributing to the overall company success. Today, small contact centers have more options than ever before. With new cloud-based services designed specifically for this market, small contact centers can now provide the same customer experience as larger companies. Size no longer matters.


2 Responses to "The Cloud as the Great Equalizer for Small Contact Centers" - Add Yours

Art Rosenberg 5/9/2013 8:59:56 AM

The large SMB market has indeed been long neglected by the telephony vendors who sold expensive, premise-based systems, rather than hosted/managed services. "Cloud"-based services has not only opened the door for smaller businesses to support their all their traditional customer service needs cost-efficiently, but also covers the new, personalized needs of mobile consumers who are using their multi-modal smartphones and tablets for all kinds of customer interactions, not just a wired phone for voice.

This new opportunity, which I presented at last week's UC Summit 2013, applies not only to mobile self-service apps, which cost-effectively helps reduce the need for live assistance, but also to pro-active outbound notifications from automated business process applications that can improve customer services and satisfaction. Bringing all these automated customer services together with flexible options for efficient access to live assistance, has long been supported by Interactive Intelligence's unique, "all-in-one" approach to contact center software technology. Now that they can provide that software through hosted/managed "cloud" services, their "all-in-one" concept can really take off for both large and small organizations.

As I discussed at the UC Summit 2013, the contact center brings a huge opportunity for channel partners and consultants to provide value-add support to any size organization wanting to exploit Mobile UC with new customer services.
David Joseph 6/3/2013 7:18:33 AM

Thanks Blair and Art,
From a developing world perspective, this has been very educational reading and confirms a long-felt belief. Ever since the turn of this century when I first read of the possible end of the 'brick & mortar call centre, it became evident that SMBs were at a disadvantage. The cloud has been a game changer and needlessly said, our SMB is now at the forefront of home-based contact centre implementations in the Caribbean.

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