Will Technology Kill the Call Center?

We recently posted a blog on how smart phones could be used to bypass automated attendants and deep dial into a call center with a Smartphone visual menu.   This  blog received a lot of interest and the follow on questions clearly indicated a level of interest in just how technology impacts the traditional call center.    The “call center” is now the  “contact center”!   Customers are calling more frequently from mobile devices and less frequently from land lines.   What does that mean to your contact center?   Have you integrated your website with your Contact Center?  Can clients who visit your “online store”,  hit a chat link and interact with the next available customer service representative?  Are you formatting webpages for both the full size computer screen as well as the Smartphone screen?   Technology is shaping the channels or touch points that your customers use to interact with your company and your call center will most undoubtedly go through a significant change in the very near future.

Will Technology kill the call center?  Ashley Furness CRM Analyst for  Software Advice, Austin Texas,  hosted an online panel discussion to seek answers to the questions impacting the current transition of forward thinking contact centers.   She asked industry experts: How have you seen consumer contact channel utilization change in the last decade?  What role has technology played in this change?  How do you see technology impacting the way customers contact a company in the future, and the kind of service they receive?  Finally, Will technology eventually render call centers irrelevant?

These are very interesting subjects for those who have responsibility for managing customer experience, satisfaction and fulfillment.   Industry participants from Avaya (Customer Experience), Drumbi (mobile), IntelliResponse (Virtual Agents), and Etech Global (Chat Services)discuss these questions and provide expert insight.   These experts do in fact answer the question “Will technology Kill the Call Center” and the panel discussion is well worth viewing!

The Hosted VoIP Telephony with ‘the most bang for your buck’

Businesses communications technology is at the heart of every business but can be difficult to manage and expensive for SMEs. James Passingham at business communications provider, Foehn, thinks cloud and hosted telephony could be the answer.

From sole traders to global enterprises, cloud-based services have had a big impact on business decisions. And any company thinking of installing a modern business communications platform like hosted telephony will be looking to the cloud for its answer. That’s because IP telephony and cloud services are actually the same – both are hosted by a provider and accessed over the internet or through a direct connection to the provider. Those same organisations, working in our connected world, also know that legacy telephony like ISDN – digital transmission over copper lines – can’t keep up with the demands of modern communications.

Legacy telephony lacks scalability, isn’t feature-rich and requires onsite tech support when it breaks down. It’s also loaded with hidden costs due to the private branch exchange (PBX) systems taking a fiscal chunk out of CAPEX and OPEX budgets through installation and maintenance. That’s why so many enterprise outfits are looking to cloud communications, or hosted telephony, to provide a modern communications platform that’s as adaptable as their business.

Simply, hosted telephony routes all business communications over a high-speed broadband connection to a provider’s hosted network and it can be setup over any existing telephony infrastructure. Instead of paying upfront costs to install PBX phone systems, providers host all communications and the only hardware costs are for IP phones. Providers can offer even soft-phones and hook up employees’ mobile connected devices, enabling companies to rolling out remote working from home or in the field. That cloud management also means there are no costs or tech support required for onsite servicing or maintenance – all costs are covered by a low monthly fee and priced on a per user basis. And because it’s hosted in the cloud, providers offer robust security back-up and 24/7 business continuity, enabling enterprises never to miss any mission-critical communications.

But before any enterprise hooks up to hosted telephony, they need to consider any potential disadvantages as well. Some companies worry that they lose control of their business communications if they outsource to a provider and quality of service (QoS) of voice calls has traditionally been a pain point. But these days, most providers do a great job of managing business expectations by providing robust support for their services. And QoS was more of a problem when there wasn’t enough bandwidth to support hosted telephony. Now many UK companies have access to superfast broadband, ensuring a much higher quality of service.

Hosted telephony also has to be always on. In other words, it needs a 24/7 power supply to work properly and business communications can only operate when a provider’s server is up and running. However, modern hosted telephony solutions have fault-proof redundant backups, giving enterprises a much more reliable service.

The benefits of cloud communications far outweigh the negatives and there’s so much more to hosted telephony than the cost-effective management and its’ simple to deploy nature. The technology is entirely bespoke and deployed at a user-level, making it supremely flexible and scalable to match very specific business needs. Whether renting or buying, that “pay as you grow” philosophy also means it can be scaled back to a couple of features or installed as a fully integrated cloud platform with feature rich applications like audio conferencing and missed call email alerts, allowing businesses to spend their time and resources where they’re needed.

From real-time conference management and company directories to multi-level auto attendants to plug-and-go simplicity, I think cloud-based hosted telephony has pushed the envelope for SME business communication into the next-generation.

Compare ShoreTel and 3CX – Part 1 License Strategy

The trend in the Unified Communications industry is to charge a “per seat” license for access to VoIP Business Phone Solutions.  In large part a legacy “flat tax”  from the old TDM world, phone system suppliers continue to license based on the number of users that the system supports.   Microsoft, ShoreTel, Avaya and CISCO all seem to have software licensing based on the number of users.  Some licensing strategies become more complex as features and services are added.   ShoreTel has by the simplest licensing strategy of the major suppliers, but they do count the number of users as the base software license cost.   Additional license fees are assessed for “Professional” Communicators or Communicators that access Workgroup functionality for Agents and Supervisors.   It is all rooted, however, in the number of users the system will be hosting.

If we consider a simple 100 extension solution, ShoreTel will have a $20K software license fee before you purchase any of the required VoIP hardware.  Basically, you are paying $200 per user for an Extension and Voice Mailbox.  After you purchase your software license, you will still need to purchase handsets, gateways and servers! Microsoft, CISCO and Avaya, though significantly more complex in their licensing strategies, start from the same basic “per seat” model.    In fact, if you look across the  business communications landscape  all suppliers have to offer basically the same set of components   Yes, all automobiles are different,  but they generally have four wheels, a steering,  seats, dashboards and a power source!

Clearly this has a significant impact on your ongoing cost of support.    For reasons that I have yet to figure out, “technical support” is somehow a function of your system acquisition cost?   The industry trend is in the range of 10-20% of your total system cost, including software licenses, will then be used to calculate your ongoing cost for software insurance and technical support.    I know there are smarter people than I that have been working this out,  but I just cant see the relationship between the cost of equipment and the cost to service that equipment?   I get “making money”, but I don’t’ see the value relationship in punishing customers for buying more equipment?

Is there another model out there?  Are we forever bound to the “per seat” license model?  In fact there is another model out there!   Enter low profile, high performance, global provider of  Unified Communications, 3CX!    These guys amaze me and I think they are harbingers of how the communications industry will work as we move deeper into the 21st century.  Now hear this, they do NOT charge a “per seat” license!   Contrary to the industry trend, they also include most functionality that the other players generally “option”.  Full chat or IM services, presence, fax server, call center and mobility services, soft-phones, iPhone and Android applications are included with no “per seat” cost!   Then how do they bill for their software?   Simple.  They license based on “simultaneous connections”.    Clearly, if you have a 100 user system and a PRI for PSTN connectivity, all your users are not on the phone at the same time.   Why not pay only for the maximum number of live phone conversations that you project for your business?   3CX pricing ranges from 4 to 1024 simultaneous connections and that can cover both large and small deployments.  Lets assume that same 100 extension system and instead of $20K or $200 a user, you paid $5K to support 64 simultaneous phone calls?

This is not some small upstart trying to buy market share.  This company 3CX,  a certified  Microsoft Developer,  has been deploying on a global basis since 2006.   They have a fully formed, Unified Communications solution that can match the established players,  feature for feature.   They will not compete with ShoreTel and CISCO in the 1000 seat market, but in the larger 25-250 seat multi site segment, they are a serious contender.   Technical support is offered on a global basis, is astonishingly effective and uses a combination of traditional TAC center live remote support but leverages alternatives like video wiki, community, email and chat support. ( In future blogs, we will do the architecture comparison thing).

I know I am alone in the belief that you can not be both a hardware company and a software company!  I think you have to pick one side of the street and really do it well to create a defensible market share and posture for growth!   My Son argues that that is a ridiculous position, “just look at Apple they do both and have the best products on the market”?   Not withstanding Microsoft, I think that the issue of comparative size plays a key role in enabling a company to pursue both.    If you are a comparatively  smaller player (Market Cap: SHOR  $247M, APPL  $611B, CSCO 100B) I would argue that it is more important that you figure out if you are a hardware company or a software company!

I would identify 3CX as a software company that you need to pay very close attention to!

contact DrVoIP@DrVoIP.com