The call and contact centre market in the UK is buoyant; from small informal call answering set-ups through to large scale industrial strength operations there is a technology based solution to suit most applications as Comms Business reports.
For most SMEs, effective call handling is crucial to the well being of their business. For the larger, more ambitious SME, presenting an outwardly professional and slick image is key to competing in business.
There is now an array of viable deployment models for call and contact centre solutions and analyst firm Frost & Sullivan says that migrating communications systems to the cloud has been one of the dominant trends in the European contact centre industry over the past decade.
An upshot of this rapid transition to hosted/cloud contact centre services is the emergence of dozens of market entrants and offerings from legacy systems providers. The profusion of options often overwhelms buyers, as they need to evaluate service providers and solutions based on a comprehensive set of criteria including features and functionality, ease of use and management, reliability and security, total cost of ownership, integration capabilities, and service provider track record, vision, and financial viability.
Comms Business Magazine looks at the market for CPE and Cloud based solutions and asks;
Are ‘in skin’ PBX solutions out of their depth in the Mid Market?
Gary Bennett, Sales Director UK/Ireland for Enghouse Interactive, says that it’s not so much that they are out of their depth, it’s more that they limit flexibility.
“With a ‘fully fledged’ contact centre solution designed with open integration standards, it’s easy to integrate with other applications and to add extra functionality.
This is important because we’re currently at an inflection point where everyone is starting to recognise that multimedia capability is becoming essential – we are certainly seeing people who bought contact centre solutions from us in the past, perhaps as a basic voice solution, now coming back and adding multimedia apps. It’s especially the case for SMEs because they often need to punch above their weight and appear to be larger than they are; they certainly want to come across as an efficient and professional organisation.
There are other reasons why ‘in skin’ PBX solutions are not necessarily the best for SMEs. The first is cost. Pound for pound they are going to get far more functionality from a call centre solution. It’s not just the initial investment either, professional services surrounding installation and upgrades are cheaper and this can have a real impact if they need to make changes throughout its lifetime.
Another factor to take into account is that SMEs often know they can’t compete with larger companies on cost, but that their differentiator is their customer service. As such, they are not so interested in reducing call-handling time as they are improving both their net promoter score and the customer journey. They are looking for ways to make their customers feel special and to improve the whole customer experience.”
Chris Harris, Managing Director of Xarios, says that short of analysing individual platforms – it has to be a generic answer- and that is ‘No they are not out of their depth’.
“However I think they should be regarded as the ‘base layer’: today every business has operational procedures and their call centre application needs to match the way they operate and you cannot expect a generic ’contact centre’ PBX package to tick all of these boxes. Having said that the PBX is a good base layer and it is then up to the customer to add additional functionality via third party applications.
You have to bear in mind that if you were to question 100 end users as to what they would expect to get/see in a call centre for their business you would get 100 different answers – OK so there will be a ‘core’ of functionality but the rest will be based on experience, and what they have been told or seen or read – so you need the array of applications to match that need.
In looking at any PBX derived solution you have to be mindful of price points and this is where the base layer PBX platform is important – users can get most of their functionality for both the contact centre and other parts of the business ‘out of the Box’ and add the contact centre specific pieces of the puzzle in a scale to suit the organisation.”
Are third party apps the best way forward for SMEs or an expensive diversion?
Brian Atkinson, Head of Customer Collaboration at Cisco UKI, believes that by using open standards, contact centres can work with a range of third-party call centre applications, such as workforce management or voice recording to allow integration with existing customer databases and CRM systems.
“For example. The adoption of pre-developed applications can also be quickly deployed, with easy ‘centralised deployment’ enabling organisations to seamlessly grow and react to market demands, as well as achieve operational and cost efficiency.”
Phillip Reynolds, Joint CEO at Oak says there are two crucial parts when running a contact centre, first a switch or hosted service to route the calls, and secondly the software to manage your agents and produce KPI’s so you know that your contact centre is performing well at all times.
“The inbuilt solutions in switches go some way to managing and routing calls but do not provide the complete solution. Those switches successful in the middle market add third party software to turn the humble switch into a powerful high performing contact centre machine, perfect for the job.
With the dramatic growth in the number of mid market contact centres, perhaps a move towards contact centres being back in the UK and more and more businesses realising that contact centres are no longer the exclusive domain of the large enterprise, the need to deliver top end contact solutions at mid market prices has never been greater.
With PBX vendors making their mid market switches ever more capable often breaking the 500 extension limit and going right through to several thousand extensions, and the related improvements on call routing and hunt groups, there is a regular migration from the vastly expensive high end solutions to the very much more affordable mid market offerings.
One thing we see at Oak is the constant demand for ever more sophisticated management of agents and the production of custom KPI’s, often customer specific, that are the life blood of running a contact centre and that generate performance based revenue that underpins every successful contact centre operation.”
Chris Harris at Xarios believes that the nature of contact centre operations is that they evolve.
“Third party applications are ideal in this regard as the applications can be added as the demand requires. For example the end user may use ACD routing to manage his call distribution initially – they then want some CTI integration to POP a CRM application – they then need a call reporting package and wallboard system. Potentially they would then look at some outbound applications – probably call recording and analytics.
By this time they may well need to update the reporting package to deliver increased granularity to the reporting and then further enhancements such as skills based routing, IVR applications and queuing options to allow callers to request call backs etc. (needless to say all applications that Xarios can supply!)
And here is the challenge for the reseller – convincing his prospective customer that the contact centre proposal does what they want it to do today but has sufficient growth capability to embrace their requirements as they evolve without them thinking ‘ this is more than I need ….which leads them to think it’s more than they need to pay!”
“The rapid pace of PBX innovation causes problems for resellers selling third party contact centre apps,” says Rob Pickering, CEO of British UC developer ipcortex.
“Not only do they have to wait for contact centre vendors to complete integration work but emerging standards like WebRTC are providing new ways for businesses to engage with customers in real time that traditional contact centre apps can’t natively influence.”
“For example, we’re finding that video, screen and file sharing with customers (rather than just with colleagues) is a great way to help satisfy the growing demand for contact centre software that helps create quality engagement at every step in sales, aftercare and retention processes.”
And if you do go third party then what is the best deployment model, CPE or Cloud?
“Not all cloud providers are equal,” says Frost & Sullivan Information & Communication Technologies Principal Analyst Nancy Jamison.
“Business decision-makers need to evaluate the provider’s ability to cater to their specific size or industry vertical. Therefore, system and service providers need to tailor their offerings to cater to various segments.
Until recently, many contact centre decision makers were hesitant to implement cloud services due to issues such as security and reliability. With cloud service providers assuaging most of their concerns, cloud adoption is surging.
Businesses considering the move to hosted contact centres must first assess their existing infrastructure, IT staff skill sets, and end-user needs in order to align their technology roadmap with broader business objectives. The next step is to develop a short list of hosted contact centre providers that most closely match their requirements after a thorough analysis of their capabilities and solution functionality.
To compete with the contact centre systems market, service providers are resorting to consolidation. The move allows them to add new applications segments such as workforce management or speech analytics to core contact centre capabilities, attain vertical market-specific features, domain expertise, and sales channels. Consolidations will continue to be a means to accelerate growth and leverage synergies for greater profitability.”
Brian Atkinson at Cisco UKI, says that cloud based deployments should be a primary consideration above CPE deployments.
“They are independent upon the sites locations so huge capacity and call routing benefits, agile working solutions (ability to log on from any location) giving great BCP (business continuity plans) and flexible working benefits (homeworkers or remote locations). Greater operational benefits, quicker speed to market with greater access to more features and functionality. Lower TCO, reducing CAPEX expenditure reducing OPEX with lower datacentre footprint enables business operations & IT to manage business outcomes with their chosen supplier rather than IT hardware and associated SLA’s.”
Lee Mansell, Horizon Product Manager at Gamma, does not think it is a case of what is best, but there some distinct advantages of a cloud deployment.
“For example on Horizon the subscription model allows call centre users to be added or deleted easily, meaning businesses can pay for call centres agents only when they need them. This is vital for companies who may hire temporary staff during busy periods & sales campaigns, or those that are naturally growing. Many businesses also have an increasing number of remote and mobile workers. With a cloud-based call centre, these users could benefit from all the same features as office based agents. Furthermore, the cloud deployment offers the chance for regular product updates. On Horizon this means customers are receiving a call centre with a growing feature set, without the need for a large initial payment.”
Phillip Reynolds at Oak notes that in terms of deployment they see a mix of CPE and hosted when delivering their Evolve Contact Centre Management Solution.
“The model of delivery is normally driven by our reseller partners, some happy with the traditional CPE model and others focussing on hosting the solution in data centres and using our fully web based clients on the customer’s premises.
It’s a very competitive world out there and every business needs an edge to stand out in their marketplace. With affordable mid market switches and contact centre software more and more companies are seeking to purchase new solutions to make their businesses more competitive with the most innovative solutions they can find. We believe that Evolve as the winner of a Comms Business Award in 2015 is pioneering a path for UK written software to be successful not just in the UK but across North America and Europe, driving change in the call and contact centre markets.
Mid market call and contact centre markets is an exciting place to be right now and a real opportunity for the channel to embrace in the ever-changing world that is telecoms.”
Chris Harris, at Xarios, “Cloud or on premises …or something in-between? Again I don’t feel there is a simple or single answer to this question- it will depend upon the end user and how their business is structured today, and how they see it changing in the future. Also consider how demanding are they likely to be on their call centre – if their application is outbound calling and they are using many part time home workers then a hosted dialling application is likely to be the most efficient application – if they are building on an established operation where the PBX platform is in place and they are evolving their operation then on site would win – and depending on the application a combination of cloud and on site could be the most effective option.”
Darren Standing, head of products and marketing at reseller Solar Communications, says that when looking for a PBX solution, most companies want a solution that has everything included from one vendor, which simplifies integration and support and has a more compelling total cost of ownership.
“Because of their relatively simple nature, in-skin PBXs are well suited to smaller companies, whose telephony needs aren’t as complex as large companies. As companies get bigger in size, so does their telephony complexity and the need for third-party applications, like IVR, dialling apps and scripting in addition to the in-skin PBX.”
“However, ‘in-skin’ PBXs can be seen in the cloud too, with many UCaaS solutions making this kind of functionality available without the need for CPE. In addition a number of contact centre specific cloud services are available that bring advanced features like diallers and complex call routing to smaller customers that previously couldn’t access them as they were the domain of vendors like Genesys. This can now be achieved for a per user per month fee.”
‘Ultimately, the choice is there and the important thing is to help customers choose what meets the needs of their business.’
We have evolved in to a world of hybrids – where no one single deployment model for almost any type of communications device you care to think of reigns absolutely supreme and contact centres are definitely not an exception to that rule – leastways not yet. For the reseller this means, if they are to be an objective supplier, understanding the users need and matching that to the best solution for them.