A growing number of SMBs (small- to medium-size businesses) are taking advantage of emerging technologies to deploy low-cost yet sophisticated, highly flexible call centers.
Most SMBs require call centers that are inexpensive, easily deployable, effortlessly manageable and infinitely scalable. They also need call centers that sound and run like the facilities operated by large enterprises. All of this may sound like a pretty tall order, but it's a goal that can be easily reached by following a few simple steps.
1. Acquire an appropriate solution. With few internal resources, SMBs need a complete end-to-end call-center solution that meshes seamlessly with existing IT resources. The new call center should be designed for easy maintenance, including hardware and software configurations, equipment replacement, and troubleshooting. The solution should also be able to seamlessly integrate with other on-demand software applications that the business already has or plans to deploy.
2. Think "out of the box." The best SMB call-center solutions are those that can be used out of the box with no programming and without forcing owners and/or managers to read through pages of technically dense documentation. This means looking for offerings that are specifically aimed at SMBs and that have large user-support communities.
3. Look for IP PBX integration. In the quest to keep things easy and simple, SMBs should seek out call-center solutions that can be integrated with their IP PBXes. Doing so will allow the business to achieve call-center functionality without adding expensive servers. Most SMB-oriented solutions allow customers to deploy the call-center application via a simple license key and get up and running in a matter of hours — versus weeks or months — at a very low cost point per agent.
4. Beware of shrunken solutions. Eager to tap into the SMB market, many vendors now offer stripped-down and shrunken versions of their mainstream enterprise call-center solutions. Such products, while not inherently bad, fail to serve SMBs by being excessively complex and more difficult to use than solutions that are specifically designed for SMBs.
The best way to avoid getting stuck with a sawed-off enterprise solution is to shop carefully. Know what you want, and don't get oversold. Ask the vendor questions about the solution, including its design, features, infrastructure requirements, compatibility, customer support, upgrade policies and cost.
5. Think VoIP. VoIP is the answer for SMBs that need a low-cost, scalable telephony platform. The technology integrates well with existing and future IT resources; permits the creation of virtual call centers with agents distributed in offices or homes worldwide; and can lower administrative, overhead and maintenance costs.
6. Tap into SaaS (Software as a Service). A growing number of SMBs that are planning call centers are turning to the SaaS model. That's because the pay-as-you-go approach, as opposed to using an on-site solution, provides multiple benefits, including reduced up-front costs, lower ongoing expenses, easier scalability, and faster access to upgrades and new application features.
7. Take advantage of automation. SMBs can now automate many processes that formerly required add-on software or manual support. Most current SMB-focused call-center solutions incorporate features like call recording, agent monitoring, activity reports and operation analyses. These technologies not only help call centers function more smoothly and effectively, but they simplify and streamline day-to-day administration.
For years, many SMBs have wanted to run call centers that operated on the same sophisticated level as their enterprise counterparts. Recent telecommunication, Internet, hardware and software advances have combined to make that dream a reality.
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