There's nothing cheap about running a contact center — even when you're running it on VoIP. Labor costs are typically the largest expense component, exceeding 60 percent of total operational costs. High turnover rates can lead to exorbitant hiring fees. And then there are overhead and maintenance costs to consider. While making agents available to field customer calls is costly, it's also a necessary evil, particularly for an SMB (small- to medium-size business) that depends on keeping customers happy for its livelihood.
"Small businesses are the most challenged in choosing contact-center solutions, because traditionally, contact-center solutions have been extremely expensive," said Michael DeSalles, a strategic analyst with the consultancy Frost & Sullivan. Fortunately, there are some cost-effective options available for companies that wish to offer contact-center services without breaking the bank.
For starters, DeSalles recommends a hosted solution, where a system's infrastructure and connections are managed by a third-party provider.
"The small-business owner doesn't have to fork over massive capital outlay to get started," said DeSalles. Contactual's hosted contact-center solution, for example, requires no specialized hardware or software, no telecom equipment and no up-front capital expenditures. The application ties together all customer-communication channels — such as phone, email, Web chat and voice mail — and provides a variety of standard and custom contact-center performance metrics.
Other providers of hosted contact-center solutions include Transera Communications, CosmoCom and Cincom Systems. In fact, some vendors even offer SMBs out-of-the-box solutions for fast and easy deployment.
A popular alternative to a hosted solution, said DeSalles, is outsourcing your contact-center services altogether. Not only will an outsourcer take care of a company's infrastructure and service-level concerns, it will also oversee the hiring and retention of agents — typically a time-consuming and costly task. As far as a small business is concerned, DeSalles said that the smartest outsourcing arrangement is one that involves home-based agents.
"The home-agent provider gives the advantages of using the right technology and the very best agent talent available, at a very reasonable price [and] without having to build a brick-and-mortar facility," said DeSalles.
Take, for example, Alpine Access. The company relies on a home-based-employee model to create business benefits such as easy access to quality employees and operational efficiencies. What's more, Alpine Access claims to offer improved attrition rates, better management control, greater scalability and minimal business disturbances from inevitabilities such as employee illnesses due to its distributed-work-force model. Other home-agent outsourcers include Arise Virtual Solutions Inc. and VIPdesk.
That's not to suggest, however, that today's small businesses have an easy time handing over the reins to an outsourcer, regardless of where agents are based. "For a lot of small- to medium-sized businesses, this is their baby. The contact center is … the face of the company. To turn that over to an outsourcer can be a little daunting," said DeSalles. The secret, he said, is ensuring that companies demand the same visibility, access, quality monitoring and reporting from an outsourcer that they would from an in-house contact-center team. But if that's still too far outside the realm of an organization's comfort zone, then a hosted solution may just be the best call, so to speak.
The Bottom Line
Although options may seem limited, the variety of contact-center deployment methods available to SMBs is impressive. Small businesses have several affordable options for building contact centers, and should investigate each one to determine which best fits their needs.
To support your investigation, consult Focus' Buyer's Guide: VoIP Contact Center Solutions and Comparison Guide: Contact Center Solutions; join a discussion in the Customer Service Group; or pose a question to the Focus Expert Network.
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