Hosted call centers offer a good solution for many SMBs (small to medium-size businesses) dealing with high volumes of sales or service calls. They provide the signature flexibility and feature-richness of IP telephony systems, and the cost savings of hosted services. One weakness, though, is that they also typically deliver calls via IP connections, which can have disadvantages. Ifbyphone is introducing a service that overcomes that weakness. It hosts the call center in its own facilities and sends the calls to agents over the PSTN (public switched telephone network).
Hosted IP telephony services, including hosted call centers, operate from servers in providers' datacenters. Customers pay only monthly or other types of fees to use them. That relieves companies of the need to buy any servers or applications of their own. The resulting savings in up-front costs compared to premise-based solutions can be substantial. And because they're IP-based, the services are accessible from anywhere via the Internet.
Ifbyphone's new Call Distributor is the latest of a number of hosted telephony services the Skokie, Ill.-based company offers to SMBs and carriers. Calls to a company's numbers get routed to Ifbyphone's servers. It processes them and distributes them to the company's call agents just like any call center would. The processing employs ACD (automatic call distribution) technology, and involves features and functions such as prompts, queues, skills-based routing and music on hold. The service integrates with Salesforce.com, so the company's agents can access customers' sales information as well as their call histories through its Web-based interface. It provides Web-based agent and supervisor "dashboards," or call-handling and -managing interfaces, and records calls. It also provides all the usual call center reporting information, including call connect time and abandonment times, wait times and queue lengths.
One disadvantage of all-IP call delivery that Ifbyphone's approach overcomes is the need for all agents to use IP phones. With PSTN delivery, all they need is plain traditional phones, along with an Internet data connection to access the customer information and call-handling capabilities. The result is a further reduction in equipment cost and complication. Similarly, when agents are working outside the controlled IP environment of a corporate LAN or WAN, they don't have to depend on the Internet for delivery of the calls. That eliminates worries about the questionable quality of Internet voice connections. The issue is particularly important for agents working at home, and perhaps sharing broadband connections with their families.
Ifbyphone makes paying for its service as simple as using it. It charges a customer company $50 per month, plus 3.5 cents to 6 cents per minute depending on call volume, which is the same as for its other services. And in fact, that price buys the customer not only the call-center processing and PSTN delivery of the calls, but also access to all of Ifbyphone's other hosted offerings, which it dubs "cloud telephony" services. These include capabilities such as find me/follow me, IVR (interactive voice response), click-to-call and interactive voice broadcasting.
Those features have already proven popular: Ifbyphone has some 14,000 customer companies at present, according to CEO Irv Shapiro. Those companies, he added, will now come to work and find a pleasant surprise: the ability to operate a fully featured call center along with their existing telephony operations, at no extra cost except the additional minutes they use.
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