By Bill Curtin, IV
With many advances in communications technology come changes in the call center industry. These advances allow the use of remote agents and the opportunity to downsize pricey office space. Some call centers are now 100 percent virtual. These changes enable vendors to offer fully hosted solutions, off-site backup, and co-location solutions.
1. A Fully Hosted Solution
With a fully hosted call center, you can service customers without purchasing a system. Phone calls arrive at the switch, agents process the calls, and they deliver messages as needed. At the end of the month, your billing application prints the invoices. This sounds ideal, but getting to this point takes effort.
A fully hosted solution can reduce call center responsibilities by not having to maintain or worry about software and hardware. But in most cases, a fully hosted solution will have a higher total cost of ownership than a purchased solution. There is also the intangible cost of less control. While there are no more urgent trips to the office to fix system problems, you are now reliant on the sense of urgency of others.
You need to find a hosted solution provider who will be a good business partner and is willing to work with you to address your customers’ needs. With this model, your business continuity plan is a joint venture between you and your hosting provider.
Also, if your call center processes protected health information (PHI) you will need to have proper agreements in place with your hosting provider for this confidential information.
Depending on how you structure your hosted solution, there are many ways to lower the cost. You may need fewer technical staff to support a hosted system, but there remains a need for technical support for on-premises workstations, phone lines, and internet connectivity.
Before signing a hosted solution contract, identify every piece of hardware the call center’s data will touch. Also identify all hardware that is not redundant or shared, along with all hardware dedicated to your solution. If the solution has nonredundant or shared hardware, this could impact the quality of service.
Likewise, identify every circuit that data travels over. All phone lines should travel on SONET (Synchronous Optical Networking) rings, and all internet connections should use border gateway protocol to freely access multiple internet providers. Phone calls should only travel on the PSTN or on an MPLS network, and never over the internet.
Most importantly, check references before signing any agreement. A good reference check contains questions that address level of service, technical support responses, and interactions with the hosting facility’s billing department.
2. Off-Site or Hosted Backup Solution
For call centers that are happy with their on-premise solutions, there are still ways technology advances can improve call center reliability and potentially reduce costs.
By creating an off-site backup system in a geographically diverse location, call centers can protect themselves from unforeseen local problems, thus preventing a situation in which a call center can’t take calls for hours or days.
Call centers with multiple locations can create off-site backup solutions at their other offices. For single-location call centers, consider working with another trusted call center, so that both call centers can provide emergency backup service to the other.
Another solution is to contact your switch vendor about hosted backup solutions. Vendors that have infrastructure in place for their own systems could also host or co-locate a backup solution.
When creating an off-site backup solution, coordinate with your telephony provider. Many providers have options to forward calls to another number in the event of a service outage. And SIP providers can forward telephone calls to another IP address on an MPLS network or sometimes even an IP address.
The challenge with off-site backup solutions is finding the best solution to protect your business needs while keeping the costs in check.
3. A Co-Located Call Center
Lastly, consider co-locating your system at a data center. This will improve the reliability of your telephone, internet connectivity, and electrical power.
When using a telephony solution at a data center, be sure your telephony provider delivers a “meet me” telephone line. This line terminates at the phone company’s central office, and the data center provides the information to connect the phone line to its SONET ring. The data center then runs the phone connection into your rack.
The biggest challenge in co-locating your data center is finding the right partner. Data centers come in all configurations and prices. When looking at co-locating your system, check with your system provider. Call center solution providers that offer hosted solutions will have the resources to co-locate your hardware and fully support your system.
Bill Curtin IV is corporate IS/IT manager for Amtelco and manages the three data centers that Amtelco uses to provide customer solutions.