By Keith McFarlane
Do you remember when you first heard about the cloud? What about the last time you talked about the cloud in your business? In the last decade, it has become a permanent fixture on the technology scene, offering many benefits and forever changing business processes and collaboration. Initial skeptics may have doubted the cloud’s reliability, security, and flexibility, but even concerns over security standards have subsided with the establishment of trusted cloud providers.
Those in the contact center industry have seen firsthand the shift that the cloud can bring about in a market. Traditionally, contact centers were located on-premise, and companies were faced with up-front capital costs to establish the contact center infrastructure, as well as the expense of maintaining hardware and replacing obsolete technology. With overhead expenditures of licensing, deploying, and updating software for each new user, as well as management costs, including inbound call routing, and customer service inquiries, the infrastructure of a traditional contact center model was inefficient and costly.
The cloud changed the traditional contact center model in significant ways, each of which should be evaluated when planning to make a change in your own contact center environment. Here are the key benefits of cloud computing for contact centers.
Cost Effectiveness: Cloud computing and the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model of distribution have eliminated the need to buy and maintain hardware such phone switches, automatic call distributors (ACD), and interactive voice response (IVR) systems. Prior to the cloud, on-premise contact centers were capital expenses with significant up-front costs. However, with the cloud, capital expenses turn into operational expenses that allow companies to pay for only the services needed; agents merely require telephones and computers. Further, the cloud allows small-to-medium-sized businesses to gain the technology and business advantages previously out of their reach due to budget constraints.
Redundancy and Availability: The cloud provides companies with redundant data storage without the cost of duplicate data centers. It also allows companies that are located in regions susceptible to natural disasters to store valuable data in other areas throughout the country. Should a natural disaster strike and a data center or agents lose connectivity, the cloud enables companies to activate their redundant data and rapidly re-route inquires to other locations. This allows companies to continue to provide their customers with “always on” service. In this highly commoditized world, customer service is often a company’s key differentiator, and it is imperative that it be available to consumers, especially during a time of need.
Flexibility and Scalability: Business needs and contact volumes are not always predictable. With the cloud, businesses are able to scale up or down to meet seasonal and spiky customer demands. Cloud contact centers allow companies to pay-as-you-go on an as-you-need-it basis. Handling spikes in inbound and outbound calls are now easy and cost-effective tasks. This allows companies to always be focused on the customer regardless of what may be happening in the world, the time of year, or change in call volume.
Ease of Management: On-premise contact centers are often fragmented, with agents assigned to specific channels. Also, workstations running multiple applications must be updated constantly. This architecture leaves the contact center disjointed and difficult to manage. Cloud-based solutions enable IT managers to deploy software updates automatically across all users with no downtime compared to updating each workstation individually.
Not only are software updates immediate, but should a company decide to add features – social channels, for example – to their customer service offerings, IT managers are not tasked with installing the added features on each desktop. Instead, these new features are enabled in the cloud and instantly become available to all agents without need for IT involvement. This allows companies to focus on the customer and their core business, not on maintenance and updates to the technical infrastructure. The cloud also permits companies to easily employ agents that work from home, which opens the door to a new pool of potential talent.
Security: When cloud computing was first available, security issues had to be addressed and new standards developed. Today, cloud computing has matured. Rules have been established, and the issue of security has been dealt with. Reputable cloud providers are held to and can satisfy the most rigorous of enterprise security requirements. Nevertheless, when choosing a cloud provider, it is imperative to research each company’s security offerings in three specific areas: physical, network, and system/applications.
- Physical Security: Because data resides in a network operations center hosted by a vendor, physical security must be verified. Data centers must be protected by several layers of physical security mechanisms, including mantraps, surveillance cameras, background checks, and bonded security staff.
- Network Security: A breach of network security is one of the biggest threats to corporate data. To be considered secure, vendors’ networks must be protected by multilayered firewalls and intrusion detection systems; they must be monitored by a 24/7/365 Security Operations Center (SOC).
- System/Application Level Security: Security must be an integral part of how a platform vendor has designed and built their contact center technology through every stage of the software development lifecycle; it cannot be an afterthought. Furthermore, the security system should be thoroughly tested to prove that the solution adheres to – or exceeds – industry-standard security requirements.
This trifecta of security found in the cloud enables companies to focus on the customer rather than dealing with security concerns.
Agent Productivity: No longer bogged down by system upgrades, failures, or administrative tasks, agents have been able to maximize their time with customers and can often turn a customer service query into an opportunity to up-sell or cross-sell. The cloud also allows for quick channel pivoting, enabling agents to switch from one channel to another in order to ensure the best customer experience and maximize the potential monetization. Ultimately, the cloud can eliminate the need for agents to log into separate systems to retrieve customer information across social, mobile, and traditional voice and data channels. With customer information and history at their fingertips, agents can turn a customer service query into a relationship-building dialogue rather than just a problem-solving exercise. These seemingly small changes for agents often result in more frequent sales transactions and higher order values, but more importantly they provide an improved overall customer experience.
Cloud computing has come a long way in the last fifteen years, and its potential in the contact center is still being explored and discovered. What is certain is that companies should no longer fear cloud computing technology. Instead, they should embrace the benefits of a contact center that is cost-effective, disaster-proof, instantly scalable, easy to manage, and secure. Moving to the cloud will ultimately increase agent productivity, strengthen brand and customer relationships, and boost customer lifetime value.
Keith McFarlane is the chief technology officer of cloud platform and telephony at LiveOps. Keith has over twenty years of experience designing and developing large-scale customer service solutions and CRM systems. He is an expert on the benefits of cloud computing technology, for both enterprise and SMBs.
[From Connection Magazine – October 2013]