I was doing research for a white paper not long ago and it gave me reason to speak with people who operate call centers. The call center operators I spoke with had one thing in common; they used on-demand call center services. If you are not familiar with on-demand call center services, it’s much like on-demand anything else — like sales force automation — but it seems the impact is greater. Let me explain.
By this point we’re all pretty well acquainted with the benefits of on-demand, though many people and their organizations have not yet adopted on-demand as their primary method of sourcing IT products and services. For most of this industry’s young life the benefits most bragged about centered on cost. On-demand provides everything you need through a browser and lets you pay by the seat each month rather than purchasing a traditional system to run in your IT department.
Cheap and Easy
Companies that have adopted on-demand solutions by and large are in love with the ease of configuration and use and the low expenses compared with a traditional purchase. If low cost was all that on-demand provided it would be a good deal, but there’s more to the story that does not become apparent when you are only considering SFA or other front office systems. The reason is simple, on-demand SFA works about the same way as the traditional variety, there are no major surprises. With that as a given it is no wonder that so many organizations have opted for the lower cost variety.
When you get to the call center though, the differences are magnified and while cost still plays an important role, the down-stream effects are greater. The call center is highly dependent on equipment, more so than any other part of CRM. One of the call center’s biggest expenses after equipment is telephone service. Call centers that have access to predictive dialers can be in the business of making outgoing calls but those without predictive dialing capability are usually relegated to only taking incoming calls. One of the major benefits of the on-demand call center is the ability to provide any relevant equipment a call center operator might want thus reducing the cost of entry into potential lucrative markets.
If you perform similar analysis for other parts of call center activity you make similar findings. For example, since on-demand services are delivered over the Internet, it does not matter to the technology where the agents are sitting, thus opening up work-at-home possibilities. Managers have separate concerns about productivity but they are addressable.
Building a Better Model
Having people work at home reduces the amount of office space a call center operator needs and it reduces the commute for agents. Working “in the cloud” also gives the call center a broader population from which to recruit and greater ability to find the perfect match for a particular job.
There are other advantages like using VoIP for lower cost communications that can make the call center manager smile, but this isn’t an attempt to make an exhaustive list. My point in bringing all this up is that the call center is a great example of how on-demand computing did not simply lower the cost of call center operations. On-demand computing actually enables new and possibly better business models to emerge, even in what is often thought to be the boring, dead-end call center.
The basic unit of call center provisioning used to be the whole call center — computers, databases, switches, desks, you name it. To get going, you usually needed one of each. But today the basic unit of the call center has become the seat; with a browser and a USB headset you can be in business. Because of this transformation the business model has expanded. You can still find traditional call center operations that just happen to use on-demand services, but increasingly, what you find are companies with partially or completely remote staffs getting the work done in T-shirts and bunny slippers with no one the wiser.
A Balanced Plan
There are also call centers in foreign lands that take advantage of on-demand services but increasingly, operators are finding that it little matters where the call comes from or where it goes. In a follow-the-sun strategy some call centers are finding that it is cost effective to hire domestic agents as well as some on the opposite side of the planet.
So, what I learned from my research was not just that on-demand call centers are cheap and easy to deploy — that much can almost be assumed today. What I learned was more significant. On-demand computing is breaking through its embryonic niche of low cost and in doing so it is enabling users to think outside the box, to develop improved business models and strategies. That’s really exciting because you never really know where an innovation is going to take you. They say markets grow at the margin; this is one example.
Denis Pombriant is a well known thought leader in CRM and the founder and managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s latest white paper, Adding Sales to the Call Center Agenda, summarizes his recent research in the call center industry. In 2003, CRM Magazine named Pombriant one of the most influential executives in the CRM industry. Pombriant is currently working on a book to be published next year. He can be reached at [email protected]