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Contact Center Software Vendor Transera Communications on the Ins and Outs of the SMB Market

November 05, 2007

It’s no secret that the small to medium sized business (SMB) market holds huge growth potential for IP contact center software vendors. The vast majority of businesses fit into this category, and in recent years the SMB market has seen much faster and stronger year-over-year growth than either the enterprise or home business (SOHO) markets. That’s why so many of today’s IP contact center software makers have no choice but to go after this highly lucrative market. To only go after enterprise customers, or home business owners, no longer makes sense (that is, unless you want to be put out of the game within a few years). That’s why most vendors now view the SMB market as the primary driver of their future growth.
 
Vendors are now successfully targeting this vast market through the development of less expensive, scaled-down versions of their enterprise solutions. They’re also having great success penetrating the SMB market by offering their software using the hosted or Software as a Service delivery model. With highly reliable, feature-laden and often “battle-hardened” contact center solutions now available at a fraction of the cost, an SMB can quickly gain an edge over its competition and in some cases even get its own slice of the enterprise market.
 
Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of these advanced solutions is their high scalability. These days, an SMB can see exponential growth practically overnight: A small business which had only 300 customers two years ago can end up with more than 2 million customers this year, yet its staff may have only grown from 25 to 50 employees. In order to keep up with the increasing number of customer inquiries and orders (coming mainly via phone calls), a rapidly growing business will probably have to invest in a small customer service center to better handle its growing customer base and improve communications across the organization. Today, even a small business can afford to set up a small contact center operation consisting of, say, five seats, with technology that enables it to serve its customers just like a multi-national corporation. With these turn-key hosted or SaaS (News - Alert) solutions, all a business really needs is a server, some PCs, some headsets and some hot agents – and you’re good to go!
 
But as market research shows, many SMBs are behind the curve in terms of adopting -- let alone investigating -- these new and advanced solutions. As such, there is still plenty of room for vendors to penetrate this vast and ever-changing market.
 
To get a better idea of why the SMB market is so hot right now, TMCnet recently askedPrem Uppaluru, CEO, Transera (News - Alert) Communications, some questions about what is driving the rapid growth in this area, and what advantages today’s hosted contact center solutions hold for SMBs. What follows are selected responses to our questions:
 
Why is the call center market paying so much attention to small to medium-sized businesses nowadays?
 
Small and mid-sized companies face much the same challenges as large companies in managing customer interactions and optimizing agent resources. They are looking for a better way to manage communications and improve customer service, so naturally they want advanced call center functionality, but they do not have the same capital budget or IT staff as larger enterprises. Hosted contact center solutions coupled with IP telephony and transport provide a new option to the SMB market that did not exist before by eliminating capital expenditures and providing full featured call center functionality as a subscription service.
 
What special needs do these companies have?
 
Small and mid-sized companies want the ability to compete effectively with larger companies for the same clients and market share. They want their customer-facing organizations to give an impression that rivals the best of their larger competitors, without making a significant capital or IT staff investments. With a leaner IT staff, the SMB customer needs a complete end-to-end solution that is easy to use and manage, and one with more operating efficiencies. There’s a real need to offload the ongoing system maintenance, including hardware and software configurations, equipment replacement and troubleshooting. In addition, the call center solution needs to seamlessly integrate with other on-demand software applications that the SMB already has or plans to have.
 
How are the features scaled down when products are built for the SMB market? Is it only in terms of number of seats or is it in terms of breadth of features?
 
We can see that SMB companies need a balanced solution that enables them to meet their customer service objectives, control costs, and increase customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. The critical success factors for a balanced solution are clear: intelligent call routing and queuing; solid real-time and historical reporting; effective supervision of agent-level call distribution, monitoring, state transitions and dispositions; reliable conferencing and transfers as well as call recording and screen-pops. It goes without saying that call center integration with enterprise systems and data has to be straightforward and painless. SMBs also need tools to evaluate the functioning health of the call center, with visibility into metrics such as number of calls (answered and lost), wait times, and agent level activity.
 
SMB customers have traditionally been single-site call centers, and thus skills-based routing and queuing across multiple sites has not previously been on their radar. However, as increasing numbers of SMB customers deploy remote and home-based agents, the ability to queue callers in alignment with best available resources will become a requirement.
 
Do you think there are “fake” SMB call center solutions out there -- i.e. large solutions artificially and perhaps not optimally “shrunk” for smaller businesses?
 
Granted, some traditional call center vendors have attempted to retrofit their platforms and pricing models to target the small and mid-sized market, they simply have not addressed the larger issues of cost and complexity. These solutions are still difficult to configure, integrate and maintain, requiring an IT staff for management and support.
 
Should SMB solutions be built from the top down or the bottom up?
 
Clearly, to address the needs of this market, the solution must be built from the ground up. Otherwise, the SMB is back to square one: more investment, more IT resources, more maintenance burdens, and a longer time-to-market with new services. Meanwhile, their competitors grab their market share. SMB customers need a solution that is quick to implement, easy to use and simple to manage. They want to provide mission critical customer service while taking advantage of all the productivity improvements, cost savings and revenue-generation potential a call center should offer today.
 
Does an SMB solution automatically translate to “software as a service?”
 
While it is not necessary for an SMB customer to only consider an on-demand/SaaS model, there is a high correlation. It is a fact that organization size does affect budget and access to technology. In general, the biggest factor currently driving the adoption of SaaS is lower up-front costs. Companies save initially by avoiding the need to spend capital on premises-based equipment. As mentioned earlier, with most on-demand call center solutions, all that’s needed to deploy a new call center are agents equipped with phones, and Internet connected PCs. Agents can be physically located anywhere and belong to any organization. Utilizing Web technologies, agents have instant access to a full suite of call center applications with no infrastructure required.
 
Do smaller companies typically want the broad array of features that larger companies have/need?
 
While small and mid-sized customers might not require 100% of the feature/functionality demanded by larger call centers, they still have the same end goal. When they can’t afford to pay for the advanced functionality, SMBs are forced to make trade-offs and sacrifices. Meanwhile, customers may expect an even higher level of service from a smaller company, so this challenge to compete on quality of service is a significant one. At the end of the day, SMBs face increasing competition from companies of all sizes located around the globe. Delivering the best possible customer experience is the big differentiator.
 
Do large enterprises ever have a use for solutions that are ostensibly for the SMB market? Are they learning any lessons from this marketplace?
 
Adoption of the SaaS model is rapidly increasing in the small and mid-sized call center, but larger enterprises are discovering the advantages of virtualizing their call center and unifying call center functions into a cohesive call center strategy across a highly distributed call center with captive or outsourced agents located onshore, offshore, at home or remote offices.
 
Large enterprises are learning through small pilot deployments that vital call center applications can be deployed on-demand, enabling the rapid deployment of a new call center, or the ability to seamlessly expand call center operations, with no infrastructure investment required. Because SaaS solutions virtualize call center operations, enterprises can more effectively manage distributed resources located onshore, offshore or at home. Essential call center functions can be delivered where and when they are needed, no matter where your agents are located.
 
What can smaller companies do now with the newer SMB-targeted solutions that they couldn’t do a few years ago?
 
With the new generation of SaaS solutions, small and mid-sized companies are creating what are in effect virtualized call centers, in which agents can be working from any desk, in any office, offshore or at-home. A phone and an Internet-connected PC, and they’re in business, with instant access to a full suite of call center applications. There’s literally no infrastructure required, which means significant reductions in both Capex and Opex costs. With the new crop of Web and Presence technologies, call center managers and supervisors can now manage calls, observe agent activity, and monitor any call from any location – including a mobile device. This ability to oversee call flows and monitor active calls helps supervisors ensure that calls are handled promptly, agent resources are optimized, and customers are receiving the kind of consistent, high-quality service that will earn their loyalty.
 
For more information about Transera and its contact center solutions, visit www.transerainc.com.
 
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Patrick Barnard is Associate Editor for Customer Interaction Solutions magazine and Assignment Editor for TMCnet. To see more of his articles, please visit Patrick Barnard’s columnist page.

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