How the Cloud Can Make Your Small Business Function Like A Big One

cloud computingBefore a customer calls your business, there’s a good chance he or she might not know much about the scale of the operation. Who’s to say whether they’re calling a home office or a call center with 200 agents?

What happens when someone picks up is what tells that story – and what strongly influences a customer’s perception of your business in terms of size, credibility and professionalism. If someone picks up and yells “Hello?!” with the dog barking in the background, the brand is instantly tarnished.

One of the ways to grow your small businesses into a much larger one is to give the appearance of a larger and more professional operation. Purchasing cloud-based call center software can affordably get you there.

The cloud: removing technology barriers

The cloud has narrowed the technology gap between small and large businesses. Software that was once available only to big businesses is now accessible – and affordable – for companies with 50 or fewer employees.

Because cloud-based software is delivered over the Internet, there is no expensive hardware or software to install. That brings costs down considerably. Small businesses can purchase cloud-based software with the same features as traditional on-premise software for a low monthly fee. In most cases, no long-term commitment is required and upfront expenses are small.

As Dan Levin, chief operating officer of Box, told the Huffington post: “Now, for the first time, there is a technology available that doesn’t require hardware or technical expertise and gives small companies the same technology as a big company. That gets rid of the technology advantage, and that’s a huge change.”

How will cloud call center software help my business?

Cloud-based call center software streamlines all of your inbound and outbound calling. Features include predictive dialers, automated answering, call routing, call prioritizing, CRM software integration, real-time statistics and reporting, live call monitoring, web scripting, queue management and more.

For inbound calls, the software puts an end to callers being bounced around from one extension to another until they find the right person to answer their question or address their issue. Rather than a live person picking up, the automated system directs the caller to choose the appropriate department. For very small businesses, this might be all you use – at first. But at a cost of $100 to $200 per month, in most cases, that’s OK. Your callers will get the impression that they’re calling a larger, established company.

Businesses that have moved beyond that startup or micro-business phase will benefit from more advanced features that increase productivity. A predictive dialer can speed up sales calls by automatically dialing phone numbers and only routing the call to a sales person when/if someone picks up. Call prioritizing ensures that customers with product issues reach a customer service rep in a timely fashion. CRM integration allows you to incorporate calling features with your existing software and track the history of customer interactions. The list goes on.

Generally, you’ll provide a more streamlined experience for your customers and improve internal efficiency. Aside from cost, cloud-based call center software is ideal for small businesses because it is scalable. If you only have three people in customer service, buy only the three licenses you need. When the business expands, add more licenses with a quick phone call to the software vendor. With expensive on-premise call center software, businesses had to purchase enough hardware and licenses to account for future growth, which priced many of them out of the market.

Kunnect sells 100% cloud-based call center software that includes a predictive dialer to businesses and political campaigns. Our software, hosted seamlessly in the Amazon platform, manages all inbound and outbound calling for a flat rate of $125 per agent per month with a flat deposit of $125 per user.

Learn how Kunnect can help you, why not get in touch with us? >>>Contact us

Five Reasons My Small Business Should Move to the Cloud

iStock_000040644242_SmallCloud-based technologies have taken off among small and large businesses alike, but it’s the smaller businesses that stand to gain the most. For the first time, the cloud has made complex business software and applications accessible and affordable for companies with fewer than 50 employees.

Whether you’re still operating mostly on paper or you’re looking to transition from basic office applications like Gmail and Quickbooks to more sophisticated software, the cloud has a lot to offer small businesses in terms of features and cost. Here are five of the best reasons to finally make the move.

Enterprise-level technology

The cloud makes it possible for small businesses to function like much larger ones. There are cloud software products and applications for just about every business function, from marketing and lead generation, to payroll services, to managing your call center operations. These products offer the same features as much more expensive on-premise software, which is installed on site and managed by an in-house IT staff.

How can you get the same features for a much lower price? The method of delivery. Cloud providers sell software as a service, not a product. Because the software is delivered over the Internet, there’s no expensive on-site hardware and software to install, and there’s little if any in-house IT work required.

Predictable monthly payments

Many cloud-based providers charge a flat monthly fee. That means there are no surprises when it comes to cost. You know exactly what you’ll be paying each month, which allows for better budgeting. However, it is important to note that some vendors advertise low monthly fees and then tack on extra charges for additional features. Always find out exactly what the advertised price includes. If you can, go with a vendor that offers a completely flat rate with no hidden charges.

Small upfront investment

One of the biggest draws to cloud-based software is that it requires very little money upfront. Traditional on-premise software often requires tens of thousands or more in upfront costs for the purchase and installation of hardware and software. Because cloud requires no on-site installation, those costs don’t exist. In many cases, startup fees are $100 to $200 for each software user.

Reduced IT tasks

Many small businesses have tiny or nonexistent IT resources. Even if they can afford on-premise software, they don’t have the in-house IT staff to update and manage it. Cloud software providers handle the technical aspects for you, which saves time and money. There’s no need to hire an in-house IT specialist or shell out big bucks for an outside consultant.

No long-term commitment

When you buy on-premise software, you’re stuck with it for a long time. Chances are, you’re not going to spend tens of thousands on hardware, software and installation, then switch vendors a year later. This ties you to a product longer than you’d like, and, in many cases, it ties you to a product long after it is out of date or obsolete.

Cloud-based software vendors usually do not require a long-term commitment, so you can cancel at any time. Most offer month-to-month plans, making it easy to switch vendors if you’re not happy. Signing a one-year contract will usually score you a discount, but don’t commit before you’ve thoroughly researched the product and have completed a demo. Even better, try the software for a month and then consider a contract.

Kunnect sells 100% cloud-based call center software that includes a predictive dialer to businesses and political campaigns. Our software, hosted seamlessly in the Amazon platform, manages all inbound and outbound calling for a flat rate of $125 per agent per month with a flat deposit of $125 per user.

Learn how Kunnect can help you, why not get in touch with us? >>>Contact us

Seven Characteristics of Great Customer Service Agents 

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If you’re dialed in to the world of contact centers and customer service, chances are you’ve seen this great infographic by now. In the complex world of modern call centers, agents need a whole set of skills their predecessors didn’t.

We’ve combined the old and new for this list, pairing classic traits that have always made for great call center agents with skills that have become crucial in the modern world of technology and high customer service expectations.

  • Personable - Call center agents need to be not only outgoing, but personable in their exchanges. Simply being talkative is not enough; they need to pleasant and understand the art of conversation. They also need to be genuinely empathetic when customers are unhappy or upset.
  • Great listener - Piggybacking on the art of conversation, call center agents need to really listen to a customer’s problems, complaints or concerns. Listening is the only way they’ll be able to come up with good solutions.
  • Tech savvy – Modern call centers rely on considerable technology, not just phones. Agents have to be technical enough to learn and navigate complex software. Technical issues that delay the call will only frustrate customers further. They should also be skilled in social media, which is an increasingly important component of customer service.
  • Patient – Hot heads need not apply. Customer service agents, unfortunately, have to deal with angry or irate customers. That’s never fun, but they can’t lose their cool. Agents have to know how to stay levelheaded.
  • Flexible - Sometimes call center jobs come with oddball hours. New agents might have to work the second shift or overnight. They might get stuck on a complicated call and not be able to leave the minute their shift ends.
  • Trustworthy – Call center agents almost always have access to personal or sensitive customer information. It’s crucial to find people who can be trusted not to misuse or steal this information.
  • Innovative - In the modern call center, sticking to the script doesn’t fly with customers. Agents need to be able to think on their feet to come up with creative solutions to problems. Of course, this also involves the company empowering them and giving them room to make decisions.

Should call center agents earn more money?

Given all that’s expected of modern call center agents, is it fair that they make a median salary of about $30,000, or $14 an hour? We’re asking them not only to be patient and personable, but tech savvy, innovative and flexible. The required skill set has changed and grown, but salaries have not kept pace.

In an environment as cost-conscious as the call center, it’s not always possible to pay employees considerably more. However, it’s interesting to note that other industries have noticed a direct, measurable correlation between increased salaries and increased sales. A study of a 500-store retailer, cited in The New York Times earlier this year, found that for every additional $1 spent on employee salaries, sales grew anywhere from $4 to $28.

Companies that can’t raise call center salaries can offer other financial incentives to keep skilled employees and reduce turnover, including performance bonuses for high customer service ratings. Operations managers should also have strong programs in place to promote skilled agents to supervisors, a position that earns a median salary of about $45,000, and often more.

Kunnect sells 100% cloud-based call center software that includes a predictive dialer to businesses and political campaigns. Our software, hosted seamlessly in the Amazon platform, manages all inbound and outbound calling for a flat rate of $125 per agent per month with a flat deposit of $125 per user.

Learn how Kunnect can help you, why not get in touch with us? >>>Contact us

Why Amazon Is the Best Cloud Platform for Call Centers

cloud computingA lot can change in two decades. A company that started out as a simple online bookstore grew to be one of the world’s largest online retailers, selling just about everything you could imagine at discounted prices. Then, in 2006, Amazon decided to dabble in a whole new world: IT infrastructure.

The whole thing happened sort of by accident. According to Kevin Davis, IT account manager at NPI, Amazon realized after a decade of building and running its own highly scalable web application that it had a knack for operating massive IT infrastructure and data centers. Thus, Amazon Web Services was born.

Today, AWS has hundreds of thousands of clients, including major names like Netflix, Expedia, Pinterest and Instagram. Their cloud-based platform powers businesses IT operations around the world for much less than it would cost the companies to install their own servers and other IT infrastructure.

Benefits of cloud hosting

Kunnect’s software, like all kinds of software around the world, is hosted in the Amazon cloud platform. That means Amazon powers the web infrastructure on its vast network of servers spread across five continents.

The advantages to cloud hosting are:

  • Low cost - Most platforms offer pay-as-you-go pricing with no upfront expenses or commitments. Cancel at any time. Also, costs are variable based on the scale of your business. Pay for as much or as little as you need.
  • No downtimes – Cloud hosting means you have access to hundreds or thousands of servers, not just one. This ensures that you always have the computing power you need without worrying about server malfunctions. A single down server won’t affect you.
  • No waiting – Cloud hosting allows for instant access to the vast network of servers. There’s no waiting to procure and install servers.
  • No guesswork - Building your own infrastructure involves figuring out how much data center capacity you need, which can be tough, particularly for growing businesses. Cloud hosting allows you access to as few or as many servers as you need.

Pros and Cons of Amazon Web Services 

Amazon Web Services was the first to market with a cloud offering, and the company has emerged as the market leader in cloud computing. The benefits of AWS, compared to the competition, include:

  • More computing power – AWS has five times the capacity of other leading providers combined.
  • Software compatibility – The biggest software vendors, including names like Microsoft, Adobe and Oracle, have made their products available on AWS. AWS has also partnered with the largest system integrators.
  • Compliance - AWS has most of the standard compliance certifications, including HIPAA, SOC 1/SSAE 16/ISAE 3402 (formerly SAS70), SOC 2, SOC 3, PCI DSS Level 1, ISO 27001, FedRAMP, DIACAP and FISMA, ITAR, FIPS 140-2, CSA and MPAA.
  • Market history – AWS has eight years of experience in the industry – a long time in terms of cloud hosting. The product is reliable and the network of data centers is vast.
  • Instant access – Anticipating higher than normal use? You can spin up server capacity instantly in anticipation.

No product is perfect, however. Disadvantages include:

  • Steep learning curve - AWS can be complex to set up and use, particularly for large companies with complex needs.
  • Support – Enterprise-level support is not included in the price. That will cost you about an extra 10 percent. Support can also be more difficult for small and mid-size businesses.
  • Billing – Many customers say the billing is confusing. The cost is based on three things: the location of the data center providing service, the volume of service and the performance of the service. Looking for more guidance on understanding billing? Check out this TechTarget guide.

Kunnect sells 100% cloud-based call center software that includes a predictive dialer to businesses and political campaigns. Our software, hosted seamlessly in the Amazon platform, manages all inbound and outbound calling for a flat rate of $125 per agent per month with a flat deposit of $125 per user.

Learn how Kunnect can help you, why not get in touch with us? >>>Contact us

How to Integrate the Cloud Into Your Existing Business Model

iStock_000043197226_SmallSo you’re ready to transition to the cloud. Perhaps you’ve heard from other businesses about the benefits, including low cost, advanced features and flexibility. But where do you start?

That’s a tricky question to answer because it depends on the type business, to some extent. But for this blog, we’ll assume you’re a small to mid-size business looking to incorporate public cloud for the first time.

Do your research

We hear about the cloud all the time these days, but more people than would like to admit it don’t understand exactly what the cloud is and how it benefits business. If you’re in this group, that’s perfectly OK. It just means you’ll need to do some research first. It’s impossible to make good purchasing decisions if you don’t understand what the cloud can do for your business operations.

Here’s a great PC Magazine article that offers a simple explanation, including the difference between consumer and business cloud products. This guide from Explore B2B is a great resource, too.

In simplest terms, the cloud allows you to carry out essential business functions via an Internet connection. Rather than purchasing expensive hardware and software and installing it on site, the software is provided as a service over the Internet. Cloud-based software makes enterprise-level features available to smaller businesses at much lower price. It also allows companies to access business data from any device or location, not just a single computer.

Develop a strategy

Cloud technology is an umbrella term, but there are thousands of products that perform various business tasks, from storing and backing up data to invoicing to product tracking. You can find a cloud tool for just about every business function imaginable, and many tools offer a wide range of functions. A single software product might handle invoicing, expense management and project tracking.

Because there are so many options, it’s important to decide what you want the technology to do. Maybe your accounting software is installed and managed on a single computer or server and you want to make it accessible on multiple devices via the cloud. Perhaps you’re looking for a customer service tool that offers reporting and analytics, data sharing across departments, email marketing and more. The type of cloud-based software you purchase completely depends on your needs. For many companies, more than one product is needed.

Start comparing products

Once you know what you want to do with cloud technology, you can start shopping for products. Companies like Software Advice can answer some of your basic questions and recommend appropriate vendors. Always request a demo of any software product you’re considering. That’s the only way to gauge whether it’s user-friendly and meets your company’s needs.

For small businesses that have no idea where to start, this PC Mag list of the top 20 cloud-based software products is helpful. It covers features and pricing for the most popular cloud products for small businesses.

Take your time — and scrutinize

Finding the right cloud product might take several weeks. This is a not a process that should be rushed. Sure, most cloud providers won’t force you to sign a long-term contract, but you’re better off finding the right product the first time around. Switching means getting used to a new system all over again.

In addition to functionality, pay attention to security. If your data will be housed in a public cloud, find out how the company secures it. Is the vendor compliant with data security standards and, if so, which ones? Data security is more important than ever in the wake of large-scale breaches. Most cloud-based products are highly secure – otherwise the vendors wouldn’t be able to compete in this security-conscious market – but it’s important to verify that.

Finally, pay careful attention to the pricing structure. Some cloud-based call center software vendors, for example, advertise low upfront fees but tack on additional hidden expenses for extra features or telecom. Find out exactly what’s included in the monthly price you are quoted to avoid billing surprises.

Kunnect sells 100% cloud-based call center software that includes a predictive dialer to businesses and political campaigns. Our software, hosted in the Amazon platform, seamlessly manages all inbound and outbound calling for a flat rate of $125 per agent per month with a flat deposit of $125 per user.

Learn how Kunnect can help you, why not get in touch with us? >>>Contact us

Five Better Ways to Measure Success in Your Call Center

management-tools-measure-successThe traditonal benchmarks for measuring success in the call center are pretty well ingrained, and old habits are hard to break. But call centers – and the whole notion of customer service – have changed drastically, particularly in the last few years. To keep up with the times, and to keep your customers and employees happy, it’s time to shift the way you think.

Before: Call length

Better: Customer satisfaction 

Patting yourself on the back for reducing the average call length? Probably, given that’s always been considered a measure of success. Shorter talk times mean shorter wait times and happier customers, right? Not always.

Sure, paying attention to call length is important. Unusually long calls could indicate that customers are having trouble getting the resolution they need. However, pushing employees to get off the phone faster is a slippery slope. They might be short-changing the customer in terms of service just to get better numbers. You’re better off prioritizing and rewarding customer service benchmarks and bringing up call times only if they become a problem.

Before: Low salaries

Better: Strong retention

There’s constant pressure in the contact center to keep costs down, and many companies do this by keeping salaries low. There’s a limit to how much you can spend on wages, of course, but when your wages are not competitive you’re going to see high turnover, which can be even more costly. The Center for American Progress estimates that for each $30,000 employee lost, most companies spend more than $5,000 in recruiting, hiring and training costs. 

Before: Reactive Customer Service

Better: Proactive Customer Service

Call centers were designed around waiting for the customer to come to you with a problem or question. In the modern world of social media and high customer expectations, you need to be seeking out the customer, too. The most successful contact centers proactively reach out to customers through social media, email marketing and more to address problems as early as possible. Respond to customer complaints on Twitter and Facebook, offering solutions to the problem, and send customer feedback surveys via email to gauge satisfaction.

Before: Script memorization

Better: Improv skills

Your customers don’t want to speak to robots; they want to chat with empathetic people who can offer creative solutions. If your call center agents are reading from a script, they’re not going to come off as caring, and they lose the ability to think on their feet. Some operations managers are going as far as bringing in an expert to teach their agents improv skills. You don’t have to go that route, per say, but you should train agents not to read word for word. Empower them to take a more natural approach.

Before: Dispute resolution

Better: Exceeding expectations

Solving a customer’s problem used to be enough. Service isn’t working? Fix the issue. Shipment didn’t arrive? Resend the product. These solutions will probably keep you from losing the customer, but they don’t boost your brand.

The modern customer wants more, and they appreciate brands that go above and beyond to make them happy. These are the brands they Tweet about, praise on Facebook and recommend to their friends. Talking to a customer who needs a shipment of contacts before vacation? Overnight them for free. A customer who returned a defective item? Offer 15 percent off the next purchase. The money you spend (or lose) will pay for itself in positive brand exposure.

Kunnect sells 100% cloud-based call center software that includes a predictive dialer to businesses and political campaigns. Our software, hosted in the Amazon platform, seamlessly manages all inbound and outbound calling for a flat rate of $125 per agent per month with a flat deposit of $125 per user.

Learn how Kunnect can help you, why not get in touch with us? >>>Contact us

Removing the Office: How the Cloud Enables SMB Call Centers

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The traditional idea of what a call center has to be is fast going out the window. You don’t need a giant room filled with cubicles and agents anymore. You don’t even need everyone to be in the same city or country.

Thanks to the cloud, a modern call center can be something as simple as a handful of agents answering phones from their home offices. Cloud technology makes it possible to operate like you have a call center — without one.

How the cloud transformed IT for SMBs

Not so long ago, opening a call center meant buying or renting a building big enough to house it, hiring a slew of local agents, and purchasing expensive call center hardware and software. Many SMBs were priced out of the market simply due to the startup costs – tens or hundreds of thousands.

Enter the cloud, a novel idea to deliver software as a service, rather than a product. Software is delivered via the Internet, removing the need for on-site hardware and software installation. The cloud, though it took some time to catch on, emerged as a technology equalizer, making sophisticated software and applications available to smaller businesses, not just the big guys. It allowed smaller players to have a chance among big competitors.

Cloud technologies have grown popular with SMBs not just because of the cost, but because they provide flexibility and require little maintenance. The systems can be scaled up or down as needed, and they require minimal or no in-house IT support. Major corporations are moving this way too, as they look to trim IT costs and become more nimble. Some 84 percent of major enterprises who participated in a RightScale survey earlier this year said they were either actively working on cloud projects or already using cloud.

The future of call center operations in the cloud

Cloud-based call center software is available with the same features as on-premise software, including predictive dialers, auto attendants, call recording, call monitoring, CRM integration, web scripting and queue management. Your customers won’t be able to tell the difference. One differentiator, aside from cost and flexibility, is that while on-premise software won’t work when the phones are out, cloud-based software won’t work if the Internet is down.

One of the biggest motivators for moving to cloud-based call center software is that it enables a remote workforce. Customer service employees across multiple locations can work together as if they were in the same room (minus the water cooler talk). Companies can expand their workforce to other geographic locations – and a larger talent pool – because agents can work from home.

In theory, the cloud could eventually make traditional call centers a thing of the past. Major companies like Dell have already started closing call centers and instructing employees to work from home. For SMBs, the advantage is never having to open a traditional call center in the first place.

Does a remote call center workforce hurt productivity?

Not if it’s properly run. Studies have shown that at-home agents are actually more productive because they feel more empowered. And widening your geographic base opens up opportunities to find the best and most motivated workers. The hiring process can be more selective.

Even though managers won’t be standing in the same room as their call center agents, cloud software monitors an agent’s activities. If an agent skips out to the beach and stops answering calls, you’re going to know right away.

Kunnect sells 100% cloud-based call center software that includes a predictive dialer to businesses and political campaigns. Our software, hosted in the Amazon platform, seamlessly manages all inbound and outbound calling for a flat rate of $125 per agent per month with a flat deposit of $125 per user.

Learn how Kunnect can help you, why not get in touch with us? >>>Contact us

Three Surprising Ways You’re Wasting Money in the Call Center

Customer ServiceRunning a call center is a major expense, so operations managers are constantly asked to cut costs. Do you trim staff, consolidate locations or put off the next big technology buy? More importantly, how do you cut costs without compromising customer service?

As it turns out,b some of the most common cost-cutting moves are shortsighted. Not only do they fail to save money, they waste money in the long run. On the flip side, some of the investments you make looking to improve call center performance are a waste of money. Think twice before turning to these go-tos. As companies realize the real impact they have on the bottom line, they’re starting to reassess.

1. Going offshore

Why does any company move its call center operations offshore? To save money, of course. The long-held belief has been that because the cost of operations and wages are so much lower in developing countries, moving a call center offshore or outsourcing it offshore brings considerable cost savings.

Not so fast, my friends. You’re almost guaranteed initial cost savings – otherwise, you wouldn’t make the move. In the long term, however, offshoring translates to higher call volume and longer call times. DMG Consulting estimates that call volume increases by 15 percent due to customers hanging up and calling back in search of a better answer, and that average talk time increases by 20 percent as callers struggle to overcome language barriers. Harder to measure, but perhaps more important, is the impact on customer satisfaction. Are some frustrated customers becoming ex-customers? You bet.

In recent years, major corporations like General Motors and AT&T have brought thousands of call center jobs back to the United States. According to a Detroit Free Press report published last month, about 180,000 call center jobs were created in the United States in 2012 and 2013 alone.

2. Updating legacy hardware/software

Rather than investing in new call center software, many operations managers choose to stave off expenses by updating the old software and/or replacing outdated or faulty hardware. Seems logical, right?

The problem is that updating legacy software and hardware still costs money – and lots of it. Often, the money is being thrown into a system that is close to outliving its usefulness and far behind in terms of technology. For many companies, that money would be better spent switching to cloud-based software and applications. Cloud-based call center software requires very little upfront investment, and it brings your call center in to the 21st century. Often, switching to the cloud is cheaper than simply updating a legacy system.

3. Training

Training, training and more training – you hear it all the time. When customer satisfaction suffers, bring in the experts. When talk time increases, schedule a training course. We’re not here to say that training is a bad thing, but there is a such thing as too much training – and the wrong kind of training.

Many companies rush to hire outside trainers or consultants to improve their call center performance. But consultants are expensive, and their messages don’t always resonate with employees. In some cases, their inspirational talk is too theoretical, failing to offer practical tips. In other cases, they’re simply telling employees what they already know but are not motivated to carry out.

Sometimes all your employees need is a little motivation, whether that comes in the form of an interactive team meeting or an incentive program. If you make your employees feel like they’re part of the improvement process, not just sounding boards, they’re more likely to respond favorably. Consultants are great in some instances, but not all.

Kunnect sells 100% cloud-based call center software that includes a predictive dialer to businesses and political campaigns. Our software, hosted in the Amazon platform, seamlessly manages all inbound and outbound calling for a flat rate of $125 per agent per month with a flat deposit of $125 per user.

 

Learn how Kunnect can help you, why not get in touch with us? >>>Contact us

Yes, You Can Afford a Call Center

Dollar symbol in handsFor small and medium-sized businesses, there has traditionally been that not-so-sweet spot between needing a call center and being able to afford one. For very small businesses or startups, the issue was even more complicated: How do I seem like I have a call center when I don’t have the employees to staff one?

The cloud has solved these problems by making call center software with advanced features available to even the smallest of businesses. SMBs can buy hosted call center software that includes features such as interactive voice response (IVR), a predictive dialer, call monitoring/recording and more for a flat monthly fee with little, if any, upfront investment.

The software is also affordable for very small businesses and startups, which can use only the tools they need in the beginning stages to appear more professional.

Why the cloud slashes call center costs

If you’re not familiar with the cloud, it’s simply a different way of delivering software. Rather than investing tens of thousands on hardware and software that is installed and managed on site, you’re paying a third-party vendor to provide the software over the Internet.

Cloud-based software is far less expensive than traditional on-premise software due to this lack of onsite hardware and software. The product is cheaper for the vendor to deliver, and it requires very little or no in-house IT expertise. Most cloud-based call center software offers all the same features at traditional software, but the method of delivery makes it a fraction of the price.

Traditional on-site software is not – and never was – practical for most small businesses because of the cost. But cloud software is accessible even to companies that don’t have an actual call center. It can be used to give the appearance of a larger and more professional operation, and to streamline inbound and outbound calling. You don’t need a dedicated call center with live agents. Calls can be routed to whomever you choose. Maybe product inquires go to the owner/founder and customer service inquires go the marketing assistant. Calls can be also routed off-site for companies with remote workers.

For SMBs that are in rapid periods of growth, the appeal of cloud-based software, aside from cost, is scalability. With on-premise software, you have to anticipate future growth and build those capabilities in to the system. With cloud versions, buy only the number of licenses you need now and then add additional licenses as you need them with one call to the vendor.

How Much Does Cloud-Based Call Center Software Cost? 

The pricing structure differs from one cloud-based call center provider to another, but monthly fees generally range anywhere from $50 to $300 for each agent (or, in the case of very small businesses, for each person who will use the system at once). Some vendors charge a flat monthly fee that includes the calling plan and all the features you need, while others charge extra for each call and/or certain features. Some charge solely based on the number of minutes you use, offering tiered plans that include all the features you need.

Don’t be fooled by plans that advertise a low monthly fee but tack on hidden fees. Be sure to ask the vendor upfront exactly what is included in the price. Telecom that is billed by the minute can get expensive very quickly unless your call volume is very low. That structure also makes it difficult to predict monthly costs.

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How the Cloud Has Transformed IT Departments

iStock_000043197226_SmallFor a long time, IT was pretty straightforward. Your IT staffers sat together in their own department – probably in the corner of the building somewhere or the basement. Technology buying decisions fell squarely in the hands of this department, as did tasks such as data security and system maintenance.

The cloud has transformed all that. Most companies still consider IT departments crucial to everyday operations – they’re certainly not obsolete – but their roles have shifted. In the cloud era, IT departments have been forced to become more collaborative and innovative, and relinquish some control.

Less internal control

With companies increasingly turning to third-party cloud vendors for software and applications, tasks like data management, system updates and system maintenance are often in the hands of third-party vendors. Beyond coordinating these activities with the vendor, notifying employees and addressing any employee issues or questions, IT isn’t heavily involved.

The fear in that has long been that the cloud would make IT departments obsolete, but as we’ll discuss in a bit, that doesn’t have to be the case. Cloud leads some companies to shrink the IT department, but very few eliminate it.

Less control over technology purchase and use

Gone are the days when the IT department had the ultimate say in technology buying. In modern organizations, departments from marketing to human resources are often in charge of which technology they purchase and use. This stems from the long-overdue realization that there’s no one-fits-all solution across company departments, and the realization that individual departments know best what tools and technologies work for them. If the marketing department needs a new lead nurturing tool, for example, it’s probably the CMO, not the CTO, who is giving the final OK on the purchase.

On top of that, the shift toward remote or work-from-home employees has made it difficult for IT departments to control which technologies and tools employees are using. The IT department once acted as a gatekeeper, blocking websites, apps and devices that were not approved. But when an employee is away from the office and/or using his or her own devices, this is difficult or impossible to control. That’s where setting policies and procedures for the use of technology becomes crucial – and that’s something IT can do.

Frees time for big picture improvements 

This is the reason IT departments – particularly those that adapt and grow to changes brought on buy the cloud – won’t become obsolete. The changes above free up IT departments to think more strategically.

Rather than spending all their time managing hardware and software – installing, configuring, testing, securing, monitoring and updating – IT departments can become tech strategists for the company. They can spend more time on IT planning and analyzing how tech solutions are performing. They can also research and assess new technologies, guide other departments through technology purchases, develop policies and procedures for appropriate technology use and help reduce IT spending.

Greater attention to security

Outsourcing technology to third-party vendors does not mean IT departments can turn their attention away from security. The opposite is true, particularly in light of recent major data breaches.

Most third-party cloud providers are highly secure, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to compete in the market. However, IT departments are charged with making sure by finding out exactly how the vendor uses, stores and encrypts sensitive customer data. Add that to the task of controlling internal security problems – many of which the cloud has brought to light – and IT departments are spending more time than other on security issues.

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