Contact centres have historically been deployed by organisations as an on-premise service; typically, in one central location with a high density of agents. For many years, the contact centre only supported a single channel of communication (voice). Over time, multiple concurrent methods of customer-agent interaction (known as omni-channel) have become available, such as e-mail, fax, web chat, SMS and social media, along with greater visibility and management of contact centre performance, provided by applications such as Work Force Management (WFM) and Quality Management.
However, with this increase in capability came the corresponding rise in complexity, management and maintenance overheads, and ongoing upgrade costs for the contact centre service. A version upgrade, or the addition of new features to support changing customer needs, would often require significant expenditure, involve extended planning and time, and often require service outages in order to implement these new features.
The Rise of Cloud Computing
Cloud computing services provided by large global players such as Amazon and Google have seen a massive uptake in recent years driven by many factors, including:
- Cheaper server/computer costs
- Decreased WAN & Internet connection pricing
- A desire to reduce ongoing IT support, operating overheads and one-time large capital expenditure
- A focus on core business operations rather than “keeping the IT lights on”
- The need for organisations to become more agile in their business operations
In addition, most voice and telephony services vendors have also moved their model of operation from on-premise solutions to these solutions being delivered from the cloud – both public and private. Furthermore, the requirement for a geographically dispersed contact centre agent team has also seen a significant decline of single location, large contact centres, with an associated increase in the cost and complexity of supporting multiple, smaller distributed contact centres instead.
Cloud contact centre, in particular, is seeing one of the highest adoption rates in the arena of telephony services.
What is a Cloud Contact Centre?
At its simplest, a cloud contact centre is one in which all core contact centre “server” and application functionality is now hosted in the cloud – whether that be a public cloud, such as Amazon Web Services, or in a private cloud provided by a Managed Services Provider (MSP).
Access to the cloud contact centre application from the customer premises for data connectivity (agent web browser-based client traffic) is either by a dedicated WAN service such as MPLS, or commonly via the customer’s existing Internet service provider. Voice connectivity can be through either the customer’s own PSTN services (through PSTN DDi to the agent’s phone), via the customer’s Internet access or by a dedicated on-net connection, e.g. SIP to the service provider’s cloud service.
Traditional on-premise contact centres have been based on one-time perpetual costs for hardware, client and application licensing, along with annual software and hardware support services. Cloud-based contact centres are typically purchased on a monthly subscription basis, covering the core and value-added software features, plus technical support services.
The Drivers for Cloud Contact Centre
There are several key drivers for customers adopting a cloud-based contact centre, including:
- Improved business flexibility/agility – the purchase of a productised contact centre service allows monthly agent capacity to be flexed up or down in line with a customer’s changing seasonal demands.
- Meeting ever changing customer needs – one of the keys to successful customer engagement and retention by an organisation is allowing a customer to communicate in the medium that best suits them, whether that be voice, SMS, social media, and so on. Adding the ability to support new channels of interaction is simply a case of subscribing to the additional feature licence for the appropriate number of contact centre agents.
- Focus on core contact centre business rather than “keeping lights on” – removing the overhead of the cycle of contact centre hardware and software updates and upgrades allows an organisation’s IT team to focus on key IT business projects instead.
- Predictable cost model – a subscription-based contact centre service allows a business to spread out the ongoing operating costs into predictable monthly spend whilst removing the unpredictable financial outlay that can occur when the necessary equipment is upgraded or security patches are required.
The Benefits of a Cloud Contact Centre
Some of the above drivers for the adoption of a cloud contact centre can also be seen as benefits. The following are often cited as key benefits realised from adopting a cloud contact centre:
- Reduce large capital outlay – a subscription-based contact centre service allows significant capital expenditure (CapEx) to be moved over to smaller, regular operational expenditure (OpEx). Many organisations are mandated to reduce capex spend and, for those organisations who do prefer a CapEx model, the monthly contact centre subscription licensing can often be purchased on an annual or 3 to 5 year term basis from the service provider.
- Predictable cost model – variable monthly operating costs, such as PSTN call charges, can be moved to predictable monthly charges as many cloud contact centre service providers include call minute bundles within their monthly SIP PSTN charges.
- Speed of deployment – cloud-based contact centre services can be provisioned in a much shorter time frame than traditional on-premise contact centres, allowing an organisation to benefit from faster response to changing customer demands.
- Simplify adoption of new contact centre technology – again achieved through subscribing to the additional feature licence(s) for the appropriate number of contact centre agents as opposed to the often cumbersome, time-consuming model of project-based system updates/upgrades for new features and services.
- Global reach – larger organisations can benefit from the global reach of major cloud contact centre service providers allowing uniform contact centre services to be quickly deployed wherever a company operates rather than relying on a protracted site-based rollout model.
- Reduce operating, maintenance and upgrade costs – the regular hardware, software upgrades and security patching now become the responsibility of the service provider, removing this time-consuming process, and associated costly overheads, from the business.
- Ease of access to advanced capabilities such WFM, QM and customer journey analytics – use of a cloud contact centre reduces the complexity, lead time and deployment costs of advanced capabilities by allowing an organisation to subscribe to these services on a per agent basis. Traditional on-premise contact centres require each individual application to be purchased and deployed on site along with the necessary agent feature licences.
- Flexible management – in addition to desktop web browser-based access for contact centre supervisors and administrators for management purposes, most cloud contact centres support smartphone and tablet applications for this capability. Another added benefit is that contact centre administration can now be performed anywhere that Internet access is available, which may be a key requirement for business continuity purposes.
Should my Organisation Move to a Cloud Contact Centre?
This is somewhat of a loaded question as it depends on each organisation’s individual requirements and corporate strategy. The OpEx versus CapEx model can often be a key beneficial factor for many businesses when considering a move from an on-premise to cloud-based contact centre.
However, it should not be considered as a purely cost-saving exercise as in the long run; the operational expenditure over the term of the contract may in fact exceed that of an on-premise model financed as a CapEx purchase.
For many public sector organisations, such as health and government, data residency becomes a key consideration – can the cloud contact centre provider guarantee that your data will remain resident in the country of your choosing under both normal and disaster recovery conditions.
As outlined previously, one benefit of cloud contact centres is that the responsibility for overall systems security and security patch updates lies with the service provider, however an organisation’s security policy may not allow this function or user data to be handled outside of the business.
One key consideration in moving to a cloud contact centre is that it may require significant changes to the organisation’s underlying data network and telephony infrastructure. With an on-premise contact centre, the bulk of the associated data traffic remains within the company’s network, however with a cloud contact centre this situation is reversed; the data network may not be adequately provisioned to support this change in traffic flow. Furthermore, if the customer’s Internet service is to be used for both contact centre voice and data traffic, then the bandwidth may need to be increased and consideration given as to whether Quality of Service (QoS) for voice traffic is required/available to ensure timely delivery of the delay-sensitive voice traffic over this link.
By definition, a cloud contact centre, whether in a private or public cloud, is a productised service offering and thereby comes with standardised terms and conditions. Whilst these terms and conditions may present no issues to smaller, corporate organisations, there may be significant legal restrictions to public sector organisations, such as healthcare and education bodies, in signing up to a cloud contact centre service from some providers.
What are the Potential Downsides to a Cloud Contact Centre?
Whilst there are many benefits to moving to a cloud contact centre, consideration must be given to some of the potential downsides that such a service may present to a business considering the move. Some examples of this are shown below.
- What happens if the service provider goes out of business or is acquired by another organisation – do you have contingency measures in place to ensure access to valuable/sensitive organisational or customer data? It is not unheard of for a service provider to go out of business overnight and the appointed administrators to hold the business’ data to ransom, where organisations are essentially instructed to pay a certain amount of money to avoid the power being turned off. The new owner of your cloud contact service may wish to impose significantly different terms and conditions, or announce the withdrawal of service of the cloud contact centre platform your business is currently subscribed to.
- A 3 or 5 year cloud contact centre agreement may well be more expensive than the equivalent on-premise offering when the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is taken into consideration.
- A cloud contact solution is a productised service and as such may lack the necessary customisation to replace the capabilities of your existing on-premise solution. As previously mentioned, the offered terms and conditions of service may also not be customisable to your organisation’s individual requirements.
- What about potential security considerations? Your business will be handing over responsibility for the security of both your contact centre platform and potentially sensitive organisational and customer data to a 3rd party organisation. Be sure that, as part of your due diligence process, you are confident that the service provider will act as “a safe pair of hands”.
- Consider that the cloud contact centre service itself is not the only cost involved in a move away from an on-premise contact centre. An organisation’s underlying data network infrastructure may also require investment to support the change in traffic flow previously described. Will the new service provider support your existing agent desktop phones, or will a significant financial outlay for new desk phones also be required?
- As your contact centre platform is now located off-site, there will be a heavy reliance on your organisation’s WAN or Internet services for connectivity to the cloud. If the contact centre is key to an organisation’s business, then WAN/Internet service must be provisioned with the necessary bandwidth and level of resilience to meet your required level of service. These measures will likely incur extra costs.
- Variable PSTN call charges. If an organisation’s existing PSTN service is to deliver calls to the agents for a cloud contact centre, then multiple calls may well be involved when using DDI. These multiple calls will not only incur additional charges for traditional PSTN service bundles but will tie up extra channels for agents calls. Do you have sufficient PSTN capacity to ensure customers and employees don’t repeatedly encounter a “busy” signal?
- Reliability/uptime guarantees for the cloud contact centre platform. Can it meet the service level that is offered if your current on-premise service is a fully resilient/redundant deployment?
The Future of Cloud Contact Centre
Contact centre technology has seen numerous advances over the years, from the emergence of omni-channel capabilities, allowing customers to engage with a business via the media of their choice, through to WFM, QM and customer journey experience, giving valuable insight into agent-customer interaction and allowing contact centre performance to be measured against desired SLAs.
However, the biggest developments, particularly in cloud contact centre, have resulted from a quantum leap in data processing capabilities and capacity offered by cloud computing. This has allowed advanced technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to be available at a competitive price point that would have been cost prohibitive under an on-premise model.
AI and ML have enhanced the capability of cloud contact centre chatbots and virtual agents, allowing simpler customer interactions to be actioned without the need for the customer to engage with a human agent. AI is able to interpret speech and text, for example, and apply suggested solutions based on customer data and ML insights gained from previous customer interactions.
AI and ML are also enabling (cloud) contact centre agents to be more productive through technologies, such as Agent Assist, that automatically prompt the agent with information (such as documents or web links) based on the content of the customer-agent conversation, whether that exchange be happening via voice, chat or social media. Previously, the agent would either have to retrieve this information from their memory, or search for the information whilst dealing with the customer, resulting in extended call handle times and possible customer dissatisfaction if their issue could not be successfully resolved on the call (first call resolution).
AI and ML capabilities are also allowing the increasing amount of data generated from quality management (such as voice and agent screen recording), CSAT score analysis and customer journey experience to be analysed in less time than would be possible with human resources alone and to help reduce the level of human error that can occur during this process.
AI facilitates the customer-agent interaction to switch dynamically between modalities (voice, chat, etc.) during the “call” as needs demand.
Face-to-face video calls between agent and customer were touted as the must-have a few years ago but, in reality, this mode of interaction does not appear to have gained much traction. However, with video calling becoming the new “normal” during the COVID-19 pandemic, customer-agent video calls may see a resurgence after all.
Contact centre technology and capability have benefitted greatly from cloud enablement, as outlined in this document. The time to market for new contact centre deployment and feature upgrades has been significantly reduced and the availability of a subscription-based service model has resulted in many organisations realising significant financial benefits.
The use of AI and ML technology has allowed agents to be more productive, greatly enhanced the capabilities and effectiveness of customer journey experience analysis and leads to an overall improvement in the customer experience when engaging with a business via their contact centre.
Overall, cloud contact centre is able to provide many businesses with significant benefits compared to a traditional on-premise contact centre deployment model. However, as with all technology choices, a thorough needs analysis and due diligence process must be performed in order to ensure that all the critical requirements, such as uptime/availability and cost effectiveness, are met, in addition to the feature and performance enhancements that can be realised.
Enlisting the Help of an Expert Contact Centre Consultant
If you would like to find out if and how the move to a cloud-based contact centre might benefit your organisation, it would be advisable to consult an expert. 4C Strategies is a team of expert contact centre and IT infrastructure consultants with decades of experience in a variety of both private and public sectors, assisting organisations with needs analysis, as mentioned above, as well as procurement, deployment and ongoing project management.
To speak to one of our experts, or to find out more, contact 4C Strategies today on 01858 438938, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.