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Hosted Power: How Four Call Centers Work Smarter in the Cloud

When hosted call center technology debuted in the early 2000s, the primary selling point was the same one that has turned salesforce.com into the poster child for hosted enterprise software: a money-saving, pay-as-you-go pricing model with no in-house hardware investment or related IT infrastructure, maintenance and upgrade expenses.

That savings has proven to be significant. One Yankee Group study estimated that cloud-based call centers can lower the total cost of ownership as much as 45%. The cost advantage has helped fuel rapid growth in the space, with DMG Consulting estimating a 26% increase in seat numbers and a 50% increase in overall deployments between 2008 and 2009 alone.
But another equally important benefit has emerged as hosted call center deployments have increased. As discussed in Part 1 of this series, that advantage is flexibility. Staff size, location, call routing and IVR scripting can be adjusted in hours – or even minutes – in order to address changing needs.

With cloud-based call centers, managers have the ability to add or subtract agents with a phone call, change call routing or IVR scripts internally rather than waiting for off-site technicians, connect new sites or home agents with a few new settings instead of expensive infrastructure extensions, and otherwise fine-tune their operations on a dime.

Here are four examples of how call centers are leveraging the hosted model to not only save money but also become more nimble – and in many cases more profitable.


For CLEARLINK Technologies, the core advantage of moving into the cloud – beyond avoiding a $2 million upfront investment for a new premises-based call center system – has been the ability to modify call routing, IVR menus and IVR recordings in less than an hour. The company runs local marketing campaigns for major national brands, and the ability to adjust marketing and caller interaction strategies nearly instantaneously helps drive incremental business.

“Our job is to attract customers on behalf of our clients as well as convert shoppers into buyers. To do that, we’re constantly changing how we route callers, what they hear from the IVR, and what type of customer data we gather based on caller demographics and call metrics,” said Brandon Russell, Director of Call Center Operations for CLEARLINK.

“With our premises-based call center equipment, it took at least a few days of programming by outside contractors to make those changes. With our hosted system, we can do it ourselves, be up and running the same day we decide to modify a campaign, and save thousands of dollars every time we make an adjustment.”

2-1-1 @ IMPACT: Tripled Agents in an Emergency

On July 22, 2010, Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County was hit by a disastrous flood. Over the next 36 hours, community and information referral service 2-1-1 @ IMPACT received thousands of calls for help. With the fixed number of ports in a conventional installed call center system, the lion’s share of those callers would have been greeted by a busy signal. The service’s cloud-based platform saved the day in several ways.

First, as call volume soared to 10 times the normal level, 2-1-1 @ IMPACT’s hosting provider increased the service’s port allocation from 70 to 1000. Second, managers added 24 staff volunteers to take calls from both the office and home with a few clicks, tripling the size of the response team in a matter of minutes. Third, IT staff quickly rescripted the IVR to turn off an automatic callback feature that was overwhelmed by the call volume and instead give callers the option to wait on the line or fill out a flood damage report online. The result: reduced call volume and queue times.

“We wouldn’t have been able to respond to the flood as well as we did with our old premises-based system,” said Jacki Bentilla, the service’s Information Technology Specialist. “We had an emergency situation, and having our call center backbone in the cloud gave us the scalability we needed to handle it.”  

Activision: In-House & Outsourced Agents on One Platform

Video game/interactive entertainment vendor Activision Publishing, Inc., initially moved to a hosted solution to leverage that same scalability during the busy holiday season and thereby avoid the expense of buying a phone switch that would sit 80% idle for most of the year. The company discovered a second major flexibility advantage of its cloud choice when it decided to divide call handling between in-house staff and an outsourcer.

Since hosted call center technology is able to support multiple brick-and-mortar sites with no physical infrastructure, Activision was able to add the outsourcer at virtually no cost. In-house tech support and outsourced warranty/replacement calls are managed on the same platform with full visibility into outsourcer activity. The hosted ACD seamlessly distributes calls to the appropriate location based on the caller’s IVR selection or warm call transfers by in-house agents.

“We release 10 to 15 games a year, each with two to four SKUs for gaming platforms like the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation. Our in-house tech support staff deals with technical issues related to each release, but it’s much more efficient to have an outsourcer deal with issues like return materials authorizations (RMAs),” said Kirk McNesby, Technical Operations, Activision Customer Support. “The beauty of doing it in the cloud is that we can route, manage, log and analyze calls to both groups using the same system.”

Support.com: 650 Home Agents

Remote technology support company Support.com has built its business with the help of yet another flexibility benefit of the hosted call center delivery model: the ability to easily and cost-effectively connect any number of home agents. With a staff of over 650 computer technicians from all corners of North America, the company runs one of the largest completely home-based call center operations in the world. 

Setting up a home agent requires nothing more than a standard or software-based soft phone, computer and broadband connection, eliminating SIP phones, specialized routers, client software and connectivity complications. Deployment is fast, there is no hardware loss in the event of agent turnover, and the company has saved an estimated $3.4 million annually in brick-and mortar real estate costs and related expenses.

“It would be virtually impossible to support a home-based workforce of our size with installed call center infrastructure. The costs and administrative overhead would be prohibitive, and there would inevitably be connectivity problems,” said Paul Vaillancourt, Senior VP Contact Center Operations for Support.com. “Hosted contact center technology was really our only practical choice, and it went hand in hand with our decision to transition to a work-from-home approach.”

Only in the Cloud

The flexibility of hosted call center technology is becoming as important in the selection of new or upgraded call center infrastructure as the cost savings. Users get only-in-the-cloud attributes like instant scalability, easy multi-site support and no-hassle home agent connectivity without sacrificing standard features like skills-based call routing, screen pops and CRM integration. No premises-based system can deliver those particular goods.

That’s why the growth of cloud-based call center infrastructure solutions is now outpacing that of premises-based technology: you get more for less. It’s difficult to argue with that.