Let's say your marketing department has decided to run a major promotional campaign that's expected to drive a surge in online and telephone traffic, both inbound and outbound, over the next two weeks. As CIO, you're expected to scale up your existing customer contact centre system to cope with the increase volumes – and the need to bring hundreds of temporary customer service representatives (CSRs) online.
Running an on-premise customer contact centre? Good luck scaling it up that much overnight. The complexities of building such infrastructure – particularly on short timelines – have become well-known over the years, which is why CIOs who are regularly faced with such challenges are embracing increasingly scalable cloud architectures as a way of quickly ramping up service delivery.
“If a business for some reason needs to spin up 20 agents on a new campaign they want to run, the cloud has no issues at all delivering that,” says Stephen Irecki, Head of Solutions Engineering- J/ANZ with Interactive Intelligence, a more than 20-year-old provider of multi-channel customer service systems that last year launched an overhauled system called PureCloud.
Because cloud architectures are based on repeatable components that can be readily duplicated and configured – PureCloud runs on the global Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud infrastructure – “you're talking about a solution where you can put on five agents today but tomorrow you may need to have 100 or 10,000 agents logging in,” he says.
“The cloud infrastructure will scale accordingly, and as a business you don't need to worry about the underlying technology; it all gets taken care of.”
This kind of rapid deployment has natural appeal for CIOs that have long struggled to keep often ageing customer-support systems ahead of new technology trends and surging demand as the business grows.
Like any powerful enterprise system, Interactive Intelligence's conventional on-premises solution, which has been built and expanded progressively since 1997, can take months of planning, business-requirements mapping, configuration, testing, and upgrades.
This approach delivers customer-care environments that were tailor-made for a particular business, but without the flexibility of an almost infinitely scalable cloud infrastructure it can be expensive, more problematic, and quite time-consuming to make changes on the fly.
This flexibility is a core element of any business case for migrating from conventional contact-centre platforms to completely cloud-based options now emerging in the market. Yet CIOs can also draw on a range of other benefits when building a business case for a move to the cloud.
Reduced capital expenditure, for example, offers up-front cost savings by reducing the need to buy large quantities of servers and the related data-centre infrastructure or hosting services necessary to keep them running. These costs often lurk deep in IT budgets as recurring capital expenses, with regular upgrades and new technologies needed to help ever-older legacy systems keep up with business growth or support new initiatives that they were never designed to support.
When shifted to a cloud environment – where resources are billed based on clearly defined operational parameters and commercial services are licensed on a per-user, per-month basis – these costs can be unitised and amortised on an annual basis to give CIOs a clear, accurate forecast about their IT expenditure.
This approach also allows the infrastructure costs of specific campaigns – that massive outbound marketing campaign, for example, or the influx of calls after a multi-channel campaign advertising a seasonal sale – to be computed, clearly conveyed to the project sponsors, and oncharged to the relevant business units in a process that improves visibility and control over costs.
Yet cloud solutions are about much more than just better scalability and costing. Because they are based on open and interoperable Internet standards, cloud-based solutions can dramatically simplify the process of integrating between various customer-contact channels.
This integration is essential for a world where customer support long ago stopped being about picking up the phone. These days, live text chat, voice over IP conversations, remotely-guided browser sessions, video chats and live interactions via a range of social-media platforms and mobile devices have all been added to the mix.
For businesses to provide effective customer support these days, these and other channels must be seamlessly linked into customer-care platforms that minimise the incremental cost of expanding existing systems. Creating these linkages to legacy systems can be prohibitively expensive and require additional skills that most organisations don't have, Gartner warned in a recent analysis that found 90 percent of organisations will lack an application integration strategy through 2018.
Like other cloud solutions, however, Interactive Intelligence has designed PureCloud around open standards like HTTPS, JSON, and XML that supersede proprietary computer-telephony interface (CTI) linkages to allow integration between disparate systems using widely-published application programming interfaces (APIs). This allows for quick and seamless integration whilst preserving controls around data protection, ensuring quality control, meeting compliance standards enforced at the cloud-platform level, encrypting data, and more.
“One of the main benefits of having these solutions in the cloud is that integration with other solutions has become much easier,” Irecki says. “CTI added a lot of complexity for businesses because they had different portals, systems, and clients that were inconsistent with each other.”
“This meant their agent experience was more complex and confusing, and customers got frustrated because they had to do things like repeat themselves two or three times throughout their support journey because the different systems couldn't talk to each other. Delivering the omni-channel experience was very difficult.”
While cloud-based customer contact centres offer significant savings in terms of back-end infrastructure, their ability to transform the agent and customer experience is potentially even more valuable in helping businesses reinvent themselves.
In the context of a cloud business case, short-term infrastructure savings will be augmented by long-term savings from process improvements – and, eventually, from incremental revenues generated when seamlessly linked contact channels work together with constantly-added new functionality to support customer interactions from the first click to the last.
“Having everything together in one communications solution is quite advantageous for the business because they don't need to have disparate systems offering different technologies,” Irecki says.
“This is our bread and butter in terms of the value we give to our customers. This usability is key for the next generation of users. Since most new technologies are online, having your customer engagement solution in the cloud as well provides great synergy that has made the whole discussion much easier.”
Rethink your cloud contact centre with PureCloud Engage
- Simple pricing, month-to-month terms
- A true cloud architecture that provides continuous improvements
- A feature-rich solution for complete customer engagement
- Unparalleled reliability and disaster recovery
- Amazon Web Services elastic infrastructure with limitless capacity
- IP telephony services like porting existing and adding new numbers
- A modern web and mobile user experience
- Lightning-fast deployment