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Small businesses versus mega-sized competitors: 5 ways the game is changing

April 3, 2012 / Rich Fox

It wasn’t so long ago that the deck was stacked in favor of the largest players in any given industry. They were the ones with the buying power, the optimized supply chains, and the technology that, taken in total, gave them a crushing competitive edge over small and mid-sized businesses.

They still have the buying power and the optimized supply chains. But when it comes to servicing, understanding, and building stronger relationships with their customer, the playing field is about to change.

Technology that once required huge investments in IT personnel, software, and hardware — making it the exclusive domain of big business — is now available to businesses of any size. Capabilities that small business could once only dream about are now as close as a web browser.

For example, small businesses are using eBay Stores to compete effectively against Wal-Mart or Amazon, SalesForce.com to capitalize on CRM, Google Apps to accelerate collaboration, iPads and Android tablets to catalyze teams in the field, and so on.

But one crucial department of fast-growing companies has remained off-limits, until now. That department is the call center, and it’s about to be transformed by the same force that’s transforming e-commerce, CRM, collaboration, and so much more: the cloud.

Call centers are the nerve center of any customer-facing service organization. Until recently, it required truckloads of time, money, software, hardware, and in-house expertise for a business to implement centralized (or, worse, distributed) contact centers for receiving, processing, managing, and analyzing a large volume of customer phone calls.

But now, thanks to the convergence of VoIP, cloud computing, and software-as-a-service, all that power is becoming available in turnkey packages that any small business can sign up for, pay for by the drink, and have operational in just a few weeks. And that means any small business can level the playing field against much larger competitors by improving customer service levels through advanced call queuing, routing, monitoring, and metrics.

This tipping point has wide-ranging effects. Here are five trends in call centers we’re watching now:

  1. Hire the best people, no matter where they live. Hiring outstanding workers is always tough, especially for small businesses, which used to be limited to the local population. Sourcing the best talent from around the country would eat up time and resources that many businesses don’t have, like the cost of flying candidates in for interviews or paying relocation expenses. These costs no longer stand in the way thanks to VoIP and cloud technology. Interview prospects for free over Skype. Let new employees work from home — wherever that might be. Just as you can access Google from any computer, your employees can run your call center from anywhere, even if your call center is in Chicago and your employee is in Miami. As call centers move to the cloud, anyone with a computer can take, receive, and manage calls. Because a cloud-based call center can be run from anywhere, small business owners can hire the best people no matter where they live without breaking the bank. There’s no reason to settle for so-so employees just because they’re close at hand. Seek out the best in class, and watch your business take off.
  2. Business metrics for mere mortals. Do you know how long your customers are on hold? Are you able to monitor phone calls and use recordings for training and improving customer service? Are you able to pull up a chart and see all your peak times so you can better staff to handle that load? Are you able to look back over the past year and figure out when your phones rang most often? Probably not. But with a call center in the cloud, you can have all that information at your fingertips using nothing more than a web browser. Without hard data about number of calls handled, calls per hour, and handle times, your company is operating blind. Take control of your customer services with metrics that allow you to visualize and pinpoint customer interactions. Your small business will gain a new window into customer services through these metrics. You’ll wonder how you ever managed without this ability to effectively measure employee performance and ensure top-notch customer interactions.
  3. Onshoring: a revolution. President Obama has proposed a tax policy that could transform the economy by encouraging companies to hire in the U.S. This is one of the few issues that politicians on both sides of the aisle support. For years, call centers were outsourced to other countries to cut costs for large companies. Few were happy about this arrangement. Now that the tide is changing, who better than small businesses, the engine of the American economy, to power up the onshoring revolution that our president is calling for? Between backlash against outsourced call centers and a tax incentive to bring jobs home, many of these jobs could return to America. Now that cloud technology allows for a virtual workforce, your small businesses can get a tax break, help drive job creation, and hire the best employees you can find. All you need is an Internet connection.
  4. Call centers become contact centers. Customers have started shying away from call centers. If you’ve ever been stuck on hold or transferred 20 times while trying to troubleshoot a problem, you’ll understand why. Newer options like instant messaging or email, mean customers don’t have to use the phone if they don’t want to. Even Facebook and Twitter have become forums for helping customers. As these options become more popular, call centers are evolving into contact centers that integrate all these mediums. But no matter how a customer chooses to interact, businesses need to measure productivity, the quality of interactions, and the volume of incoming messages. Unfortunately, few all-in-one solutions exist. The ones that do use multiple databases, cobble together a bunch of different solutions, and outsource others. There are some growing pains in this space, but a solution is on the horizon. Be ready for it.
  5. The playing field levels. At one point, small companies couldn’t compete with the call centers of the major competitors. They didn’t have the infrastructure or resources to match the call volumes or databases. Technology, like VoIP, and government plans, like the FCC Broadband Initiative, have brought high-quality bandwidth to the masses. This expansion gives more people faster access to the cloud. As a result, your business can achieve the same quality and accountability in customer services as your mega-sized competitors. A cloud-based call center means you never have to worry about maintenance, obsolescence, or administering the technology and applications.

These trends give small businesses the same tools as the major players at a fraction of the cost. The convenience of monitoring calls from any web browser is just a plus. As technology opens up opportunities, the companies — whether large or small — that can best use that technology to serve their customers will be the ones that thrive.

 

Categories: Call Center
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