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How to choose the right cloud services provider for your cloud-based call center

September 24, 2012 / Rich Fox


In my last post, I peeled off the benefits contact center managers stand to gain when they make the switch to a cloud-based call center. If you’ve made up your mind to reap those benefits by undergoing a cloud migration, it’s time to begin the most important step of the process: choosing the correct cloud services provider.

The two main factors to consider when evaluating providers are technology and cost. Today, I’ll demonstrate how you can find a cloud services provider that will be a perfect technical and financial fit for your organization.

The technical fit
At the beginning of your search, you might feel like you need to learn how to speak fluent IT to talk to providers. And while some basic knowledge of the technology is needed to differentiate between cloud providers, there are a few key questions you can ask that aren’t loaded with complex terminology. Familiarize yourself with the following questions, as well as the answers you should and shouldn’t accept:

1. How will you ensure the calls get delivered?

Best answer: “We prefer to install dedicated network capacity that we maintain and monitor 24/7, 365. This allows us to provide guarantees in the form of contractual SLAs that allow customers to sleep easy at night. Besides physical network and carrier redundancy, our applications have multiple levels of business continuity routing pre-built as part of the implementation.”

Unacceptable answer: “Our calls travel across the Internet. Generally, they don’t have any issue reaching their destination, but we can’t control the Internet.”

2. How can you ensure the quality of the call?

Best answer: “We monitor the quality of every call and prefer to have complete control of every link in the chain that allows us to proactively prevent any issue. That’s why we offer our customers a contractual call quality SLA.”

Unacceptable answer: “High-speed broadband connections are usually good enough to prevent issues. However, the Internet can be the Wild West, so you might encounter problems. That’s something you can work with your Internet provider to resolve.”

3. How will you get the call to the right person’s phone?

Best answer: “Most call centers want every call answered in a timely fashion by the RIGHT person. Our goal is to reach that person regardless of whether they are working in the office, at home, or even traveling. An agent can operate from anywhere with our solution without any additional cost.”

Unacceptable answer: “It’s the customer’s responsibility to make sure their staff is ready and at their desk when a call comes in.” (This is one of my least-favorite answers — don’t these agents appreciate this is a tough economy!?)

When you find a provider that answers all three questions correctly, then it’s time to look at the financial side of the equation.

The financial fit
Before I get into details about the financial aspect of the evaluation process, I want to explain that the entire financial structure of your call center is about to change. This is a big deal, and I’m going to spill a lot of ink about this in this blog post, because a move to the cloud fundamentally changes the economics of your call center.

Your on-premise call center accumulated capital expenditures (CAPEX). Once you’re in the cloud, your center will be priced on operating expenses (OPEX).

Here’s a simple analogy to explain the difference: You need a new photocopier. Buying the actual machine is the CAPEX of the investment. The paper, toner, power, and maintenance of the photocopier is the OPEX. So, OPEX is the ongoing cost of running your cloud system. CAPEX was the cost of the parts that ran your on-premise equipment. With OPEX, you’ll eliminate many of the financial issues that call center managers run into with CAPEX.

For instance, budgeting for CAPEX comes once a year, and managers are expected to accurately plan the right use of the budget for an entire year. However, we all know things change, and I’ve seen many managers bang their head against the wall because of a waning CAPEX budget. With OPEX, your budget is ongoing, and you’ll pay for things as you need them. Moreover, you’ll find that CAPEX was only appropriate when you had physical servers and other hardware to maintain. Now that those are out of the budget, you’ll be free to place that money elsewhere.

The finance people at your company will appreciate the financial flexibility of the OPEX costs being aligned with your organization’s growth and seasonality versus buying a bunch of equipment and phone system capacity up-front that you may never fully leverage.

Once you understand the nature of this organizational financial change, you can begin to evaluate the pricing platform of potential providers. There is one major tactic that service providers will use to get you to pay more, even after the deal closes. I like to call these hidden and unpredictable costs.

The hidden cost trap
Hidden and unpredictable costs can turn a seemingly good deal into a rotten one. These costs will most likely lie in the maintenance of your platform, both in any malfunctions and in keeping the platform current.

Here’s my cautionary tale: When I was a call center manager, I paid our provider $900,000 a year in maintenance. Looking back, I see what a giant mistake that was. If you’re constantly paying a lot of money to fix things that are breaking down within your system, aren’t you just paying more for something that you already bought?

It’s also crucial to talk about software updates up front. The service provider I was using back then didn’t include the cost of upgrades in our initial agreement. So if it came out with a new version of software, I had to pay extra to upgrade all my call center agents to the new version. And, not only did I have to pay for that next version, I also had to pay for them to install the licensing it required.

Now, if you’ve addressed the updates with your potential provider and they tell you that you won’t be responsible for paying for a new version of software each time it’s released, don’t stop asking questions. Find out if anything else will be required in any future upgrades.

For instance, a provider might cover your update, but it might not cover any additional hardware that it will take to make that update work. This is a sign that you will be covering a lot of incremental things with no warning.

Also don’t forget to ask about hardware upgrades required as the equipment begins to reach the end of its useful life after just a few years. The equipment will likely need to be refreshed and the provider will likely require professional services to install and configure the equipment even if you are allowed to purchase the hardware on your own from you preferred supplier.

The flexibility fit
Finally, make sure you have flexibility within your agreement. A great example of this is related to one of the benefits of the cloud itself: the ability to let your employees work from home. However, some providers will try to make you pay extra for this licensing change.

When it comes to cloud services providers, there should be no man behind the curtain. You should be comfortable with the technology you have purchased, and with the invoice you receive each month. Now that you are equipped with the right knowledge, you will be able to find a cloud platform that is a technical and financial fit for your organization.

The next step in your cloud migration is to be prepared for any barriers you might face when moving to a cloud-based call center. I’ll be going over that in my next post.

Categories: Contact Center
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