Email a colleague    

December 2014

Are Cloud-Based Call Centers the Next Hot Product for the SMB Market?

Are Cloud-Based Call Centers the Next Hot Product for the SMB Market?

Good customer service is a strategic business lever.  This is certainly the case in the telecom market.  In many cases, the difference between the voice, messaging and data service is marginal, so high quality customer service becomes the edge for retaining existing customers and attracting new ones.

It’s the same for any vertical market: quality customer service can improve a company’s corporate identity and drive business growth.  But unfortunately, the issue for many businesses — especially small and medium sized ones — is they are often priced out of acquiring modern call center technology, the starting point for a good customer service operation.

Or at least until now.  Joining me now is Doron Dovrat, CEO of Tikal Networks, an Israeli firm that designs and develops end-to-end telephony and contact center solutions.

Tikal’s hottest product is a cloud-based call center that Doron claims “delivers the benefits of a large custom-built call center to SMBs at a much lower cost”.  That’s quite a claim, but in the following interview Doron fully explains the economics of cloud call centers and his plan to enter the U.S. market soon and work with channel partners.

Dan Baker: Doron, pushing cloud call centers to SMBs is an intriguing idea.  But how well is this idea taking off so far?

Doron Dovrat: You’d be surprised at the range of SMBs that have deployed our technology.  We have communications service providers, industrial companies, government organizations, financial services companies, insurance companies and a range of others with anywhere from just a few to dozens of agents using our solution.

Now, I will admit that lots of SMBs are at first reluctant to take the leap, but we can easily demonstrate the benefits.  I will give you an example.  One of our customers is an insurance agency with 90 agents spread across multiple locations.  They were working with an outdated call center system and inefficient manual processes.  The company understood they needed to make a change, but were hesitant to move forward.  The risk of interrupting businesses processes and losing revenue was a big concern.  We assured the CEO that the deployment would be fast.  We completed the installation, configuration and training within days.  By day 5 we had their 90 agent call center in full production.

Our experience shows that many SMBs who do not have any contact center technology, whether they are conscious of it or not, are already operating contact center related processes.  At the very least, most have ad hoc processes and all dedicate time for dealing with customers, answering questions, scheduling meetings and so forth.  Without a dedicated system or formalized business processes, these ad hoc activities are a hidden cost and even a burden to the business.  We are good at showing SMBs the huge benefits of moving to formal call center systems and can connect the benefits to the growth of their businesses.

Why are you coming into the U.S. market and what are your plans for channel distribution?

The U.S. is a huge market — there are about 20 million SMBs across the country and they drive around 50% of the U.S. economy.  Most of these SMBs are generally unaware that they can create a first class customer contact operation of their own at an affordable price.

Our plan is to enter the U.S. market in 2nd quarter 2015 with local partners and also sell direct via a do-it-yourself website.

We figure that most of our partners will be companies who specialize in selling IT and related services to SMBs.

In the U.S., there are many outsourcing companies that provide call center services to SMBs.  We will also be targeting these types of companies.

What will probably be the biggest challenge selling cloud call centers for SMBs in the U.S.?

It’s probably the mental block that says call centers are a luxury that only big companies can afford.  Many SMBs assume that call center solutions are expensive and require a large IT staff and budget.  With cloud technology, this is no longer the case.

At the same time, SMBs also underestimate how valuable first class customer service can be to their growth.  Large enterprises and mid-market companies have the tools and budget to provide the kind of customer service that increases loyalty and provides a competitive advantage.  So by offering an affordable, cloud-based service like ours, SMBs can be in the position to compete against the larger players in their markets.

We think the must-have requirements for the SMB market in the U.S. are as follows:

  1. Simple to install and maintain.
  2. Affordable with no upfront capital investment in equipment or the cost of hiring an implementation team.
  3. Scalable and pay-as-you-go subscription based on number of agents.  Business should be able to start with just a few agents and grow from there.
  4. Low maintenance or no maintenance at all.
  5. Open APIs and hooks to integrate with other IT systems like CRM.
  6. Multi-tasking with a single agent being able to manage multiple customers and multiple communication channels, such as voice, chat, social media and emails.
What are the advantages of going with a cloud-based call center solution?

Well, due to their limited resources in both in the IT domain and staffing, SMBs are looking for solutions that are easy and intuitive to use, while being simple and cost efficient to implement and maintain.  Furthermore, small companies often cannot afford the upfront capital investment in equipment and the ongoing need to employ an IT team to maintain complex systems.  Cloud-based technology offers an attractive, affordable, subscription-based path to obtaining an advanced contact center.

An on-premises system, by comparison, is much less flexible because it’s highly dependent on the capacity of the local servers.  But with the cloud, if you decide that tomorrow that you need an extra 50 or 100 agents to support a new campaign, it’s very easy to provision.

Current web architecture allows call center reps to easily work anywhere: in the office, at home or some any long distance or remote location without any restrictions.  And for the handset, you can use either an IP phone, a soft phone installed on the PC/laptop, a smartphone, or even a tablet.

The design of our system is very generic and not industry specific, which means customers enjoy the flexibility to configure their own workflow processes.  Full integration with CRM software or other internal or third party systems is available.

And being in the cloud does not mean you sacrifice capability.  For instance, Tikal supplies a full dashboard and reporting capabilities.  The business can see how many calls are coming in, their average waiting times, list of abandoned calls, etc.  They get all the analytics they need to manage their call center operation correctly and efficiently.

Thanks, Doron.  You make a good case that cloud-based call centers are a big opportunity for SMBs.

Dan, the secret to success in this market is educating SMBs that not only are sophisticated call centers within their reach, but also they can provide the same call center service a large firm can deliver at a very affordable price.  The gain in customer loyalty and satisfaction will move their businesses forward.

Copyright 2014 Black Swan Telecom Journal

 
Doron Dovrat

Doron Dovrat

Doron Dovrat is the co-founder and CEO of Tikal Networks.  An entrepreneur with a strong executive background, Doron was previously the co-founder and CEO of Dmatek, a company he took public on the AIM exchange in London.  He has also served as the CEO and on the board of numerous public and private companies in various software and technology fields.  Doron earned a BSc in Computer Science from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel.   Contact Doron via

Black Swan Solution Guides & Papers

cSwans of a Feather

  • Are Cloud-Based Call Centers the Next Hot Product for the SMB Market? interview with Doron Dovrat — Quality customer service can improve a company’s corporate identity and drive business growth.  But many SMBs are priced out of acquiring modern call center technology.  This article explains the benefits of affordable and flexible cloud-based call centers.
  • Driving Customer Care Results & Cost Savings from Big Data Facts interview with Brian Jurutka — Mobile broadband and today’s dizzying array of app and network technology present a big challenge to customer care.  In fact, care agents have a hard time staying one step ahead of customers who call to report problems.  But network analytics comes to the rescue with advanced mobile handset troubleshooting and an ability to put greater intelligence at the fingertips of highly trained reps.
  • Achieving Revenue Maximization in the Telecom Contact Center interview with Robert Lamb — Optimizing the contact center offers one of the greatest returns on investment for a CSP.  The director of AT&T’s contact center services business explains how telecoms can strike an “artful balance” between contact center investment and cost savings.  The discussion draws from AT&T’s consulting with world class customers like Ford, Dell, Discover Financial, DISH Network, and General Motors.
  • Bricks, Mortar & Well-Trained Reps Make a Comeback in Customer Management interview with Scott Kohlman — Greater industry competition, service complexity, and employee turnover have raised the bar in the customer support.  Indeed, complex services are putting an emphasis on quality care interactions in the store, on the web, and through the call center.  In this article you’ll learn about innovations in CRM, multi-tabbed agent portals,  call center agent training, customer treatment philosophies, and the impact of  self-service.

Related Articles

  • Black Swan Guide: Araxxe’s Revenue Assurance Consulting, Testing, and High Definition Billing Analysis Service by Dan Baker — How Araxxe’s end-to-end revenue assurance complements switch-to-bill RA  through telescope RA (external and partner data) and microscope RA (high-definition analysis of complex services like bundling and digital services).
  • Subex’s IDcentral Monetizes Telco & Enterprise Data to Deliver Digital ID & Risk Metric Services for Financing, KYC & More interview with Shankar Roddam — A new digital intelligence service that monetizes the idle data of telecoms and enterprises while also earning a good return for the owner of the data.
  • Opportunities & Obstacles: Consultant Luke Taylor Muses on the State of the Telecom Risk Assurance Business interview with Luke Taylor — A rambling discussion on the state of the risk assurance business with Luke Taylor, independent consultant in telecom revenue/fraud assurance and solution requirements and marketing.
  • LATRO’s Tips for Launching a Successful Revenue & Fraud Assurance Program for Mobile Money Operations in Developing Countries interview with Don Reinhart — A company building mobile money RA/FM tools and  managed services gives a concise, but detailed tutorial on how the Mobile Money Ecosystem works.  Revenue assurance pros will get tips on  what to look for in analytics/assurance tools, controls, and professional services.
  • A WeDo Conference Talk: Consulting & Analytics: Improving your Business Today, Enhancing it Tomorrow interview with Carla Cardoso & Bernado Lucas & Thomas Steagall — Leading risk management consultants explain their mission and walk-through RA, subscription fraud, and collections cases.  They also explain how analytics and machine learning can supplement process optimization.
  • PrologMobile’s Simple and Brilliant Plan to Save US MNOs Billions a Year in Recovered Phones & Retained Customers interview with Seth Heine — An expert in the mobile phone reverse supply chain explains how MNOs — via a neutral third party information exchange — can recover their original phones on the used market and save huge sums in multi-year customer retention.
  • WeDo Explores the IoT Ecosystem in Search of Tomorrow’s Pivotal Fraud & Business Assurance Solutions interview with Carlos Marques — A veteran product manager scans the IoT terrain, discusses key fraud and assurance challenges, and explains the preparatory steps WeDo is taking to become a key player in this emerging market.
  • New Report: Telecom Fraud & Business Assurance Solutions, Services & Strategies by Dan Baker & Luke Taylor & Colin Yates — TRI publishes a new market research report, Telecom Fraud & Business Assurance Solutions, Services & Strategies.  Free executive summary available.
  • Subex Juggles a Wide Variety of Business Assurance and Big Data Analytics Use Cases interview with Rohit Maheshwari — A expert in business assurance solutions explains top use cases such as: IoT security, big data analytics/AI, network asset optimization, multi-player gaming assurance, onboarding mobile subs, and AI customer analytics.
  • MTN Agility: Mastering Exponential Technologies in Revenue/Fraud Assurance and Beyond interview with Danie Maritz & Tony Sani & Luke Taylor — An in-depth look at RAFM operations and innovation at the MTN Group.  Topics discussed include RA/fraud control challenges, strategies, and MTN’s journey to exploit exponential tech (AI, robotics, and ML) in its RAFM program and support of internal non-telco businesses.
  • From Byzantine Software Contracts to Simple & Flexible RA Managed Services interview with Philippe Orsini — Is the way B2B/enterprise software is sold and delivered today progressive — or is it Byzantine in the age of cloud?  An expert lays out the case for managed services in RA and billing verification.
  • Premiere Experts Set to Speak at Summer RAG Conference in London, July 7th and 8th by Dan Baker — The Risk and Assurance Group (RAG) has announced that its 2016 summer conference will expand into a two-day event and feature many premiere experts. 
  • WeDo Hosts Revenue Assurance & Fraud Management Conference in Washington DC by Dan Baker — Black Swan is pleased to announce what looks to be a first class revenue assurance and fraud management conference being put on by WeDo Technologies, on October 1st and 2nd in beautiful Washington DC.
  • Test Call Generators: An Essential Test & Debugging Tool in Mobile Billing Assurance interview with Steffen Öftring — An “active” test call generator (TCG) can see problems that a “passive” revenue assurance system is blind to.  Here’s a discussion on the test call RA  process, over-the-air calls versus core call injection, and test call networks in global roaming RA.
  • The Revenue Assurance Game: How the Rules Change in the Era of IoT & Mobile Broadband interview with Rene Felber & Gadi Solotorevsky — Revenue assurance is perhaps the hardest of telecom functions to define because the term is used in so many different senses.  This discussion on the evolving role of revenue assurance was catalyzed by a survey of experts in the profession.
  • Day in the Life of a Revenue Assurance Analyst interview with Michael Lazarou — Revenue assurance is much more than a software category.  It’s individual analysts struggling to help their larger organizations get a handle on system errors and coordination problems.  In this interview, an analyst reveals the many challenges of getting the revenue assurance job done at a small GSM operator in Europe.
  • Revenue Assurance: History and New Beginnings in RA Maturity interview with Daniela Giacomantonio & Gadi Solotorevsky — The Roman Forum was the center of commercial life in ancient Rome.  Now, two millennia later, the Forum lives on in the exchange of ideas across countless professions and  media.  In this interview, two Revenue Assurance experts discuss both the new RA Maturity initiative of the TM Forum and the value of telco/solution vendor collaboration.
  • Migrating systems or launching LTE next year?  Don‘t forget transformation assurance & optimisation by Efrat Nissimov — System transformations and network migrations are major  revenue impacting events and they should raise a big red flag.  Why?  Because data integrity issues are bound to crop up as CSPs move vital data from a legacy system to something new.  It’s time for transformation assurance.
  • How can Cable/DSL Internet Providers Meet the Usage-Based Billing Mandate? interview with Ryan Guthrie — The popularity of YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu other video outlets has turned the tables on service profitability for cable/DSL service providers.  Many are moving to usage-based billing, but that largely unprepared for the revenue assurance aspects of this move.  This interview explains the technical challenge and points to solutions in billing, speed caps, and traffic revenue monitoring.
  • CABS Revenue Assurance: How Rural LECs can Recover $284 Million in Revenue Shortfalls interview with Kelly Cannon & Darrell Merschak — Independent rural LECs in the U.S. still rely on the AMA/EMI billing formats for CABS billing, even as that format has proven to be highly inaccurate as a source of inter-carrier records.  This interview includes an analysis and discussion of revenue recovery techniques ILECs can use by leveraging SS7 probes.  Also discussed are billing strategies, traffic dumping threats, and the possible fallout from the FCC’s bill-and-keep mandate.
  • Make Business Assurance Progress Every Day: How to Set Goals, Automate, and Energize Your Team interview with Kathleen Romano — Business assurance (BA) skills have wide applicability outside the revenue assurance and fraud mangement domains.  In this article, a telecom executive explains how she’s applying her BA skills in the Payments area.  In addition to discussing the key operational challenges in Payments, the interview also provides keen insights on setting goals in business assurance, leading a team, and making critical decisions.
  • LTE Rollout: Make it a Smashing Success with Risk Assessment, Controls, and Marketing Offer Analytics by Gadi Solotorevsky — LTE brings splendid new capabilities to mobile users.  But like 2G and 3G deployments before, operators can only make money if they successfuly plan, coordinate, deploy fast, and pay attention to pricing plans and the customer experience.  This article lays out a 3-phase tactical guide on  how revenue analytics professionals can add value in LTE service risk assessment, controls, and marketing offer analytics.
  • RA Prevention: How to Manage Revenue Risks and Communicate RA’s Value to Senior Execs by Shaul Moav — The era of revenue assurance prevention and risk assessment is here.  Several of the mature operators of the world have developed their own methodologies and tools.  Using firefighting and fire prevention as a metaphor, the article details a new commercial software approach explaining the goals, method of risk evaluation, and senior executive dashboards developed for the process.
  • Precision Clockworks: How Revenue Assurance Synchronizes with the Business at Swisscom interview with Marco Pollinger — An expert revenue assurance department is one whose work dovetails well with the lines of businesses it supports.  In this interview you’ll learn how Swisscom manages its revenue assurance function for maximum effect.  The article discusses: the operator’s innovative RA organization, the screening and RA approval of new services, its pre-production bill audits, and its coordination with corporate risk management.
  • Versatile, Portable & Corrections-Savvy: Quest for the Swiss Army Knife of Revenue Assurance Software by Mark Yelland — Revenue assurance maturity models are not cast in stone.  Since  best practices will change over time, it’s healthy to explore moving maturity models forward.  For example, great gains have been made in leakage detection, but RA corrections has been harder to master.  The author dreams about seven functions that should ideally come together in a single all-purpose revenue assurance software tool.
  • Bringing Strategic Planning & Value Engineering to Revenue Assurance interview with Maged Fawzy — Engineering and architectural techniques have a role in revenue assurance.  This interview with a top Egyptian RA consultant explains how continuous risk assessment and long range — yet flexible — RA planning can sharpen a carrier’s RA program and lead to better use of revenue assurance software and integration services.
  • Forensic Fossils: Is Your Revenue Assurance Shop Fit for Display at a Natural History Museum? interview with Jim Marsh — Without the continuous guiding light of seasoned revenue assurance leaders, even the best teams of RA professionals, technology, and business processes can fossilize and lose their vitality.
  • Revenue Assurance: The Magical Market Cap Multiplier by Van Howard & Curtis Mills — Many operators today consider revenue assurance yesterday’s opportunity.  But this article shows why significant revenue and cost leakage can still go undetected, even in companies with dedicated RA departments.  Also discussed are the benefits of a broader or more “forensic” approach to revenue assurance, an approach that boosts the bottom line regardless of the automated tools already in place.
  • From Risk to Robust: Turning the Big Picture Into a Real Agenda for Change in Telecoms by Eric Priezkalns — Inspired by a Financial Times article written by Nassim Taleb, author of “The Black Swan”, here is an insightful and entertaining primer on telecom risk management.  The article takes ten risk management lessons from Taleb and applies them specifically to the communications industry.  You’ll learn about the value of small scale trials, organization accountability, cures for a blame culture, incentives that work, the power of simplicity, and more.
  • Synthesizing the Telecom Business Assurance Practice With the Analytics World by Dan Baker — Business assurance is a wrapper term that allows you to draw a circle around various telecom assurance, control, and optimization activities.  This article maps business assurance as a subset of telecom analytics, constrasting it with marketing analytics while a diagram shows where biz assurance fits in the larger B/OSS world.
  • CABS Revenue Assurance Disputes: May the Carrier With the Best Data Win by Cheryl Smith Rardin & David West — Revenue assurance innovation is far easier when partners cooperate to make it happen.  This articles shows how a U.S. operator, software vendor, and consultant teamed to develop a breakthrough in Carrier Access Billing (CABS) assurance.  Learn about: the dispute resolution data gap that needed to be filled, the partnering strategy, the implementation challenges, and payback results.
  • Revenue Assurance vs.  Business Assurance: Who’s the Rightful King of Controls Software? interview with Sergio Luis Silvestre — Business controls software, originally developed for RA, is finding application in other areas of the business such as internal audit, collections, security and risk management.  This article argues that “business assurance” is the best term to describe this broader set of  controls software that can find a home in numerous departments or functions of a CSP’s business.
  • PwC on the Business of Revenue Assurance Consulting & Mentoring interview with Tim Banks & Dan Stevens — Revenue assurance consulting firms offer a broad range of services to clients these days.  The article explains the practice of mentoring RA mangers and providing a CFO with visibility on the status of an operator’s business controls.  Perspective is also offered on the value of RA software and the opportunity to broaden the RA practice scope.
  • Robots for Hire: Verifying Accuracy In the Age of Complex Mobile Billing/Charging interview with Xavier Lesage — As real-time charging and complex lifestyle calling plans gain credence across the globe in wireless, billing quality issues will rise in importance.  This article discusses a unique managed services approach to invoice testing and roaming fraud protection that checks results against advertised or published source data for the utmost accuracy.
  • Ericsson: Revenue Assurance Consulting With an NGN Flavor interview with Thomas Steagall — Helping operators detect billing and provisioning problem is merely table stakes in the RA services business these days.  The article discuss why operators need to ramp up their RA function with service experience and group-wide financial health monitoring.  Advise is also offered on: key RA maturity questions, risk-and-reward contracts, and how to extract greater value from software investments.
  • Do-It-Yourself RA for Small Operators and MVNOs interview with Mark Yelland — Budget-minded small operators and MVNOs are no longer hamstrung in RA capability anymore.  This article offers high-leverage strategies for operators who cannot afford expensive RA software tools.  With  data access, brains, and a DIY philosophy, any small operator can map a  path to greater RA savings, maturity, and program growth.
  • Revenue Assurance Maturity: Report From the Arena interview with Eric Nelson — Revenue assurance maturity can‘t be easily computed.  How do you  compare the KPIs of Comcast billing with that of mobile money RA in Western Africa?  Even still, this article offers some universal RA wisdom from a straight-shooting veteran of carriers large and small.  Topics discussed include: dashboard or process, COTS vs. inhouse solutions, and tips on gaining internal support for the RA practice.