A major decision concerning call center systems is how the software will be hosted. Software can be installed on an office server in what is known as a managed system, it can be hosted in the cloud, or it can be hosted by a third-party hosting company. The hosting system you opt for can make a big difference in cost, but it's not just a matter of looking at subscription fees. While a third-party hosting system tends to have more expensive subscription fees than a self-hosting one, having someone else look after the software means you need little if any in-house technical support.
- Self-Managed Systems. While self-managed systems seem like the simplest solution-just install the software and run the system yourself-they can be the most difficult when you factor in your own time. On the positive side, you have full control over the system. The downside is that you have complete responsibility for keeping the system running. Any errors or problems fall to your in-house staff to put right. Although many providers of self-managed systems offer some support, it might not be what you need when you need it. If having your call center operating efficiently is essential to your profits, be sure to consider the costs of maintaining the system, not just the base price of hosting it.
- Cloud-Based Systems. To avoid in-house servers and all the hardware and software headaches that come with them, more and more call centers are now self-hosted on the cloud. The cloud is just another way of saying that the system is hosted online. Self-hosted means that you're the one who set it up on the cloud, and you're responsible for keeping it operating. Your cloud host provides space for you to do your thing, but usually offers no support beyond providing reliable storage. The drawbacks of cloud hosting are latency (running slowly) and security (vulnerability due to being online). But as more and more cloud-based systems are emerging, these problems are disappearing. Most cloud services now offer redundant backups and data encryption.
- Third-Party Hosting. For a complete, no-headache solution, third-party hosting is favored by many call centers-particularly large ones. While annual hosting subscriptions tend to be much higher than both self-managed and cloud-based systems, the initial costs are incredibly low. Essentially, you don't have any capital expenses with a hosted system, and the cost savings in operation and support can be truly significant. In addition, you also have a partner that's handling all the complexities of running your software system, enabling you to take advantage of their expertise. However, the depth of experience can vary from vendor to vendor. One problem with third-party hosts is the need to get your hosting partner to understand your needs, challenges, and preferences.
Glossary of Terms
Automatic Call Distribution (ACD): An automatic system that uses either caller ID, or requests that a caller input numbers on a keypad, to route calls. ACD makes a call center more efficient by automatically routing calls to the correct operator.
Cloud: Cloud computing is the hosting of software on the Internet, which saves you from having to install a system on your own PCs or servers. It also makes your system accessible from any device connected to the Internet, such as a tablet or smartphone.
Computer Telephony Integration (CTI): This turns a PC into a telephone system, providing all the functionality and more of a telephone without the need for specialized equipment.
Interactive Voice Response (IVR): A system that recognizes speech and what a person is saying. IVR enables automated operator systems where callers can vocalize what they want.
Virtual Call Center: Instead of having operators in the same room or building, virtual call centers allow calls to be routed to any operator anywhere on the system. This allows operators to work remotely.
Virtual Operators: Also called "virtual attendants," virtual operators are call-answering systems that instruct users in how to serve their own needs by either speaking commands or entering them on a keypad.
Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP): The use of the Internet to make voice calls. Often VoIP is much cheaper than regular landline call rates.