Hosted Contact Center Making Gains

UniPress, NetSuite and others develop new hosted business services.

New offerings in hosted contact center services are seeking to meet enterprises growing demands for faster time to benefit with a lower cost of ownership by outsourcing more of their customer relationship management operations.

UniPress Software Inc. is a prime example of the kinds of new offerings popping up. The company, in tandem with the rollout this week of version 6.5 of its flagship FootPrints customer service and support application, will announce that is selling the software in a hosted environment using a hybrid pricing model.

The FootPrints Hosting Service will be sold to customers like licensed software, but with an 18 percent fee added for the hosting. Each customer gets their own instance of FootPrints with full system administration privileges, according to UniPress officials in Edison, N.J.

The service offers customers customized interfaces and fields for multiple project instances and use of their own domain names.

In a similar vein, hosted business applications service provider NetSuite Inc., of San Mateo, Calif., will announce later this month integrated hosted call center services through a partnership with White Pajama Inc., according to industry sources. White Pajama announced a similar deal with Inc. in March.

/zimages/1/ recently introduced new development tools and features for its hosted CRM software. Click here to read the full story.

Separately, EagleIP LLC will begin to offer this week a hosted contact center service based on CosmoCom Inc.s Contact Center On Demand platform. Pricing for the service, which will be offered in the U.S. for the first time after gaining acceptance in Europe first, will start at 6 cents per minute.

The moves are just the latest instances of vendors expanding their hosted customer service and support offerings. Hosted contact center services in particular are gaining traction as Siebel Systems Inc. bought hosted call center service provider Ineto Services Inc. in January and shortly thereafter began to offer the service, now dubbed Siebel Contact OnDemand, integrated with its Siebel CRM OnDemand hosted service.

"The trend toward outsourcing and multi-location contact centers really requires a thin-client architecture," said Greg Gianforte, president and CEO of multi-channel customer service technology company RightNow Technologies Inc.

Gianforte said such thin-client contact center applications are primarily delivered on a hosted basis. His Bozeman, Mont.-based company has found that out. Ninety percent of its customers elect to use its technology via the hosted model, up from just 50 percent four years ago.

"Customers have found they can achieve faster time to benefit and much lower ownership costs with the hosted model and that is reflected in these adoption rates," said Gianforte.

The hosted model works for outsourced customer service provider Crossroads Customer Solutions LP. The company was an Ineto customer, then added Siebel CRM On Demand after Siebel bought Ineto. The hosted model enabled Ineto to retain college students who had worked at its call center for the summer after they returned to school.

The students were assigned short shifts at peak hours, such as 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., according to Calvin Dennis, president of the Mansfield, Texas-based company.

"They go to class, come back to their dorm rooms, log on, take calls and earn a paycheck," said Dennis, noting that the typical student only works about 15 hours per week. "We use them when we need them and the only way to do that effectively is through the hosted model."

Dennis said Crossroads could host the software itself and connect the students remotely, but such a move would only detract from the companys "core competency"—providing customer service, rather than managing the customer service technology.

"Id rather avoid the infrastructure cost and maintenance and spend my time recruiting, hiring, training and scheduling the people who do the customer service," he said. "Let someone else stay up all night babysitting the hardware."

Despite Siebels Ineto buy, partnering remains the method of choice for existing hosted CRM service providers to offer full contact center services.

San Francisco-based, considered the hosted CRM market leader with 9,500 customers and 140,000 users, is focused for now on providing hosted customer service applications like issue tracking, routing, escalations and a self-service portal, company officials said.

"I am very interested [in hosted contact center services], but it is nascent. Very nascent," said CEO Marc Benioff.

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