Although less than 1% of US and European call centres currently use advanced network routing services, the market is on the verge of boom as multi-site routing solutions are becoming extremely popular with large and medium-sized firms globally, according to a new report from Datamonitor.
This shift will provide lucrative opportunities for telcos, technology vendors and service providers, and will also increase the number of agent positions in networked call centres.
The report, Networked Call Centres, predicts that the number of networked call centres in Europe will increase from 460 in 2001 to 684 in 2004 when such centres will account for 19% of Europe's overall call centre agent positions. By comparison, in the US, networked call centres will total 1010 by 2004 and account for 18% of overall call centre agent positions.
Networked and virtual call centres use routing applications to switch calls between centres. The routing functionality is hosted by telcos (or other service providers) on their own networks. When full automatic call distributor (ACD) integration is achieved, several sites can work in a virtual call centre environment.
Network routing technology solutions have many advantages for fragmented enterprises seeking to unify their call centre operations, including:
- A single point of contact for customers and partners;
- Unified architecture without the need for large investments;
- Increased efficiency through better use of IVR and other routing engines;
- Potential cost savings or revenue generation due to increased efficiency;
- They are highly scalable;
- There is no need to build an expensive virtual call centre;
- Sites can be added relatively easily;
- Cheaper deals can be obtained on call minutes (which is particularly attractive for large call centres);
- There is no need to expand the capacity of the corporate network to accommodate more traffic between sites;
- Services are outsourced.
Industry sectors currently using these services include financial services institutions (banking and insurance), large retailers and travel agents.
Two distinct segments can be identified within the networked call centre market:
- Hosted call centres, using network routing solutions without ACD integration;
- Virtual hosted call centres, using a network routing solution integrated with an ACD or multiple ACDs on site.
Due to the number of agent positions it represents, the virtual call centre market is a particularly profitable area. Virtual hosted call centres tend to have 500 or more agent positions. As virtual hosted solutions enable call centres to increase agent utilisation and the overall efficiency of the call centre, a virtual call centre will use significantly more call minutes than a traditional multi-site call centre.
Datamonitor technology analyst Elsa Lion points out that by offering virtual hosted call centre services, service providers can generate higher average revenues per user - and more value-added services - in order to compensate for call minute price erosion.
At present 11% and 12% of European and US agent positions respectively use network routing services. This will increase to 18% and 19% respectively in 2004 and most of these agent positions will be in virtual call centres.
And although the demand for full multimedia capabilities in call centres is quite low at the moment (e.g. web collaboration and email), the limits of many solutions on the market mean that there is a supply gap to be filled. In the longer term, companies will demand more multimedia capabilities - particularly 'universal multimedia queuing'. In addition, the demand for IP solutions is gaining momentum in the market and offers new entrants an opportunity to compete with more established service providers (the large telcos).
According to Datamonitor, new entrants and less established players (both vendors and service providers) will have to compete by offering more functionality than the well established players, and by targeting the multimedia and IP gaps in their portfolio.