In the world of customer contact and management solutions, the trend for some years has been toward more: More functions and functionality in the service of customers seeking to simplify and diversify their call center capabilities.
This week Verizon Business offered up a novel proposition: Less. The company has broken down its Web Center product, creating an new offering known as Web Center Voice, stripping off non-voice functionality in an effort to bring down cost and thus ease entry for small and mid-size businesses.
"In the economy today, going back to basics seems to be the word of the day," said Alla Reznik, director of product management for Global Advanced Voice Services.
Launched in 2000, Web Center is a network-based solution that provides customer prioritization, intelligent routing tools, and other fundamentals of contact management. Integrated into the Verizon infrastructure, it allows customers to offer sophisticated services without the cost of on-premise equipment.
The promise of low up-front cost has long bolstered Web Center. With Web Center Voice, Verizon is looking to expand upon that basic premise by breaking out multimedia capabilities such as e-mail, fax, web callback, and web-chat. It will sell the basic voice aspects of the service as a stand-alone, offering multimedia components as add-ons.
"For small businesses with 50 agents or less, they are looking at a 50 percent reduction" per agent in the ongoing use of the product, said Web Center Product Manager J.J. Bolton. Businesses with over 100 agents may be looking at a cost reduction of 75 percent per month.
Web Center Voice is structured on pay-as-you-go pricing, including per-minute and per-transaction elements. While rates vary based on factors such as application solution and agent commitment, typical costs can fall between $75 and $125 per agent per month.
In the basic version, Web Center will still deliver its fundamental functionalities, including browser-based call control and the ability to have customer data pushed directly to the desktop. Supervisors will be able to listen in on calls or take over calls, while administrators will have full management capabilities. The product will route calls and allow interactive voice response.
In stripping out the systems multimedia capabilities, Verizon is betting on business owners willingness to forego what they may see as bells and whistles, at a time when cash is tight.
Reznik said most potential customers will not rue the loss. Multimedia functionality "is still a luxury these days. It is still a novel type of idea. Customers are using it more and more, but voice is still king. You cant have customer services without voice."
Reznik said demand for Web Centers full suite remains strong, adding that the pared-back packaging is being rolled out not in response to any lag in sales but rather in anticipation of customers changing needs.
"It was mostly us thinking about our customers who are in the mid-market segment, knowing that for them the price point for the full multimedia package might be a little bit higher than they are ready to take on. Its not that we are not successful. We are very, very successful. We just want to make the offer as attractive as possible."
Along these same lines, Bolton pointed to other Verizon news being released this week: A call center roll-out undertaken for Fannie Mae.
Such an effort typically would have required four weeks preparation. Fannie Mae was under regulatory pressure from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to get the job done in two weeks, and Verizon was able to deliver. Bolton described it as another example of Verizon showing increased flexibility in response to new pressures upon its customer base.
On the face of it, Verizons repackaging of Web Center might be seen as an indication that the market for advanced call center products is having a rough ride in light of economic turmoil and consequent purse tightening. In the big picture, Reznik said, the reverse may prove true.
"Customer service is becoming more important these days, with businesses holding onto their customers as hard as they can. So contact centers are becoming more and more important," she said. "At the same time, companies dont want to invest in infrastructure, invest in equipment that will sit on their premises. So this particular sector is actually benefiting from the downswing in the economy."