CRM in the Cloud or on Site – what is best for you?

Ulrika Hedquist (Computerworld New Zealand)

Post-recession, many organisations have invested in CRM systems to help attract and retain customers but, as Ulrika Hedquist discovers, on-premise solutions are still a valid option despite the hype around the cloud.

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Localist goes for the cloud

NZ Post-owned local directory and networking site Localist has gone in the opposite direction – implementing Google Apps, a cloud CRM system and even putting its call centre in the cloud.

Once Localist got the go-ahead from NZ Post, the business had to get up and running fairly quickly, says Ken Holley, head of technology at Localist. “We had to do it as if we were a start-up,” says Holley. “We didn’t have a single customer at that point, so cost, scalability and time-to-market were among the concerns.”

Localist did a formal RFI process among NZ Post’s suppliers and one of those suppliers, Fronde, presented to the company. The credibility of Salesforce, the ability to implement the solution quickly and Fronde’s understanding of Localist’s business requirements made it an easy choice, says Holley.

With the SalesForce CRM system in place, Localist went out to look for a telephony solution for its contact centre. Holley and his team weren’t very keen to buy a costly PABX system and a large amount of servers to support the contact centre, he says.

“We were building our systems from the top down, starting with the customer requirements and putting infrastructure at the bottom, rather than starting with a whole layer of hardware and databases and putting capability on top of that,” he says.

Fronde again introduced Localist to ipSCAPE, an Australian contact centre, cloud-technology provider. ipSCAPE offers a cloud-based solution that integrates with Salesforce. Localist had a couple of months to deliver a fully working solution, says Holley. It was a big challenge for the traditional players, but not for ipSCAPE, he suggests.

“They demonstrated they really understood contact centres,” he says. “We also liked the pricing model – a subscription, cloud-based model where you pay for what you are using rather than pay for a large chunk of infrastructure and then hope you’ve got enough.” The contact centre solution had to be fast-to-market; with low, long term total cost of ownership and it had to be scalable. So far, the solution has ticked all the boxes, says Holley.

From a functionality point of view, the integration with Salesforce shouldn’t be taken lightly, adds Holley. Call centre operators have one screen in front of them with the Salesforce widget integrated into the toolbar, so they can see all information related to the customer they are talking to.

“It is a very easy system to configure in terms of designing IVRs (Interactive Voice Response) and making changes on the fly. It is not reliant on me having to build a large IT team to support and manage it,” says Holley.

The business unit can manage the system and make additions and changes to it through an easy-to-use admin interface, he says. “It allows us to focus on, not so much the technology, but the customers and giving them a better experience,” he says.

The Auckland contact centre has 45 staff that handle outbound sale-calls und inbound queries. The ability to quickly scale up call centre staff or outsource to a call centre provider is also valuable to the company. Localist can easily scale out to call centre staff working from home, or in the event of a disaster, the call centre can relocate to an internet cafe if required. All staff need is a PC with an internet connection and a browser, Holley says.

But what about the risks of placing CRM and the contact centre in the cloud? To Holley, the benefits far outweigh the risks. “Yes, there is risk, but it is no different from dealing with an internal IT department.” he says. “Now we work in close partnership with all our cloud providers. In my view, the risk is probably less [with a cloud provider]. You just need to recognise what the risks are and plan for it.”

Another benefit is a reporting feature that pushes information and statistics out to managers’ iPhones, Android phones or tablets, says Holley. By integrating call information from ipSCAPE and activity in formation from SalesForce, managers can keep track of what is happening and see opportunities to improve the process, he says.

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