June 1, 2004
UCN, a division of Buyers United Inc., is combining long-distance service over its IP network with pre-integrated hosted contact center applications to deliver InContact, a pay-per-use solution that gives businesses instant and affordable access to advanced call center features and agents access to a revenue-generating solutions sale for an upmarket target.
“Call centers usually have two problems,” says UCN CEO Paul Jarman says. “One of them is productivity. Seventy percent of their costs are labor. The second problem is quality. Over the last 10 years, there have been a few innovations that help improve quality of service and productivity. Most call centers, however, have not upgraded to these solutions because going in and purchasing premise-based solutions is both difficult and time consuming and expensive, especially for the small to medium-sized call center.”
To solve that problem, and maintain a high-quality level, UCN gives call centers access to the technologies they need by running software through its network, directly to a customer’s PBX. “They don’t make any changes at all except for connecting to us like they would another long-distance carrier,” Jarman explains. “So, those that don’t commonly use CTI (computer-telephony integration) today, that don’t use skills-based routing [and] that don’t have advanced IVR features, can get all of those features through us as if they were purchasing long distance.”
UCN charges a per-minute rate for longdistance service and for the intelligent functionality, such as IVR or CTI. The “intelligence” costs 1 to 2.5 cents per minute, Jarman says, “and then we are competitive for the long-distance charges.”
InContact rides over the VoIP network UCN’s parent acquired from I-Link Inc. in December 2002. It is paired with a full-featured ACD, IVR, CTI, skills-based routing platform from myADC, which UCN plans to acquire this fall.
UCN is targeting call centers with capacities from 10 seats to 4,000 seats. Because InContact’s intelligence resides in the network, it can support distributed call centers and even home-based workers. This is key for call centers that need to extend customer service hours with reps in different time zones and for those that are seeking workers in less expensive locations, says Jarman.
While InContact is network-based, it is not inflexible; it is supported by a programming tool, inControl, that enables any business to design call and contact flows to meet the specific requirements of its business.
Jarman says InContact provides agents with a true solution sale. “Agents for years have been pushed into the rate game,” he says. “They are not really solving problems, they are just giving companies access to lower rates than they are used to. The difference is, we bring our agents in and train them, and they can go back out and say to prospects, ‘I can solve problems that will enhance your ability to provide quality service to your customers, reduce your head count and payroll in customer service areas, and I can do it in a way that is much more affordable than your current opportunities or solutions.'”
He adds it offers an opportunity to target a different market for VoIP-based services other than the PBX replacement business.
UCN began training agents in January, and offers two areas of specialty: authorized InContact sales partner and certified InContact engineer. “The first is to bring them in for a day or two to understand the product, how to use it and how to sell it,” Jarman says. “Then we have a second class where the larger agencies will bring in technical people to learn how to configure and set up the product.”
The distinction is key because certified engineers have an opportunity to earn consulting fees from customers by setting up the product for them. Commissions are percentage-based, and differ for the long-distance and intelligence parts of the solution. Agents earn approximately 12 percent of the InContact portion, and from 10 percent to 20 percent for the combined offer, Jarman says. UCN executives contend agents selling InContact solutions in tandem with longdistance can earn a larger commission for a longer time period. They also claim revenue per account increases of up to 60 percent.
Jarman notes UCN will work with agents who need help closing a sale. Agents can sell InContact on their own, or to bring the lead to UCN “and we will close it,” he says. The agent’s compensation does not change by bringing a lead to UCN. “They still get around 10 percent and on the long distance, whatever they would have normally gotten,” Jarman says. However, commissions do depend on whether an agent is merely authorized to sell UCN’s solution, or certified, having been trained, demonstrating that he or she is able to support customers.
By mid-April, 50 agents had gone through UCN’s training, such as master agency Association Resource Group (ARG). Bill Power, president and co-founder of ARG attended UCN’s on-site and Web training. He says the sessions “provided a real good foundation and understanding for us as to what the product will do. Frankly, there’s a fair learning curve that you have to complete to really be able to explain [the system] to potential customers.”
ARG helps its customers decide call flows, and develop codes to create those flows. UCN says ARG has been successful in bringing new business to the company. InContact serves about 50 accounts, including UCN’s direct sales and existing customers of myACD.
Additional reporting by Khali Henderson.
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