Incoming Margin

Inbound services have been around for some time now but the range of service is expanding rapidly especially when you see what can be provided over SIP trunks. We report back on channel products available and how resellers can make margin.

So what are the user advantages and benefits of deploying inbound services applications? We think that inbound call services are ideal for companies looking to manage high call volumes. As well as helping users to field calls more effectively to improve their customer service, inbound services can offer long-term operational savings and up-front cost advantages. But that’s us talking – what do the experts think?

The advantages of Inbound Services

Karen Jones, Inbound Product Manager at Gamma, makes a lot of sense when she says business customers are no longer satisfied with the inflexibility of legacy telecoms.

“In a world of wireless IT, cloud storage and portable applications, the idea that a telephone number can only be delivered to, and answered in one location should be assigned to the history books. Or should I say, Wikipedia.  But has telecoms in any way caught up with the customer service demands of today?

Being able to choose the type of number you want customers to call, whether geographic or non-geographic, is itself now such a basic idea when you consider that the features of most ACD’s can be offered at a network level, such as auto attendants, queuing and detailed call statistics. These network capabilities have opened up a world of customer service and marketing tools for the small business and greater margin possibilities for the local reseller. No longer do the large system integrators have the monopoly on the ‘features’ sell.”

John Rees, Commercial Director at Content Guru sees one of the key advantages of cloud-based inbound services has been the flexibility that it delivers. “Cloud technology has liberated resellers from a reliance on vendors, enabling them to take control of their own services and focus on the needs of the end-user.

We live in an age where people are used to technology providing instant access to information. For today’s end users, the long SLAs traditionally associated with inbound services are no longer acceptable. The end user wants rapid and flexible control of their communications and resellers need to adapt their services to cater to this shift in expectations.

Cloud-based platforms provide the means for resellers to bypass the long lead-times required to set up new numbers and services. Resellers are able to reroute numbers in seconds in response to changing customer requests, enabling them to flex rapidly to the needs of the end user. Resellers can even give administrator rights to the customer themselves to allow them complete control over their numbers.

For the end-user, the key advantages of cloud inbound services lie in the ability to break down the boundaries between the office and the home. Work is no longer a place, but an activity, and the communications of every organisation needs to reflect and support this cultural change. A well-managed cloud inbound service can facilitate this, and as communications integration specialists, it is an advantage of inbound services that we have been keen to stress as part of our own offering.

Tim Loveday, Sales Director- Indirect Channel at Coms Plc believes inbound services have many advantages, from high revenue inbound revenue share to hugely practical applications such as auto re-routing and cloud based disaster recovery.

“As long as the platform is stable enough to do so, essentially the possibilities are almost endless. Perhaps the best advantage of inbound services is that you don’t need a fixed point of presence, the calls can be delivered anywhere on the fly.”

Mark Curtis Wood

Mark Curtis Wood

Mark Curtis-Wood, Head of Network Services at Nimans says that business flexibility and delivering local presence are two of the main advantages, creating the impression a company is based in a particular area when they are not.  “Disaster Recovery is one of the biggest growth areas many companies want to embrace and benefit from.”

What applications are selling well and why?

Mark Curtis-Wood of Nimans explains that Inbound Services have gone through a big cycle. “In the early days a lot of companies moved to 0800 numbers for free inbound calls. But it’s not as important anymore because a lot of people make calls on their mobiles, which actually costs them money to dial 0800 numbers. So you lose that advantage. Then there was a shift to premium rate numbers where customers were charged but now many businesses have moved away from that and reverted back to local numbers. Inbound services gives local and national presence, creating the impression a business is bigger than it is, to some extent. There’s also tremendous growth around disaster recovery. You can invoke a DR platform that runs off a mobile device. Let’s say a main head office has burnt down, but via an app you can divert individual DDI numbers across to an individual person whereas if you only have a normal ISDN range you are limited to transferring the main office number to one person who has to field every enquiry.  This type of DR application is selling very well.

Karen Jones at Gamma says the most common inbound features include call diversion, used in call plans so that missed calls become a thing of the past.  The added benefit is that automatic call diversion applied when there is a circuit failure, or manually activated when access to offices is denied, provides intrinsic business continuity capability – a survival necessity for any size or type of business, and used effectively by several businesses during the Buncefield Oil explosion of December 2011 and during the Olympics last year.

Time-of-day, date and day-of-week routing is also commonplace. A business no longer needs to remember to activate the ‘night service’ from the office at the end of every day or change announcements for bank holidays and weekends. In our 24/7 society a business can choose to be contactable whenever and wherever the owners should choose, affording a competitive edge and professional brand image to the smaller enterprise.

Even the larger customer service organisations are cashing in on the benefits of more affordable network based inbound services, opening up new markets to the local reseller. Larger national companies with local outlets such as estate agents, construction companies, funeral directors and equipment hire companies require a national image coupled with localised calling plans which suit the local branches. Using one Inbound service across the business provides a central administrator with the ability to provide local business units secure access to their own numbers and features. At the same time the administrator retains master control of all numbers and calling plans, ensuring a well-managed, professional customer service strategy across the business.”

Tim Loveday at Coms Plc says, ‘Inbound applications range from very basic single number translation and IVR services to complex ring and hunt groups, the ability to move numbers to and from a location as needed and the ability to completely redirect a complete call centre at will should a building become unavailable to use. There are two main reasons for selling these services; the ability to take away a geographic presence and make a company seem a lot bigger than they are and the ability to handle complicated requirements in the cloud, taking away the need for expensive kit on site.”

According to Tynan O’Hara, Managing Director at 08UK, 03 Number Routing is a hot application. “The current market seems to have hit the 03 number range. Our most searched for term across our five websites seems to be ‘03’.”

O’Hara adds, “Recent regulations taken place suggest that all public service businesses can no longer advertise their 0845/0870 numbers and that they must provide a 03 number for customers to call.

Multiple marketing numbers – (with online call stats) to allow customers to track marketing campaigns.  Knowing which campaigns are actually producing business is invaluable if advertising in multiple locations. Unique 08 numbers for each campaign allow success to be measured and therefore where marketing budget should be re-invested.”

John Rees at Content Guru says that when it comes to building a successful inbound application, success is all about tailoring your offering to the end-user.

“Attitudes towards communications and technology have undergone a huge shift in recent years and are continuing to evolve. The best applications, and those which can expect to sell well, are those which enable resellers to adapt their business to these new market conditions.

In our experience of the market, the applications which have proven most popular are those which deliver a user-friendly experience. Rapid advances in consumer devices have heightened expectations towards communications technology, a trend we call ‘consumer techspectation’.

Smart devices have set the standard for future technology. Today’s generation of users will judge technology, not by features or technical specifications, but on how instinctively they may interact with it, or how quickly it connects them to the information they need. These are the criteria that a successful inbound application must satisfy.

The GUI has an important role to play in this. We have found that customers respond well to simple and intuitive interfaces, and we have striven to cater to these preferences with our own inbound application. Speed is also important, and a successful inbound application will enable end-users to make their desired changes quickly and independently. If an application requires too much technical help to operate, then it is unlikely to strike a chord with users.”

Can Resellers make money?

Karen Jones at Gamma believes the margin opportunities lie in the stickiness of Inbound services. “Unlike the price battle of calls and lines, once a customer has an Inbound number and calling plan built into their company strategy (which meets both everyday and business continuity needs) and is flexible enough to adapt in an instant, there is very little motivation to change to an alternative. And the upsell opportunities are greater. Inbound is the new, ‘access-to-all’ solution sell with margins to match and it’s time to cash in.”

Mark Curtis-Wood at Nimans notes that margins have become a lot slimmer these days because inevitably more people are operating in this sector, some heavily specialised.

“There has also been a customer shift away from making money from inbound calls and there’s also been a lot of OFCOM regulations around 0844 numbers etc. and a lot of that market may soon disappear, along with its associated revenue.

Margins come from the call traffic, charging for that service and the associated applications. Key areas of revenue involve charging a monthly management fee for a disaster recovery plan.”

Ian Sinnot

Ian Sinnot

Iain Sinnott at VanillaIP notes that we are all familiar with the growing value of ‘Inbound Numbers’ and ‘Inbound Call Management’ but the question is can the SME customers exploit the real value?”

“A geographic number used to present a ‘local’ presence is a vital tool for many businesses, creating greater customer interest from targeted marketing. At VanillaIP we have enhanced that opportunity by including 50 international number ranges, covering some 500 regions, allowing UK business to enter new world markets as effectively as new UK regions without the expense on in-country infrastructure.

Rebates from toll numbers remain a useful revenue stream and Uboss platform users can see those revenues grow in real time. As the toll number is hosted directly on the platform they can’t be bypassed with the help of websites disclosing the underlying number.  However the real change for our SMB customers is the opportunity to truly manage their inbound calls, delivering a fantastic customer experience and ensuring no sales opportunities are missed.”

Tynan O’Hara at 08UK at 08UK is confident that margins can range from 0.1p to 2p/minute depending on call volumes received.

“Remembering that is pence not pounds, customers must receive a fair amount of calls before 08UK could viably support their needs.

Resellers can charge rentals for numbers/features at their discretion. Here at 08UK we don’t feel the market can justify charging rentals for numbers for simple functionality, so we don’t charge wherever possible and usually only pass on rentals that come from the Carriers themselves.

Considering we carry commercial risk on 0800/0808/0300/03 numbers, we have to face bad debt to on a regular basis. Connection charges paid by callers to virtual numbers aren’t paid to us either – these additional charges are kept by the carriers whom are charging for the call.

John Rees at Content Guru sees the flexibility of cloud-based platforms presenting a golden opportunity for resellers to add value to their services, and drive greater margin from their inbound propositions. The key, he says, lies is adapting services to the individual customer.

“As part of the inbound package we provide for our resellers, we throw in a range of features, including one-click disaster recovery, cloud-based IVR and call recording. We leave it up to our NGware partners to decide how these are bundled together. This enables them to create unique and valuable inbound propositions that speak to the needs of their target market and individual base of customers.

The potential to generate margin is greatest for those resellers who are able to provide a full end-to-end managed experience for their customers. The best cloud platforms should make this an easy task, enabling resellers to action service changes and number routing requests in mere seconds with just a few clicks.

We have developed a series of integrated portals to make the delivery and administration of these managed services as quick and as easy as possible for our resellers. This has helped them to be responsive to the needs of their client base, delivering higher-value solutions for customers that generate healthy margin streams.”

Tips for selling Inbound Services

Mark Curtis-Wood at Nimans is seeing growth in Inbound Services has been driven by SIP.

“Its very nature is a perfect fit. Keeping a number is crucial and one of the key challenges around SIP is porting numbers in. Often there’s a porting agreement in existence but when it’s not there, this creates a big opportunity for resellers as they can port a number from the SIP provider into Inbound Services and still capture that number. This is great for a business that is moving premises because they want to make sure customers can still get through on the original number. Porting that in could be problematic and very time consuming but using Inbound Services can be another alternative. Inbound Services is great for business continuity, disaster recovery and flexibility of number ranges – switching them on and switching them off very quickly. These are the main reasons to sell and represent areas resellers should focus on to maximise strong revenue potential.

The costs of missing sales or losing existing customers are the most painful any business sustains, so organisations of all sizes are seeking to implement a better managed, fully monitored inbound call structure focused on ‘professional’ call handling and improved telephony skills. This is not new for formal call centres but to an SMB, with perhaps only between 4 and 10 staff providing the vital customer interface, the ability to access the highest level of call queue management at a small monthly cost without a long-term commitment is a massive step forward. Add to that call recording, again on a per user basis and on a 30 day license, giving team managers the real opportunity to train their teams to a higher performance standard, and Cloud Telephony providers are adding profit to their customers’ bottom line through increased sales revenues and reduced churn.”

According to John Rees at Content Guru, resellers looking to make a success of selling inbound services should begin by identifying what the customer’s individual requirements are, and then think about how the features of their inbound proposition could be applied to satisfy them.

“In the past, we have had considerable success in marketing inbound services to businesses that experience both unpredictable and seasonal peaks in traffic. A simple inbound service with IVR can be deployed for these businesses, enabling their customers with simple enquiries to access the information they need via self-service. This then frees up their staff to deal with more complex queries.

Another important point is to maintain a dialogue with the customer after the service is live. This is not only necessary for managed inbound services, but also for those where the customer is given full control over the management of their numbers. Talking to the customer enables you to get a feel for their needs and adapt your service to their requirements as they change over time.

A well-managed inbound service is an excellent way to gain a foothold within a customer’s organisation and build strong long-term relationships. Many of our most valuable clients began their relationship with us as inbound customers before choosing to engage with us for SIP trunking, PBX and even contact centre services.”

Ed Says…

Inbound call services offer a great range of applications for users not least of which are disaster recovery and location independence. Business needs all the competitive advantage they can muster these days so go and sell.



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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine
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