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Regional airline takes off with hosted call center

Allegiant Air was brave enough to flip the switch on a new hosted contact center just as the holiday season begins.

Operating a successful small airline requires guts and ingenuity -- and a flexible plan.

"We're in a business that has to be extremely nimble and dynamic," said Ponder Harrison, managing director for Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air. "Long-term planning for a local carrier is about 60 days."

So when the company set about revamping its contact center, it turned to the emerging on-demand market. Call centers have been slow in moving toward Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and hosted call center applications.

However, hosted call centers have their share of fans, thanks to the flexibility afforded by an application that needs only a headset and an Internet connection.

Allegiant Air, an airline focused on leisure travel and charter flights, selected on-demand call management software from Transera Communications, a startup based in Cupertino, Calif. The move not only made Allegiant an early adopter of hosted contact center applications, but it became Transera's first publicly identified customer. Transera was founded a year and a half ago to compete with established hosted contact center vendors like Avaya, RightNow Technologies and Siebel Systems.

"There's risk with every decision in life," Harrison said of the decision to go with a startup provider. "We're entrepreneurial here. We're all about pushing the envelope."

Allegiant has been running the application since early November, launching it just in time for the holiday rush. With a 40-seat call center in Reno, Nev., and the need to ramp up capacity during seasonal spikes like the year-end holidays, the airline was drawn to a hosted option. The existing on-premise application didn't offer the flexibility the company needed.

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"There's a three-year lease on an NEC switch that we'll have to eat, but that was worth it over time to bail out of that situation," Harrison said.

However, Allegiant still has something to fall back on.

"One of the reasons the hosted solution was attractive was the current ACD could stay in place," said Michael McGhee, CEO of Anexeon Communications, Allegiant's service partner. "The hosted solution did allow the airline to take a risk with new technology without having to shut off the old system. They could easily go back if it didn't meet expectations."

Transera charges on a per agent, per month subscription basis and runs its application on open SIP standards.

Now, executives in Las Vegas can monitor the Reno call center from Las Vegas, checking queues and metrics and accepting calls. Additionally, during peak times, calls can be directed to 14 remote agents working in both the corporate offices and at airline ticket counters. Already familiar with the airline and its processes and happy to take on some additional work and pay, the remote agents provided the airline with a trustworthy and easy to train back up agent workforce.

It saves the company having to turn to outsourcers to help during spikes.

"Something of the inviolate mantra here is we want to be as close to the consumer as possible, we want to own the customer," Harrison said. "We don't want a third-party intermediary to come between us and our customers. It doesn't matter how good your Web site is, you have to speak with your customers, and we want a system that lets us do that as cost effectively, with the highest functionality married to flexibility."

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