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FAQ: Making call center technology decisions

We've compiled this list of the top FAQs on making call center technology decisions from our resident experts. This FAQ series was designed to help you get quick answers to some of the most common call center technology questions. Learn about different call center technologies, what technology is necessary for inbound and outbound call centers and evaluating technology for remote call center agents.

SearchCRM.com FAQ series  We've compiled this list of the top FAQs on making call center technology decisions from our resident experts. This FAQ series was designed to help you get quick answers to some of the most common call center technology questions. Learn about different call center technologies, what technology is necessary for inbound and outbound call centers and evaluating technology for remote call center agents.

 


Don't miss the other installments in this contact center technology guide:
 

  • Emerging contact center technology trends
  • Selecting the right call center technology
  • Top 10 call center technology must-haves
  • FAQ: Making call center technology decisions


     


     
    Donna Fluss, President, DMG Consulting LLC

    Donna Fluss is the founder and President of DMG Consulting LLC, a firm specializing in customer-focused business strategy, operations and technology services. Ms. Fluss is a recognized thought leader and innovator in contact center and real-time analytics. She is the author of The Real-Time Contact Center and many leading industry reports, including the 2007 Contact Center Performance Management Market Report, the 2007 Speech Analytics Market Report, the 2007 Surveying and Analytics Report and the annual Quality Management/Liability Recording Product and Market Report. Contact Ms. Fluss at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com.

     
    Lori Bocklund, President, Strategic Contact Inc.

    Lori Bocklund is President of Strategic Contact, an independent consulting firm focused on helping companies optimize the strategic value of their customer contact technology and operations. Strategic Contact helps companies succeed through projects that develop and execute plans tied to business goals. Lori is a recognized industry leader in contact center strategy, technology, and operations. During her more than 16 years in the call center industry, 11 of them as a consultant, she has acquired an understanding of a broad spectrum of systems, applications, and operational environments.

     
    Lior Arussy, President, Strativity Group

    Lior Arussy is an author, visionary, consultant and creative catalyst in the areas of creating delightful customer experiences and executing profitable customer strategies. His consultancy, Strativity Group. Inc., advises Global 2000 companies as well as emerging businesses around the world. Prior to establishing the Strativity Group, Mr. Arussy held executive positions at Hewlett-Packard and other organizations.


     

      Overview of open source call center software  

    Q: What is your opinion of open source software in the call center?

    Donna Fluss
    President, DMG Consulting LLC

    A: Enterprises of all sizes have been adopting open source software at an ever-increasing rate. So far, however, call centers have not been major adopters of open source software; this is because call centers are often mission-critical functions and require applications that are highly dependable and are backed by strong support organizations. While data security is an important issue for all types of software, open source software does not present greater security risks than most other applications. The real issues surrounding the use of open source software in call centers are system features, stability and availability of support.

    Many of the open source telephony systems available today are somewhat immature and lack some of the functionality taken for granted in long-established call center environments. Also, maintenance and support for open source applications is left either to volunteers via message boards (the community), or to third-parties who provide support for packages that they often helped create, for a fee. Examples of this kind of relationship include the support available from Digium for the telephony infrastructure product Asterisk, and SugarCRM's support for their open source CRM software.

    Most of the adoption of open source call center software to date has been in smaller environments where the IT staff is willing and able to install and maintain the product. This is because open source software is often a "do-it-yourself project," requiring the ability and resources to do your own implementation, integration, troubleshooting and ongoing maintenance and support. Additionally, most of the currently available open source products are more suitable for small call centers, which can get along with a fairly basic feature set and do not require a great deal of integration with other enterprise systems. Installing open source software in a large, multi-site call center environment, while doable and potentially a good way to save money on software and installation expenses, requires a good deal of internal IT and telephony resources on an ongoing basis.

    As with any technology acquisition, it is important to do your homework before committing to a mission-critical technology. Compile a list of functionality that is needed to support the department and then determine if the open source application under consideration has what you need. One unique thing about open source products is that prospects can download their source codes and test them out before making a major investment. You can also read up on what the open source community associated with each of the various packages has to say. The more popular open source products have websites where there are active community discussions about current issues and the company's plans to address them. For an example, visit Sourceforge.net

      Pros and cons of call center auto-response software  
    Q: Is it a good idea to deploy auto-answer/auto-response technology in the call center?

    Donna Fluss
    DMG Consulting, LLC

    A: There are two categories of auto-answer and auto-response software: email-based solutions and speech-enabled applications.

    Many companies use auto-acknowledgement systems to let their customers know that their email has been received, and to set expectations about when they will receive a full response. This is a very effective application. Using email auto-answer systems to provide full responses is a different issue. While it serves the purpose of responding to customers on a timely basis, these systems do not always address all of the issues in the customer's email and are known for missing the point if their accuracy threshold is set too low. However, if it's set too high, the percentage of transactions that are fully automated will be lower than most organizations want. These applications are continuing to improve and are being used by a growing number of companies. Vendors that provide these solutions include eGain.

    Phone-based auto-response systems, when used properly and for the right application, can be very effective. Using an auto-response system as a call router, for example, can deliver significant benefits to organizations and be very satisfying for customers, as the accuracy rates are often very high. Speech-enabled interactive voice response (IVR) systems can also be very effective when they are used for the appropriate applications and are scripted properly.

    No matter how good the technology, quite a few people still do not like this type of automation. We recommend that if you adopt auto-response technology, allow customers to choose whether or not to use it and make it easy for customers to reach live call center agents from any point in the application.

      Necessary technology for inbound call centers  

    Q: Which functional units and technologies are necessary for inbound call centers?

    Lori Bocklund
    President, Strategic Contact Inc.

    A: Each company and call center names their particular units or call center functions differently. However, the important thing to keep in mind for your call center is that you have sufficient support in these areas:

     

  • Workforce management (forecasting, call center scheduling)
  • Real-time operational management
  • Quality management
  • Call center training
  • Process review and optimization
  • Performance reporting and call center analytics
  • Call center technology tools and workflows
  • Human resources (recruiting and general support)
  • Information technology

    Depending upon the size and scope of your call center operation, these functions can be as large as departments themselves, or as is often the case, they are combined and consolidated where synergies make sense.

     

      Call center technologyfor remote call center agents  

    Q: Which call center technology is best for home-based or remote call center agents?

    Donna Fluss
    President, DMG Consulting LLC

    A: Whether your call center agents are based on-site, in a satellite facility, or at home, there are dozens of applications and systems that are required to support them. To see a detailed list of necessary systems and applications, I suggest you review Chapter 3 of the book Hosted Contact Center Solutions Vendor Guide. It discusses the call center technology required to support a call center and describes what is available on a hosted basis. It also includes a directory that lists the technology available by vendor.

      Evaluating call center voicemail software risks  

    Q: I am evaluating voicemail software. What type of software and hardware would I need for PIN-controlled personal voicemail services that can provide alerts shared between patients and physicians? We would also need access through 800 numbers -- the alerts would be generated by an application with a .NET front end and SQL database back end.

    Donna Fluss
    President, DMG Consulting LLC

    A: Overall, voice mail software has matured substantially in the past few years and is delivering some wonderfully innovative solutions. Voice messaging has also expanded into unified communications. Many vendors in the market (and all of the ones that I know) should be able to integrate with a .NET back end, although the integration will require professional services. Most (if not all) voice mail software can issue alerts, which can be initiated by a variety of triggers and events. One of the first decisions you'll need to make is whether you want to use a network-based or premise-based solution. I suggest that you look at the following vendors:

     

  • 3Com
  • Alcatel-Lucent
  • Avaya
  • Converse
  • Inter-tel
  • NEC
  • Nortel
  • OnviSource
  • Siemens

     

      Call center technology for a better customer experience  

    Q: I have to give a presentation for senior management about the importance of call center technology, the ROI of technology and how it positively impacts customer relations and the customer experience. Can you help with some of the key points on this?

    Lior Arussy
    President, Strativity Group

    A: Your approach to the presentation should be reversed. The presentation must focus on the power of customer experience to increase customer satisfaction, repeat business and recommendations. You need to build a measure of costs for upset customers and the potential negative impact associated with that. Present the top complaints you receive and your top challenges to address them and then link those challenges to the call center technology that you need.

    One further suggestion: when discussing the ROI of call center technology, demonstrate customer experience-based ROI, such as the impact on revenues of customers' turnover. Do not focus on cost reduction. Focusing on cost reductions will only position your call center as a costs center and not as a customer experience creation center.

     

       Managing call routing technology  

    Q: We are moving from a call center agent group call routing environment to a skills-based call routing environment. What should we watch out for? What changes will we have to make to our workforce management (WFM) software to ensure we are staffing call center agents with the right skills?

    Lori Bocklund
    President, Strategic Contact Inc.

    A: My biggest hot button regarding skills-based routing is "keep it simple." While the software you have will undoubtedly give you many options – in numbers of skills and skill levels – you will make your life easier if you keep it simple. The more complicated your skills strategy, the more difficult troubleshooting, reporting and workforce management (WFM) becomes.

    Develop a strategy that is driven by your business needs, including your customers' experiences. Look at the toll-free numbers that you are handling and the prompting your customers will experience at the front end of the skills decision. Then look at the routing decisions on the back end to find the best qualified, available call center agent. Keep this skills matching process, and your resulting skills strategy, as simple as you can.

    Regarding changes to your WFM software, ideally you would purchase the skills-based routing module for your WFM software. Many companies skip this investment, and the result is more manual work to try to approximate the skills world in your forecasting, scheduling and tracking. Because no two vendors do skills exactly the same way – in the routing or the WFM – going to a vendor training course on their skills module and networking with others who have similar environments can be invaluable. Most of the large vendors have user groups which can be a good source for hints and tips.

     

      Evaluating call center vendors with real-time analytics  

    Q: What's your opinion about Siebel or SAP for real-time analytics? Which is better analytics software? Are these the best call center software vendors for this area of analytics, or are there other vendors you can add to the list?

    Donna Fluss
    President, DMG Consulting LLC

    A: This depends on your definition of real-time analytics and where and how you plan to use the application. Today, real-time analytics describes a rather broad category of call center applications that generally function in near-real time, not actual real time. Many applications from call center software vendors large and small provide near-real-time analytics. For example, most call center speech analytics applications provide data on a next-day basis, but fall into the real-time analytics category. Speech analytics products are available from stand-alone vendors like CallMiner, Nexidia and UTOPY, Inc.. They are also available from QM/recording (also known as workforce optimization) vendors – like etalk, iSense, NICE Systems, Verint Systems Inc., VirtualLogger, VPI ( Voice Print International, Inc.) and Witness Systems, Inc.. SER Solutions, Inc. also provides a speech analytics solution. iSense provides analytics on a real-time basis.

    For more traditional analytics, where Siebel/Oracle and SAP come into play, there are many other applications. Oracle purchased a vendor called Sigma Dynamics in 2006 that had an application that was able to provide information in real time. It was designed by a number of the same people who built Epiphany's real-time analytics product. There are also real-time analytics products from smaller companies, such as Island Data Corporation. This product does an excellent job of finding the meaning in unstructured inputs from free-form surveys, newsfeeds, blogs, etc.

    I suggest that you take a look at my recently-released book, The Real-Time Contact Center. There is a free chapter download available on SearchCRM.com, or you can buy the entire text on Amazon.com.

      How many call centers underutilize technology?  

    Q: Do you have any statistics in your files about how many contact centers implement technology but then underutilize it?

    Lori Bocklund
    President, Strategic Contact Inc.

    A: In 20 years in the business, I've been in hundreds of centers. While I've never seen any statistics on technology utilization, anecdotally I would say the vast majority of centers highly under-utilize their technology.

    Problems we see include not looking at systems in place to start out with and potentially leveraging something that already exists, over-buying (licenses, functionality, capacity, etc.), not allocating the resources to use it effectively, never getting to the "Phase 2" functionality, not making process changes to get the most out of technology, and failing to help the users see the benefits and make changes.

    There are a multitude of reasons companies don't get the full "bang for their buck." To compound it, few companies follow up on their ROI analysis after implementation to be sure they have achieved their goals, and to look for further optimization opportunities. With the types of technologies on company's radars today, I think these issues could get worse.

    Some critical success factors to fully utilize technology are:

     

  • Have a technology strategy, and pursue that strategy in full – including rolling out additional functionality, allocating resource time and making the appropriate process changes to apply it effectively.

     

  • Carefully define your requirements so you buy what you need – in functionality and size.

     

  • Take time to do a discovery process first to see what you have and compare it to what you need – you may be able to leverage something already in place.

     

  • Perform cost benefit analysis throughout. Start with a high level analysis up front in planning and refine it once you know the solution and its capabilities. Then follow through on your ROI and see if you are achieving what you anticipated and if not, define the changes you could make to optimize your technology.

     

  • Use change management to ensure the users successfully adopt the technology.

     


    Visit other installments of the SearchCRM.com FAQ series:

     

  • The top 10 customer experience questions

     

  • The top on-demand CRM and SaaS CRM FAQs

     

 

This was last published in June 2009

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