Wheaton Van Lines Inc. helps people restart their lives in new homes by transporting their sofas, pianos, dog houses and other stuff all over the globe.
But inside Wheaton's Indianapolis headquarters, it last year became clear that the company itself had to make a move and replace its contact center software. Wheaton's longstanding telephone system hadn't been updated in some time, and with the company acquiring a one-time competitor, Bekins Van Lines, Wheaton needed to handle more calls from customers and employees.
When Wheaton bought Bekins early last year, it assumed the smaller company's assets but left behind its computer and telephone systems. Bekins employees moved from Hillside, Ill., to Indianapolis and both company names could be seen on a shared masthead and stationary, but consolidation didn't end there.
Wheaton suddenly had a relationship with 140 independent moving and storage companies -- known in the industry as agents -- after acquiring those resources from Bekins, according to Jerrod Carter, the chief information officer of Wheaton-Bekins. That meant the reconfigured company now had to communicate with more than 370 independent agents.
The contact center software Wheaton had long used, a system by Nortel Networks, reached the end of its product life so no more updates were coming, Carter said. As it moved forward with Bekins on board, an upgrade to another Nortel system would have cost about $100,000 and would have lacked some of the functions Wheaton needed -- such as call routing and a greater capacity for speed dialing -- he said.
A new contact center system had to quickly make the best use of Wheaton-Bekins' expanded roster of independent agents. These agents provide transportation and moving services on behalf of the company, so it was important for executives and contact center agents to have a solid and fast connection.
Wheaton learned the hard way about communicating with agents while using the old Nortel system, Carter said. Wheaton assigns codes to agents for in-house business purposes, and some of those codes were used as shorthand on speed dial. But the Nortel system prevented employees from using speed-dial numbers for many agents. Over the years, Wheaton formed new partnerships with agents and new codes were needed. But because the Nortel system had reached the limit of available speed dial numbers, new agents' codes had to be left out, and employees had to spend time searching for the longer phone numbers. "We had to look them up," Carter said.
Last year, as the Bekins acquisition steamed ahead, Wheaton reviewed the contact center technologies of companies such as Avaya, Mitel Networks and ShoreTel. It chose Interactive Intelligence Group's Customer Interaction Center.
Bekins already used the technology so that helped ease the assimilation of new employees. And, among other features, Customer Interaction Center offers a four-digit speed dial system. Employees no longer have to search for the phone numbers of independent agents; they can call them with the punch of a few buttons.
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The contact center software also allowed Wheaton-Bekins to improve a few other functions, Carter said.
For instance, Wheaton has a department that handles moving that the company does for military personnel. All military branches have managers who serve as middlemen for the moving process, and they didn't want to communicate with Wheaton through an automated call distributor, Carter said. As a result, when servicemen and women called Wheaton, contact center agents had to spend a lot of time figuring out which military manager was handling the moves and tracking them down.
The new technology has a skills-based call routing feature that connects military members with the proper contact center agent, he said. Basically, those military members know which Wheaton-Bekins agent is helping coordinate their move. While waiting in the main customer queue, they can dial a number and have their calls moved to the company's military service department. An agent there may not be available all the time, but the software component tries to maintain some consistency for the military families, he said.
"Moving is one of the top five stressful things to happen in life," Carter said. "You want continuity. This allows us to [provide] that."
Other customers, he added, can take advantage of the software's call-back feature. Many businesses are also taking advantage of this technology: If agents are busy, customers can request to be called back, hang up the phone and receive a phone call later.
That and other functions would have been "impossible" on the Nortel system, Carter said. Still, the Customer Interaction Center software lacks some features that Wheaton-Bekins would like to have. For example, it didn't show employees in the Indianapolis office which phone number was used to reach them. For example, three different numbers, including one to the receptionist, can ultimately reach Carter. He couldn't see that on his phone.
To add that functionality, Wheaton-Bekins asked Communications Products Inc., the reseller that installed the Customer Interaction Center, to implement another piece of software that adds new attributes to the caller information screen.
That's come in handy as Wheaton-Bekins forges ahead with a shared history.
The company has about 40 call center agents broken into several departments: customer service, military service, claims and transportation scheduling. When Wheaton-Bekins joined forces, they decided to keep their respective phone numbers. That means both companies' phone lines enter the same queue, but the new system tags those numbers with an identifier so employees know which company's customers are calling.
This was first published in March 2013