Learning Guide

Overview of call center software

 

Table of contents:

Call center management strategy
Overview of call center software

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Managing call center agents
Utilizing call center metrics
Call center outsourcing decisions
Case studies of call center best practices
More CRM learning tools

 

  Overview of call center software  

This section of the Call Center Manager Learning Guide was designed to review call center software options. Find information on hosting a call center, quality monitoring (QM), self-service technology, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and more. Once you've reviewed call center technology, move on to the next section of the Call Center Manager Learning Guide to learn more about managing call center agents.

 

Hosted call centers

 

Thanks to rapid technological advancements in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and hosted software, the hosted call center is a reality. Today's call centers can look more like a group of people working from their home office or kitchen, being monitored via technology.

"The technology is doable," said Donna Fluss, principal at West Orange, N.J.-based DMG Consulting. "It's quite simple to set up alternative sites. All you need is a browser, a PC and a phone. The challenge is on the management side. Once you can't see what you're managing, it becomes more complex."

DMG Consulting predicts that by the end of 2007, 20% to 30% of all new contact center seats will be hosted.

Fluss outlined the pros and cons of hosted contact center applications as part of a call center software strategy.

The pros include:

1. Low start-up cost, small initial cash outlay.
2. Generally lower total cost of ownership.
3. Relatively small monthly payments that come out of the operating budget instead of the capital budget.
4. Vendors are responsible for system installation, implementation and ongoing maintenance.
5. Rapid start-up; users are generally up and running quickly with full-featured implementation.

Some cons to consider are:

1. Hosting for an extended period of time, approximately three to four years, is likely to cost more than purchasing the technology outright. (However, if the cost of a system upgrade is added, it alters the financial trade-off.)
2. It may be costly to terminate a long-term contract before it expires.
3. The client depends completely upon the vendor to provide a high level of service reliability.
4. Not all of the applications are as functionally rich as the leading premise-based offerings.
5. Prospects must find a service provider who is capable of meeting the organization's requirements.

Open source CRM

While open source has made inroads into the CRM market, much of that is in sales force automation (SFA), thanks to companies like SugarCRM and Centric. Momentum for open source in the call center has been slower, according to Bernard Golden, CEO of Navica Inc., a systems integrator based in San Carlos, Calif.

"To the extent open source has penetrated contact centers, it's probably been at the low end," Golden said. "Asterisk and Sugar have presence, but as you get to larger organizations, they tend to be cautious. There's nothing technically standing in the way, but larger organizations are going to be conservative."

Call center performance management

An analytical approach to managing and improving the effectiveness, quality and overall experience provided by the contact center, call center performance management (CCPM) is a trend many call center managers are watching this year. Why? This process uses goals, key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics to measure the performance of the call center and its agents and to determine if the department is successfully delivering to departmental and enterprise goals. Using this approach removes imprecision and subjectivity from rating how well a contact center or individual is executing.

According to Donna Fluss, the CCPM market is still in its infancy, but growing quickly. This rapid development is expected to continue because of the benefits and proven return on investment these solutions deliver to contact centers and their enterprises. Read DMG Consulting's 2007 Contact Center Performance Management Market Report for a comprehensive guide to the CCPM market.

Quality monitoring (QM)

Quality management (QM) and liability recording suites have improved dramatically during the last two years, with more innovation expected during the next 12 months. QM and recording suites now include quality assurance, recording (random and 100%), speech analytics, surveying, performance management, coaching and e-learning. Currently, two of these suites also include workforce management. Increasingly, these suites are being designed to incorporate an enterprise portal framework with advanced reporting. They are also set up to work well in multi-site contact center environments. Software-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) recording is now a high-value reality, and it is easier than ever for end users to implement.

Today's QM/recording applications achieve their primary goal of improving productivity but go beyond that, helping to drive the transition to more open operating environments that share customer insights on a timely basis.

There are over 40 quality management and recording vendors in the market, which is great news for users purchasing or upgrading their systems. The leading QM/recording suite vendors, NICE, Witness, Verint and Etalk, dominate the market.

Quality monitoring technology continues to evolve, and today some customers are using analysis tools to get business intelligence (BI) from recorded customer interactions.

"Initially, the contact center was considered a service organization and was asked to do that as efficiently as possible," said Elizabeth Herrell, analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forester Research. "Quality monitoring as a contact center application is still very much involved in the initial goal of improving customer-facing processes. But importantly, it now has higher value for deriving customer intelligence."

Tools like speech analytics can map words or phrases to help find what causes customer service problems. Word spotting or phrase identification can provide information about the call record, and emotion detection tools can recognize changes in energy, volume and voice pitch to identify problem customers.

Self service

As today's call centers are realizing, if they can get more customers to help themselves and stop calling/visiting, they can lower the overall cost of taking orders, answering questions or sending out bills. But when designing a business case for self service, it's important to consider the challenges. Self-service expert Allen Bonde outlined these three challenges with implementing self-service applications:

• Aligning various business objectives and user needs, to manage what we have termed the "self-service paradox" -- how to create online applications that provide value to both the business and their customers, while balancing top-line and bottom-line goals.
• Having a plan to drive user adoption, including segmenting target customers.
• Selecting the right metrics to measure success.

According to call center expert Donna Fluss, an increasing percentage of customers are willing to use automated self-service applications instead of dealing with live agents. Unfortunately, too many companies still do not appreciate that customers will only use self-service applications if they are a better and easier alternative.

According to Fluss, companies that do not invest in their self-service environments are missing a great opportunity to reduce operating expenses and provide a satisfying and branded customer experience. Additionally, with Generation Y entering the workforce, Web-based self-service is a requirement, as it is their preferred channel for doing business.

"From a cost perspective, the numbers are compelling," Fluss said in a column on SearchCRM.com. "Assuming that it costs between $3.00 and $5.00 for a typical service call (and much more for a technical support conversation) versus less than $0.20 per IVR transaction and even less for a Web self-service session, forcing customers to the more expensive channels is a costly mistake. If your company invests in a flexible, feature-rich and easy-to-use self-service application, an increasing percentage of your customers will elect to help themselves and you will save money."

The virtual agent is an automated front-end agent that is playing an emerging role in helping companies build smart and customer-friendly self-service through the contact center and mobile devices.

"You can use them for something as simple as reaching out to a consumer, authenticating them as being the right party, and then [connecting] to a live agent," said Pat Whelan, senior vice president of marketing at virtual agent developer PAR3 Communications. "It's an alternative to using a predictive dialer and getting the customer's 8-year-old child, which is not a good use of agent time."

 

  • Article: 'Click here, I'll call you right back' (Source: SearchCRM.com, 06/29/05)
  • Additionally, some companies are using click-to-callback technology to augment self-service capabilities on their Web sites.

    "It's a pretty basic capability," explained Bob Chatham, a principal analyst with Forrester Research. "It's taking a Java script, pop-up window and connecting it to the outbound calling queue. There is a bit of behind-the-scenes magic in opening up an IP channel to a customer's browser so they can push pages at them as well."

    Speech analytics

    Despite issues with accuracy and ease of use, speech analytics products are viable, have been proven in the field and already have a strong demonstrated ROI. DMG Consulting recommends that forward-thinking companies invest in this technology, but commit to allocating the resources necessary to implement and use the system properly. DMG Consulting expects the contact center speech analytics market to grow at a rate of at least 120% in 2006 and 100% in 2007. The reason is obvious: there is an abundance of rich but unstructured information that comes directly into the contact center -- and speech analytics systems structure conversations and extract the invaluable data and insights hidden in customer interactions.

    Speech analytics software can highlight words that can indicate trouble on the line -- like "confused" and "cancel." Using the software, a company can also monitor, in real time, telltale changes in the pitch, volume and timbre of a customer's voice. Hostile tones and rising anger are likely to be flagged.

    Read the 2007 Speech Analytics Market Report from DMG Consulting for more information on this market.

    VoIP

    Internet Protocol (IP) is beginning to emerge not just as a cost-cutting measure, but a customer value tool. Companies are beginning to realize that building the entire customer service organization around IP can make managing premium service channels more effective, giving top customers priority access to all services while interactively guiding lower-value clients to more cost-effective methods.

    According to Donna Fluss, the time is right to start planning an investment in IP contact center solutions. IP can vastly reduce operating expenses, simplify management overhead, provide geographic flexibility and improve quality, particularly for multi-site contact center operations.

     

 

This was first published in May 2007

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