The Outbound Call Center: New Technology
Requirements For A New Role
BY EDWARD J. SARKISIAN, EIS INTERNATIONAL
In the first two months of our �Building A Perfect Call Center�
series, we covered how to choose a location and, once you have settled
on a location, how to design the layout of the call center and how to
furnish it. Now it is time to turn to the technology of a call center,
and this month we will examine the technology that goes into an outbound
Traditionally, outbound technology has
been based on a predictive dialer, which allows the placing of many
nearly simultaneous calls, with only live connects being passed on to
agents, saving agents valuable time they would have used in manual
dialing. But in the last few years we have seen, through the growth of
e-commerce and customer relationship management (CRM), new demands
placed on outbound call centers. Sure they will continue to place
outbound sales calls, but now they are increasingly being tasked with
placing calls for customer care purposes or for upselling or
cross-selling. This month, Edward J. Sarkisian of EIS International
takes you through the steps of setting up an outbound call center while
Austin Logistics� Phu Le describes �best time to call� technology.
Today we are witnessing dramatic and sometimes revolutionary change in
nearly every aspect of the traditional outbound call center, from its
mission to its position in the enterprise. No longer a single-function,
telephony-only operation, the outbound call center, like its inbound
counterpart, is being transformed at an unprecedented rate into a
multifunctional, multimedia, customer service contact center.
The predictive dialer is the foundation of the modern outbound contact
center; for years it has been the technology of choice for telemarketing,
telesales and fundraising campaigns. Today, the predictive dialer has
evolved into a critical part of a comprehensive call management system and
is emerging as a sophisticated customer service and retention tool.
As the role and organization of the outbound call center change, so do
the center�s technology needs. Advanced call management systems,
incorporating powerful computer-telephony integration (CTI), data
management and call blending capabilities, are vital to the outbound
center�s expanded presence in the enterprise. Two specific industry
trends � the emergence of the contact center as a vital resource for
customer relationship management (CRM) and the growing acceptance of the
virtual call center � are the principal driving forces behind the
evolving technology considerations and requirements for the primarily
outbound call center.
Trend 1: The contact center emerges as a vital resource for customer
As businesses focus increasingly on their customer relationships, the
contact center � usually the primary (and sometimes only) customer forum
for live interaction with a business unit � is emerging as a fundamental
component of an enterprisewide CRM strategy. According to the Oxford
Group, a high-tech marketing and research firm, approximately 60 percent
of contacts from customers are coming into the enterprise via the contact
center. This fact, combined with the emerging role of customer service as
a point of market differentiation and catalyst for customer loyalty, is
heightening the importance and elevating the stature of the contact center
in the enterprise.
For companies ranging from entrepreneurial start-ups to Fortune 500
powerhouses, a vigorous commitment to customer service has become the
cornerstone of enterprisewide marketing initiatives. The renewed
commitment to customer service is having a profound impact on the role the
contact center plays in the corporate enterprise.
New uses for the predictive dialer. The traditional
outbound call center, in particular, is experiencing dramatic change in
its functionality in the new customer-centric business environment. In
short, it is being transformed from a traditional sales vehicle to a
valuable tool for strengthening customer relationships through care calls
and cross-selling and upselling initiatives.
Historically, organizations did not make outbound customer care calls.
Managers of outbound, transaction-oriented call centers were reluctant to
yield revenue-generating capability to a function labeled as overhead. Not
so today, as organizations are beginning to recognize that customer care
calls are a wise investment, and that predictive dialing technology is the
key to enhanced customer service at a reasonable cost.
Customer care, or courtesy, calls provide a point of customer contact
and are designed to gauge customer satisfaction, offer a forum for
feedback and communicate valuable information on issues important to
customers. When coupled with cross-selling and upselling initiatives, the
calls also can be a pipeline to future sales.
Blending and inbound. More and more, traditionally
outbound centers are finding a need for adding inbound and blending
capabilities to meet the challenge of their expanded role within the
enterprise. As a result, the line between inbound and outbound call
centers is beginning to fade, and organizations are demanding
sophisticated technology that allows a single center to serve both inbound
and outbound functions, with equal success.
Trend 2: The virtual call center is growing in popularity.
With dramatic advances in networking, organizations from all
industries are building �virtual� call centers, in which multiple
sites are linked and function as a single contact center. The virtual call
center can be described as several groups of agents � often, but not
always, in separate locations (individual call centers, remote offices,
homes) � who are treated as a single entity for call handling,
reporting, management and scheduling purposes. Another defining
characteristic of the virtual call center is that the center�s disperse
architecture is transparent to the consumer. Virtual outbound call
centers, when implemented properly, can offer several important
advantages, including performance improvement, enhanced reliability should
a system or site become disabled, lower telecommunications costs, time
zone efficiencies and access to an expanded labor pool.
The virtual call center has been gaining in popularity for several
years, and a recent report from the analyst group, Datamonitor, proclaims
that, �the virtual call center�s time has come.� Within the U.S.,
the report predicts, penetration of virtual call centers in relation to
all call centers will grow at a compound annual rate of more than 40
percent through 2003.
The functionality of the virtual call center is evolving to support the
center�s role in achieving enterprisewide CRM goals. No longer is each
contact center treated as an individual depository of information.
Instead, the caller�s needs and relationship to the enterprise drive the
routing of the call to the most appropriate resource in the enterprise.
All agents, voice response systems and electronic access systems are
viewed as a single resource pool.
The implementation of virtual outbound call centers drives the demand
for more sophisticated call management technology. Enterprise strength is
critical in the virtual call center environment. A call management system
must be flexible, allowing for a variety of configurations, ranging from a
single site to multiple sites, a single ACD/PBX to a multivendor
environment or a few agents to potentially thousands. System openness is
also essential, as various components and technologies must be integrated
in the virtual call center. Effective monitoring, strong reporting and
integration tools and call blending capabilities are among the other
technology considerations for the virtual call center environment.
Technology Considerations For The New Outbound Call Center
Selecting a call management system for a primarily outbound contact
center can be a daunting challenge. This challenge is heightened by the
growing need to integrate inbound and blending technologies into the
traditional outbound center to meet its CRM role. State-of-the-art call
center technology is an expensive investment, often costing thousands of
dollars per outbound seat, and the number of vendor options seems to
multiply daily. A solid purchasing and implementation strategy will help
to ensure a wise selection and campaign success.
The Basics � More Important Than Ever
With the expanding role of the outbound center, call center technology
basics are more important than ever. When selecting a new outbound system,
remember to start with the fundamentals before directing attention to
Does the call management system offer sophisticated pacing
technology that permits limitations on nuisance calls and keep agents
The predictive dialer�s pacing algorithm controls the dialing
rate in an effort to minimize agent idle time and maximize productivity.
In doing so, however, the dialer �abandons� a certain number of calls
when there are not enough agents to answer all the connected calls. In
recent years, these abandoned or �nuisance� calls have fueled public
outrage and demands for legislative action. The most sophisticated
algorithms permit user control of abandoned calls while maintaining
Is the system �feature-rich,� providing powerful tools and
options to boost productivity and improve campaign results?
Important features include:
- High-speed voice and answering machine detection that ensure a
natural call flow and enhance agent productivity.
- Flexible campaign management capabilities that let supervisors
determine parameters for system functions that affect campaign
activity and results.
- Extensive information management and reporting capabilities that are
vital to campaign productivity and effectiveness. Look for systems
that offer extensive information access, retrieval and processing
- Extensive list management and control capabilities that allow users
to define target calling lists without repeated list rebuilding. The
ability to compile and manage �do-not-call� lists is especially
important in the current legislative environment.
- Flexible scripting that enables users to develop personalized,
multipage, on-screen scripts using conditional branching and logic
fields. Some systems allow a user to modify a script that is running
and replace the original with the modified version online.
Is the system user-friendly for agents and supervisors?
Look for an easy-to-learn system that will put agents on the
phones quickly and not keep them sitting through extensive training
programs or waiting for supervisor assistance in the midst of a calling
Does the system offer adequate scalability?
Choose a system that has the flexibility to protect the center�s
technology investment and meet its needs both today and tomorrow.
Does the system have a proven track record?
While many systems can perform in a demonstration situation under
ideal conditions, some cannot handle the rigors of field use. Look for a
reliable system that consistently delivers results in an environment
similar to your own. Ask for and check references from potential vendors.
Are comprehensive system features/tools included in the base
Don�t be fooled by a low per-seat cost. When evaluating and
comparing call management systems, determine which features are included
in the system�s �base� price. Many manufacturers offer only limited
features in the base price and package other essential and desirable
features as �options� available for an additional (often large) fee.
New Considerations For The Evolving Outbound Center
The growing popularity of the virtual call center and the expanded
role of the outbound center as a vital CRM tool necessitate more flexible
and sophisticated contact center technology. After considering the basics,
be sure to explore the following technology considerations necessary for
today�s outbound center.
Does the system offer an open architecture that allows
interoperability and the incorporation of best-of-breed solutions from
multiple vendors � factors critical to the virtual and multimedia
contact center? If not, does the vendor have a migration plan for systems
that don�t have open architecture?
For state-of-the-art campaigns, which often incorporate fax, e-mail and
Web capabilities along with telephony, open systems that permit the
incorporation of best-of-breed solutions from various vendors are highly
desirable and offer the best options for technology investment and system
growth. A second option is a vendor who already has incorporated desired
technologies from other vendors into its systems.
Does the system offer flexible and extensive reporting
capabilities critical to the expanded role of the contact center as a
vital CRM tool? Can it produce reports in real-time? Does it have the
ability to export data to industry-standard database programs (Microsoft
Access and others) and to manipulate those data?
Look for systems that offer extensive information access, retrieval and
Is the system equipped with sophisticated MIS capabilities such
as the ability to implement forecasting and access historical data
(customer profile and transaction data) in real time, both features
essential for CRM and virtual call center environment?
CRM-focused contact centers require event-driven, network-based,
computer-telephony integration (CTI) solutions that gather, store and
deliver data to the agent�s desktop, where it can be used to personalize
Does the system have the inbound and blending capabilities or
options required to fulfill the center�s CRM role and to leverage the
potential of the virtual call center?
The blended system should have third-party transfer and skills-based
routing capabilities needed to identify and route callers to the
best-possible resource in the enterprise. This means that the agent can
receive a return call from a customer and can handle anything the customer
needs, either by accessing data or by conferencing or transferring the
call to someone who can handle the issue. Some centers have set up systems
whereby one agent becomes the customer�s �single point of contact�
for all concerns.
Does the system allow the user to access external databases to
facilitate �one and done� contacts (let outbound callers look up
information to answer questions that may be posed during the call) that
improve the customer relationship?
Look for a system that supports the ability to respond quickly and
forge strong customer relationships.
Can the system be networked to other sites and call management
systems for use in the virtual call center environment?
Look for a flexible, open architecture that will work with the existing
infrastructure and facilitate expansion as well as the incorporation of
new contact center applications. It is necessary to employ open systems
that support standards, such as TCP/IP, and have the ability to scale
upward to accommodate new applications, such as VoIP and voice
When selecting technology for the outbound contact center, it is
imperative to ask detailed questions about the technology and its
capabilities, costs and its potential impact on the center and the
organization. In this age of frequent mergers among technology vendors, it
also is prudent to thoroughly research a potential vendor partner and
factor the impact of a corporate merger or sale into the purchasing and
implementation strategy. Call center technology is a long-term, expensive
investment. A solid purchasing and implementation strategy will result in
a wise choice that will help assure a successful customer contact center.
Edward J. Sarkisian, senior vice president for Worldwide Marketing,
Sales, & Customer Operations, is responsible for EIS� global sales
and marketing activities.