Judicious selection of products and services for the call/contact center
has never been more critical. Companies today are faced with a paradox,
which many have never faced in the past. On one hand, revenues for most
are down. On the other hand, customers are demanding more and better
services, which require technology investments. What should companies do?
My best advice is to do whatever it takes to meet the demands of
customers, which means you need to make very intelligent decisions when it
comes to product and service selection.
With that thought in mind, I asked some of our most savvy associates here
at TMC to provide you with their best advice for making purchasing
decisions for the call/contact center environment. Laura Guevin, editor of
Communications Outsourcing magazine, provides guidelines for
outsourcing; editors Tracey Schelmetic of Customer Inter@ction
and Kevin Mayer of Communications Solutions magazines discuss how to
approach business technology investments; and our chief technology
officer, Tom Keating, and our Webmaster, Robert Vahid Hashemian, reveal
their approaches to buying communications technologies and software.
Consider Teleservices Agencies
If you are looking to add capacity to your contact center and also gain
the benefits of a marketing/sales/service partner, teleservices agencies
can provide you with a reliable alternative to building or adding to your
own contact center. Teleservices agencies can provide you with instant
access to years of teleservices experience. Among the many benefits of
outsourcing are: the facilities teleservices agencies have in place that
allow you to reduce or eliminate the expense (both in time and money) of
recruiting, training and maintaining contact center staff (who are often
difficult to hire and have a propensity to be short-term employees); the
elimination of the need to establish or expand your physical site; the
ability to eliminate or reduce expenditures for technologies that are
changing and advancing at breathtaking speed; the expansion of your
business hours through a teleservices agencys 24x7 operating schedule;
and the time to increase your productivity by concentrating on your core
TMC provides you with many tools to help you choose a teleservices agency,
including: a booklet, Telemarketing Service Agencies -- Everything You
Always Needed To Know; the annual rankings of the Top 50 Teleservices
Agencies; the annual MVP Quality Awards; numerous Publishers
Outlook columns on the subject, as well as a monthly feature in
Customer Inter@ction Solutions on teleservices outsourcing to guide you
in your selection of an outsourcing partner. (To purchase copies of any of
the above products, call 800-243-6002 ext. 130 or visit www.tmcnet.com.)
Outsourcing Your Customer Interaction Solutions Technology
If you wish to build out your infrastructure but want to avoid long-term
technology investments, Laura Guevin suggests considering outsourced
technology service providers: Outsourced services have emerged as healthy
competitors to premises-based solutions for many communications needs, and
customer interaction and CRM solutions are no exception. From teleservices
agencies to outsourced technology solutions, there are a huge number of
options for todays contact center needs. Outsourced solutions offer a
customizable level of service from which customers may pick and choose
which aspects of their technology and manpower they wish to outsource, as
well as the types of service level agreements (SLAs) they wish to
Its important to remember that you are in a position of power as a
customer when negotiating for an outsourced service. Todays service
providers realize they must be flexible and specific when contracting
their services, and an SLA that provides you with regular reports on the
quality and amount of service being provided is essential. You may want to
be alerted directly if service levels degrade. Many of todays providers
offer alarms and status reports that may be sent directly to you via
e-mail, pager, PDA and, of course, phone.
Now that you have determined you would like to outsource some or all of
your contact center functionality, the next big decision you must make is
how much you will outsource. Are you interested in a complete package that
handles call routing and management, IVR, logging and monitoring, e-mail
and customer service representatives to handle incoming queries? Perhaps
you have trained CSRs on your premises and a traditional call routing
infrastructure, but are looking for additional functionality like
intelligent e-mail routing, VoIP and text chat. Then again, maybe you have the technology in place, but are looking
for a way to cut costs, such as routing calls over the Internet or a
managed data network.
Once you have determined the level of functionality you wish to outsource,
you will need to evaluate the pricing structure and SLA to determine if
they are adequate for your needs. Research several companies in the space
you are interested in. You may find it difficult to do a line-by-line
comparison of the services each offers, as many companies structure their
offerings in different ways, so be sure all your questions are answered,
and that you have a clear idea of the types of services you will receive,
the timeline for implementing those services and the level of quality and
availability you can expect. Many players in the outsourced communications
arena are newcomers, but that shouldnt disqualify them. Talk to their
customers and find out if they are satisfied with the level of service
they are receiving.
Wise Business Technology Investments
Tracey Schelmetic continues: I regularly encounter many companies whose
management shake their heads and wonder why their customer service ratings
have not only not risen, but have actually dropped. Why, they
wonder, are we still not a lean, mean, integrated customer service
machine? We spent a fortune on state-of-the-art systems!
Too many companies become dazzled by the high-tech plethora of new tools,
and purchase them before evaluating what their needs are and what types of
products would suit their company climate and goals the best. For
instance, a new Web-based customer service software package is useless if
your employees know how to do little more than turn on a computer and have
never even looked at a Web page. In such a case, your company might
benefit from a scaled-back and easier-to-use version of the sexy software
that first caught your eye, at which time your company could funnel the
money saved into some e-learning software or hands-on training to teach
your employees how a computer works and how to communicate via the
Internet. Chances are, your ultimate return-on-investment will be much
greater and your employees will wind up happier and more skilled (and
therefore less likely to leave).
Companies that are currently making zero capital technology purchases are
using logic as faulty as the overbuyer in the above example. In a
flattening economy, your customers expect even better customer service
than they would in a booming economy. If youre using a system that was
put into your call center in 1984, chances are your competition is
flogging you in terms of quality of customer service.
Its the right balance of technology, services and people that make a
flawless customer experience. The bottom line is to avoid either of the
mistakes above: buying with the heart, not the head, or avoiding
purchasing decisions based on a penny wise, pound foolish mode of
Kevin Mayer suggests: When considering technology investments youll
need to weigh best of breed approaches, which allow maximum
flexibility in the selection of business solution components, against
approaches relying on a single vendor for a well-integrated end-to-end
solution. Youll also need to weigh the short-term advantages of
optimizing current business processes against the long-term potential of
pioneering new processes. Finally, youll have to decide whether youre
most comfortable with taking the path of the early adopter, possibly
seizing the first-mover advantage, or with adopting a conservative wait
and see posture, which may seem the safe bet, at least initially.
For all of the usual considerations, we can easily cite specific
technology trends that demonstrate how up-to-date these considerations
remain. For example, it is a truism that you should try to leverage your
investments in legacy systems. Now, lets cite a familiar legacy
investment, and how its value might be extended. Lets take interactive
voice response (IVR). IVR systems that are limited to accepting touch-tone
input may continue to deliver value, even though you might want to upgrade to an IVR system capable of accepting spoken input,
via speech recognition technology. Even in the worst-case scenario, a
forklift upgrade, you may be able to salvage the scripts youve refined
over the years, superimposing them onto the new, voice-activated system.
In fact, you may decide to select a new system based on its ability to
accommodate your favorite scripts.
Another truism is that you should position yourself to follow a sensible
upgrade path. Again, we can easily illustrate this point. Consider
customer relationship management (CRM), which is meant to help you manage
multiple customer interaction channels. With the right CRM platform, you
should be able to add new interaction channels over time. Of course, you
should be able to centrally manage voice- and fax-based interactions, as
well as e-mail interactions and Web chat interactions, in addition to
whatever other interactions come along and gain popularity.
Yet another truism is the need to account for your investments total
cost of ownership (TCO). Just one dimension of TCO is the need to avoid
costly downtime. This need is becoming all the more pressing as
mission-critical business applications move from traditional platforms,
mainframes and PBXs, to so-called next-generation platforms, which are
typically more distributed, relying on client-server architectures or
highly distributed, IP-based systems. The challenge is to make the newer
systems as reliable as the traditional systems, even as the newer systems introduce more
sophisticated functionality. Typical solutions include redundant and
fault-tolerant hardware platforms, high-availability failover software and
clustered server systems.
Finally, one last truism is the need to understand that ROI involves more
than simply reducing head count. In truth, reducing headcount is only half
the story. If you make the mistake of thinking that its the whole
story, youll soon run afoul of the dreaded productivity paradox. To
understand the productivity paradox, consider how technology typically
automates the simplest business processes. Then, consider how automating
the simplest tasks means that all the work that remains will involve the
more challenging, complex tasks. These tasks will demand the attention of
more expert personnel, or personnel who have been equipped with more
The guidelines we have provided should provide a useful template for
you for wise investments in the coming year. I wish you a happy and
prosperous 2002 and, as always, I look forward to hearing from you.
Executive Group Publisher
To December 2001 Table Of Contents ]
Tom Keating writes: As a CTO (chief technical officer), I know that purchasing various
technologies throughout the calendar year can be one of the biggest
capital expenditures for most companies. In recent years, CTOs have had
free reign to pretty much order what they wanted without much interference
from CFOs and CEOs, but that has changed dramatically because of the dot
com crash and slowing economy. CTOs have much stricter budgets with tighter
constraints and now CEOs and CFOs want to see hard numbers as to why
purchasing a particular technology will benefit the company. While
technology is often a productivity enhancer, measuring productivity
and formulating it into hard dollars is not easy. CTOs have had to
become more adept at not only determining technology needs, but also in
the creation of pie charts, graphs, etc., and presenting them to CEOs and
CFOs to convince them of the need to spend money.
So just what are some of the factors a CTO examines when
making a technology purchasing decision? Ive come up with the following
check-list that I use, and other CTOs can adapt to suit their needs:
First, a CTO should identify a type of product that
fulfills a particular need and can be cost justified. An example of a
product that most (if not all) call centers require is an ACD to route
calls. A CTO can cost justify an ACD simply by explaining that
the alternative to an ACD is hiring (and paying for) a number of
receptionists to transfer calls to the proper extensions.
After determining the need for a particular type of
technology, a CTO needs to research the products in the marketplace. Im
sure most CTOs do what I do -- start with the market leaders. Why?
Other than the fact that market leaders usually have the best
products, we have to trust that these vendors will be around 5 or 10
years from now. You dont want to risk the vendor going under and
being caught holding the bag of a product that is no longer supported.
Next, a CTO usually does a feature-comparison of
several vendors to determine which one is the best fit for their
business rules and procedures. As part of their feature comparison,
items such as ease of use and security are analyzed. In addition, a
CTO will try and choose a product that has the most open standards
compliance, such as ODBC, XML, SIP, H.323, etc. Choosing products that
are based on standards and are not proprietary allows for better
integration with third-party products, which is also a crucial
component in making a purchasing decision.
After comparing various vendors, I like to narrow it
down to two choices. At that point I haggle between the two vendors,
playing them off each other to try to get them to lower the price or
sweeten the deal.
Unfortunately, since the CTO is one of the corporations
biggest spenders, he or she also bears the brunt of any budget cutbacks.
But because technology is often a time-saver, it directly results in
improved productivity and indirectly results in increased revenue.
Balancing the short-term benefits of cutting back on purchasing technology
versus the long-term benefits of implementing technology to increase
revenue is the challenge many CTOs face. While the free-wheeling spending
days are over, companies mustnt turn their backs on investing in
technology. The benefits of technology to help improve productivity,
increase revenue and cut costs are just too great to ignore.
Robert Hashemian contributes: With the economy in a weak cycle, buyers are more than ever in the
drivers seat when dealing with vendors. That does not necessarily
translate to value for the buyers. Bargains may abound, but so do
substandard service, inferior quality and unacceptable policies, some of
which are not quite evident until after the purchase transaction is
completed. So while buyers have the upper hand for the moment, they also
need to be extra cautious when selecting a vendor. As a Web developer,
purchasing computer hardware and software as well as Internet services is
a part of my job, so my opinions are slightly tilted toward that area.
Most of it, however, is everyday common sense that can be applied to any
situation, be it farm equipment or an ERP system.
Here is my list of policies to look for when selecting
Support policy: This is a real nightmare when it comes
to some software products. Once you buy some companies products, it
seems impossible to contact those companies for support. Often, a
companys Web site has a vague e-mail address tucked away in an
obscure page for support. What is the likelihood that the inquiries to
that e-mail address are answered promptly? If the vendor doesnt
provide a clear process for contacting its support department,
including phone, fax, Web and e-mail, perhaps another vendor can.
Security policy: This is a tough one to spot, but
buyers should be entitled to know how their information is stored and
what security steps the potential vendor has taken to safeguard the
a security breach is an unwanted problem, bad or no privacy policies
let companies release such information voluntarily. Companies that do
not allow their clients to determine how their private data should be
used should be considered suspect.
Delivery policy: In the software business, rapid
delivery is a must. I often find myself doing business with companies
that provide immediate software download upon payment. While this
real-time approach cannot be applied to everything, a flexible
delivery policy is a necessity.
Information policy: A viable and robust information
infrastructure allows the buyer to efficiently interact with the
vendor regardless of the means of communication. Online banking is a
good example of a flexible service where a customer can access his or
her financial records through the Internet or telephone. Good
fulfillment requires a solid information infrastructure.
Return/reimbursement policy: The computer industry
does not have a good track record for having fair return policies.
Given the potential for abuse, that can be understandable. However, if
a vendor does not have a fair return or reimbursement policy, perhaps
that vendor does not have enough faith in its products or services.
Pre-sales support policy: Sometimes buyers arent
clear on their requirements or what product or service best fits their
specifications. They should expect potential vendors to clearly answer
their questions and recommend the best approach. Recently, while on a
hunt for a new bar code generation software, I wasted a lot of time on
a vendors Web site trying to determine which of its products would
best fit my need. A simple phone call to the company could have
cleared things up for me quickly, but I couldnt find a phone number
on the Web site, so I ended up going to another vendor.
Demo policy: If a picture is worth a thousand words, a
demonstration is worth a billion. Fortunately, many software products
on the market today allow users to experiment with a demo version to
determine suitability. If a vendor does not provide a demo version,
thats a red flag.
Rebate policy: I hate dealing with rebates, which are
basically ploys to get the buyers profiles. But what I hate more is
when the rebate check or the free gift, or whatever was promised, is
not delivered. The industry if rife with these stories of broken
promises. If a vendors word cant be trusted, how can their
products or services be?
Paying attention to these policies has made me a smarter
buyer. I hope it does the same for you.
To December 2001 Table Of Contents ]