BPA Featured Article

Leading Experts Comment on QM Market Trends

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor
May 12, 2009

Quality monitoring (QM) solutions have become central to contact center performance. These tools capture the interactions between your customers and agents and in doing so are invaluable in ensuring excellent customer-retaining service. QM also obviates fingerpointing in disputes with electronic records of what was said.

We approached two longtime industry experts Lori Bocklund, founder and president, Strategic Contact, and Keith Dawson (News - Alert), senior analyst, Frost and Sullivan, to get their advice on how best to source, buy and enable QM products:
Q: What key trends do you see in how contact centers identify and buy QM products and what is driving them? What impacts has the economy had on the market for these solutions, in buying cycles, and in how firms they buy them?
Lori Bocklund (LB): I see a few key changes going on in the QM market. First, QM is now seen as a critical tool, no matter the center’s size, and the market has found ways to make it affordable (sometimes with fewer bells and whistles). Second, I see people trying to buy QM with their core system purchase (ACD, IVR, CTI (News - Alert)). Many of the vendors offer bundled or OEM options. And third, many look at QM as part of a bigger performance suite plan and purchase.
Keith Dawson (KD): Contact centers are much more likely today to purchase their QM as part of an integrated suite of agent-facing tools. This is due partly to the ongoing industry consolidation, but also because of the productivity benefits to be had from integrating closely aligned software functions, like PM and analytics, with QM. The economy had not had much impact on purchases through the third quarter of 2008, though some vendors were reporting a slowdown in the sales cycle by last summer. Some of the early reports from the end of the year show that QM may not have been hit that hard by the downturn. We'll know more soon.
Q: Also, have there been any changes in how contact centers learn about and perform due diligence on these solutions? Increase/decrease in use of business media? Do you see and forecast use of business peer groups and other social networking for these tools?
LB: While I don’t see changes yet, I think social networking will change the way buyers approach any contact center technology purchase. They will tap the community – an ever-ready reference pool – as part of the evaluation process. We only need the right focused venues or forums to emerge to create an active chatter about the various products and services out there. I hope it will spur the vendors and distributors to improve products and support when their strengths and weaknesses are readily visible for the world to see.
Q: Discuss the benefits and challenges of purchasing standalone recording and QM solutions versus WFO suites
LB: If your focus is clear, you already have the other tools you need and/or have no foreseeable need (or budget) for other WFO suite capabilities purchasing a standalone recording/QM solution may be just fine. Beyond that, you have to look at whether a suite makes sense. There are many elements to performance management today, and they are interconnected. Therefore it is very important in the purchase of any WFO capability to make sure you are considering not just the immediate tactical need, but the bigger strategic need. That doesn’t mean people will only buy QM as part of a suite, but it means they have to look at what makes sense for their center today and tomorrow, and the tradeoffs of integration, functionality, administration, and cost.
KD: Suites benefit from tight integration of diverse features and modules, single vendor support and upgrades, and the fact that you can probably count on your vendor to be there long term. Niche solutions are often of top notch quality, but they sometimes don't have the industrywide footprint to guarantee longevity, nor the resources to fight off the marketing power of the larger integrated suites. The buyer community has definitely shifted to preferring suites over standalones. 
Q: What is your view on SaaS (News - Alert) [Software as a Service] as a delivery option for QM solutions?
LB: I have yet to see any clients use SaaS for QM. Companies often like to evaluate SaaS, because it makes sense to take a look in today’s market. But often, they want to have control of the technology. Further, the bigger issues for QM seem to be having staff availability and processes to execute QM successfully. As a result, I’ve seen managed services for QM in a fair number of scenarios, but I have yet to see SaaS in action with this technology.
KD: Haven't seen very much of it in actual practice, nor do the vendors talk about it much. It's not really on the radar for most of the agent-facing applications in the WFO space. It is still mainly the province of call routing and of customer service and support applications.

Q: What is happening in QM pricing?

KD: QM pricing is stabilizing, but at levels down from where they were a few years ago. Cost of core call recording is down, has commoditized. Vendors are adding value-add applications to make up for the decline, especially in analytics, performance management and coaching apps.

Q: What best practices do you see now and emerging in identifying selecting QM solutions and suppliers?

LB: We promote a structured process for requirements and evaluation as a best practice for purchasing any contact center technology. This principle doesn’t require a big fat RFP all the time. It means a thoughtful process by a cross-functional team that keeps the buyer in the driver’s seat and ensures proper due diligence. With so many vendors to choose from, it’s important to focus on what really matters to your company, and evaluate the right options based on defined requirements and evaluation criteria. A structured process will let you compare vendors head-to-head and negotiate the best price for your total solution purchase (including professional service). The process will also help the team see that the vendor and/or distributor can matter as much as the product – you live with them and their strengths and weaknesses, and that may be more of a differentiator than a feature or function of one system versus another.
Q: What is your advice to contact centers who are seeking either to buy new QM products or to replace/upgrade to new QM solutions?

LB: For anyone in the market for QM solutions, I would focus on three key things:

--How does the QM solution fit with your other business goals? Do you need to record all calls for liability/compliance purposes? Are you planning to pursue speech analytics – now or sometime soon? Are you looking at other performance tools now or in the near future? You must understand the big picture in order to make smart decisions on this one capability.
--Should you bundle QM in with another effort? QM often fits in with a core system purchase, or a performance suite purchase. Integration and ease of use and administration matter for these types of tools.
--Don’t neglect the people and process issues in your zeal for the technology. QM capabilities are cool and compelling. But they are worthless without well defined processes for not just scoring calls, but doing something with the outcomes. Make sure you design or refine your processes, including feedback and coaching, as well as analysis that help you improve the overall center through technology, training, and process changes arising from quality reviews. And make sure you allocate time from QA staff, supervisors, trainers, and CSRs to learn from the QM outcome. That is the only way you’ll get the full value from whatever system you purchase.

KD: Make sure that the QM is integrated with other data sources, especially the WFM systems and the scorecard/dashboarding tools (usually found in the performance management app).Look for tools that connect with coaching and elearning tools for quick delivery of targeted training and improvement advice to the agent. It's not enough to simply measure quality; the measurement needs to be actionable. Also when choosing a standalone provider for QM (or any other WFO tool, for that matter), make sure the vendor is part of an ecosystem of integrated application providers.

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Patrick Barnard