Integrating And Selecting Outbound Call Center Technologies
BY ERIK HAAGENSEN, POINT INFORMATION SYSTEMS AND MITCH PIERCE, LOGICA
If you are still using call center technology to make the traditional dinner-hour sales
calls, your customers may soon be talking to your competition. Today, companies need to go
beyond cold calls, get to know their prospects and customers, and learn to approach them
with information they want via the communications channel of their choice.
Call centers can be effective in gaining customers? loyalty and respect, but only if
those doing the customer interfacing are wired with the right information.
Call-center-focused customer relationship management (CRM) solutions are proving to be the
optimal way to provide this capability, and are fast becoming the most critical dependency
for deal closing, customer retention and customer value enhancement. But having a
best-of-breed call center/ CRM solution is just part of the story. Having the right
technologies to connect your call center capabilities to customers is the other critical
piece of the puzzle.
Call Center Technologies
Statistics show that about 25 percent of outbound calls will not reach live
prospects. If agents are paid $10.00 per hour, that adds up to tens of thousands of
dollars in operational expenses for large call centers. Without immediate results, this
can be a costly exercise in futility.
New computer-telephony integration (CTI) technologies enable CRM solutions to be
optimized for the call center and can provide the means to effective lead generation and
qualification, and simplified cross-selling and upselling to existing clients. Call center
agents can hone in on solutions and offers that are personalized to their customers
Using well-known call center connectivity devices such as private branch exchanges
(PBXs), automatic call distributors (ACDs), predictive dialers, auto-dialers, CTI
middleware and agent desktops in a well-designed and integrated system allows the
following series of events to occur transparently:
- The ACD responds to a predictive dialer or auto-dialer and presents an agent with a
- The agent desktop software launches a script containing customer name and information,
and an appropriate prompt for the agent.
- The employee navigates the script, capturing appropriate information and responses,
presenting customized offers based on the client profile.
- The desktop software saves customer responses and call resolution to the database for
future analysis and notifies the telephony environment that the agent is ready for another
The Selection Process
Technology expenses may be as small as 10 percent of the entire outbound call
center cost. Making the right decision about how to spend that sum can mean more than a 10
percent difference in your bottom line, in customer loyalty, customer value enhancement
and even in employee retention. But how do you make the right technology choices?
Start the technology selection process by making sure you have someone with experience
to guide the process. Usually, this requires an outside consultant. Integrators bring
unique and broad-ranging experience that facilitates the task. To go beyond mere power
dialing to a proactive call center, consult a systems integrator.
With an integrators help, you can take these general steps:
- Assess your needs: evaluate your requirements with an eye to the future.
- Know where your organization is going: growth targets, planned technology changes and
new products in the pipeline.
- Develop specifications for the tools you think will address your requirements.
- Determine measurable targets for both hard and soft results. It is relatively easy to
calculate ROI once you have audited your business processes. Establish baseline numbers
before you start. You also want to measure the soft results. How will this investment
affect the customers experience, build loyalty and increase the customers
value to the company?
- Define functional and operation integration requirements. Automation will affect not
only your technical environment, but your labor structure and possibly your physical
requirements as well.
Beware of proprietary technology that allows only a particular vendors
products to work together. An open architecture and a published application programming
interface (API) make the various devices fit together smoothly. This allows you to build a
best-of-breed technology infrastructure, without mammoth integration effort. The resulting
seamless integration brings synergies that profoundly impact your bottom line.
Also beware of vendors who claim to provide the total solution. Often, they construct
their product lines by acquiring or reselling other products, building on different
architectures and with different tool sets. For you, this means sacrificing the benefits
of best-of-breed without realizing any gains in implementation.
Out-Of-The-Box Functionality And Customization
Customizing your call center technology to your specific business processes
enables you to optimize ROI. However, a strong customization tool set is not enough. The
more functionality you start with, the more time you save during implementation and
subsequent enhancements. Look for a particularly strong feature set in your desktop
application, and consider the benefits that CTI middleware products can bring.
With an open standard product, you could, on a very basic level, install the software,
write a script, set up an outbound campaign, import your list and begin making calls
within two weeks. More elaborate integration efforts will link telephony, load the
database with historical information, then analyze and incorporate business processes.
Tying in back-end and front-office functions further complicates the process, but offers
The following example illustrates the benefits that a refined system integration can
bring. An energy company in a recently deregulated market relies on a CRM interface to
retrieve data, prices and market information from the back-end system. The CRM application
interprets the data, manipulates it and presents it to the agent. The system generates
mailings for prospects and provides follow-up scripts. It incorporates deal modules and
negotiates parameters into the agent script for the caller and transfers the information
to the fax system for transmission to clients. This company has been able to close deals
and fax back documents within an hour of the initial contact, while competitors were
taking two weeks to sort through their files.
Giving your staff optimum tools will help assure optimum results. The agent
desktop is the tool that drives the customer experience. The benefits of an
intelligent agent desktop can dramatically impact your operation, affecting
your workforce and your customers.
The phone representative sees only the screen. Having rapid-fire information for
persuasion, rebuttal or answers to questions is mission-critical in an outbound call
center. All that depends on tight integration with the desktop. In fact, the desktop
application is so important that many successful call center projects begin there, and
then build the system to integrate with it, bringing the true value of the system to
Once youve made your decisions, a systems integrator continues to be
invaluable in helping with installation, integration of components and a test deployment.
No matter how much functionality a package offers, we recommend that an integrator guide
you in refining the system after the first trial run, and then take you through full-scale
implementation for as many as three large-scale campaigns. As you progress through these
campaigns, capture the data points that will enable measurement.
Maximizing Outbound Call Center Opportunities
You can calculate ROI and determine the gains in productivity, sales and
efficiencies. But you can also do much more. If you have taken your outbound call center
to a CRM level, you can use your customer information to offer the kind of attention that
reduces turnover, improves targeting and helps provide personalization that only modern
The last time you made a claim with your insurance company, did someone phone you to
inquire about the quality of the service? Would you find yourself pleasantly surprised if
someone asked? This kind of call precipitates loyalty. You can combine it with an
opportunity to upsell or cross-sell. Use customer information to alert clients to special
features or programs that might appeal to them. Make the most of your outbound call center
by making the most of your customer information.
The New World Of Outbound Call Centers
Why limit outbound call center opportunities? With effective CRM technologies,
you can integrate with your database, your billing, even your fax. Why not integrate your
outbound call center with e-commerce?
If you are doing business on the Web, or even if you just have an informational Web
site, you hold the future of outbound call centers within reach. Right now you can
implement CRM Web applications that allow self-service for support and gather data for
company use. Your outbound call center can use those data to follow-up with a personal
phone call to the customer or prospect, and turn the follow-up into an opportunity to
advise the customer of other products or services.
Additionally, new technologies are emerging as we speak, such as applications that
enable you to interact with site visitors in real-time. Sophisticated processes will let
you open an Internet chat in response to customer actions (with appropriate screen popping
to relevant scripts). Or you might initiate a real-time conversation using voice over
Internet protocol (VoIP).
With these developments currently appearing in the marketplace, you need to invest in
technology that will enable you to manage the future of your business. Go beyond the
obvious. Make your outbound call center part of your customer relationship management
initiative, and make it part of the future.
Erik Haagensen is director of marketing for POINT Information Systems, Inc.
(http://www.pointinfo.com), an international supplier of enterprise, Web-enabled customer
relationship management solutions that help companies link their sales, marketing,
customer care and back-office functions to form an enterprisewide customer interaction
Mitch Pierce is director of solutions, Center of Excellence, for Logica. Logica is a provider of business engineered
solutions primarily for the energy and utilities, telecommunications, financial services
and automotive markets.