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December 1999

How To Buy CRM And Call Center Technology And Teleservices For The New Millennium


Selecting technologies for CRM (customer relationship management), the call center, and e-sales and e-services contact centers, as well as choosing teleservices offerings is more complex than ever before.

When choosing technologies for setting up what I call the next-generation of call centers, you will face many variables and multiple choices, and you will need to keep in mind compatibility and convergence issues. On the services side, you will also need to evaluate compatibility between your company and the teleservices agency or application service provider, thoroughly scrutinize their service offerings, including e-sales and e-service, and most important, establish trust.

As the crucially important voice and data technologies for call centers converge to make CRM and e-commerce possible, myriad new products and services are offered on a daily basis. Making a decision on what is right for you and your call center is staggering. Having anticipated that, TMC™ (Technology Marketing Corporation) management and staff established the TMC™ Labs, where our engineers test the validity, compatibility, functionality and interoperability of the multitude of technologies that are presented every week to our engineers in the laboratory. This is becoming an overwhelming task, but we believe that TMC™'s capable staff is up to the challenge. As the magazine that was called by The Wall Street Journal "The Bible of the Industry" and the magazine that Alex Fraser of Hewlett-Packard called "The only credible source of information on the industry," we do not take our responsibility lightly. Our editors, TMC™ Labs engineers and TMC™ management work extremely hard to separate facts from fiction and reality from hype. Our test drives and product reviews represent market offerings as we see them. Strong and weak features of every product are indicated in every review so that you, our valued readers and buyers of products and services promoted and presented in our publications, do not make costly purchasing mistakes. I think you can appreciate that this is a monumental task and I am proud to say that our fine staff has lived up to your expectations.

By virtue of our three print publications, C@LL CENTER Solutions™, Communications Solutions™ (formerly CTI) and INTERNET TELEPHONY, as well as several products we offer on the Web (see www.tmcnet.com), we reach hundreds of thousands of people each and every month. Our trade shows, COMMUNICATIONS SOLUTIONS™ EXPO (formerly CTI™ EXPO) and our phenomenally successful first-time show, INTERNET TELEPHONY EXPO™, add considerable light to the decision-making process to help you buy the "right" products and services for your call centers. The comprehensive seminars as well as numerous Learning Centers and a host of free educational demonstrations on the exhibit floor, not to mention extremely knowledgeable exhibitors, can shed plenty of light on the tough decision of buying the right product. Believe me, there is no other way to buy products and services judiciously. In a nutshell, to ensure satisfaction with your purchasing decisions, it is imperative to read every pertinent article and TMC™ Labs review published in C@LL CENTER Solutions™, stay abreast of our Web site information and updates, and be sure to attend COMMUNICATIONS SOLUTIONS™ EXPO (formerly CTI™ EXPO) and INTERNET TELEPHONY EXPO™. By doing so you can make multimillion-dollar purchasing decisions based on sound, reliable and objective information, which has been the hallmark of TMC™ publications and trade shows for the last 18 years.

To provide you with necessary purchasing guidelines and help you assess the variety of options available to you, I have asked the outstanding TMC™ editors to share with you their words of wisdom on judicious selection of products and services for your CRM, call center, e-sales and e-service needs. Call centers of today are drastically different from those of the past. Certainly technology has afforded the call center manager with an arsenal of products and services whereby he/she can cut costs and overhead while drastically enhancing the capabilities of the call center; it also has made the buying process more complex.

Following are important factors to consider when evaluating the products and services you will need to prepare your call center and thus your company for the challenges of the new millennium. Good luck and best wishes in your shopping.

Our Purchasing Guidelines
Before you begin to make any decisions on purchasing any products or services, remind yourself of the old maxim: Talk is cheap. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, when it comes to product or service hype, it’s important to be cautious and read between the lines and thoroughly investigate all claims.

But talk can also be invaluable, especially between colleagues and others who work in environments similar to yours. Make a point to communicate with as many of your team members as possible. Find out what they feel will help them to improve their own performance and what will help the company become more profitable. Discuss technology and service features you are thinking about implementing and get your coworkers’ feedback. This can help you avoid making wasteful purchases. New millennium or not, the bottom line is customer service; so make sure that technology purchases are aimed at increasing customer satisfaction, rather than purchasing technology for technology’s sake.

Get to know the members of your company’s MIS department and be sure they become intimately familiar with your call/contact center. Discuss all of your ideas for technology purchases to be sure they are feasible. Remember to think corporatewide. Everything must work together to avoid information islands. You should also be aware of knowledge management and use all information wisely to increase sales.

Consider the proactive ways in which to use the data you have to improve your company’s image and perhaps, as an added bonus, increase the amount of information you have about the preferences of individual customers. For example, outbound calls/e-mail to customers who have just made a purchase to ensure they’re satisfied with the product and service received so far; or a call/e-mail to a customer who, according to data mining analysis, makes large purchases at given times of the year, perhaps associated with birthdays, anniversaries, etc., to offer a certain discount given their “gold status” — these types of efforts will help to distinguish your company from its competitors, increasing the chance that the customer you’re targeting will stay loyal to your brand, which increases that customer’s lifetime value to your organization.

You should also consider “unifying” your data — which actually means giving the various departments within your company access to a single database that contains all customer information possessed. Sales would love to know, prior to making a sales call, that customer A has had nothing but problems with your company and its products, while customer B is very satisfied. Product development would like to know what kinds of problems or questions customers are having, perhaps enabling them to incorporate sensible changes into future products. Marketing would like to know how a certain outbound campaign is performing, in real-time preferably, so that they can adapt the message to maximize positive results.

Make sure any new systems you are thinking about purchasing are compatible with existing ones. With today’s software-driven and object-oriented systems, compatibility is more important than ever. Your call center systems may actually be fragments from any companies pasted together and they all should be firing in sync.

Get out of the office. Take advantage of conferences and trade shows, such as COMMUNICATIONS SOLUTIONS™ EXPO and INTERNET TELEPHONY EXPO™. Network and speak to as many vendors as possible.

If you’re looking for a teleservices outsourcer, go to the agency’s physical site. See for yourself how the facility operates and don’t hesitate to talk to the people on the front line. Get references and talk to them.

Today, everyone is concerned about providing multiple means of customer contact. This means that all products must be Internet aware and Web-enabled. That is, once configured, they should handle customer relationships online, on the phone, by fax, etc. Otherwise, you will repeat the same steps over and over for each type of contact and changes to one are not automatically propagated to other forms.

Keep in mind that if done improperly, Web integration of the call center can hurt you more than help you. Here are some points about e-commerce to consider:

  1. Keep it simple. Realize that many potential customers are not tech savvy, so design with simplicity in mind.
  2. Provide accurate and descriptive feedback every step of the way. Don’t assume your customers will read the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) pages. Give them guidance on every page.
  3. Provide security. Most people prefer secure sites when paying online.
  4. Provide real-time credit card transactions. This way the customer can receive immediate feedback on whether or not his/her order was accepted. Accounting will also have less work to do verifying credit card numbers.
  5. Give customers an easy method to check their order’s status online.
  6. Always give customers the option to call the company at any point before, during or after the transaction.
  7. Encourage Web and e-mail usage by promptly responding to customers’ e-mail and other requests. Many companies have good phone support but lousy Web and e-mail support. Web and e-mail usage is a Pavlovian process for many people. The more they are rewarded by using it, the more they will use it. Let them down once and they may never use the site again. A timely response to non-real-time messages is imperative and cannot be stressed enough.

If you have any doubt about your ability to provide the same service level though advanced media as you did on the phone, look to a teleservices agency for help. TMC™ provides you with many tools to help you choose a teleservices agency, including: Teleservices Outsourcing Directories that were supplements to our July 1998, November 1997 and June 1997 issues; a booklet, Telemarketing Service Agencies — Everything You Always Needed To Know; the annual rankings of the “Top 50 Teleservices Agencies”; the annual “Rising Stars: The Fastest Growing Teleservices Agencies”; the annual “MVP Quality Awards”; numerous “Publisher’s Outlook” columns on the subject, as well as a monthly feature in C@LL CENTER 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 or see www.tmcnet.com.)

As we draw the curtain on this year and open the door to the new year, the new millennium, I take this opportunity to thank all of our valued readers, advertisers, conference attendees, exhibitors and all industry colleagues and vendors in the CRM/call center arena for your strong support of TMC™  magazines, conferences, trade shows and Web site products and services. You helped us make 1999 another spectacular chapter in TMC™ ’s proud history that includes our 18 years of leadership in the CRM/call center arena.

We thank you from the bottom of our hearts and we wish you and yours the greatest holiday season and a happy, healthy and prosperous Y2K.


Nadji Tehrani
Executive Group Publisher

Technology Marketing Corporation

2 Trap Falls Road Suite 106, Shelton, CT 06484 USA
Ph: +1-203-852-6800, 800-243-6002

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