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Customer Inter@ction Solutions
January 2007 - Volume 25 / Number 8
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VoIP Changes The Lives Of Disabled Veterans

By Rich Tehrani
TMCnet Group Editor-in-Chief

Rich Tehrani
Today, many people know how voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) has changed lives and how it has allowed communications to take place among individuals who previously could not afford to communicate. Voice over IP is obviously a “disruptive technology,” but at the same time it has changed the world in many ways. We know about cost savings and how service provider business models have evolved over the years, but we have not seen enough media attention focused on how VoIP is changing lives by enabling people who were previously unemployable to find jobs.

There are thousands of disabled veterans in the country, and these distinguished Americans are often unable to contribute to the workforce because they aren’t able to commute to a job.

In May of last year, I wrote about how call centers are changing lives (see www.tmcnet.com/435.1) and specifically about the excellent work Ken Smith is doing as program manager at the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH).
Here is a refresher from the above article:

• In November of 2005, the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation (MOPHSF) commenced its first class of 15 disabled, combat-wounded veterans in an online call center training program called Veterans Business Training Center, or VBTC.

• This training was 15 weeks, or 600 hours long, and focused on the Five9 (www.five9.com) dialing platform. As it turns out, Five9 gave this agency very favorable rates for their service and should be commended for doing so.

• The foundation allowed the trainees to use this platform to call prospect donors on behalf of the Foundation to solicit contributions in Virginia. The program was a huge success. It has now expanded into 25 states, and the VBTC is accepting applications online. Visit www.purpleheartfoundation.org/job_training.asp for more details.

VoIP has allowed organizations to do amazing things, such as locate call centers around the world, but the technology continues to evolve, and one of the latest trends in the call center market is “homeshoring” or hiring agents to work from their homes. When you couple this concept with agents who are restricted to working exclusively from their homes, the result is an agent pool of workers who are grateful to work and employers that are happy to have access to a mature and skilled labor pool that was once unattainable. Most important, companies are now able to hire more disabled U.S. veterans, the people who have made huge personal sacrifices for their country. Hiring these veterans allows companies to bring a highly skilled agent online and at the same time provides work to an individual who fought for his or her country so we can all enjoy the freedoms we have today.
The VBTC is doing an amazing job, and the veterans who have gone through the program are in tremendous demand. In addition, three to four thousand more veterans are waiting to enter the training program. The 15-week program consists of virtual classroom training, supervisor training, reporting and resume writing. (Readers can visit www.purpleheartfoundation.org/training_syllabus.asp to view the course syllabus.)

Web site visitors can read how disabled veterans feel about this program by reading a few of the messages left on the message board of the MOPH, including the following:

“The MOPH Business Center has taken my abilities as a wounded soldier to convince me that there are soldiers caring for us who have served our country and given us another chance to succeed in a field that I knew nothing about (computers). The Purple Heart restored my confidence in soldiers helping soldiers.”

“My name is Ron. I would like to share with you the wonderful things that the Purple Heart Foundation has done for me. Over the past couple of months, I have acquired many skills that will benefit me in the private sector. The time is now if you are looking to get a leg up in the workforce. The Business Program at the foundation is the answer. You will be glad to enroll in the program. Don’t wait, the opportunity is just a click away.”

Program graduates are finding jobs paying between $14 to $22 per hour. While they are obviously competing with call center agents from other countries, to many companies, there seems to exist a greater amount of trust with a disabled veteran than when working with agents in foreign countries. In situations where identity theft or credit card fraud is a potential problem, disabled veterans have a higher likelihood of securing work when up against lower-cost offshore labor.

On September 11, 2006, the Foundation began a new class with the name “Alpha 9/11.” This class was dedicated to the 173 veterans who lost their lives in the Pentagon attack five years ago. It graduated in mid-January. At every graduation there is a commencement speaker. Many past speakers have been Secretaries of Defense, Secretaries of State and retired generals. Surprisingly, I was asked to keynote for this graduating class, and I am humbled by the request and looking forward to the honor. There are few times in my life when my professional career has evoked such feelings of happiness, satisfaction and personal pride. The general measure of success in business is growing the top and bottom line while thrashing your competition (at least that is my definition). It is great when you can do all of this while helping legions (pun not intended) of others in the process.

I am told that TMCnet and many of TMC’s (News - Alert) publications have become vital resources for what the Foundation is doing. I am proud to support disabled veterans and I thank them for their service to our country. I am equally proud to have been involved in the IP communications industry as it has changed the lives of so many and continues to provide opportunities to all.

We are also very excited to announce that Ken and many of the disabled veterans will be exhibiting at the upcoming INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO (www.itexpo.com) in Ft. Lauderdale. They tell me they will have some amazing military ceremonial displays worth coming to the show to see. They will also be giving out military dog tags which double as their business cards.

To those of you in the communications market: here is a chance to see how the innovations of IP communications have improved the lives of disabled veterans around the world. I encourage you to come to the show, January 23rd to 27th (the exhibit hall will be open January 24th to 27th) and say “hello” to the fine people of the Military Order of The Purple Heart and give them your thanks and support. CIS

Who Is CRM Player Infor?
I didn’t think it was possible for a $2 billion dollar software company to exist without me knowing about it, but Infor is just such a company. Infor focuses on enterprise applications such as CRM and more, and competes with the likes of SAP (News - Alert) and Oracle. The company has grown revenue by 300 percent in the past year, and has had a string of acquisitions as of late. The result is a company with 70,000 application customers. I decided it would make sense to schedule an interview with the company’s Global Director, CRM Product Marketing, Patric Timmermans, to get a better idea about what the company is and where it’s going.

RT: Before we discuss CRM, who is Infor and what are you doing different in the market?
PT: Infor recognizes there has been a large gap in the enterprise software market. There are players trying to bring their heavy solutions downmarket and small companies bringing their niche solutions upmarket. Infor fills this void by providing customers of all sizes, through innovation and acquisition, with proven, business-specific solutions with experience built in, backed by a vendor with global scale and stability. Our more than 70,000 customers turn to Infor to solve their needs in CRM, supply chain, ERP, performance management, enterprise asset management and more.

RT: Tell me about Infor CRM.
PT: Our legacy in CRM comes from Epiphany as well as other best-of-breed CRM providers we acquired. Infor CRM is a strategic set of solutions that enables companies to develop and maintain a consistent and continuous dialog with their customers, and brings all channels and sources together to create one experience. To be effective, a company’s CRM solution must integrate marketing, sales and service to provide a 360-degree view of the customer. Comprehensive CRM can provide real-time information about the customer and match that to the best possible service or product or next best action.

RT: What should customers take into consideration when selecting a CRM provider?
PT: When a CRM system is deployed, it will be there for a long time. With new applications being introduced every year, your CRM provider has to have the ability to integrate with any service you want to offer. This creates a mashup within CRM, and the real estate on an agent’s screen becomes a combination of several applications and capabilities. The CRM system must pull all of this information together, regardless of whether it comes from legacy or third-party applications. Companies should look for CRM solutions that are agnostic to other applications in the enterprise infrastructure and are not reliant on a specific middleware platform.

RT: What does the future of CRM look like?
PT: Marketing to the consumer on their time. This is a shift from the current concept in which companies market solutions when it is convenient to them, not the customer. CRM is evolving towards utilizing real-time information from across the enterprise to provide offers to consumers when their attention is at its greatest. For example, using a customer’s calling history to offer more services when they visit the Web site to pay their bill or call the contact center. Our customers have seen dramatic increases in campaign effectiveness with this approach.

RT: What will be the key milestones for Infor CRM in the next 12 to 18 months?
PT: You will see additional functionality in our CRM solutions for b-to-b, b-to-c, and b-to-b-to-c environments as we strive to enrich the customer experience. In addition, we will continue to extend our solutions’ capabilities in our key verticals such as communications, financial services, insurance, retail, hospitality, travel and leisure, and manufacturing. Infor CRM will continue to evolve and interoperate with new applications and services.

RT: What do you predict the evolution of CRM to be over the next 10 years?
PT: I see CRM evolving toward the concept of intelligent customer dialog to create one experience. Companies realize that consumers want more than exceptional service or product, they want the whole experience the brand they are buying promises, and to connect with the vision of that company. Products are so similar from one brand to another, so companies are competing on customer service. This too will become very similar and the shift will be toward the customer experience and feeling a part of the brand and company. CRM will provide the tools to help companies move beyond simple sales tactics and create this experience.

RT: In what industries do you see the most momentum with CRM?
PT: There are three industries I see as leading: communications, retail banking and insurance. All three have a strong customer vision with set strategic goals for how CRM can help them increase revenue, not just create efficiencies. The retail sector is also surging, and I see it as a good growth market for CRM. Interestingly, we also see manufacturers developing a strategy of supporting the whole supply chain from manufacturing through retail to the end customer in a b-to-b-to-c model.

RT: What is the key ingredient many companies are missing from their CRM strategy?
PT: I believe many companies overlook the ability to gain insight into the customer and act upon it. CRM is a strategic resource to turn contact centers into profit centers by using real-time analytics to reduce costs while driving new revenue by creating a customized customer experience at every touch point. This may change the way performance is measured. For example, one of our retail banking customers changed their metrics for success. Their call center agents were previously measured on call handling times and speed of entry, but now they are measured on products per household, deposit growth goals and customer satisfaction.

RT: Thank you for your time.

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