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July 2003

In this month's Executive Roundtable, Customer Inter@ction Solutions' ' editors speak with William R. Hennessy, president and CEO of Stratasoft, Inc., and Steve Chase, senior product manager, contact center solutions, of SER Solutions, Inc. Both were asked to share their opinions about the past, present and future of dialing technologies.

CIS: How has the legislative climate of state and, potentially federal, do-not-call lists impacted the development of dialers and dialer products? Do you view that the constantly changing legislative environment is becoming burdensome to the development of new products or the updates of existing products? How do you reassure your customers that the products won't fall prey to obsolescence?

Hennessy: Do-not-call-lists have been around for a long time and Stratasoft has conscientiously designed our solutions with 'do-not-call' embedded technology since their inception to ensure our products meet or exceed compliancy requirements. We have engaged in partnerships with Gryphon Networks, Call Compliance and DNC Solutions that offer full, comprehensive do-not-call services and our technology is plug-and-play to those services. There are several other federal requirements ' dropped call goals, minimum connect times and recorded messaging should a live agent not be immediately available ' that have been standard features of our StrataDial system since 1997.
We value our customers before, during and after the sale and we act responsibly as a manufacturer to ensure that our product complies with the latest legislation, offers the latest technology and features and is patented. We make these enhancements and new features available to our customers. The legislative environment, the competition and our customers' desires and wants serve to inspire us to create new capabilities for our contact center solutions. Our feature-rich capabilities, such as predictive dialing, auto-attendant, automated call distributor, IVR, voice mail, CRM tools, scripting tools and Web connectivity offer our customers greater flexibility in multipoint communications with their clients.
Our customers are protected from obsolescence because all our new capabilities are incorporated in new software updates, which we generally release twice per year. All customers under a Stratasoft maintenance program are eligible to receive the updates at no additional charge. We inform our customers about any new developments through direct contact, monthly e-newsletters, Web site links, an annual users' conference and StrataNet, an interactive customer resource on our Web site.

Chase: The introduction of new federal regulations illustrates the dynamic environment in which contact centers operate today. First and foremost, center operators require flexible solutions to effectively address ever-changing regulatory mandates. However, this addresses only part of the challenge facing contact center operators ' compliance with the regulations will have a significant impact on productivity. At SER, we have taken a unique approach to legislative compliance. Not only are we constantly monitoring legislation so that we can ensure our solutions meet the mandates within the required timeframes, we are developing new and innovative solutions that allow contact center operators to recoup compliance-related productivity losses ' losses due to conservative abandon call rates, the reduced size of the target audience due to state and national do-not-call lists, etc., which are significantly increasing the cost of operations. SERmonitor and SERvalidate, our automated call validation and quality monitoring solutions, enable contact center operators to recoup compliance-related productivity losses by dramatically reducing the costs associated with manually monitoring agent activities such as script adherence, order validation, regulatory and legal compliance.

CIS: How have dialers and dialing technologies changed for the better in the past 10 years? What advances have allowed your technologies to become more user-friendly, and enable users to be more productive and profitable?

Hennessy: There's no question that technology has revolutionized the contact center and vastly improved efficiency, productivity and return on investment. Our philosophy has been to use technology to offer custom contact center solutions that do not require highly skilled employees and labor-intensive implementations. We consider ourselves a contact center solution in a box.
The Windows platform has allowed for a graphical interface that is both more appealing and functional. Our users are able to easily design databases, screens and scripts that are easily customized to their specific needs and access multiple databases using our user-friendly CRM tools. In minutes, they can create applications and present custom screens to their agents that typically require weeks of programming on competitive systems. We also provide Web-based applications as part of our solution, including agent access to the Internet, chat, Web collaboration tools and e-mail management software to ensure that our customers' contact centers meet the communication needs of their clients. Even with this substantial level of functionality, the overall operation and administration of our products is very simple, thereby dramatically reducing the overall operational costs associated with using the product.
For those companies looking to integrate into their existing enterprise, we offer an Application Programming Interface (API) and an ActiveX control. This allows our customers to tightly integrate to their in-house applications, such as their collection system or customer service applications because our product supports multiple applications and campaigns running simultaneously.

Chase: Since agents are the most expensive resource in any contact center, achieving the highest level of agent productivity is critical. In the past 13 years, SER has led the industry with the introduction of patented dialing algorithms which enable contact center operators to maximize the number of live connects and agent talk time by effectively eliminating unwanted answering machines, ring-no-answers, busy signals, etc., and minimize agent wait times between calls. The synchronization of our sophisticated software and switching technology ensures that the instant the switch detects a live answer, it connects the call to an available agent, ensuring the agent hears the customer saying 'hello' concurrent with the agent being presented with all the relevant customer information.
Additionally, SER has kept pace with technology changes by offering a new standard of flexibility and control, with CPS WebAgent. It provides a browser-based alternative to the standard character-based agent interface and utilizes the type of graphical and navigational characteristics typically found on Web sites. The WebAgent screen enables agents to view and enter call-related information within a Web browser running on a personal computer.

CIS: There is always talk of the high burnout rates among outbound teleservices representatives. How do your technologies help combat this?

Hennessy: We often find when we change out a competitive product that the agents are the first to compliment us on our system. We find these systems are insensitive to the agents and the customers as there are insufficient monitoring and reporting capabilities. Stratasoft is keenly aware of the value of providing a system that provides extensive real-time monitoring of agent screens (through our own technology, StrataQA) and real-time statistical information to which all supervisors and managers have access. We distribute our management tools to additional users at no additional cost because we feel it is important that all managers and supervisors have access to these tools, which allow them to identify potential burnout situations. There are many alarms built into the system that will alert supervisors and managers when agents are exceeding thresholds, typically indicating 'burnout' behavioral patterns. Of course, we work directly with our customers to address these types of issues, which attributes to our high success rate on new releases.

Chase: Certainly, job frustration is one of the main reasons for agent turnover. If agents are not fulfilled and motivated, productivity and profitability suffer. At SER, we have taken a holistic approach to increasing agent satisfaction and productivity. This includes the ability to design a number of real-time reports for monitoring campaign activities ' providing real-time data on the performance of agents, campaigns and overall dialing results. As a result, supervisors have all the information they need to fine-tune scripts and other aspects of operations when necessary.
In addition, SER's automated quality monitoring software, SERmonitor, provides contact center supervisors an automated agent monitoring capability to evaluate and improve agent-customer interactions. SER delivers solutions that enable contact centers to monitor and validate 100 percent of their calls and automatically track and measure key performance indicators (KPIs) at a fraction of the cost of manual processes. The ability to monitor all the calls, provide objective scoring of KPIs and provide timely feedback and coaching to the agents can significantly improve job satisfaction of both the monitors and the agents.

CIS: Have you found the challenge of adapting your technologies to stringent new call abandonment rules, for instance, those of the state of California, to be very difficult? What technologies or standards have you put in place so that your customers can ensure compliance?

Hennessy: The design of the StrataDial system makes it easy to comply with the California abandonment rule passed in October of 2001. Our system allows conformity on the fly. StrataDial is not just a predictive dialer; it is a contact management system. Predictive dialing is an integral module within the contact management system. The predictive dialing module employs a pacing algorithm that is goal-oriented and integrates with many other features and modules on the StrataDial system to allow our customers to set our system to fully comply without any programming or costly system upgrades. The system can be set up and left to use its own calculations, or the supervisor can guide the dialer toward the performance he/she would like to see at any given period of dialing.

Chase: One area of significant concern at the recent ATA conference in Washington D.C. was the productivity losses expected with new and proposed abandon call rate limits. At SER, we have a tradition of offering specific capabilities related to regulatory compliance while increasing agent productivity. Our dialing algorithm, which the Meta Group recently called the 'best in the industry,' can adapt to these stringent requirements and still ensure the contact center remains productive. In addition, our contact center solutions provide the detailed event information and report management necessary to prove compliance with the FTC's recent mandates.

CIS: How can your customers best put to use the reporting capabilities that are a component of your dialer products? How do these reports have a direct impact on customer satisfaction?

Hennessy: StrataDial provides more than 30 standard reports, which directly impact a contact center manager's ability to effectively plan and measure call activity. There are standard reports for system, campaign and agent productivity. We also report the overall performance and productivity of data and lists. Many other reports regarding call disposition, call details, call analysis and sales tracking are also available. Other reports provided with the system evaluate call flow peak periods, which can be used to appropriately manage staffing levels for inbound and complement the management of outbound calling campaigns. Real-time graphical and numerical statistics on all types of calls (outbound, inbound, manual calls, call backs and preview dialed calls) are available and in a variety of formats, including pie charts, bar graphs, line graphs, etc. Furthermore, because our system is built on open standards, all of our statistical data is available for users to use with third-party report writers, such as Crystal Reports Writer, MS Access or MS Excel to generate custom reports. Customer satisfaction is achieved by providing timely and accurate information in the easiest, quickest and most familiar manner.

Chase: SER's SmartStat is designed to increase the overall productivity of the contact center by providing supervisors and managers the ability to perform in-depth, real-time analysis and reporting on the performance of agents, campaigns and overall effectiveness of the contact center. In addition, we have leveraged this capability with SERmonitor, our automated quality monitoring solution, to provide new visibility into the actual conversations between agents and consumers/customers. As a result, agents can now be measured, coached and provided with incentives to ensure true customer satisfaction.

[ Return To The July 2003 Table Of Contents ]

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