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CEO Spotlight speaks with Carl E. Mergele, CEO of SER Solutions, Inc., www.ser.com

Carl E. Mergele

CIS: What kind of analytics and reporting can companies do in the call center nowadays that they couldn’t do a few years ago? Why is this important?

CM: In the last several years, there have been several significant changes in call center reporting.

We have seen a shift from historical reports to real-time analytics. As the name implies, historical reports are after the fact. By the time the reports are reviewed, the opportunity to affect productivity has come and gone. With data available in real time, contact center managers can make course corrections as necessary, to insure they get the maximum productivity from their systems.

Another change has been the type of information contained in the reports. Several years ago, reports were very telephony centric, with information about call lengths, queue times, talk time and other call-related data. While this information is important, the bottom line for our customers is not average talk time, but the results of the calls (e.g., how many sales were made, how many surveys were completed, how many dollars were pledged, how many promises to pay were secured, etc.). These are the results that determine if a campaign is profitable or not, and are used by our customers to drive their decision making.

Reports are also becoming increasingly dynamic, allowing users to drill down into the detail behind the report. Our customers want to start with an overall view of operations. If they see a problem area, they need to be able to easily identify the cause. For example, if the summary shows a high average talk time, is it caused by all of the agents talking longer, or is one agent throwing off the average? Only by drilling down through the data can the source of the problem be located and quickly addressed.

Reports and analytics are only as powerful as the data behind them. A very exciting recent innovation is the ability for this data to include the spoken content of calls. With the introduction of speech analytics, found in products such as SERTAINTY, conversations become another source of data. Once a conversation becomes reportable data, a whole new universe of reporting is exposed. Is the agent following the script? Does the agent try to upsell during the call? Is the agent responding correctly to objections? By measuring and analyzing both the conversation and the results of the call, contact centers can benefit from comprehensive, repeatable and objective quality monitoring; quickly identify agent performance issues and measure training effectiveness; make timely, more informed decisions; and deliver superior customer service.

CIS: How can companies putting modern customer contact solutions into their call centers make sure they get the best performance possible, particularly if they’re still running old legacy systems?

CM: The contact center has become a more complex place, and that is reflected in the design of our products and in the way that SER works with our customers. The days of offering closed, point solutions are gone. To ensure that our customers get the best performance possible, we work together to understand what best performance means to our customer’s business, what the capabilities of the existing system are, what business needs are driving investment in new solutions, and how the existing and new systems need to (or not) coexist to ensure the best performance is achieved.

By offering products that are standards-based with open APIs, we can easily integrate and leverage the best of the old and the best of the new. Our goal is to design an overall solution that retains the unique value of the legacy system while enabling the customer to take advantage of new features that eclipse the functionality of the legacy system.

An area where we see considerable overlap is list creation. Our CPS E2 call management solution has a completely new paradigm for managing dialing inventory. Records are retained in a database and selected for dialing on a “just in time” basis, in accordance with flexible business rules. The concept of creating static calling lists no longer exists. Customers have greater real-time control over who is being called, allowing them to run highly focused campaigns. Legacy systems that create segmented dialing lists, which are often difficult to modify, can be eliminated and customer segmentation moved into the outbound solution. Migration of the segmentation process into the outbound solution, where changes in business strategy can be modified at any time with no interruption to productivity, allows customers to significantly improve list penetration and campaign success. On the other hand, a customer may have a very robust legacy fulfillment system that should not be replaced. In that case, we would work wit h the customer on the optimal integration of the outbound solution with the fulfillment system to provide either a real-time or a batch feed of results. By working closely with our customers to evaluate the overall solution, SER helps to ensure they derive the most value from new investments as well as protect the value of legacy systems, where applicable.

CIS: How has the outbound teleservices industry changed in the past year or two, and where are the opportunities today?

CM: Certainly the biggest news in the teleservices industry in the past year or two has been the introduction of federal regulations, which have had the unintended effect of highlighting the importance and criticality of the dialing algorithm. SER has always been known for its superior dialing algorithm; but in the past, competitors could achieve comparable contact rates by simply allowing a higher percentage of abandons. With everyone dialing at a three percent abandon rate, the added efficiency of our algorithm provides our customers with an advantage.

The more restrictive regulations caused many of the teleservices firms to expand their business beyond pure telemarketing to include robust customer relationship management services — typically in the form of proactive customer care programs. The investment made in CRM and data mining solutions has allowed companies to create targeted offerings to existing customers. Companies have discovered the powerful effect that welcome calls and service follow-up calls have on customer retention. We all know it is much less expensive to retain a customer than to acquire a new customer.

Teleservices firms have also been looking for ways to cut expenses through consolidation and centralization. In 2003, SER released the TSP500, which doubled the agent capacity of our outbound switch, allowing our customers to consolidate centers and reduce administrative overhead. The TSP has a built-in voice over IP (VoIP) capability, greatly reducing the cost of deploying remote agents. Using VoIP, contact centers can connect 96 agents over a single T1 line, and the TSP does not distinguish between where the agents are located: onshore, nearshore or offshore. This provides the flexibility our customers need to run their businesses in the most effective manner.  

CIS: What kinds of benefits does SER offer, in terms of its solutions and support, that its competitors don’t?

CM: Our focus on outbound has been unwavering versus our competitors who have shifted their focus to delivering “contact center in a box” solutions at the expense of their outbound solutions. SER’s depth and breadth of experience in the outbound teleservices industry is unparalleled. SER’s flagship outbound product, Call Processing System (CPS), is one of the most widely used outbound call management systems in the world. In fact, 11 of the top 15 outbound teleservices firms in the U.S. depend on our solution. Additionally, SER has received numerous industry accolades, including “best-in-breed outbound dialing vendor” and “best pacing dialing algorithm in the industry.” With 28 U.S. and eight internationally issued patents, SER continues to deliver new technologies and functionality to the market with the recent introduction of CPS E2, a next-generation contact center solution.

In our target market, the most important factor for our customers is productivity as measured by “contacts per hour.” This means that the systems have to be very stable and must have an accurate and efficient pacing algorithm to maintain maximum connects, notwithstanding a three percent maximum abandon rate. Simply put, our solutions deliver more contacts per hour than any other dialer in the market — weeding out unproductive calls of busy signals, ring no answers, telephone company SIT tri-tone intercepts and, if desired, answering machines.

Enterprises can’t achieve their business goals if their systems don’t work reliably. It is not uncommon for customers to operate systems 14 hours a day and seven days a week. With a 99.87 percent uptime average across the customer base, SER’s outbound solutions deliver superior reliability.

In order to integrate into the various systems within an enterprise and meet diverse application needs (sales, proactive customer care, collections, appointment setting, market research, etc.), enterprises need a system with exceptional flexibility. We provide our customers with the tools to create complex scripts and to customize the system to meet their campaign-specific requirements. Our customers do not need to commit to a professional services engagement to roll out a new campaign.

At SER, we understand that customer support and service has become a key factor when an enterprise selects a contact center vendor. Our technical support and field engineers are among the most knowledgeable in the industry. Unlike competitors who have offshored their customer support operations, SER operates its Customer Support Center from our corporate headquarters located in Dulles, Virginia.

We take pride in long-term customer relationships. Many of our customers have grown with SER products, from small start-up ventures to large public companies. We continue to work in partnership with these customers who have shown their faith in SER by entering into five-year maintenance contracts.

CIS: What are the most notable ways SER allows its customers to attain their key performance indicators (KPIs)? 

CM: SER helps our customers achieve their goals by providing the feature-rich systems they need to meet their KPIs, including the best dialing algorithm in the industry, our new paradigm for record management, and the business intelligence they need to measure results against business objectives in real time.

SER continues to deliver outbound solutions that provide the most right-party contacts per hour. Our statistical algorithm remains productive from small to large campaigns and from low to high abandon rate settings. Empirical algorithms, widely used by our competitors, are optimized for a particular type of outbound campaign.

Our Real-time Portfolio Management enables our customers to run highly focused campaigns to get the most out of each contact. It provides holistic real-time management of call records, campaign strategies, agent profiles, work sessions and agent workflow. Armed with campaign-specific information, like who to call, when to call and the best agent for the call, Real-time Portfolio Management improves the outcome of every customer interaction while minimizing agent idle time throughout the workday. Administrators have increased control, flexibility and the ability to develop new and innovative calling strategies.

In order to maximize performance, a company needs to be concerned with both efficiency and effectiveness. SER’s call management solutions have always excelled in helping our customers maximize efficiency, and SERTAINTY, our agent performance optimization solution, is no exception. SERTAINTY helps contact centers increase agent effectiveness, reduce costs and improve service levels by analyzing individual and team KPIs in real time. Its easy-to-use business intelligence dashboard provides both high-level and detailed drill-down views of contact center customer-interaction performance.

Whether used solely or in combination, SER’s robust portfolio management capabilities, agent performance optimization solution, and business intelligence tools enable our customers to define, measure and attain their key performance indicators.

CIS: Thanks, Carl.

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For information and subscriptions, visit www.TMCnet.com or call 203-852-6800. CIS

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