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TMC Labs
March 2001


Woking, Surrey, United Kingdom
Ph: +44-1483-744400
Fx: +44-1483-729131
Web: www.royalblue.com

Price: Approximately $25,000 to $30,000 for 10-seat license

2001 Editors' Choice Awards

Installation: 5
Documentation: 4.75
Features: 5
GUI: 4.75
Overall: A

A call logging, tracking and management tool, SupportCenter from royalblue allows contact center agents to record incoming requests for support or information, create escalation points and essential "action tracks," and hand out assignments according to skill and availability -- all while continually monitoring the status of open issues. Additionally, MAPI and TAPI support allow organizations to automatically populate incoming screen pops with past customer information and integrate e-mail messages into its logging features. An "InfoMine" feature also allows any agent to become an instant "expert" by allowing him or her to tap into advice given to customers on previous calls through an instant search of similar calls from the customer database.

SupportCenter was installed on a Pentium II machine running NT 4; according to the latest literature it should also support Windows 2000. A central function of this product is storing and managing information, so the first step in installation is setting up or integrating with a suitable database. SupportCenter works with Oracle and MS SQL Server databases and ships with its own copy of Sybase's SQL Anywhere. Once a data source has been established, the product itself can be installed. There is not much to say (which is a good thing) about the server and workstation set-up process; it was accomplished quickly and with no hassle. We have tested products with far fewer features that were not half as simple to install.

The software user's documentation provided by royalblue is a set of bound books, complete with glossy covers, diagrams, screen shots, an easy-to-use cross-referencing system and a decent index. Aesthetics aside, the information is sometimes a bit cursory, but nevertheless is clearly organized and should suffice to familiarize an agent or supervisor with the basics of the system. The complete kit provides not only a comprehensive guide to all aspects of the software, including separate documentation for Supervisors, Agents, Setup, Getting Started and What's New, but also supplies information on how contact centers in general are usually run. Online Help reflects most of the same basic content with the added helpfulness of easily navigable search and indexing features. The documentation would receive a perfect score were it to have more step-by-step instruction, i.e., "point here, click there."

Features And Operational Testing
Call Logging and Hot Topics. Like any customer service/CRM system of note, various forms of media, including faxes, e-mail, and of course, telephone contacts, are treated as "calls" by royalblue. We created calls by entering information into a central "Call Details" window. Populated with fields and drop-down lists, this relatively simple interface not only served as the initial interface, but continued to convey the most basic information about each of our fictional calls throughout testing. This window was manually triggered via a central toolbar; if advanced telephony options have been licensed and configured (using the MS TAPI standard), call details can be populated automatically as an extension of a detailed screen pop appearing with incoming calls. SupportCenter can also be integrated with e-mail so incoming messages are converted into calls, and textual representations of call details can be sent as e-mail messages to interested parties, or to send reminders or assignments to other agents. The overall idea is to draw basic e-mail functionality into SupportCenter's arena, allowing agents to accomplish more from within its interface. In testing, we found this strategy consistent throughout.

Two types of calls were logged in the Labs installation, one containing an unusual or first-time request and the other a "Hot Topic," or commonly encountered issue, question or request. In the former instance, information such as customer name, contact information and issue discussed were entered manually. As for the latter, in simulating a customer support center for a manufacturer of cappuccino makers, we created a "Broken Carafe" Hot Topic icon to account for a problem commonly encountered on a particular product item number. In our fictional scenario, as soon as our would-be CSRs received a complaint call about a faulty carafe, they were able to automatically create a call containing the pertinent information by clicking on this Hot Topic button. Especially important for service providers, a "Hot Topic Instance" allows the user to further specify topical issues that will only occur for predetermined amounts of time.

The Call Tree. Once a call has been created, each time it is viewed, a graphical Call Tree appears on the left side of the interface. Similar to the folder tree in Outlook or Windows Explorer, it breaks down the details of a call into a linear diagram, allowing more specific details to be viewed consistently and to be clicked on for further detail. Assignments, Action Tracks and Escalation Points related to a call are a few of the many notes and details that can be viewed from this diagram. We created assignments for employees as well as third parties, watching the icons change along with status (resolved, reassigned, etc.). When assignments were given only to a specific, fictional agent, the assignment would appear only in that agent's Workload List. Assignments can also be given to groups.

Action Tracks are essential tasks that must be completed in order for a call to reach resolution. These are generally straightforward in concept and execution: once a call is created, evaluated and an Action Track determined, the agent assigns a path to the call by clicking an Action Track button and filling in the details. From that point on, an icon illustrates for subsequent agents whether or not the Track has been resolved.

Also viewable on the Call Tree are details such as escalation points. Tied into SupportCenter's use of Service Levels, which are methods by which the product tracks call progress, escalation points are barriers that change the urgency of a call once breached. While all escalation points related to a call can be viewed in the Call Tree, their status is also reflected in the Workload List that remains viewable on screen at all times. The Workload List changes color depending upon call status: in our installation, which contained a number of "calls" pre-populated by royalblue, this list often appeared bright red to indicate breaches of escalation points. The status would change as we "resolved" our fictional calls.

InfoMine. InfoMine is a particularly compelling feature that, like Hot Topics, allowed us to leverage existing information to successfully resolve the issue of a call. Through a Search Builder feature, each call becomes available for future searches. In our test scenario, a fictional caller asked the question, "How do I drill through concrete?" Accessing the InfoMine search tools either offline or from within an active call, we were able to enter natural language expressions into the field and have InfoMine bring up, in order of closest match, all calls with information related to the question. In this case, the database had been pre-populated with a call containing this information, so upon conducting the InfoMine search, finding a result, and clicking on it, a window was opened showing details of a previous call whose Action Track contained the exact information we were looking for (i.e., the type of industrial drill and bit needed to complete this task).

Through this feature, the system not only "learns" with each successive call, but makes its new knowledge available to agents to help them become experts almost instantly.

Designer. We used the Designer application to create custom fields, menu items, drop-down lists and other features specific to the needs of our fictional organization. Designer is entirely driven by drag-and-drop; we were able to make a series of custom modifications very quickly without employing any of our more technical knowledge (i.e., there was no coding required).

Room For Improvement
We have little to recommend for improving SupportCenter, as we found it to be a consistently impressive product. Nevertheless, throughout the course of testing, it did occur to us that the product's default interface could be a bit too complex to meet our needs were we to ask less technically knowledgeable CSRs to use it, especially in a high-pressure, high-volume environment. Although the Designer component addresses this issue, allowing the user to remove any extraneous details and strip the interface down significantly in order to meet any needs, it occurred to us that it might require more work to remove screen details where simplicity is desired than to simply add a few custom fields. Our recommendation is that royalblue might allow users to choose from a few different interface configurations with varying degrees of complexity. An organization asking agents to log a smaller degree of information might then be able to begin with a very simple interface and build up, as opposed to the reverse.

None of the features described in this review are wholly exclusive to royalblue: indeed, most of them are, or should be, industry standards. In spite of that, the company should be credited for offering all the right ones -- logging, data mining, tracking, management and telephony/messaging features -- and for doing so through what is a very centralized and easy-to-use interface. This interface could be even better, as we mentioned above, but it takes into account the demands of a busy agent, who needs to place the call he or she is currently viewing ("Call Details") in the context of his or her whole task list ("Workload List") as well as the context of a call's history through the Call Tree. Any way of making customer history more accessible, such as through this simple graphical representation, immediately elevates a given product one step closer to a solution for true customer relationship management. royalblue is right there, and given improvement in the two minor features we've mentioned, we would have no hesitation giving the product a perfect rating in all areas.

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