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For this, our annual Buyers’ Guide, the editorial team at Customer Interaction Solutions decided that it's not enough to tell you where you can buy from: it wouldn't be a complete Buyers’ Guide if we didn't tell you how to go about buying.

So in the interest of keeping it simple, we've broken down the tips we've collected from the various contact center industry leaders into call center sub-categories, and after each tip, we've indicated its source. We think you'll find a lot of great information here. We even learned a few things ourselves!

Consider integration issues.
It’s important to look for solutions that easily integrate with your existing contact center infrastructure. In particular, companies should be looking for workforce management applications that work with any standards-based ACD, dialer, CRM or other back-office applications. This allows organizations to leverage a complete range of information about their company-customer interactions, and gain greater operational efficiency and optimal agent utilization.

Also, contact centers should look for workforce management applications that can be synchronized with other performance optimization solutions, like performance management and quality management, which enable employees at every level of the contact center to understand how their tasks contribute to business goals, hear how they actually interact with customers, and take responsibility for their own performance. (Aspect)
Empower your agents.

Companies should consider looking for a workforce management solution that empowers agents and reduces administrative overhead by automating schedule requests, approvals changes, and notifications, so that staff can focus on revenue-generating tasks rather than clerical details. Leading workforce management solutions now provide tools for agent empowerment, streamlining the interactions between managers, supervisors and agents. (Aspect)

Seek scalability.
Make sure the solution is scalable and easy to integrate with other important optimization components, such as quality management, the agent and supervisor desktop, and collaboration tools. (Calabrio)

Look for Web-based access.
Search for a solution that provides complete Web-based access to all functionality including forecasting, scheduling, administrations and user-appropriate real-time and historical reporting. (Calabrio)

Consider forecasting and scheduling very important.
Look for a workforce management option that provides precise forecasting and scheduling based on real, historical data and the agents you actually have, rather than a hypothetical “best” schedule. Ideal schedules have their place in terms of planning, but a schedule generated based on your contact center realities will provide the most efficient schedule given your current environment. (Calabrio)

Determine your expected results.
To ensure everyone’s expectations are clear, companies should start by developing an evaluation team. Once that team is in place, the group should clearly define what it expects to achieve. The center may expect to reduce personnel costs, improve service delivery or gain the ability to plan and manage a complex environment. Once expectations are set, the team should examine current business processes to see if changes are required. Knowing what the center wants up front will help gain buy-in from internal stakeholders and define measurable goals. (IEX)

Consider how you will evaluate whether the vendor will meet expectations.
Build a list of standard vendor evaluation questions. This will help you make an apples-to-apples comparison. The new product should streamline tasks within each user group and provide a pathway for adding new features and functions as departments grow. Questions should focus on "how" the system performs different functions, such as skills-based scheduling. Seemingly small differences in functionality from different vendors can make a huge difference. (IEX)

Determine how introducing the WFM system will impact your existing technology investments.
The ability to integrate critical contact center solutions together unlocks even greater ROI potential. Prospective purchasers of WFM solutions should look to vendors that support open standards such as service-oriented architecture (SOA). Connectors between existing technology and the WFM solution being introduced eases integration roadblocks while increasing the ROI value of the collective solutions. (IEX)

Consider if the vendor's vision aligns with yours.
WFM solutions provide some of the basic building blocks for other critical contact center technologies (e.g., quality monitoring, e-learning and performance management). The vendor’s long-term strategy and direction must be aligned with the center’s long-term service delivery and technology plans as the vendor’s research and development plans will undoubtedly impact the success experienced. (IEX)

Ask if your organization will be able to develop a strong partnership with the WFM vendor.
Delivering the software to the customer should not be the end of the interaction. WFM deployments need to be carefully considered with the vendor acting as a partner to the customer providing assistance with deployment and goal setting in the short term, and development and improvement in the longer term. Some vendors foster an ongoing relationship through customer advocacy programs, user groups and a variety of other programs. (IEX)

Look for products based on pre-integrated architectures (those that run multiple core contact center functions on a single platform) for lower total cost of ownership.
To find true TCO, ask the following questions:
How much is the total cost of licensing, including those for forecasting, scheduling and real-time adherence? What is the cost of required "connectors"? What is the cost of required servers? What is the cost of required hardware? What is the cost of integration services (and training and certification, if appropriate)? What is the cost of support? (Interactive Intelligence)

Look for products that offer ease-of-use.
Be sure the user interface screens are simple and intuitive. Be sure configuration offers a good balance between “out-of-the box” and customizable options and don’t forget that configuration complexity multiplies with each system it must integrate to. Consider how tightly integrated it is with the ACD — ACD historical data are critical for effective demand planning. (Interactive Intelligence)

Carefully evaluate real-time adherence feature.
Is it real-time or is there a delay? Look for products that offer delays of 10 seconds or less. Also, how much and what type of data does the RTA feature capture? Look for granularity such as by workgroup, media type, skill set, etc. Finally, be sure it includes features for adherence management. (Interactive Intelligence)

Be covered from end-to-end.
Look for an end-to-end quality monitoring system that reliably captures, stores and retrieves customer interactions across multiple channels and sites. The solution should deliver high-volume recording functionality and advanced data storage, retrieval and presentation capabilities, along with tools to enhance agent training and performance. (Verint)

Look for a browser-based solution.
Choose a browser-based quality monitoring solution to meet the needs of a broad set of contact centers, from a single center or multiple centers, regardless of whether they deliver service via the telephone, voice over IP, e-mail and the Web. (Verint)

Capture everything.
Quality monitoring solutions should be able to capture a CSRs’ voice interactions with a customer and their corresponding computer desktop activities, such as data entry, screen navigation and data retrieval. Moreover, the system should synchronize the captured voice and desktop activity during replay, allowing supervisors to observe and analyze complete customer interactions as they actually occur. (Verint)

Think about form creation.
A quality monitoring solution should allow contact centers to create and customize forms to evaluate contact center interactions. Forms can be tailored to produce accurate evaluations of the people and contacts within the enterprise. Additionally, the system should provide an array of reports that can help managers analyze and report on contact center performance. (Verint)

Look for online learning management.
Seek quality monitoring solutions that include an online learning management tool created for the Internet-enabled contact center environment. E-learning systems are becoming increasingly important in the contact center because they deliver personalized, cost-effective online learning while allowing managers to manage and track the content provided to agents. (Verint)

Consider what you need to record.
In your selection process, consider giving preference to the recording systems that are capable of recording all calls, rather than a select few; this creates a deep database that can be mined to find representative calls for evaluation, coaching and business intelligence. In recent years, the cost of system hardware needed to record and store all calls has come down significantly, meaning that even smaller call centers now can take advantage of full-time recording ability. (VPI – Voice Print International)

Maximize usability.
Plan for maximized usability of your recordings — open file formats and ODBC-compliant databases will allow for better and smoother integration into your existing and/or future systems than solutions with proprietary file formats and proprietary databases. (VPI – Voice Print International)

Think about transition from TDM to VoIP.

Select a solution that will allow for easy and cost-effective gradual transition between TDM and VoIP recording (which may involve recording both for a time period), without negative impact on business users (source of audio should be transparent to the users, for the purposes of search, retrieval, playback, export, reporting and other functions). (VPI – Voice Print International)

Plan to use what you mine.
Treat recorded interactions as a goldmine of market information for use by senior management. Insist on easily accessible reports and an option for speech analytics, whether you implement it now in the future. (VPI – Voice Print International)

Get buy-in, and not only the executive kind.
Get buy-in from contact center agents. Have senior management communicate that recording and related applications will help agents do their jobs better, in addition to helping the center manage liability. (VPI – Voice Print International)

Understand the TCO.
Understand the total cost of installing recording software – i.e., maintenance, install, cost of software and hardware and time to train personnel. (OrecX)

Determine your needs.
Clearly outline why you want to record calls – Compliance? Risk? Or Performance? (OrecX)

Testing, testing.
Test the software before making the decision. Demos and sales presentations cannot give you a true feel for how the solution will work in your environment. (OrecX)

Consider if it's easy to use.
Is the solution browser-based? Can a non-technical manager use the software? Proprietary hardware and software forces organizations to have “experts” for the products they purchase. (OrecX)

When looking for a new digital call recording solution, make sure that you take an in-depth look at the product so you can really determine how easy it is to use. Your call recording product should be browser-based to ensure that anybody can understand how to use it right away. (Teleformix)

Make sure you have support.
Does the company you are choosing have people who can fix any issues that might pop up? (OrecX)

Your call recording company should be responsive and want to work with and for you. You should expect your recording company to want to be your partner and build a long-term relationship together. (Teleformix)

Consider the feature set.
Your call recording solution should be feature rich; i.e., you should get the most bang for your buck. You never know when you will want to use certain features only to find they are not there. (Teleformix)

Look for unlimited scalability.
Your call recording solution should have unlimited scalability. Even if what you buy is right for today, think about tomorrow and beyond, as you grow. Scalability should seem seamless, inexpensive and easy. (Teleformix)

Make sure the recording solution you select will provide for cost-effective customization and integration flexibility, to meet your needs from day one and as they evolve in the future. Open architecture and end-user accessible APIs are a must in this regard. (VPI – Voice Print International)

Pay for only what you use.
Your call recording solution should be able to assign its ports dynamically so you pay only for what you use. The highest number of concurrent users should really be the maximum number of licenses that you should need. (Teleformix)

Consider if the tool you are looking at supports doing reviews across multiple channels (voice, e-mail, chat) and if it supports the use of multiple review forms for a single transaction (e.g, process compliance, CSAT, etc.) (KnoahSoft)

Feedback and coaching are important.
Consider a tool that supports a rich, context-sensitive set of feedback/coaching mechanisms (e.g., field level comments, inline voice coaching annotations, agent feedback, etc.) (KnoahSoft)

You want a holistic view of your agents.
Look for a solution that provides a set of analytics and reporting that supports agent ranking and agent improvement targeting and tightly integrated with other performance management modules (e.g., coaching, e-learning, survey, WFM) to support a holistic view of the agent. (KnoahSoft)

Select a solution that takes advantage of powerful Web-based reporting software that provides a centralized management tool accessible through a single interface. Reports should provide drill- down capabilities for root-cause analysis and that can be exported to a wide range of formats, including PDF, Excel and HTML. (Envision Telephony)

Select an integrated solution on one platform.
Purchasing an integrated solution from a single vendor offers the promise of a low cost of ownership and provides a single interface for scheduling, monitoring and coaching, so fewer administrative resources are required. (Envision Telephony)

Find a common agent portal.
Look for a solution that provides a common agent portal that enables the delivery of all call center training, coaching and scheduling information to agents in one central location, while providing the ability for agents to respond to supervisors. (Envision Telephony)

Timing is everything.
Choose a solution that sends coaching content, schedules and other information to call center agents exactly when it is needed. Also, select a solution that provides automated and on-demand recording software with screen capture. (Envision Telephony)

How will you conduct evaluations?
Look for a solution that enables customizable, integrated evaluations. Evaluations can be integrated with recordings of customer interactions, call center training materials and supervisor audio annotations so everything is delivered to the agent’s desktop in a single package. (Envision Telephony)

Can you identify root causes?
An effective performance management solution should identify and address specific root causes for customer interactions, enabling them to uncover data entry errors, compliance issues and ineffective processes that result in the breakdown of customer service. They should provide insight into functions that can otherwise be difficult to monitor and manage.

Consider compliance and fraud detection.
Seek out performance management solutions that facilitate compliance and fraud detection by allowing auditors to review recorded interactions and pinpoint where errors or fraud are likely to occur. Performance management solutions can improve auditing capabilities while minimizing expensive penalties for non-compliance.
Look for application monitoring features.

These can illustrate how consistently and effectively staff are leveraging desktop applications. Do systems require employees to maneuver through an obstacle course when they attempt to observe internal processes or comply with requirements? What effect does this have on customers? Going further, the system should be capable of flagging inappropriate application usage, such as prolonged Web surfing, that can detract from overall efficiency.

Look at evaluation methods.
Performance management systems should leverage captured interactions to evaluate employee performance on a scorecard according to specific key performance indicators (KPIs). This can dramatically enhance the way organizations measures productivity and success. Evaluating staff according to consistent, clearly defined standards provides both staff and management with a tool for objectively measuring performance.

There are dozens of ways for call centers to differentiate themselves, according to InfoCision Management Corp. These range from the creative things like business intelligence and scripting to operational excellence in compliance, breadth of portfolio, efficiency and productivity. But one thing is universal, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re handling inbound customer care and product order calls or outbound donation that is, ultimately you know you’ve chosen the right call center partner when they handle each and every call the same way you would if you could personally talk to every client. A couple of the first things to look for to see if they can do this are:

Their communicator profile.
Are the people on the phones doing it as a career or a summer job? Those doing if for a career have better attendance rates and less turnover, which means you can spend more time in training and education to get the best people on the phones.

Their quality process.
The only way to ensure consistency across dozens of communicators is to consistently monitor calls, provide coaching and mentoring on not only the outcome (the yes or no), but the entire call flow. Quality comes from consistent measurement and timely feedback.

Their technology.
Most of the technical details really don’t matter to the end user. But a call center’s ability to size your work group to your exact needs, while making sure the communicators who are best equipped to handle your specific calls get most of them, can often be the difference between success or failure.

Their account management philosophy.
The beauty of direct marketing is that it is completely transparent. With each and every call, you can measure outcome. When companies measure all operational aspects, tie in business intelligence and layer on creative scripting, offers fulfillment alternatives in a series of A-B split tests that incremental drive results, they will always build better client experiences. (InfoCision Management Corp.)

Additional tips for selecting outsourced customer care:

Retention is important.
The time and dollars spent hiring, placing and training contact center staff is an investment that can negatively impact service levels. Before making a contact center decision, understand the service provider’s agent retention and how it’s calculated. In related fashion, understanding its client retention rate is a smart means of identifying client satisfaction, perhaps more telling than a few well-chosen references. (Ryla Teleservices)

Ask about training.
Closely tied to retention is agent and supervisory staff training. How and with what frequency are agents and supervisory staff trained? How are training outcomes measured? How are ad hoc quality tips and process reminders shared with agents on a real-time basis? A well-executed training plan and processes help ensure your company’s goals are met with consistency. (Ryla Teleservices)

Will the vendor you are considering provide the training and tools to their agents to maximize problem resolution on the initial contact by the customer? (vCustomer Corporation)

Seek an agency that specializes in your business.
Most contact centers have a sweet spot – a core set of services that they specialize in delivering. If you’re a retailer, for example, perhaps your company needs a center that can provide project-based, quick-ramp support for your seasonal overflow. Whatever your industry, it’s wise to match your organizations’ contact center needs with a service provider that specializes in and has a proven history in delivering the type of services that best suit those needs. Once identified, you can and should drill down to clearly identify the specific results you need from the contact center (e.g., increased customer service level, higher rate of successful contacts, more customer and prospect contact options, etc.) (Ryla Teleservices)

Look at their technology.
When evaluating a contact center’s technology platform and systems, you’ll want to consider several factors: Affordability, stability, flexibility, scalability and security. For instance, regarding stability, what is the service provider’s uptime? While it’s inevitable that technology glitches will occur sometimes, you’ll want to understand the potential partner’s ability to mitigate its impact on your customer care program. Since technology is the backbone of service delivery, understanding the technology scope of a potential partner is critical; ensure that a representative from IT or someone familiar with call center technology is a part of the evaluation process. (Ryla Teleservices)

Don't forget about value-add factors.
All things being equal, most centers can deliver on the basics. To help narrow the field, understand the added value a potential partner brings to the table, and its relevance to your customer care goals. (Ryla Teleservices)

Make the most of each transaction.
What underlying processes and analysis will my vendor deploy so as to be able to maximize revenue in each transaction? (vCustomer Corporation)

CRM is critical.
Does the vendor provide a CRM database to capture all the details of each transaction that allows me to build a comprehensive understanding of each customer’s profile? Will my vendor use the CRM database to identify and analyze the underlying issues that are causing the problems for the customers? (vCustomer Corporation)

Ask how feedback is delivered.
Will the vendor gather customer feedback across all contact channels (e-mail, voice, IVR and chat) by designing and deploying a robust survey/data gather mechanism? (vCustomer Corporation)

Be mindful of costs.
Will the vendor analyze the cost of customer contact across various channels and identify ways to reduce overall cost such that there is no impact to overall customer satisfaction? (vCustomer Corporation)

Weigh hosted versus on-premise solutions.
What are the business needs relating to capacity, redundancy, consistency and scalability? (Prosodie Interactive)

Augment, don't replace.
Choose a solution that augments live agent call centers and prevents calls being lost by answering after-hour or overflow calls. (Prosodie Interactive)

Consider capacity.
How long will the solution fit your needs at your present rate of growth or if the rate of growth suddenly increases? What are your options when this happens? (Prosodie Interactive)

Consider scalability.
How quickly can you scale your inbound calls in the event business conditions change and how does this affect cost or lost revenue? (Prosodie Interactive)

Business continuity is critical.
Are your applications mission-critical, what happens if the facility where your IVR is located has a power failure or a carrier goes down, what is the cost of lost revenue? (Prosodie Interactive)

Look at all costs.
Initial cost as well as the cost of ownership including management, maintenance, phone lines and redundancy. (Prosodie Interactive)

Think about integration.
Make sure the solution offers integration with multiple ACDs and IVRs. (Cisco)

Multiple browsers.
In the case of a VXML voice portal, make sure the solution supports multiple voice browser types from variety of vendors. (Cisco)

Seek a unified solution.
Companies should evaluate the benefits of a unified solution versus implementing siloed applications in contact centers. Custom integrations for different solutions can be high-risk, cost-prohibitive, labor-intensive and potentially very time-consuming and burdensome. As an alternative, unified solutions have applications which are inherently designed to work together as a single product. By uniting multiple capabilities — including automatic call distribution (ACD), predictive dialing, speech self-service, Internet contact via e-mail or chat, recording, and logging and quality management, all with unified reporting, routing and administration in a single platform, contact centers have complete control and can forever break the tyranny of integration. (Aspect)

Standards make life easier.
Companies should demand standards-based applications from vendors. Open standards are particularly valuable to companies because they deliver increased compatibility between components, enabling true interoperability. These technologies can have a positive impact on technology integrations, customer service, enterprise communications, presence management, and ultimately, on the bottom line. Session initiation protocol (SIP) has become the industry standard to enable two devices to communicate using a VoIP network, and companies should be looking to implement solutions that interoperate with SIP-based applications, as well as other standards-based technologies, like VoiceXML and Web services. Fundamentally, standards mean having more choice in how you deploy and maintain your contact center. (Aspect)

Think about future growth.
One question that companies should consider in looking for contact center platforms is if the solution can easily provide all of the capabilities necessary for the business, currently and for the future. A solution should be scalable to allow for business growth, but if the contact center’s needs will grow in the future, so should the solution’s capabilities. (Aspect)
Keep your standards high.
Look for a solution that supports redundancy/high availability/business continuity (Cisco).

Balance hosted versus premise.
Examine the differences between hosted and on-premise solutions. Each has their own merits depending on the business need, but dig deeper than the prevailing hype. Conventional wisdom seems to be that hosted solutions are attractive due to the supposed low-cost up-front investment. However, when calculating the total cost of ownership, on-premise solutions can be more cost-effective investments than hosted offerings — sometimes even as quickly as within the first or second years of ownership. (Interactive Softworks)

Integration is important.
Consider purchasing a call center software solution that allows you the ability to establish integrations between your dialer and other, existing third-party applications or custom, internal applications — without the purchase of additional software and equipment. (Interactive Softworks)

Think about licensing considerations and future releases.
Purchase a software solution that provides you, in a single license, all of the functionality you need to sufficiently operate your contact center. Pay-per application (agent applications, supervisor applications, etc.) can become cost prohibitive, not to mention frustrating. Also, make sure your call center software vendor offers free subsequent software upgrades or otherwise does not force you to upgrade to (and pay for) future releases. (Interactive Softworks)

Weigh organic versus merged solutions.
Consider the fact that many call center software vendors offer “bolted-on” systems with disparate products that were acquired through mergers. Holistic software offerings may represent the better bet since they were designed, from the ground-up, to work together harmoniously and don’t require complex workarounds, proprietary APIs, and additional professional services expertise to implement. (Interactive Softworks)

Ensure validated/certified products for your integration points within your organization.
If you are integrating unified call center products with your CRM, make sure it’s been validated by the vendor and they have the customer references to prove it. (AMC Technology, L.L.C.)

Define your multichannel workflow.
Don’t just rely on your telephone-only workflow. The workflow for e-mail and Web chat can be significantly different from the traditional call center. (AMC Technology, L.L.C.)

Training is critical.
Ensure appropriate training of your agents and standard responses across all channels. Agents who communicate well over the phone may not be as articulate over e-mail. (AMC Technology, L.L.C.)

Think out of the box.
There are very few “best practices” yet for unified contact centers, so be prepared to forge new ground and define your own best approach. Customers are demanding multichannel interactions, so be prepared to deliver a great customer experience across all channels. (AMC Technology, L.L.C.)

Examine your needs.
Understand what your organization is looking for in pre-employment testing. Is it a simple test that can eliminate job candidates or a hiring solution that will be linked to predicting job performance in your organization?

Look at the vendor's experience.
How much experience does the potential vendor have in the contact center industry and in handling multiple sites with multiple call types?

Look for validation studies.
How will the vendor handle validation studies (proving the test actually works) for their organization?

Look for contact center-specific solutions.
How well do the assessments being considered reflect competencies that are important to contact center work?

Examine the simulations.
How realistic is the simulation and how does it measure multitasking?

Consider long-term costs.
What will your costs be over three years of service or ownership? (Inter-Tel)

Sharing vs. personalized accounts.
Ask if the solution requires you to "share" accounts or are unlimited personalized accounts available for my key personnel? (Inter-Tel)

Ask about customization.
Are you able to brand the customer-facing screens, customize e-mail templates and set up separate queues by product or service area for maximum value (i.e., technical support, customer service and sales)? (Inter-Tel)

Consider if you need to provide round-the-clock support.
Does the solution allow you to support your customers whenever and wherever they need you? (Inter-Tel)

Integration is key.
Does the solution integrate with other help desk and CRM solutions for logging and reporting? (Inter-Tel)

Compare on-demand versus premise-based.
On-demand applications delivered over the Internet are always available, highly secure and very cost-effective versus on-premise devices. Choose one that's easy to use and offers robust functionality, including these features:

Team collaboration: Support teams can collaborate on any session in progress, to diagnose and solve issues more quickly than relying on one agent to tackle the problem.

Manager silent monitoring: Managers may silently view live remote sessions in progress, in any location, to conduct spot checks and ensure quality control.

Tabbed session interface: Agents can track multiple support sessions in progress to instantly view session participants, see a thumbnail of the customer's screen, and chat or send a clipboard to others on a call.

System administrator access: Contact center representatives with administrative privileges can remotely log on to a user's computer to perform a wide range of system administrative tasks without interrupting the on-going session. (Citrix Online)

What's the noise level?
Determine your contact center's noise level so you can select the appropriate headsets. Investing in features that you may not need, or compromising on those you do, can leave you with headsets that aren't suited to your particular contact center environment. (Plantronics)

Know your vendor.
Consider the vendor's experience, understanding of contact centers, support offerings and financial stability. (Plantronics)

Know the product range.
Determine whether your vendor offers a full range of products as comfortable agents are productive agents: it's never a "one size fits all" situation. (Plantronics)

Consider standardizing.
Purchase all your headsets from a single manufacturer to enable you to get the lowest cost on equipment as well as help facilitate all service and support transactions. (Plantronics)

Inventory management is important.
Order and store only enough replacement headsets required for regular wear and tear from your agents. Choose a vendor that responds quickly to repair and replacement issues, and provides a robust warranty as well as a headset inventory tracking process. (Plantronics)

Look for freedom.
When buying headsets, look for products that allow freedom — freedom to move, stay hands-free and multi-task. Communication is about getting things done all while staying tuned in to your life. (Jabra)

Seek innovation.
Whether its VoIP, Microsoft OC certification or Bluetooth technology, look for innovative solutions that make an impact on your business — all with better, faster, smaller, lighter and easier to use products.

Look at the design.
Great designs not only should look good — they should be created for comfort and extended wear. (Jabra)

• Look for a vendor that can align your speech strategy to your business goals and guarantee the results;
• Seek a vendor with full lifecycle services capabilities from strategy assessment, to design, deployment, and ongoing optimization services;
• Ensure the vendor is experienced in delivering speech applications that are intuitive and simple to use;
• Look for a company that can provide value from self-service through to live assistance in one solution;
• Seek flexibility in delivery and deployment services in order to meet your unique business needs; and
• Ensure the vendor offers self-service solutions based on industry-standard platforms and tools.

Start with one site.
Minimize risk by starting with one-site implementation first, rather than all sites at once. Focus initially on short-term objectives to create a baseline for process and a track record of success. You’ll want to show success early and stimulate buy-in from other departments. Selecting speech analytics technology that allows for fast implementation (both installation and configuration in a matter of weeks vs. months) before gaining the first substantial results will also help you get faster and more noticeable ROI.

Mine in real time.
Today’s best speech analytics systems can deliver accurate insights very quickly, in truly actionable timeframes – this can empower you to utilize your center’s time and resources for the maximized business performance. To attain this level of success, assure that your speech analytics solution of choice can mine up to 100 percent of your calls in real or at least near-real time, while providing for consistency and transparency regardless of the number of sites.

Reap the benefits.
With the right speech analytics system, you’ll also be able to dramatically decrease your quality monitoring costs while improving focus and precision of your quality management process. Plan for the ability to automatically locate, replay and review calls of highest pertinence to your business objectives and those that require management attention and follow-up – outstanding or problematic agents, calls, customers or competitors.

Confirm access to the system.
Prior to making a commitment, confirm the availability of quick and convenient access to the information from the speech analytics system. Upon proper implementation and with easily customizable, Internet-based interface to the application's functions and reports, your new speech analytics system will quickly become an indispensable source of business intelligence throughout the organization.

Integration to performance management?
In your selection process, consider giving preference to the speech analytics system that already offers integration to a performance management system. Automatic processing and reporting of findings from speech analytics in concert with telephony, customer and business data from other performance management applications extends the value and benefit from each.

Consider an all-in-one solution if you are an SMB.
All-in-one solution including ACD, CTI, IVR, multichannel and workforce optimization

Keep it simple.
Choose a solution that is easy to install and administer.

Simple doesn't mean limited on features.
Look for a feature-rich agent and supervisor desktop environment.

You needn't bring in the forklift.
Realize that value from IP doesn't necessarily mean a forklift upgrade. Businesses can save money by reusing some of the gear they already own. A business should check its existing TDM-based contact center components — they may be easily upgradeable to IP, helping you reap the benefits of migration at a lower initial cost of investment. (Avaya)

Assessments are critical.
Assessments can make or break the success of a mission-critical IP contact center. Never make a purchase without an in-depth review of your contact center and network. Assessments can help uncover areas of concern in order to avoid serious business continuity and service outages, and help companies identify new ways for further reducing carrier, network, application and support costs. (Avaya)

Keep it simple.
Today's IP contact center solutions centralize and simplify agent administration and management with common agent desktops and supervisor interfaces. Ensure that an IP contact center solution allows an administrator to manage outsourced and at-home agents with the same processes and technology they use to manage in-house agents. (Avaya)

Think beyond IP.
IP contact centers are just the start of improving the customer experience and saving money at the same time. Ensure that a company's solution supports emerging open IT standards like SIP and Web services — these technologies can help save big money by lowering CTI and application integration costs. (Avaya)

Keep your goals in mind.
Keep the end business and IT goals in mind. Use baseline metrics and measurements in the areas where there is room for improvement — such as customer service, business, operations and IT. Virtualizing a contact center with IP can help dramatically improve customer service metrics and save on costs, but remember — you can't manage what you can't measure! (Avaya)

Don't forget about SLAs.
Require a service level agreement (SLA) that will satisfy all your particular needs. Why would you trust your service to any provider that doesn’t have specified performance guarantees in an SLA? (Echopass)

Look at certification.
Look for SAS 70 certification. SAS 70 is the standard used to measure the reliability of a service organization's internal controls and auditing practices (i.e. the ISO equivalent for service providers). (Echopass)

Look at the vendor's partnerships.
Find a provider with “best of breed” software relationships and business partnerships to ensure reliability, ease of integration and functional flexibility both today and tomorrow. The service provider should also be experienced in integrating and managing both existing and new technologies end-to-end. (Echopass)

Get references.
Talk to vendor references, in particular references from companies that are similar in size and complexity to yours. Find out what the reference thinks about the customer service they’ve received from the service provider. (Echopass)

Check the track record of the platform, not just of the vendor. You want a mature, field-proven contact center platform. Many new and unproven IP platforms are coming onto the market, some of them from large and well-established vendors. (CosmoCom)

Get commitment to a schedule.
Confirm the provider can commit to all aspects of an implementation/delivery schedule. Request a detailed statement of work during the sales process (not after) to ensure the provider understands all your requirements and expectations. Time to value will be measured by how soon your solution can be implemented and your agents can handle customer contacts. (Echopass)

Understand hosted versus on-demand.
Understand the vendor landscape, and in particular the difference between a “hosted” and a true “on-demand” solution. Being better informed on the differences will ensure you’re able to identify what the provider is offering and get exactly what you need. Paying over time is very different from true on-demand multitenancy. (Echopass)

Think about unity versus integration.
Select a contact center platform that unifies all major contact center functions: ACD, IVR, CTI, administration and reporting, recording and predictive dialing. Unity (as opposed to mere integration) reduces complexity, which makes for faster implementations and lower support costs. (CosmoCom)

Remember that a contact center is more than a call center.
Select a contact center platform that is really a contact center and not just a call center, one that supports video, e-mail and Internet calls, not just phone calls. (CosmoCom)

Remember scalability.
Verify the scalability of the platform. When you understand the benefits of IP, you will want to grow the platform and consolidate multiple locations and multiple applications. (CosmoCom)

All IP? Hybrid IP?
If you are buying a new system, make sure that it’s “all IP” not “hybrid IP.” Hybrid systems are sometimes proposed as a transition strategy, but if you want all the potential benefits of IP, move up to the real thing. (CosmoCom)

AMC Technology, L.L.C.
Aspect Software (www.aspect.com)
Avaya (www.avaya.com)
Calabrio (www.calabrio.com)
Cisco Systems (www.cisco.com)
Citrix Online (www.citrixonline.com)
CosmoCom (www.cosmocom.com)
Echopass (www.echopass.com)
Envision Telephony
FurstPerson, Inc.
IEX, a NICE Company
InfoCision Management Corp.
Inter-Tel (www.inter-tel.com)
Interactive Intelligence
Interactive Softworks
Intervoice (www.intervoice.com)
Jabra (www.jabra.com)
KnoahSoft (www.knoahsoft.com)
OrecX (www.orecx.com)
Plantronics Inc.
Prosodie Interactive
Ryla Teleservices
Teleformix (www.teleformix.com)
Customer Corporation
Verint (www.verint.com)
VPI - Voice Print International
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