Call and Contact Centre Choices Expand for the Mid-Market

Call and Contact centres have changed. No longer the ‘Dark Satanic Mills’ of the 21st Century they are today staffed by more highly trained and valued individuals in this post offshore world and for the larger SME and the mid-market there are solutions that fit their desire to keep the customer at the forefront of business.

For most SMEs, effective call handling is crucial to the well-being of their business. For the larger, more ambitious SME and Mid-Market user, presenting an outwardly professional and slick image is key to competing in business.

simon-whatleyThe manner in which calls are handled and managed needs constant attention if the company is to remain competitive and provide customer service excellence.

Today, for say up to 500 users, the range of well featured products to help them manage their customers’ expectations has expanded but features are not the sole issue to be decided upon. Whereas in the past the call and contact centre solution was a combination of on-site hardware and software today the options now include deploying scalable cloud based solutions from an array of suppliers.

So, the obvious question to ask is what’s the best deployment model for Call and Contact Centre applications; CPE or Cloud?

Phil Reynolds, CTO at Oak Innovation says that today customers can have the best of both worlds.
“Users can have the power and focus of a CPE based app but deploy it in a data centre and virtualised environment if they require the benefits of automated backup and disaster recovery. The same app can of course be deployed on site on a local server and can also be virtualised locally as needed. As long as the app has a web based front end you can deploy it almost anywhere and give secure access to it from anywhere.

With call centres running in real time, running many wallboards, recording many calls at the same time, there really is a benefit of having the PABX and the app in the same location whether that be in the data centre or on site. In the data centre you would be using SIP trunks to carry your calls but you could record ISDN if you’re on site. PABX’s offer very sophisticated call handling and routing based upon many years of development and experience in the field with millions of users so this is a great option.

It’s also possible to take the powerful CPE based application and purchase it on the same model as Cloud and pay monthly as well as purchasing it outright if that’s the preferred method of the customer.

At Oak Innovation we see a complete mix of deployments from the local server and local switch through to the data centre with mirrored solutions and automated backup.”

Nick Galea, CEO at 3CX, believes that going with a top class vendor should mean that size really doesn’t matter in the toss-up between CPE or cloud.

“Both deployment options should be able to offer the buyer a high quality solution with the same features, security and control no matter whether you choose to go hosted or not.

Both cloud-based and on-premises contact centres should permit the business to retain complete control of data and settings. Additionally, choosing a hosted system that can be created as an individual tenant, gives the user more reliability and peace of mind about the status of their PBX than one that doesn’t. Solutions hosted in this way are completely separate and unaffected by other tenants on the hosting server, giving the individual company more control and room for customisation.

When taking into consideration how the company’s new communications system is going to benefit the business and drive it forward, scalability is of course a significant factor. Any new business solution needs to be easy and cheap to scale, should the time come that the business needs to expand.

A hosted system should scale at low cost, while an on-premises system should require little attention from IT staff and most certainly not any extra installations and wiring. In both cases, added lines and phones shouldn’t require any additional licensing, so a price plan based on the number of simultaneous calls rather than the number of users or extensions is a must.

Pricing is, of course, different on each type of system. Mid-Market companies may choose the hosted system because they prefer the subscription model to making a large CAPEX investment.
Nonetheless, on-premises contact centre deployment is still the market preference: More than half of all companies still prefer to have the contact centre under their own roof, according to a study by Call Center IQ. An on-premises contact centre has the advantage of being completely integrated with the company’s other systems, and a high-quality system should not require much attention from the IT staff.”

“There’s only one thing that dictates where a businesses’ Contact Centre resides,” says Robin Hayman at SpliceCom, ‘That’s their IT Strategy; On-site or off-site data centre, public or private cloud; wherever their core IT apps reside, so should their voice and Contact Centre services. How they want to pay for it – as a monthly service, or an outright capital purchase – is also key to making the final decision. However, at SpliceCom we offer a choice of payment methods totally independent of the type of the chosen solutions and where it will be located, to give customers exactly what they want.”

phil-reynoldsWhat are the core features required for a Mid-Market user (Say 100-500 users)?

“Agent training is key to providing excellent customer service and bringing in a worthy volume of sales,” according to Nick Galea at 3CX.

“We’ve all made a call to a customer service centre to be greeted with a message informing us that our discussion may be monitored and recorded, and it’s for precisely this reason. This is where a “listen-in” feature becomes a necessary requirement, so that agent performance can be closely monitored.

When an agent falters on a call, a ‘whisper’ function is another handy feature, permitting managers to advise agents on the call how to do better without the customer hearing. A ‘barge-in’ feature should also be available so that a manager can intervene to show the agent how the call should be handled correctly.

Another customer helpline occurrence, that we’ve surely all experienced, is that of waiting obscene amounts of time in a call queue or to be called back. Given the importance of a quick response to calls in customer satisfaction, a call-back feature is also critical. This allows callers to hang up and retain their position in the queue. When an agent becomes available, the agent will be put through to the customer automatically – a feature that even the most patient of callers will appreciate.

Having a variety of features and queue strategies is a big bonus for contact centres as it allows them to customise the way that calls are handled based on what works best for them and their employees. For example, a ‘round-robin’ queue strategy remembers the last agent who answered the phone, and new calls are directed to the next agent in the queue. Or the ‘longest-waiting’ strategy sends the call to the agent that takes the longest time to answer on average. There are a number of useful queue strategies like these which allow a manager to more accurately tailor what will work for a particular group of agents and in turn, boost productivity.”

Let’s talk management reporting and analytics – what are the table stakes here?

“To deliver customer service excellence, it is imperative that organisations understand their customers and review their experience of interacting with the business,” says Simon Whatley, Sales Director at Tolling.

“This means plotting the various potential customer journeys through the business, not just those that pass through the call centre.

Analytics lie at the heart of any business and remain the leading factor in a decision when considering a contact centre solution.

If the aim of customer service excellence is to resolve a customer’s query on their first call (First Contact Resolution) to maximise customer satisfaction, then an organisation cannot look at a contact centre in isolation but must understand how customers are trying to contact the business as a whole.

However, often a contact centre is reviewed separately rather than in conjunction with the rest of the business that can have serious consequences.

robin-haymanTollring recently studied the contact centre of a large multiple retailer with the aim of uncovering more intelligence in their data analytics. The pilot study revealed that the contact centre was measuring customer service levels in isolation to the rest of the business. The system measured answered / missed calls once they were in the contact centre queue, but the metrics of calls that had been queuing to enter the contact centre silo and calls diverted to a voice message or redirected as an overflow call had not been included. As a result, the number of missed and unreturned missed calls in the business was significantly higher than expected, clearly impacting the overall customer service strategy.

In our experience, the best reporting and analytics model for customer satisfaction is attained through combining a multi‐site call analytics system alongside a contact centre system. In this way, every site, group, team or individual across the business becomes in essence an “informal” contact centre or agent. By delivering some of the features and reporting capabilities of a contact centre into customer-facing teams within the business, the customers’ entire journey can be tracked, monitored and handled correctly.

The contact centre can only measure what it sees rather than the whole customer experience. Understanding the complete customer journey is the key to improving customer service and analytics are vital in discovering where improvements can be made.

The cloud opens opportunities in reporting and analytics and removes historical localised deployment issues. The cloud extends the way customers can interact with a business, so as organisations move towards the cloud and evolve their digital communications, it is important to ensure that measures are in place to watch over the entire ‘cradle-to-grave’ customer experience, of which the contact centre is just one element.”

According to Phil Reynolds, in the contact centre it’s all about answering or making calls quickly and efficiently.

“By accessing the core features of the selected applications you can drive continual performance improvement but you need to be able to see the stats on the wallboard together with the real time KPI’s and a range of reports to show performance improvement over time.

The key areas that need to be monitored and reported on are Agent performance, overall contact centre performance in terms of calls in, out, calls lost, average and longest call waiting times. When using Quality Measurement you want to evaluate an agent’s current performance then measure and report on it again in a number of weeks to see that the agent has improved, this would be displayed as a trend analysis graph.

Then of course you should display business related stats on the wallboard such as sales made, or support cases answered and closed, essentially meaningful KPI’s that drive better customer service or increased sales.

Oak Innovation has three apps that address the contact centre market namely Clarify, Evolve and Adapt, covering reporting, recording, dialling and media blending.”

Steve Tutt of VanillaIP believes that providing an informed and efficient experience for inbound callers is an essential part of your customer relationship management.

“Our Hosted Call Centre combines sophisticated queuing, providing estimated time to answer and place in queue notifications, with skills based routing to ensure callers get to the best agent to assist them in the shortest possible time.

Agent and Supervisor apps provide visibility of key metrics, such as calls in queue and longest wait. Agents can alert Supervisors if they need assistance and supervisors can discretely monitor or barge into the call. Advanced features such as capturing abandoned callerID, configurable thresholds, unavailable and disposition codes are all supported. This is important for our resellers to compete and win complex, higher value opportunities.”

The VanillaIP Uboss portal provides extensive reporting and analytics on incoming queue and agent statistics.

“All reports can be drilled into, for example when looking at incoming calls you can click in to see all legs for the calls. All call recordings are available within the same interface, providing a one-stop shop for configuring the call centre, accessing reports, adding users and uploading announcements. If customers have different portals to log into for these elements that’s just a mess and customers do not tolerate that anymore.

Uboss will also provide reporting on which options are being selected from auto attendants, and provide heat map reports to graphically display calling trends. Together, the Uboss reporting and management allows call centre customers to optimise their call centre resources for home and office based agents.”

Core Mid-Market Features

Phil Reynolds at Oak Innovation shares his top ‘must have’ features for larger SME and Mid-Market call and contact centres.

Everything is live and real time: Every contact centre relies on up to the second information. If there are calls waiting you want to know about it now before they become lost calls.

Wallboard Displays: The staff in contact centres are measured and motived by large wallboard type displays with key performance indicators being displayed and updated every second.

Call & Screen Recording: Every call is recorded and any associated screen can be recorded too so you can replay any call and look at what was typed onto the customer record as well.

Quality Measurement: To constantly improve how well a contact centre is run you use quality measurement to review calls with agents and to improve their call handling skills.

Progressive & Predictive Diallers: For outbound contact centres, having the dialling process automated increases the volume of calls agents can make.
Media Blending: Enquiries can come in from many places like email, web chat, SMS as well as the phone. By using media blending you can get agents to manage more than one stream of communication efficiently.

CRM and Database Integration: Contact centres use CRM systems to record the interactions with their customers and by integrating the reporting and recording apps with their CRM system gives them a 360-degree customer view.
Security & Backup: Keeping customer data and customer call recordings secure and backed up is fundamental to any contact centre solution.

Compliance: There are many guidelines that need to be followed when running a contact centre such as PCI (Payment Card Industry) that requires certain details of any credit card transaction not to be recorded. There are also recommended guidelines for encryption and backup.

Ed Says… It’s clear that amongst the vendors we spoke to the jury is not quite back in the room over whether a CPE or Cloud based deployment is preferable and we can understand that. Cloud deployment is not for everyone and as Robin Hayman says that decision over CPE/Cloud is largely down to overall company IT strategy. The great thing for the channel however is that there are great choices to be had from either model to suit the user.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine