SME Customer Satisfaction

For most SMEs, effective call handling is crucial to the well being of their business. Presenting an outwardly professional and slick image is key to competing in business whether the call/contact centre is formal or informal. How can the channel help?

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

As our infographics show, it’s not just about having professional staff handling calls. Despite the majority of customers feeling confident that they are dealing with friendly professional agents, their overall experience is greatly affected due to waiting times. In fact research has indicated that seven out of ten people will hang up after three rings.

It’s still important to man the phones. Despite all the hype surrounding the way in which Generation Y/Millennials like to interact via social media and the introduction of live chat services and email, customers still prefer to speak to business on the telephone including 43% of 18-30 year olds.

The way these phone calls are managed has a direct effect on customer satisfaction and some firms opt out altogether by outsourcing to a call handling service.

However, this course of action diminishes the overall market sales opportunities for resellers so to prevent this the channel needs to make sure the call handling capabilities of the end user, generally a PBX, are attuned to the needs of that business.

We recognised the need for more awareness and education in the channel on this issue earlier this year and readers may have noticed that we are in the middle of a three part series of call and contact centre ‘back to basics’ articles written by Oak – part two is in this issue.

Our readers mostly sell to SMEs who are not likely to have large call centre solutions from the likes of Genesys up and running. Rather, they tend to use the call distribution features built in to their PBX system and this caused us to ask three key questions;

1. Are ‘in skin’ PBX solutions adequate or do they run out of steam quickly?

Phil Reynolds, Joint CEO of Oak, believes that it is important to be clear on the requirements of an SME business as opposed to a large call centre as they are vastly different.

“One might have 20 staff focussed on taking or making calls for the business whereas a larger call centre may have 200 to 500 staff/agents constantly on the phone and working on hundreds of campaigns for a number of companies or products. The PBX’s aimed at SME’s have had additional functionality added to allow them to work in a call centre mode supporting agents, supporting hunt groups and supporting the efficient delivery of the maximum amount of calls to the correct number of staff/agents. Every switch manufacturer has added this functionality to gain additional switch sales and to perhaps charge a little more for the option. In terms of call routing and agent type functionality I think they are more than adequate. Of course where they all fall down is in terms of reporting where there is either no software or only basic management information software which is not adequate enough to run the call centre element of an SME switch well.”

The short answer is in most cases yes! according to Paul Burn, Head Of Category Sales at distributor Nimans.

“The majority of call and contact centres are informal and off the back of that ‘in skin’ PBX solutions have come on so much in the last few years. In the past they were very basic but now they are quite powerful and integrated in what they do. They generate a level of functionality and features that provide a professional level of effective call handling to very adequate standards.”

Simon Whatley of Tollring says that SME based informal contact centres are becoming more prevalent due to the in-built intelligence that can now be found in most telephony platforms whether they are hosted or premise based.

“As a result, ‘in-skin’ informal contact centre solutions that utilise the call routing intelligence of the telephony platform allow businesses to understand the complete customer experience – a ‘cradle to grave’ understanding not typically available in a ‘siloed’ formal contact centre environment. Calls can be easily transferred to any part of the business and customer-facing teams have access to all members of staff and not just those within the boundaries of the contact centre. This allows businesses to be more agile in the way they utilise staff.

The cost of staff resources will always be the biggest cost to a business with a contact team, but managing call flows and customer interactions in order to retain high customer service levels does not necessarily mean employing more call handlers. Performance monitoring, queue management, staff modelling, caller tolerance, managing agent status and reporting on unreturned missed calls or grade of service are all vital to maximise efficiencies, no matter how large the contact team. It is almost more important for a small business, where one additional team member adds a large percentage of cost.”

Mike Donohue, Sales Director for Magnetic North, says that a PBX system can be fine for a smaller or simpler operation and is typically sufficient for call handling for most SMEs.

“However, this way, the company can only lease one line, connecting all internal phones to an external line.

As you move towards a full contact centre system where you add email or web chat in addition to voice, or extra features that will better serve the customer, some of these ‘in-skin’ PBX solutions are inevitably going to run out of steam. You cannot simply add these features on at the flick of a switch.

This is against a background of thousands of businesses’ on-premise systems coming up for a technology refresh, as so many postponed technology investment when the downturn hit. So now in 2014 they are in desperate need for a technology refresh and are realising capex is not the way to go. It doesn’t make sense to bolt extra systems onto this already antiquated technology.”

2. Are third party apps the best way forward for SMEs or an expensive diversion?

CirrusAccording to Phil Reynolds at Oak the call routing and agent management capabilities of SME targeted switches is more than adequate but of course that is only part of the story.

“Having got your agents logged in taking calls, having set up multiple hunt groups and queues, and having routed various DDI’s to their respective queues you could consider the work of the switch to be completed, which in effect it is. But all call centres, whether formal or informal are driven by metrics, and it’s the constant measurement of those metrics such as calls waiting, longest waiting call, lost calls, agent availability, average call duration and so on that are the real requirement to make the investment in the phone system work. The goal of course is to get as many calls as possible answered as quickly as possible and dealt with effectively in the shortest possible duration. This is where third party apps like Oak’s very own Evolve CCE product focus in overall call centre management and given the ROI are a sound investment.

Where it all goes horribly wrong is where a vastly complicated media blending and call centre management solution is imposed on an SME switch. These are very expensive, often running to 10’s of thousands, and are very complex to configure, use and maintain. Of course this could still be a valid route if the switch plus call centre management software is not enough for a specialist call centre of a significant size.”

Steve North, Managing Director at Stripe 21, says that third party applications can deliver huge cost savings to SMEs yet provide full feature sets on a ‘per seat per month’ basis.

“For example, call queuing and full agent reporting can easily run into tens of thousands of GBP cost if they are CPE based, yet can be delivered from the cloud from £19 per month per agent from as few as ten agents.”

3. And if you do go third party then what is the best deployment model, CPE or Cloud?

Trevor Lovelock, Head of CRM products and services, BT Wholesale, says that BT is seeing the UK market for call and contact centres continue to grow at a rapid pace as businesses invest heavily in customer experience as a key differentiator.

“SME contact centres in particular are expanding in terms of both volume and sophistication. Thanks to the continued growth of cloud services, they’re now able to tap into previously unaffordable technologies for a fraction of the price, enabling them to present themselves as larger organisations and compete with Enterprises more easily for market share.

We’ve seen a big growth in demand from our customers (and theirs) for hosted solutions, supporting predictions in recent analyst reports that the number of hosted contact centre ‘seats’ will double in the next three years. But we’re also seeing that the use of CPE solutions isn’t dropping off a cliff just yet: we’re also seeing strong demand from customers who want to sweat their investment in CPE assets but take a step towards IP for greater flexibility and lower costs.

To support our customers whatever their choice, we’ve introduced both a range of hosted solutions with leading suppliers such as Broadsoft and Avaya, and a market leading SIP trunking solution which offers unique scalability for call centre customers with CPE solutions.”

Paul Burn at Nimans, “For me this decision isn’t made around call and contact centre apps but it’s based on what they are trying to do and achieve as an overall business. The decision is a wider issue, made much higher up the ladder surrounding business strategy. There are strong reasons to go either CPE or Cloud but it very much depends on individual business requirements both now and in the future.”

Phil Reynolds at Oak thinks this has become a bit of a grey area as so many modern switches can simply be virtualised and reside in data centres as well as on site.

“It’s also possible to go hosted as some hosted offerings have quite good call centre functionality which might be perfectly adequate for a small informal call centre. I would choose the most cost effective switch that suits your individual needs, add on a good MIS package, and then either virtualise in a datacentre or deploy on site. Naturally Oak’s Evolve is web based and even agents can log in, log out and go on a break from a browser, so anything is possible these days.”

John Rees at Content Guru believes that introducing third party technology to an estate is not a decision that should be taken lightly.

“As with any technology, businesses should seek to identify the solution best suited to its circumstances. Adopt the wrong technology, and an organisation risks acquiring a white elephant which does little to improve contact centre operations, or worse still, complicates matters further.

For SMEs with single site contact centres, third party CPE which plugs into existing on premise infrastructure might be a sensible investment. For other organisations with more complex setups, however, the flexibility of cloud makes it the ideal deployment model for third party applications.”

Alex Mawson, Product Director for Voice at Daisy Wholesale; “On-premise solutions can often be expensive and require regular upgrades to introduce new features; however, the emergence of cloud-based call handling solutions has meant that improved features are added at no extra cost and without the need for expensive hardware and software upgrades.

Business continuity is something that is often wrongly overlooked by SMEs. However, cloud deployments should not be underestimated when considering the protection of your business operations; the benefits that they can bring are plentiful.

When using CPE/on-premise, often businesses need to replicate infrastructure on other sites. When cloud solutions are used, calls can be redirected at network level to alternate numbers manually or automatically, or alternatively a second site with sufficient internet connectivity can be made live very quickly using the same services, without a need for mirrored infrastructure.

Businesses that embrace cloud-based telephony, including SIP, are able to take advantage of the flexibility of their call handling solutions whilst keeping costs down and more regulated on a PAYG basis. Any business considering cloud deployments should carry out a detailed decision-making process; reflecting on the business requirements, the reliability and resilience of the solution provider, as well as the security of any data stored on your behalf.”

Steve Tutt of VanillaIP says that the biggest change impacting cloud, call centres and us individually as consumers is behavioural, not technological.

“Numerous studies have shown that the concept of workplace happiness is changing and employers are embracing technology options, such as flexi hours, BYOD and remote working, that improve employee utility.

For call centres these changes are profound, making it easier for B2C call processing centres to cover burst demand with Agents logging on for short periods from wherever they are. We have a number of call centre customers in the retail travel sector and a common theme is that providing home Agents with the wallboards, ACD stats and all associated features helps them retain their best converting sales agents in an industry that can have a high staff churn.

For the channel Cloud call centre provides an additional layer of smarts to compete strongly against simpler hosted PBX propositions and the opportunity for Resellers to access geographic markets they otherwise might not have been able to.”

The Contact Centre of Tomorrow

Gregoire Vigroux, European Marketing Director, TELUS International Europe, notes that the contact centre of 2014 is already almost unrecognisable from the call centre of 1984, 1994, even 2004. The Contact Centre of Tomorrow


“It is hard to think of a sector that has been through more change. Yet within the next few years we will witness another revolution in the contact centre world.

It pays then to be aware of how the sector is changing, and to be certain that you are working with a contact centre provider that is at the cutting edge of 2015 or 2016, not stuck in what is rapidly seen as the prehistoric days of 2012. Here then are four key changes to the contact centre sector that we will see taking place in the next few years.”

1) Contact centres will be multinational 

In the contact centre industry, only global players with platforms capable of serving dozens of languages, preferably from a single site will be able to serve the multinationals. Globalisation is in full swing: in the contact centre field, as in many others, market integration and increasing international competition are realities. Successful contact centres are choosing to internationalise and become stronger financially in order to adapt to the new demands brought about by their clients’ international development.

In addition to this, the management of call centres has become more professionalised. Nowadays, this sector attracts more and more graduate managers and career consultants, compared to a few years ago when the field was occupied by small entrepreneurs.

2) Staff attrition will be yesterday’s problem

Staff retention has been a perennial problem for the contact centre industry. What changes, however, is industry leaders’ awareness of this topic, and ability to address it.

3) Generation Y has arrived

Generation Y (Gen Y) – those born between 1980 and 2000 – is the new labour force for the sector. These individuals already account for 80% of the total number of employees in some contact centres. This generation is also on the ‘other side of the phone’, because its members are keen consumers, accounting for almost US$200 billion in spending per year worldwide.

EdExcellent multi-taskers, Generation Y grew up surrounded by computers, mobile devices and video games consoles. This generation is confident with technology but it also has a shorter attention span. The Internet puts everything at Gen Y’s fingertips. As a result, Gen Y has grown accustomed to rapid shifts in attention, with focus tending to wane after about 15 minutes.

Finally, for Gen Y the pay is not the only thing that counts. Understanding and being recognised for their individual value is what matters to most of them.

4) Corporate culture will be the key to success

Building a corporate culture that reflects the qualities of Generation Y is a major challenge for most companies. In contact centres we find many examples of highly motivated employees who have managed to positively affect the curves of certain brands’ customer satisfaction. Implementing a strong and consistent corporate culture is now taken more seriously by managers, since studies have shown its impact on profitability.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine