Call Center Buyer’S Guide


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Call Center Buyer’S Guide

  1. 1. Call-Center Buyer’s Guide Orlando Moreno 408.656.2498
  2. 2. Executive Summary Death and taxes used to be the pair of inevitable horrors held up as examples of the worst life had to offer. These days, one could add voice-mail hell to make a diabolical trio that everyone can all agree to hate. The odd thing, though, is that in spite of the universal disdain for bad call-center experiences, more and more companies are finding that business logic forces them to install those nasty call centers anyway. The trick is to take the “bad” out of the call-center experience — and adding VoIP to the equation does just that. While most call-center features are common to both analog and digital telephone systems, the growing move to VoIP for business telephony makes this hybrid a no-brainer. 408.656.2498 2
  3. 3. Executive Summary First impressions are lasting impressions, as everyone knows, which makes it all the more important for businesses to change their attitude toward call centers, which are often the first point of contact for customers. In the past, businesses have considered call centers a necessary and unwieldy evil.But thanks to the powerful capabilities of the latest call-center hardware and software, call centers (so-called “CRM hubs”) are handling email inquiries, Web chats, incoming and outgoing faxes, and a broad range of text messaging from handheld devices like cell phones and PDAs — as well as fielding phone calls in a way that keeps customers smiling and the bottom-line healthy. 408.656.2498 3
  4. 4. VoIP call center can be a valuable source of revenue These days, a VoIP call center can be a valuable source of revenue, as well as a mission-critical resource for selling products, responding to questions, resolving technical support issues, and handling inquiries in a timely and efficient manner. Key features like call scripting, predictive dialing, multimedia recording, multisite routing and real-time monitoring keep your IT department as happy as your customers. There are two basic approaches to setting up a call center. The on-premise solution involves buying hardware and software, hiring agents, and setting up your own on-site or off-site call center. 408.656.2498 4
  5. 5. VoIP call center can be a valuable source of revenue The hosted (or outsourced) solution involves contracting with a call- center company that already has a staff of agents and a software system, which allows it to step in and handle calls for your business. In this Buyer’s Guide, you’ll find out how to start asking the right questions about VoIP call centers and what to look for in a system vendor. You’ll learn how to buy, what you can expect to pay and how to go about maximizing your investment. 408.656.2498 5
  6. 6. Call-Center Overview In most situations, a VoIP call center looks very much like an analog call center — except less expensive. IP telephony is a combination of voice, data, video and wireless applications into an integrated enterprise infrastructure that offers the reliability, interoperability and security of a voice network; the benefit of IP; and the efficiencies, mobility and manageability of a single network. VoIP is the voice part of the IP telephony complex — the technology that is used to transmit voice over an IP network, which can be either a corporate network or the Internet. 408.656.2498 6
  7. 7. Call-Center Overview Call- or contact-center solutions (really a subset of the CRM, or Customer Relations Management, paradigm) deliver customer service solutions over any communication channel — analog or digital — including inbound calls, outbound calls, email, fax, Web, chat or co-browsing. VoIP call centers offer all the benefits of the call-center model plus the savings and flexibility built into a VoIP system: lower telecommunications costs, fewer maintenance headaches, and easier integration between voice and data applications. A well-designed VoIP call center should be effortlessly scalable, allowing you to operate with any number of agents (depending on customer demand) at any given time. 408.656.2498 7
  8. 8. Call-Center Overview It should be immediately and intuitively operable by your call-center staff — managers, supervisors and agents. Essentially, the call center should offer a centralized, graphical management environment that simplifies deployment and boosts customer value. In addition, you should look for advanced features like an embedded solution for call qualification; management of real-time business conditions; and collaboration capabilities that easily link agents, experts and customers. It should be possible to define distribution schemes, services and agent groups with the click of a mouse, as well as manage your queues, tune your services and access a comprehensive set of reports with equal ease. 408.656.2498 8
  9. 9. Call-Center Overview A critical requirement for all call centers is extreme flexibility to respond to changing customer demands and strategies while balancing the realities of the bottom line. That means the administration of agents and technology must be consolidated and centrally controlled, while the management of call- center activities is performed locally. This will provide the oversight necessary to make strategic decisions while fully leveraging the skills and knowledge of your local staff. 408.656.2498 9
  10. 10. A Few Rules of Thumb VoIP requires significant network capacity to accommodate voice packets, which consume bandwidth on a more constant basis than does other network traffic. The majority of VoIP deployments that fail do so because of poor planning. Asking the right questions is the first and most important step toward deploying a successful VoIP call center. Here are four quick answers to four basic questions. 1.- Have you completed a full network assessment? If your network bandwidth is too narrow, phone lines will experience annoying delays. 408.656.2498 10
  11. 11. A Few Rules of Thumb This means that before beginning the migration to VoIP, your company must work with its vendors to complete a network assessment. Network assessments simulate the load of the maximum number of SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) calls on the company’s network and monitor delay, packet loss and other characteristics of the network. 2. - Have you provided agents with the right phones? VoIP supports two different types of phones. A “soft” phone is a software program that you install on a PC to allow users to make telephone calls using their computers and a microphone headset. 408.656.2498 11
  12. 12. A Few Rules of Thumb A “hard” phone (also known as an IP phone) looks and acts like an ordinary telephone, except it connects to an Ethernet port on a router. A hard phone contains all needed hardware and software to handle VoIP calls on its own. Some hard phones incorporate standard protocols, such as SIP, that allow for easy interoperability with other applications and systems, while others do not. 3.- Have you implemented appropriate security measures? It is essential that your VoIP system ensures appropriate authentication, security and encryption. 408.656.2498 12
  13. 13. A Few Rules of Thumb Call centers can employ existing technologies, such as a VPN (virtual private network) to provide agents with secure VoIP connections. 4.- Are you prepared for data-connection failure? It’s always wise to plan for potential failures. Call centers can safeguard their operations against failure by providing redundancy whenever possible. That means using multiple carriers, having spare (N+1) redundancy for critical components and employing backup network power supplies to keep the data network viable in case of power failure. 408.656.2498 13
  14. 14. VoIP Call Centers: How They Work Let’s get the VoIP part out of the way first. VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is a way of sending voice messages — telephony, in other words — over an IP network, which may be either a corporate network or the Internet itself. At the sending end, hardware (for example, an IP telephone or a headset) and software digitizes the analog pressure waves of an ordinary sound event (like someone saying “Hello?”) into a digital signal that can be transmitted across the network. At the receiving end, a matching set of hardware and software turns the digital signal back into an analog sound wave so the listener hears, “Hello?”. 408.656.2498 14
  15. 15. VoIP Call Centers: How They Work The other key part of VoIP technology is SIP, an application-layer signaling technique that allows software to create and terminate telephony sessions over the Internet with one or more participants. It can be used to create sessions that include Internet telephone calls and multimedia conferences. Almost every call center, whether it uses analog telephones or VoIP technology, works pretty much the same. It’s a communication hub built on top of software and technology that manages incoming and outgoing telephony for a number of business purposes: sales, help and support, and even telemarketing. Good call center software provides easy-to-use call-management features, as well as technology for reporting on various aspects of the hub and its behavior. 408.656.2498 15
  16. 16. VoIP Call Centers: How They Work A good call center, especially if it’s backed by the right technology solutions, can be a customer-retention center in addition to a revenue generator. One of the key aspects of VoIP call-center technology is its ability to virtualize a group of call agents, who may be widely distributed geographically, into a seamless entity that functions exactly as if the agents were all in the same big room. Agents may even be in different countries, but the call-center software doesn’t care. Incoming calls are routed to available agents no matter where they are — and the best systems are intelligent enough to route calls to agents who are particularly well-suited to field specific calls. 408.656.2498 16
  17. 17. Market Overview The major players in the VoIP Call Center marketplace include:  Alcatel-Lucent: Alcatel-Lucent is one of the biggest players in the telephony space. Better known outside North America, the company qualifies as a telecommunications giant. Its OmniTouch Contact Center is intended for larger enterprises and is meant to be easy to operate and manage while remaining very cost- effective.  Aspect Software Inc.: Aspect’s Call Center ACD and Spectrum ACD are both intended for high-volume use and claim to handle as many as 300,000 inbound and outbound calls per hour. Aspect Software also claims that its decades of experience result in very high-level features and reporting tools. The company claims that its call-center tools are top of the line. 408.656.2498 17
  18. 18. Market Overview  Avaya Inc.: Avaya Call Center is built upon unusual ACD (automatic call distribution) technology that it refers to as Vector technology. In addition, Avaya, one of the leading VoIP providers, is also proud of its robust SIP-based, on-premise call- center systems that, while complex, provide a depth of features.  Cincom Systems Inc.: Synchrony, Cincom Systems’ umbrella call-center product, is a hybrid solution that can be deployed on a hosted or on-premise basis. The solution relies on what the company calls a unified desktop, which makes sure that all agents answering or making calls can provide a common experience. 408.656.2498 18
  19. 19. Market Overview  Cisco Systems Inc.: Cisco Systems is the global leader in networking-technology market share and is also one of the largest VoIP companies. It is natural that the company’s call- center solutions are wide ranging and comprehensive. Cisco Systems equipment is usually an especially good fit for larger enterprises.  CosmoCom Inc.: CosmoCall Universe is a unified IP call-center suite that includes a wide range of features like multichannel ACD, email response, IVR (Interactive Voice Response), CTI (computer telephony integration), predictive dialing, multimedia recording, interaction history and administrative tools. CosmoCom also claims additional expertise in unified communications and integrating alternative channels like instant messaging, chat and email with its call center. 408.656.2498 19
  20. 20. Market Overview  Five9 Inc.: Five9 specializes in on-demand or hosted call-center solutions. These solutions are aimed at small- to medium-sized business and are intended to be extremely easy to get up and running. The company’s solutions are friendly and easy to use because of its customer base.  Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories Inc.: Genesys is a division of Alcatel-Lucent (see above) that provides an alternative solution. The company’s call-center solutions are designed for extremely high-volume operations with unusual needs for flexibility. In fact, the company touts its ability to provide dynamic solutions that change according to demand and need. 408.656.2498 20
  21. 21. Market Overview  Interactive Intelligence: Interactive Intelligence supplies a range of VoIP and call-center solutions, including both hosted and premise-based systems. In addition, Interactive Intelligence specializes in integrated solutions. Target customers range from small businesses to large enterprises, and the range of features and options is very broad.  Nortel Networks: Nortel is one of the largest networking companies in the world and supplies a wide range of networking and communications equipment and services, including VoIP and call-center solutions. Nortel Networks’ call-center solutions are suitable for any size enterprise and are intended for call centers with as many as 30,000 agents. 408.656.2498 21
  22. 22. Market Overview  Oracle Corp.: Oracle has a call-center solution that comes from its Siebel division and integrates with its Siebel CRM and business-application solutions, making it one of the more integrated and robust solutions for prospective customers that either already use Oracle and Siebel applications or that are looking for a solution that is very tightly integrated.  Verizon Business: Verizon’s IP Enabled Contact Center products range from hosted and hybrid solutions to on-premise solutions that work with TDM through IP systems. These solutions are particularly aimed at organizations that wish to move to a call center before they complete a transition from TDM to VoIP-based communications. 408.656.2498 22
  23. 23. Call-Center Benefits Your company can enjoy huge benefits from a well-designed call center — from boosting revenues to enhancing customer experience. Benefits (which far outweigh the risks) include: Happier Customers: By sending customers quickly and painlessly to the right agents — ones who can provide them with the answers they need — call- center technology can reduce the number of times customers are transferred, raise customer retention, and cut down on national rates of hypertension and apoplexy. 408.656.2498 23
  24. 24. Call-Center Benefits Improved Monitoring: Some of the coolest call-center software allows you to experience what it’s like to be on the receiving end of your call center with customizable, real-time reporting functions and call monitoring.The next time you tell a frustrated customer you can “feel her pain,” you’ll actually mean it — and you’ll have the information you need to fix the problem. Enhanced Scalability: The latest call-center systems allow businesses to ramp up or pare down capacity at will, and virtually at the click of a mouse.Why maintain a huge staff when they’re not used? It’s better to add personnel as needed, especially if your VoIP call center lets your representatives work from home. 408.656.2498 24
  25. 25. Call-Center Benefits Easy Prioritization: Wouldn’t you prefer to send a sales call to your most knowledgeable agent? Or a technical call to your best problem-solver? Clever software allows your call-center system to route calls based on factors such as agent skills, service level, or longest wait in order to optimize resources and better manage traffic flow based on business needs. Simplified Savings: A VoIP call center delivers lower telecommunications costs, causes fewer maintenance headaches, and allows easier integration between voice and data applications. 408.656.2498 25
  26. 26. Call-Center Risks Risks include: In reality, the risks of deploying a VoIP call center (as opposed to an analog call center) are few, and they are easily manageable. The only danger worth talking about has to do with voice quality. Voice over IP bandwidth requirements sound complicated, but in reality, combining voice and data over a data network is simple, because voice traffic uses a lot less bandwidth than traditional LAN- based computer networks. A single toll-quality phone call over a public network uses 64 Kbps in each direction, which is only 0.0625 percent of a 100 Mbps full duplex link. A 100 Mbps Ethernet network can support up to 1,160 calls over a full duplex link. A gigabit backbone can handle up to 11,600 simultaneous calls. 408.656.2498 26
  27. 27. Call-Center Risks Risks include: Unfortunately, though, bandwidth is not the only issue. Bandwidth- hungry business applications, advancements in telephone technology and network congestion can be major obstacles. In fact, voice quality is directly affected by many network factors, including availability, throughput, delay or latency, delay variation (including jitter and wander), and packet loss. As noted above, the only way to be sure your VoIP call center will perform properly is to run a full network assessment before you activate your new system. Network assessments simulate the load of the maximum number of SIP calls on the company’s network and monitor delay, packet loss and other characteristics of the network. 408.656.2498 27
  28. 28. Basic Features Call-center technology — analog or VoIP — has been around long enough that almost all of the major call-center solutions offer pretty much the same features. Here are the key features you should expect your it to include. Predictive Dialing: If you plan to use your call center as a way to initiate outgoing sales and telemarketing calls — and you probably will — a predictive- dialing system will be high on your wish list. Basically, this is an automated outbound dialing system that only connects your sales agents to calls answered by real people. Some predictive-dialing functions are so clever that they can actually anticipate when one of your agents will become available and accelerate or slow the outbound dialing rate accordingly. 408.656.2498 28
  29. 29. Basic Features Moreover, the more agents that use the system, the more accurate it becomes at predicting average call length and agent availability. Quality Monitoring: There’s no quicker way to lose customers than by forcing them to submit to an overloaded, understaffed, poorly designed voice-mail system. This is no secret, but in many cases, company executives are the last to know that their call center is driving customers crazy. Be sure that your call- center software provides real-time system, workgroup and queue statistics — ideally in form of readily viewable graphs and tables. 408.656.2498 29
  30. 30. Basic Features You’ll want a series of easy-to-track summaries that show activities throughout both your communications-system environment and the interaction process. Dynamic Routing: When customers call, most of them are frustrated and anxious to resolve their problem as quickly as possible. The last thing that you want is to add to their frustration by cycling them through a series of voice-mail interactions that don’t provide the help they need. A comprehensive call-center solution will put an end to customer ire as quickly as possible by routing each interaction to the ideal resource, no matter where that resource is located. 408.656.2498 30
  31. 31. Basic Features This solution increases first-call resolution rates, manages variable call volumes with limited resources, increases cross-sell and up-sell rates and improves agent satisfaction. Interactive Speech Recognition/Voice Response Solutions: When a live agent isn’t immediately available, you can enhance customer interactions with responsive speech-recognition technology. Experts agree that voice recognition delivers one of the most dramatic improvements in the customer experience — especially for self-service applications where live agents may not be available. 408.656.2498 31
  32. 32. Advanced Features The Virtual Call Center: One of the most impressive capabilities of current call center technology is its ability to virtualize your call center, treating a far- flung constellation of agents (most of whom may be working from the comfort of their own homes) just as if those agents were all sitting together in the confines of a traditional (and expensive) call center on the fourth floor of your building. Current research shows that more than 21 percent of companies with call centers use their systems to route interactions to employees outside the physical center. The best VoIP/SIP software automatically identifies which agents are available on the network — no matter how remote — to field calls and connects incoming calls swiftly and transparently. 408.656.2498 32
  33. 33. Advanced Features Obviously, this can enhance your business’s ability to manage peak loads, provide effective service around the clock and optimize resources by distributing skills across a wide geographic area. E911: One of the most annoying limitations of many VoIP phones is their inability to reach 911 operators in an emergency. While this is not likely to impact your call-center operation very often, it’s something to think about. Many VoIP systems now support E911, which corrects the problem. However, you need to let your ISP know that you wish E911 to be activated. Check with your VoIP service provider to make sure that you don’t need to actually sign up for E911 service. 408.656.2498 33
  34. 34. Cost Wondering how much a new call center will cost? You’re not alone. The technology is so complex, with so many different features and flavors, that you may well be tempted to hire a rocket scientist to help you sort out your options and their associated costs. For instance, you can buy a VoIP predictive dialer for about $300, but some consultants advise that any company planning to set up a VoIP call center from scratch should plan on spending at least $1 million dollars. Ouch! If the numbers are a little scary, companies selling VoIP call-center solutions are not much help. Go ahead, try and find a price tag or even an approximate quote online.You’ll find plenty of opportunities to “request a price call” or “complete a pricing request form,” but very few price lists exist. 408.656.2498 34
  35. 35. Cost Generally, if a company is shy about listing its prices, those prices are probably stratospheric. For that matter, it’s no cakewalk figuring out whether a given solution is on-premise or hosted/outsourced. In an on-premise situation, the vendor sells you the software — and sometimes the hardware — and you set up the call center on your own. Hosted/outsourced arrangements can take on several forms: the vendor may set up the call center for you, off-load some of the technology or simply provide VoIP technology to support your existing call center. 408.656.2498 35
  36. 36. Cost The best way to figure out how much your new (or upgraded) VoIP call center is going to cost is to select the vendor that seems to come closest to matching your wish list — or matches the technology you’ve already installed — and contact a salesperson. Obviously, it will cost a lot less to add VoIP or other digital capabilities to an existing call center than to fire one up from scratch. In general, hosted or outsourced call-center solutions will be more affordable — at least initially — than setting up your own center. In the longer run, the financial calculations become harder to compare. 408.656.2498 36
  37. 37. VoIP Call-Center Checklist What to ask before you buy. It’s true for any major investment in new technology: The time to ask questions is before you buy, not afterward. Whether you’re creating a first-time call center, switching your existing center from analog to VoIP, or considering outsourcing some or all of your call-center functionality, look before you leap. The following checklist is a good way to start planning your move. Most vendors will need to know the answers to at least some, if not all, of these questions in order to make a reasonable recommendation — whether they’re selling you an on-premise system or a hosted alternative. 408.656.2498 37
  38. 38. VoIP Call-Center Checklist  Are you primarily interested in an in-house call center, a virtual call center or a hosted/..outsourced call center? If your company prefers to keep life simple and can afford to pay for a hosted/outsourced solution, by all means go ahead and look into contracting a call-center host to take over your system. Some hosted solutions claim to handle 100 million calls per year with fully automated, state-of-the-art call-center equipment and custom software. One of the biggest benefits of outsourcing your call center is that most hosts implement high data security and data redundancy to ensure full service 24/7, 365 days per year. Of course, running your own call-center operation, whether it’s entirely on-site or a virtual system, gives you greater control and flexibility. 408.656.2498 38
  39. 39. VoIP Call-Center Checklist  What is your estimated number of calls per month?.. Break the numbers down into incoming and outgoing calls, and characterize each set of calls as to its purpose. Sales? Tech support? Telemarketing?  How many employees work for your organization?.. Also, if you’re already running a call center, how many agents are currently on staff?  Will your company be in growth mode over the next five years?..  How quickly are you looking to deploy a call-center solution?.. Setting up a hosted/outsourced call center is fast, especially if you hire one of the more experienced companies with large numbers of agent seats. 408.656.2498 39
  40. 40. VoIP Call-Center Checklist Of course, it’s possible to start with a hosted center and cross- fade to an on-premise center as equipment, software and personnel become available.  Do you have the in-house IT resources to support an on-premise solution?.. For customers, dealing with any voice-mail system can be harrowing. Dealing with a voice-mail system that’s not working properly is unbearable. To avoid disconnecting callers or routing them to dead-end locations, your IT staff needs to be fully trained and qualified to manage a VoIP call center. 408.656.2498 40
  41. 41. VoIP Call-Center Checklist  What degree of customization are you expecting from a call- center application?.. On-premise solutions tend to be more easily customizable than outsourced or hosted solutions where, all too often, one size fits all. If, for instance, you need tech support but no telemarketing, you shouldn’t have to pay for telemarketing capability that you’ll never use.  Are security safeguards in place to safely manage your in-house datacenter?.. This is one area where outsourcing your call center could be worth the money. 408.656.2498 41
  42. 42. VoIP Call-Center Checklist VoIP runs on the same network where your confidential data ( such as customer records and proprietary technology) resides, which means that a high level of security (wired, wireless or personal) is a must. If an IT security staff is already on the job, you’re good to go with an on-site center, but if you can’t answer “yes” to the question at the head of this paragraph, hiring a host that deploys a full set of security safeguards might be the smartest move your company makes this year.  How might you benefit from monitoring your call-center agents?.. Most call-center systems include a powerful set of reporting capabilities. If you know, going in, what sort of information you need, it will help you select the right package. 408.656.2498 42
  43. 43. VoIP Call-Center Checklist  How could you benefit from a geographically diverse call-center staff?.. One of the key benefits that a VoIP call center brings to the table is the ability to create a virtual center, one in which your agents may be spread across a far-flung constellation of cities, states or even countries. Among other benefits, a virtual call center means 24-hour availability without paying overtime, as well as cost savings from hiring agents abroad.  How can you improve your customer-support services and activities?.. A frank assessment of your current call center and associated customer-support services will help you move forward. 408.656.2498 43
  44. 44. VoIP Call-Center Checklist  How effectively are you serving your customers and responding to their inquiries now? .. This is a subset of your customer-service assessment, aimed particularly at incoming sales- and support-related calls.  Have you completed a full network assessment?.. As noted above, VoIP requires significant network capacity to accommodate voice packets, which consume bandwidth on a more constant basis than other network traffic. Before beginning the migration to VoIP, your company must complete a network assessment to simulate the load of the maximum number of SIP calls on the company’s network, as well as to monitor delay, packet loss and other characteristics of the network. 408.656.2498 44
  45. 45. VoIP Call-Center Checklist  Is your LAN designed to support 99.99 percent availability?.. When your LAN goes down, your VoIP system goes with it. If your call center is VoIP-based, you can’t afford network outages. Think about redundant servers, uninterruptible power supplies, management modules and an up-to-date network diagram. 408.656.2498 45
  46. 46. Conclusion The call center has become an integral part of many organizations’ strategy to provide efficient, flexible self-service and assisted-service transactions to all prospects and customers, regardless of the type of media access. This requires a sophisticated and reliable multimedia call distribution system, one that is capable of handling voice and email interactions while providing easy supervisor control. Building the most efficient call center is a challenging and crucial process. Customer care depends on the optimal routing of any media to the most knowledgeable customer representative. 408.656.2498 46
  47. 47. Conclusion At the same time, agents need easy-to-use computer capabilities to carry out their day-to-day activities, while managers demand applications to monitor service levels and make real-time system adjustments —regardless of an agent’s physical location. The proliferation of call-center solutions, both hosted and on- premise, can be daunting — but once you’re atop the learning curve, your company (and its customers) will be in a position to reap the benefits of this feature-rich technology. 408.656.2498 47
  48. 48. Questions ? Orlando Moreno 408.656.2498 408.656.2498 48