Call center applications are the lifeblood of a high-volume contact center and important to any organization that takes inquiries from prospects and customers. These applications are often a component of customer sales and support systems. Other times they expand on the trouble ticketing functions found in departmental help desk (HD) tools. There is often some confusion as to where call center systems end and customer support software begins. We’ve written this buyer’s guide to help the software buyer better understand call center technology.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
“Press 1 for...” Some say it is the bane of modern society. But the reality is that call center software is the only way that a company can scale up services without adding a new agent for every 10 or so new customers.
Contact centers use software and hardware to assist agents who help customers on the phone or some other channel. It expands on help desk technology by adding ties to customer information systems.
A principal component of these systems is computer telephony integration (CTI), which joins information from the phone system. As a result, agents can see customer information at the same time that the phone rings. Meanwhile, interactive voice response (IVR) lets customers interact with the system directly over the telephone. These are also common capabilities found in business phone systems and software.
Other core functions include scripting, data consolidation and logging. Support for contact channels beyond telephone and email is increasing. For example, more systems are now integrating Web chat and social networking tools. Meanwhile, autodialers are critical for high-volume outbound centers and important in any center that phones customers or just dials a lot of phone numbers.
Training and evaluation tools are important to centers with high turnover. These tools can record customer-agent interactions so that supervisors can evaluate them and provide feedback to the agent.
Before you can do a comparison of customer support systems, you’ll need to assess what kind of buyer you are. We believe more than 90 percent of buyers fall into one of the following categories:
High-volume buyers. These buyers work for companies that provide service and support through a high-volume center or initiate a lot of phone outreach for marketing, selling or conducting surveys. Their goals are to put as much of the call center business process as possible into automated rules and scripts.
Industry-specific buyers. Some industries, such as financial services and hospitality, have very unique requirements. As a result, a community of niche vendors has emerged to deliver very specific solutions for these markets.
Enterprise buyers. These buyers work for very large organizations, which often have different centers for different divisions. Their goals include unifying activity across channels, integrating their call center with customer relationship management (CRM) systems and other enterprise programs and consolidating all contacts into a single view of the customer.
Small business suite buyers. These buyers work for small businesses moving beyond contact tracking capabilities of products like Microsoft Outlook. Buyers focused on support and relationship management want to add call center and customer support capabilities through CRM suites.
A call center system must benefit both managers and communications center agents. The following are the minimum benefits that should be realized with a successful system:
Efficiently scale volume. The reason firms implement this technology is to handle more interactions. But not just more absolute calls—more per agent. Use IRV to direct customer actions and CTI to quickly retrieve customer information for the agent as the phone rings.
Reduce cost per communication. Since the call volume per agent increases, the cost per call declines. The savings mean either the agents can handle more or fewer agents can handle the same number.
Improve training efficiency and effectiveness. Firms with high turnover can include scripting and agent review to keep agents on track and make sure that customers get consistent and correct information.
Gain detailed analytical insight. Software consolidates agent metrics and reports on each agent’s activities, giving management a clear view to the successes and issues in the contact center.
One downside of highly automated centers is the customer complaint of entering “IVR hell.” If customers cannot resolve an issue or reach a helpful agent in two or three key presses, they may well hang up unsatisfied.
The other most common issue is lack of agent training. Scripting and monitoring are powerful tools, but it is still critical to implement best practices for training agents in the basics of phone etiquette.
Just like other monitoring tools, technology has a potential dark side for your contact center agents. Over monitoring leads to decreased job satisfaction. Consider using the increased information from communication center reports to create a bonus structure to accomplish the same goals.
These software market trends should be considered as you select a product and vendor.
Software as a Service (SaaS). High-volume centers in particular can benefit from a subscription service center. The low upfront costs let you spend money on desktop equipment for agents instead of back-office hardware.
Web user interfaces. A Web-browser interface makes it easier to add agents to the system. Instead of installing a computer with a copy of the contact center software on each desktop, all that is required is a computer with a standard Web browser.
Speech recognition. Just entering the mainstream, speech recognition systems can interact with customers speaking over telephones instead of using key presses. With speech recognition, call centers can switch customers to the correct agent automatically.
Social media. New contact channels are new opportunities and new challenges for centers. Interactions come in from text messages, tweets and Facebook friend requests. Social media strategy is a key piece of any new call center design.
Enterprise suites offering strong applications. The CRM solutions from enterprise-suite providers like Oracle and SAP include strong applications. Smaller vendors such as SugarCRM and NetSuite also feature call center support.
Consolidation. Firms are consolidating regional centers into centralized super centers. Their call center CRM software must be able to easily handle reallocation of phone interactions and scale smoothly as the number of agents and the number of calls increases.
Agent desktop consolidation. In the course of communication, agents often must refer to information from several systems. One of the important features of contact center systems is to consolidate all of the required information for an agent onto a single view of the desktop. This requires very powerful integration capabilities.
Virtual centers. Although consolidation is a trend, the result is not always a single, large physical center. Some organizations are building virtual centers, with agents working at different physical locations but functioning as a single unit. In some cases, the agents are scattered in existing office space. In other situations, the agents work at home.
Offshoring and load balancing. While there has been a long-term trend toward offshoring, there is also a newer re-shoring trend—bringing centers back to the U.S. in response to offshore challenges. In other cases, firms use the same technology for load balancing, sending some calls from a center that is experiencing a surge to a center that has excess capacity at that point in time.
The different buyers have distinct opportunities with vendors.
|This type of buyer...||Should evaluate these systems|
|High-volume buyers||Goldmine CRM, inContact, Oracle CRM, SAP, Salesforce, Chrodiant, Pegasystems|
|Industry-specific buyers||Leads360, SoftVu, Libra OnDemand|
|Enterprise buyers||Oracle CRM, SAP, Clarify, Chrodiant, Pegasystems|
|Small business suite buyers||SugarCRM, Sage Saleslogix|
We're able to offer this service to buyers for free, because software vendors pay us on a "pay-per-lead" basis. Buyers get great advice. Sellers get great referrals.