Hosted contact center solutions company Contactual recently released a case study explaining how temporary staffing company Labor Ready realized significant efficiencies and cost savings since it started using Contactual’s Web-based apps. The case study was covered today by TMC freelancer Anuradha Shukla and is posted on Contactual’s new Virtual Call Center channel on TMCnet. Contactual’s high scalability, reliability and ease of deployment, as well as its “virtualization” capabilities, have brought huge advantages to this busy staffing agency. I think this case study is a great testimonial speaking to the many advantages afforded through today’s hosted contact center offerings. I met with Contactual CEO Mansour Salame and other members of the Contactual team a couple of times this past summer and I am impressed with the company and its offerings, which are accurately described as “affordable yet very full featured.” I think it is a high class operation. You might remember that Contactual landed a sweet deal with VoIP solutions provider 8x8 this past July. 8x8, provider of the popular Packet8 VoIP service (which also comes in a business edition), announced that it was launching a new, fully integrated hosted call center solution designed specifically for small to medium sized businesses with call center operations consisting of less than 100 seats. This offering is based on Contactual’s hosted contact center platform. To me, that speaks volumes about the reliability and scalability of this platform. There are quite a few software providers out there who are now offering hosted contact center offerings, but a key difference (beyond the software’s capabilities and the various pricing schemes) is the level of support – and quality of support – you get with the service.
In an article posted yesterday on Marketing Pilgrim, Greg Howlett has some great practical advice for smaller sized companies thinking about outsourcing their calls to a call center. He makes the point that companies need to do a thorough job of assessing a call center outsourcing firm’s operations – and in particular the skill level of its agents – before making a decision, and that furthermore, once the decision is made, you have to continuously monitor the call center’s performance in order to ensure that service quality isn’t slipping. “The key is simply this–you cannot hire one and forget about them,” he wrote. “You have to remember that those people whom you have little control over have the ability to make or break your business. That is scary thought.” He suggests that companies place a lot of “test orders” with the BPO firms they’re considering contracting – and also that they have a sharp eye for the details in the contract itself, in order to protect themselves. He also suggests that companies reps actually visit the call enters they’re doing business with, and meet some of the agents to get a first hand perspective of their skill level and the quality of their work. As he so aptly points out, when you go to contract with one of these overseas firms, you are basically placing the success of your business into the hands of total strangers. But don’t let them be strangers – go meet with them, assess their skills (and general level of intelligence) – and take a look at the facility. Good, sound advice.
I just now completed a brief, over-the-phone survey with my bank, one of the biggest in the U.S., following a routine balance inquiry. They’re trying to determine my satisfaction with their speech-enabled self-serve banking service. My bank has been “tweaking” this service (which, by the way, is actually “either/or” -- i.e., touchtone or speech activated) for about a year now – and it works pretty darn well, if you ask me. I think about 18 months ago it was touchtone only, but now it gives me the choice “enter or say.” Usually, I take the touchtone option, but the speech-enabled system works really well, and when I’ve used it, it has never misinterpreted what I said or asked me to repeat (should I say thank you to Nuance?). Anyway, I’m finding that more and more organizations are asking me for my opinion of their services, following an interaction … and I’m finding, almost to my own surprise, that I’m amenable to giving it to them. The survey I just took was only three questions and it took a total of about 60 seconds to complete.
Research In Motion is reporting that there is a "critical severity outage" of E-mail service on BlackBerry smartphones across North America, however, the cause of the outage, or how widespread it is, has not yet been reported. According to a Reuters Canada report, BlackBerry users today received an emergency notification email “regarding the current BlackBerry Infrastructure outage.” An AP report says the outage occurred sometime shortly after 3:30 p.m.. The e-mail notification said the outage has affected enterprise clients and "users of the Americas network." Neither the Reuters Canada report or the AP report says how many users in the U.S. and Canada are affected. TMCnet has been searching the Web for more news on what caused the outage and how long it will take to repair. We’ll let you know as soon as we know … Geez, first it was the undersea cables and now BlackBerry email service. Wonder how many conspiracy theories are forming around this one ...
Cisco has issued two security alerts relating to flaws in its unified communications products which could enable hackers to launch denial of service attacks or hack into company telephony systems and retrieve sensitive information, among other annoyances. According to published reports, one of the alerts concerns a flaw in certain Cisco Unified IP Phone models running its Skinny Call Control Protocol (SCCP) and/or Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). The other alert relates to a vulnerability which might enable a hacker to launch an SQL Injection attack affecting Cisco's Unified Communications Manager software. Numerous models of Cisco’s SCCP- and SIP-based phones contain a buffer overflow vulnerability in the handling of DNS responses. The company said a hacker launching a specially-crafted DNS response might be able to trigger a buffer overflow and execute arbitrary code on a vulnerable phone. The company has already patched the vulnerability in SCCP firmware version 8.0(8) and SIP firmware version 8.8(0), but certain other versions are still vulnerable.
Improving agent performance in the call center requires a holistic approach – not only do you have to a thorough job of assessing agent skills during the recruiting/hiring process, you also have to train your agents to become customer care experts and then continuously improve their skills through ongoing coaching. Perhaps more importantly, you also need to do a careful job of recruiting and training your call center managers. The manager’s role is becoming increasingly critical today, as so many organizations are now near-shoring or off-shoring their centers and spreading their centers across the globe. In some of these off-shore locations, managers find themselves in a 1:6 manager-to-agent ratio -- and facing major cultural and language barriers. Needless to say there can be some serious challenges for these managers as they try to adapt to their new environments. But regardless of these challenges, there is a systematic and proven method for organizations to improve operations at their off-shore call centers and boost customer satisfaction.
Maximizer Software Inc. has released the Entrepreneur Edition of Maximizer CRM 10 – thus rounding out its CRM software suite with a new edition targeted at the small business. Maximizer CRM 10 already included covered the SMB market well with its Group, Professional and Enterprise Editions. Now, with the introduction of the Entrepreneur Edition, the suite has an edition for every size business (including departments within a larger organization), from small to medium to large to enterprise. In fact, Maximizer claims it is now “the only vendor that offers a complete family of CRM products for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that enables a smooth migration from contact management through to full-featured CRM.” Its CRM software suite is now flexible and scalable enough that it can help a business of one grow to become a business of “500 or beyond.” Introduced this past November, Maximizer CRM 10 represents a departure from Maximizer’s previous CRM product line, in that it has eliminated the former stand-alone Enterprise edition found in version 9 and combined it into a more full-spectrum version with different editions to suit the needs of different-sized companies. The new Entrepreneur Edition covers the “small” end of the spectrum, but as company officials point out, this easy-to-use, turn-key CRM solution offers advanced functionality found on more expensive systems – including, perhaps best of all, CRM for BlackBerry smartphones. Even a small business can benefit from a mobile CRM solution. With mobile CRM, your workers can have access to the critical business information they need via their BlackBerry devices, and the ability to manipulate it in near real time. Maximizer claims that one big advantage of its software suite is that it lets companies transition to mobile CRM at their own pace (or as the business grows), from basic mobile messaging to full-fledged mobile CRM (with full access to real data, and the ability manipulate it in real time, as well as the ability to conduct transactions remotely).
A new report from market research firm Datamonitor shows what many of us already know: Companies are starting to pack up and relocate their Canada-based call center operations due to the increasing value of the U.S. dollar and the increasingly unfavorable exchange rate. Even call center outsourcing behemoth Convergys has announced that it will be closing some of its facilities in Canada in the coming months – this news coming directly from the mouth of Convergys CEO David Dougherty. “Convergys’ announcement of a scale-back on Canadian operations could be the first of many by outsourcers,” warned Peter Ryan, head of contact center outsourcing analysis at Datamonitor, in a press release. He said the decline of the U.S. dollar “has badly eroded the profitability of U.S.
I was at the Call Center Demo show down in Miami this past week – you know, the call center trade show brought to you by the people who no longer have a print publication focused on the call center industry (heh, heh)? Anyway, during the show I noticed that a majority of the exhibitors were focused on the workforce optimization space – which by definition includes workforce management, performance management, call recording, quality monitoring. e-learning and analytics. Apparently Tracey Schelmetic, editor of Customer Interaction Solutions, TMC’s illustrious print publication focused on the call center industry, got it right when she dubbed 2008 “The Year of Workforce Optimization” on the front cover of this month’s issue. From the look of this past week’s Call Center Demo show, I’d say she hit the nail on the head. Breaking down the exhibitor list, there were nine companies offering workforce management; ten companies offering performance management; ten companies offering call recording; nine companies offering QM or “quality assurance;” and 11 companies offering analytics (Web and Speech). Of course, there is duplication in each category, as many of these companies offer a suite of products for addressing some or all of the technology “disciplines” that make up the WFO realm.
I’m hearing, with increasing frequency, that there is a serious “skills shortage” in the U.S. labor pool -- especially when it comes to people who possess good IT skills combined with other skill sets. Depending on what sources you refer to, one gets the idea that company IT departments in the U.S. are too slimmed down -- and furthermore that there’s not enough “real talent” to go around. Thus companies are increasingly turning to managed services (including software solutions delivered via the Software-as-a-Service model) and support automation systems to handle some (or most) of their IT needs. In other words, they’re farming out more of their IT needs to third parties for lack of being able to find, attract and retain decent in-house talent. This “skills shortage” is also why recruiting has become so tough in the call center industry: You need people who not only possess good interaction skills, or “people skills,” but who are also relatively tech savvy.