by Nicolas Dalleva on 04/06/12 at 8:27 pm
Having the right technology is arguably the most important factor that influences the success of a call center, regardless of its size. Imagine your sales staff gushing to prospects about how you have the best CSR’s in the business (which every answering service does) then scrambling when the prospect asks about the depth of your iPhone application (which you don’t have). Even the service with the best agents can’t compete with the tech savvy company that is attracting young entrepreneurs who want on-demand access to every metric under the sun. However, planning for the right technology is even more important for a small call center, as mistakes can prove to be more costly in the case of a smaller operation where there is less flexibility in terms of resources and budgets available for course correction. Imagine your 10 seat call center invests in the answering service technology equivalent of the HD-DVD player instead of its Blu-Ray counterpart.
With so many choices available in the market today, a small call center may easily feel overwhelmed during the decision making process. In this post we will look at some of the key things to keep in mind while planning for your technology investments or evaluating a technology upgrade.
Business Objectives: As with any business planning process, technology planning should start with the business objectives. Some of the key questions to ask would be the target client markets you plan to serve and the nature of services you plan to offer. For example, if you plan to offer services where sensitive customer data would be handled, then your technology planning should include aspects of far more stringent data security norms than otherwise. If you are presenting yourself as a help desk service, then your technology planning should include on-demand access to important metrics like FCR percentages, agent time, and dropped call percentages.
Budgets: One of the biggest mistakes that small call centers make is to get carried away by the feature rich sales pitch of high end solutions in the market. Always keep your budget in mind when you plan your purchases. This will ensure that your cash flow is not severely compromised as most often a small business enterprise fails because of cash flow problems than because of technological glitches. Make sure to choose solutions that can be easily upgraded and integrated with other solutions which you may utilize in future. It is best to have a long term plan so that you choose the right solutions, but only choose what is absolutely essential at a given point in time as you can use the remaining cash for other areas such as marketing and client engagement.
Resources: It is important to keep in mind the size of your in-house IT team as well as their skill levels before you choose your applications and hardware. If you are just starting out, chances are high that you may not have the necessary bandwidth to support the applications in-house or you may not have the staff to debug any glitches before they become client damaging issues. The typical blueprint for a small businesses’ IT staff is more of a “jack of all trades” versus a tech that may be savvy in Oracle product integration or have expertise in IP-PBX technology. You may want to evaluate alternatives such as hosted call center models where the capital expenditure for IT is essentially converted into an operational expense, thus easing the burden of budgets and resources. It is important to set aside budgets for external support and maintenance in such a case, which brings us to the next point about keeping your technology running after inception.
Ongoing Support & Maintenance: Often technology decisions of small scale answering service operations are based on the one-time cost of procuring the application. However, it is important to evaluate the running costs and the level of vendor support that you are likely to obtain in the event of a problem. Remember that any downtime in the application in a call center directly translates to a revenue loss as you are unable to service customers during the down time. Does your vendor offer 24/7 off-site support? Is the support bundled with the cost of the hardware / software? Are the support contracts renewable and are minor or major upgrades included for any period? There are hundreds of other questions you should be asking but they all revolve around the idea that if things go wrong, how soon before they will be back to normal.
Monitoring SLAs: While vendors may promise you everything under the sun during a sales pitch, it is important to verify how well they perform post sales. You should always request customer references, preferably of call centers with similar characteristics as yours in terms of agent size, customer profiles and growth aspirations. Make sure to check with them on how good the vendor is in terms of customizing the application to deliver the SLAs that you would like to monitor, as well as how good the after sales support team is.
Ultimately, it is important to ask yourselves as well as your shortlisted vendors the right questions before you finalize your call center technology architecture.
About The Author: Nicolas Dalleva is the co-founder and CEO of Specialty Answering Service
, a provider of outsourced business communications. Mr. D’Alleva overseas the day to day operations as well as the technology analysis and planning.