Tag Archives: Case Studies

Customer Satisfaction Program Garners Award-Winning Results

By Randy Anderson

Like any contact center for hire, we at Taction put our reputation on the line – literally – thousands of times every day. Taction is the phone, email, and fax “voice” of customer support and sales for its clients. We know that lasting, profitable relationships are based on delivering consistently positive customer experiences. The entire company, from management to agents, feels strongly that we are a high touch and high-quality contact center, but all outsourcers say that, don’t they? We needed proof in order to ensure that we were actually fulfilling the Taction mission.

To make sure we were reaching our goals in both areas of client satisfaction as well as agent satisfaction (which is the number one indicator of end-user satisfaction), Taction turned to the Omega Management Group Corp., specialists in helping companies boost revenue and profits by implementing loyalty management strategy programs that increase customer and employee satisfaction.

Over a period of several months, the companies worked closely to create a customer and employee satisfaction program tailored to our specific requirements. The partnership turned out to be somewhat historic when, in 2006, Taction became the first and only contact center to earn Omega’s prestigious NorthFace ScoreBoard AwardSM. Launched in 2000, the award is presented annually to companies who, as rated by their own customers, achieved excellence in customer satisfaction during the prior calendar year.

Omega’s methodology measures customer satisfaction levels for companies on a 5-point scale at least twice during the year in such categories as technical support, field service, sales process, customer service, product quality, account management, and training. The NorthFace ScoreBoard Award winners are companies who, based on survey responses from their own customers, achieved a 4.0 or above out of a possible 5.0 score in any category measured.

Seeking Out the Voice of the Customer: To be included in that elite group of successful companies, Taction’s senior management made winning the NorthFace Award a top priority. That rally made it easier to focus the team on the goals of the satisfaction program and survey specifics rather than just saying “let’s raise our client survey score” without explaining the business reasons for doing so. Taction pursued the award to prove to ourselves and others that we truly do provide a great customer experience as an easy-to-work-with partner.

We educated our people on the survey questions and how their jobs played a role in the ratings our customers would give us. We were happy to see that our culture as an employee-friendly, high-quality place to work was apparent to our clients.  As the survey process continued, we could use the data to see the extent to which our clients’ views matched our perception.

Taction implemented Omega’s Customer Satisfaction and Retention (CARE) program at the beginning of 2004 in order to assess existing levels of customer satisfaction with its services and staff. However, Taction was not eligible for the NorthFace Award until 2005, when it had participated in the survey for the required twelve months.

During this time, Omega conducted transaction and relationship phone surveys with our current clients along with semi-annual Web-based surveys of the entire employee population. Omega presented results and recommendations periodically to our executive team and we used Omega’s ScoreBoard display system to post documentation associated with the CARE process for all to see.

Omega also surveyed a sample of our former clients to ensure we learned about their experiences as well. This insight proved helpful and allowed us to focus more clearly on the client impact of our processes and operations in order to keep current clients from becoming past clients.

Heeding the Voice of the Customer: Based on the results of Omega’s customer surveys, there were areas of exceptional customer satisfaction as well as actionable feedback in some areas that scored lower. The good stuff:

  • 100% of respondents would recommend Taction as a contact center solution
  • 94% consider Taction a best-in-class solution
  • 100% (with a rating of 4.1 out of 5) are satisfied with the professional attitude and courtesy of Taction’s agents.

Based on the comments provided, there were specific areas for improvement that stood out. These concerned accuracy of information provided, timeliness and accuracy of reports, and various pricing considerations. Even though these areas were still in the satisfied category, they weren’t in Omega‘s “loyalty zone” of  4.0 out of 5.0 scale.

The surveys, and Omega’s analysis, provided needed validation that we were properly focused in terms of client and employee needs and that we were allocating dollars where they were improving service and support in areas of greatest importance.

For example, on the initial benchmark survey, we found the level of employees affirming the culture and work environment to be fantastic. We also learned everyone wanted more communication about the business. As a result, we’ve made deliberate attempts to widen the channels of communication by taking such measures as increasing the number of informational meetings and letters from the president’s office to the team.

From the client survey, we learned that clients not only rated their account managers with high marks, but they also gave high marks to the reports provided. This discovery led us to shift valuable internal resources to other projects that had lower scores.

The benefits of this loyalty management program are paying off. As a result of the survey findings, Taction now can make course adjustments quickly to address any issues that arise, and can continue to stay the course in areas rated with high scores.

We wanted to work with Omega because we knew they were committed to helping their clients attain the highest levels of satisfaction from their customers and employees. We now have solid, unbiased proof, in the form of the NorthFace ScoreBoard Award, that we have fulfilled that promise.

Going forward, we at Taction plan to continue working with Omega. Client and employee surveys will continue and more client trend data will be gathered. We’re always looking for more insight into what our clients want so we can continue to deliver our Taction Value better and more consistently, one experience after another.

Randy Anderson is VP of Client Services at Taction. Taction is a provider of contact center services. Randy Anderson can be reached at randy.anderson@taction.net.

[From Connection Magazine June 2006]

Case Study: Electric Insurance Company

Electric Insurance Company (EIC), a nationwide direct writer of property and casualty insurance for over 35 years and benefit provider for the General Electric Company, was looking for a software solution to create digital dashboards (sometimes referred to as “cockpits”) with views into performance data for call center operations. In particular, the company required a flexible product that could support an exacting set of Six Sigma calculations and process metrics across the company’s three call centers.

The company was using an industry-leading business intelligence product and data integration tool to gather, report on, and analyze customer and financial data, but these tools could not provide adequate digital dashboards, reports, and analysis to meet their specific call center requirements. An additional objective was to introduce automated, Web-based agent performance reports to improve agent accountability and self-correction. At the time, agents received monthly summaries of their performance on key measures from their supervisors.

Electric Insurance selected the Merced Performance Suite, which integrated data from systems ranging from ACDs to workforce scheduling to a mainframe sales system. Personalized, role-based dashboards were created so agents could see an updated view on their performance stats, where executives could see several dashboards with summary information on all aspects of operations including productivity, cost, and quality, with the ability to drill down into detail for root cause analysis.

With this solution implemented, EIC was able to reduce the amount of time analysts and managers spent preparing reports by over 50%. EIC reported that some analyses that previously had taken two days could be conducted in 10 minutes due to the centralized data store and analysis features. Most significantly, EIC’s call center management could analyze aspects of their operations that were previously too labor intensive to perform on a regularly recurring basis.

EIC also chose to deploy workflow features including Forms and Alerts. With Alerts, all levels of management could receive emails when performance was not meeting target thresholds. With Forms, the company could comply with a critical Six Sigma requirement, the tracking of processes which were previously paper-based. Also, several processes were automated including the hiring of new agents, tracking customer follow-up phone calls by agents, and collecting “Voice of Customer” feedback from customers. Metrics were created for each of these processes (such as late call-backs), which were then added to management dashboards.

By actively using these new data analysis tools and work flow features, EIC has reduced productivity variation by 16% to its lowest level in 13 months, despite a continuing influx of new hires. It has gained greater insight into its processes, notably improving its sensitivity to the concerns of its customers and has used this knowledge to reduce justified customer complaints a consistent 50% year over year since 2001.

[From Connection Magazine December 2005]

Case Study: SAP Making Change to VoIP

By Suzanne Crow

SAP AG, the world’s leading provider of business software solutions, aims to migrate its global TDM voice communications to an IP-based (Internet Protocol based) platform in a practical, stepwise manner. Just as its own software offerings enable greater collaboration, SAP wants the same for its employees–60 percent of whom are either mobile or working remotely.

In addition, its IT group wanted to cut the company’s trunking costs, ease the administrative burden of its TDM network, and realize greater productivity in helpdesk/support center pilots of IP telephony. For the latter, it has deployed the HiPath ProCenter Advanced contact center application and optiPoint IP telephones. SAP has already realized a 50 percent reduction in its inter-site toll charges using IP trunking plus a 50 percent cut in administrative overhead with the HiPath platform’s centralized, simplified administration.

The Challenge: Boost Collaboration and Productivity Across a Mobile Workforce While Saving Costs and Overhead

SAP employs over 30,000 people in more than 50 countries. As a software company whose products provide the operating backbones for medium-to-large enterprises worldwide, its business is necessarily both knowledge-intensive and consultative. At the same time, SAP needs to be highly competitive and cost-conscious. As such, collaboration and productivity among employees are critical success factors. However, with 60 percent of its employees being mobile or remote workers, delivering on those factors can be a challenge.

SAP saw the IP platform as a way to help employees be “connected anywhere they are,” said Patrick Montone, a system implementation specialist for SAP’s Enterprise Telecom Services group. “Whereas TDM’s circuit-switched, connection-orientation makes it more difficult for us to help keep our remote and mobile employees tied into the business, IP is connectionless and gives us a lot more options today as well as opportunities for deploying future IP-enabled applications.”

The Solution: Hybrid TDM-IP Architecture

The company works in three network environments: TDM circuit-switched, IP-packet, and a mixed environment using both technologies. Of the other IP-based platforms evaluated, Montone said the hybrid TDM-IP architecture of the Siemens HiPath Real-Time IP System offered SAP a better choice due to its simplified configuration and management, superior toolset, and overall clarity of its future development roadmap.

With the HiPath platform, they could gain a good measure of cost-savings and centralized management productivity gains from its IP capabilities. At the same time, they could continue using TDM until they are ready to migrate its user base in a prudent, carefully orchestrated manner to minimize any risk of communication failures and business interruptions.

For SAP employees’ desktop devices, SAP

The Results: Fifty Percent Reduction in Toll Charges, Plus a 33% Gain in Administrator Productivity

Montone explained that because SAP’s global migration to IP is in its early stages and will take several years to complete, the company has only begun to deploy the many IP-enabled features of the HiPath system and the HiPath Xpressions and HiPath ProCenter Advanced applications. Nonetheless, he noted impressive gains already. One area that has saved SAP money is the elimination of toll-charges among its U.S. sites and between those and its global headquarters in Walldorf, Germany. “We’ve been able to cut our toll-charges by 50 percent right off the bat,” Montone said.

In administration of SAP’s U.S. telecommunications services, Montone estimates his team has already experienced a 33% gain in productivity time that has allowed them to refocus their energies and deliver on other important projects. “The HiPath Manager administrative toolset lets us centrally manage all the endpoints served by HiPath systems located in five different U.S. locations through a Web interface over our intranet,” he said.

“We are extremely satisfied with the gains we’ve already realized with the Siemens solutions,” Montone said. “Our game plan is to migrate to all-IP when we’re ready to do so and the HiPath platform and applications clearly give us the flexibility and plenty of options to go at our own pace. What’s great is knowing we have many more capabilities yet to exploit and have received so many benefits already.”

Suzanne Crow is Director of Strategic Communications at Siemens Communications, Inc.

[From Connection Magazine June 2005]

Case Study: On Net Communications Outsourcer Ditches Spreadsheets for Workforce Management Software

By Drew Robb

On Net Communications is a busy outsource call center located within the tranquil setting of Weardale in northeast England. Launched in January of 2004, it carries out work for various organizations but specializes in the local government and education sectors. The workload is currently split 60% outbound and 40% inbound.

This expanding company currently has 20 agents, nine full-time staff and 11 part timers. It utilizes advanced multi-media technology and offers a full range of customer contact management services.

Until recently, On Net Communications utilized standard spreadsheet programs to manage its internal operations.  “Administrative staff had to manually keep track of agent activity, campaign planning, and call volume trends,” said Maureen Stanton, Managing Director of On Net Communications. “This was time consuming and inefficient – amounting to twenty or more hours every week.”

Planning and managing multiple campaigns at once was a real problem using On Net’s old-fashioned system. As a result, planning was done on a somewhat haphazard basis. It was purely driven by estimates.

As an outsourcer, On Net Communications recognized the need for a program to help plan and monitor numerous campaigns at the same time. It selected Monet by Left Bank Solutions, a Workforce Management System for small and mid-sized contact centers. The results were immediate. “In terms of administration, we have reduced hours spent on campaigns from 20 hours per week down to five,” said Stanton. “It automates the process of forecasting call volumes which has greatly improved service levels.”

Multi-Media Call Centers: Studies show that it is inefficient to permit agents to respond to emails or faxes between calls. However, the most efficient call centers can smoothly incorporate non-call activity into the daily call center schedule. As a result, their agents are more productive and the work environment is less stressful.

Monet’s multi-media capability allows blended contact centers such as On Net to schedule non-call related activity. This capability, also known as “banding,” permits call center managers to schedule email, fax, and other non-call traffic during off-peak periods. Additional functionality allows agents to have blended schedules based by day of the week, skills sets available and maximum/minimum time slot objectives.

For example, at On Net, 90% of staff time is devoted to telephone, 8% to email, and 2% to fax. Due to interest expressed by clients, short message service (SMS) or text messaging is also being introduced. “We expect the percentage of SMS to grow rapidly this year,” said Stanton. “The multi-media functionality of the [Monet] software has enabled us to offer our customers sophisticated multi-channel call center capabilities.”

Affordable Optimization: “The great thing about the software is that it is an affordable way for us to offer services that rival those of the largest contact centers,” concludes Stanton. “In addition, it has enabled us effectively manage staffing schedules which in turn has made it easy to predict campaign costs.”

What difference has this made to the bottom line? On Net reports an immediate return on investment. “The Monet Workforce Management System reduced our center costs in a matter of days and you can simply use the system to produce center budgets by running a costing of all forecasted agent shifts and agent schedules,” said Stanton. “This has increased our profitability by 20% since the beginning of the year.”

Drew Robb, a freelance writer based in Southern California, specializes in technology and engineering issues.

[From Connection Magazine May 2005]

Building Entrepreneurial Enterprises: Lessons from AT&T and Enron

By Dr. Dean Robb

More than ever before, sustaining success in today’s marketplace demands that every company build capability for sustainable entrepreneurship. Despite that demand, this capability seems to be extremely elusive. Why?

When studied from the right perspective, some real lessons can be gained from looking into the failures of AT&T and Enron. Enron saw itself as an entrepreneurial enterprise, but it collapsed. AT&T is a very old, bureaucratic company that has been struggling, with little success, to become more entrepreneurial ever since divestiture of its local operating companies in 1984.

The Belonging/Diversity Model

Each company illustrates a very different kind of problem. However, both failures can be understood using a simple ‘model’ of societies and organizations developed by anthropologists and sociologists. The model also provides some critical insights into how to create sustainable entrepreneurial enterprises. The model is based on: 1) the degree to which members of a society or organization have a sense of group belonging and are interconnected; and 2) the degree of diversity, individuality, and expression that’s acceptable in that society.

CM Nov 2004 - #4

The upper-left zone describes societies and organizations with a high level of group belonging, but a low tolerance for internal diversity, individuality, or expressive freedom. Such groups always form into hierarchies with centralized power and control, for the purpose of perpetuating an embedded tradition and protecting the status quo. In such organizations, every action and expression must be considered carefully – they must be “in synch” with prevailing expectations and the culture. There is little room for independent action or spontaneous expression.

Such organizations operate well in stable or slowly changing environments, but operate poorly in dynamically changing environments. Moreover, it is in their very nature to stifle the entrepreneurial spirit – they can’t help themselves! Entrepreneurship requires freedom to explore, experiment, and openly express. It requires internal diversity as a source of learning, innovation, and growth. It requires ongoing questioning of traditions, strategies, values, and everything else. All of these go deeply against the grain of this kind of organization.

This zone describes AT&T to a tee. When divestiture and the seeds of deregulation began in 1984, AT&T had a long history, deeply embedded traditions, a steeply hierarchical, bureaucratic organization, and a rigid monoculture. Overcoming this legacy would have required revolutionary, charismatic, and powerful leadership with a genuinely new vision and the power to carry it out, someone like Jack Welch. Instead, AT&T chose Bob Allen, a caretaker/manager type, a true son of the tradition, who lacked real leadership skills, a compelling vision, or any sense of innovation. Allen led AT&T down the wrong path for quite a long time and eventually into a difficult situation, structurally. They’ve been stuck there ever since.

Enron’s story is different because it fits more into the lower-right zone – the complete opposite of AT&T. In fact, our whole economy fits into this zone right now. Here, societies and organizations are characterized by exaggerated individualism, low social cohesion, unpredictable changes in markets, and constant organizational restructuring, downsizing, and closings. The rules change constantly. Since there is low group belonging, people are thrown back on their own individual wits and resources. Operating in this environment is somewhat like living in a chaotic jungle or swimming in a pack of sharks.

This zone breeds charismatic personalities, hucksters, and companies that play opportunistic, short-term business games with the environment. These individuals and companies manipulate and exploit emerging, short-term structural or market discontinuities to their own advantage. The model is one of “thriving on chaos” or “day trading” on a huge scale. Enron is a case in point. Enron played this game and played it well, for a while.

But Enron collapsed. Its business practices practically guaranteed it. Continuously finding and successfully exploiting short-term discontinuities and opportunities is extraordinarily difficult to sustain over any significant period of time. This “business model” is fertile ground for the growth of unethical financial and accounting games necessary to paper over the inevitable misreading of constantly changing environmental “rules.” If a company manages to gain a series of big wins, hubris can easily take root and get out of control, like a gambler who has a string of big wins and begins to think that he or she can’t lose. Inevitably, they do lose, however, and if they bet the farm, they go down the tubes. Enron is a quintessential example of this phenomenon.

The Chaos Myth: “Thriving on chaos” is a myth. Can it be done for a short time? Yes, absolutely. Can it yield sustainable business growth over the long-term? The odds are extremely poor.

In changing times, the most effective strategy for sustainable entrepreneurship is to move into the upper-right corner of the model by building enterprises that are highly inclusive and embrace high levels of diversity, individuality, and expression. This zone is “primed” for high levels of organizational experimentation, learning, creativity, innovation, change, and growth. It breeds highly innovative, entrepreneurial organizations and enterprises that can grow relatively rapidly, but not chaotically. Such enterprises are capable of creating and recreating, internal order within a turbulent external environment. It is a zone of rapid evolution, not revolution or chaos.

Here are two reasons why. The first is that embracing internal diversity and individuality overcomes the conformity and perpetuation of the status quo endemic to traditional bureaucracies. The other reason is more subtle: one of Enron’s key problems is that its internal, social environment mirrored the “pool of sharks” dynamic of the external environment. Just like the external market, Enron’s internal world was one of individualistic opportunism and exploitation. This is a huge mistake. When the external environment is fragmented, the internal social world of a sustainable entrepreneurial enterprise should be coordinated and act with an organic focused unity. That requires a high sense of internal belonging, interconnectedness, and coherence.

Our ingrained belief is that it’s impossible or unrealistic to build organizations with both high belonging and high diversity. This belief system devastates all possibilities for creating sustainable growth in turbulent times. It’s also a defense mechanism. The truth is that it is possible to build highly inclusive/diverse workplaces. If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize that the real problem is that many of us simply are not willing to make the transformational changes needed to do it. We want to hang on to our old ways, but get different results; that is a working definition of insanity! If we can get past our resistance, the model provides insight into the path forward.

Enterprises in the “Entrepreneurial Zone” have low differentials in power and status between the “top” and the “bottom” of the organization. In other words, they are relatively flat. Traditional command-and-control practices are replaced by an emerging “partnership” model based on adult-to-adult (peer) relationships.

Traditionally, organizational alignment is gained through subtle (or not so subtle), coercive cultural pressures and through extrinsic, social rewards like power and status. The goal is behavioral compliance. These methods fit firmly into the “AT&T zone,” and they don’t work anymore. In entrepreneurial enterprises, alignment is gained by building individual-level, authentic commitment. Each enterprise member is managed uniquely by tapping into individual, intrinsic motivations and strengths, and leveraging those for maximum enterprise advantage. As opposed to the bureaucratic “cog in the machine” model, employees feel – and act – like valued enterprise members.

The entrepreneurial spirit is “activated” by constructively harnessing internal variety and differences as the raw fuel for continuous experimentation, innovation, learning, and growth. We instinctively resist this because allowing internal differences to surface can initially seem like a descent into chaos. However, while repressing differences might feel comfortable and “safe,” it is actually a dangerous strategy in a changing world. It yields only stagnation, loss of innovation, and potential extinction.

The Solution: On the other side of perceived chaos is a vibrant, dynamic, and diverse community of employees, each of whom is valued as a unique individual and encouraged to contribute and create. To get there, new leadership and management practices are required that foster safety, trust, honesty, integrity, accountability, mutuality, and partnering.

This calls for a more sophisticated level of leadership and management competency, wisdom, and maturity. This is the real reason why creating diverse, inclusive enterprises is resisted. It’s hard work, and it falls outside of the traditional business leadership “comfort zone.” It calls upon our leaders to significantly “ratchet up” their level of interpersonal, relational maturity. Knowing the “business side” alone is insufficient to build sustainable enterprise entrepreneurship. The key to a future of sustainable growth lies in combining business acumen with community-building skills.

Dr. Dean Robb is President of The Resilience Group, helping business leaders build high- performing, innovative, entrepreneurial enterprises. He can be reached at 908-757-4721.

[From Connection Magazine November 2004]

Case Study: Workforce Optimization Increases Profitability by 20 Percent

By Drew Robb

Alert Communications of South Pasadena, CA, found it a constant challenge to accurately predict call volumes and agent requirements. As a result, it struggled to balance the estimation of adequate staffing levels with profitability. “Labor costs accounted for as much as 60 percent of our revenue,” said Steve Covarrubias, a staff analyst at Alert Communications.

Alert Communications is no newcomer to the call center industry. It opened its first call center in Los Angeles as far back as 1949. By the 1950s, it had expanded to 19 facilities across California. Today, Alert Communications is an integrated eCRM and direct marketing outsourcing company with a total capacity of over 500 seats. It offers call center services both in the U.S. and offshore and has been ranked in the Top 50 Outsourced Call Centers for the last several years.

Alert Communications handles about 65,000 calls per month, rising to over 100,000 per month during the holiday season. Its client list includes SBC Directory Sales; Lego, USA Inc.; and Disney American Teachers Award. With such a high call volume to address and a wide range of demanding clients to satisfy, forecasting has become a key aspect of Alert’s operations.

“It is vital for us to maintain an optimal workforce so we can fully service the many clients that look to us to address their outsourcing needs,” said Covarrubias. “Failure to effectively schedule our workforce would dramatically reduce the level of service we can provide.”

Initially, the company adopted a Windows-based workforce management solution. Covarrubias liked the way the software integrated the important aspects of forecasting and scheduling in one program. He felt that, overall, it introduced tools and capabilities that changed the company’s standards in terms of workforce management. “It was a multi-skill set staffing/scheduling technology that helped us to become more effective,” said Covarrubias. “However, we never were fully satisfied with how it predicted call volumes or agent requirements.”

He explains that Alert never managed to successfully configure the various forecasting metrics. Consistent failures in analysis after analysis drove the company to rely on its own determinations on call volumes and the corresponding staffing levels.

Even the most veteran call center managers and analysts can be caught flat-footed by surges in call volume or unsuspected seasonal variations. It takes sophisticated forecasting and scheduling software to remote the guesswork. Alert Communications, therefore, decided to evaluate the Monet Workforce Management System by Left Bank Solutions, a provider of workforce optimization solutions for small and mid-sized contact centers.

“What drove us to try it was the array of forecasting capabilities. The degree of accuracy greatly exceeded our expectations,” said Covarrubias. “We’ve been able to target and maintain unrelenting accuracy when forecasting call volumes. As a result, we’ve better optimized the staffing and scheduling of our agents.”

“Since adopting Monet, we have been able to ‘bridge the gap’ by being able to output no-nonsense, highly accurate information that all aspects of our call center operations can use to make better, sound decisions,” said Covarrubias.

In the past when the company estimated labor costs, it would take several weeks before management could determine if the right decision had been made. Through utilization of the ‘what-if’ scenarios built into the software, Alert Communications can now rapidly model a series of potential changes to measure their project outcome on revenue and service levels. The results have been spectacular.

Whereas labor costs used to account for as much as 60 percent of revenue, the percentage has been reduced to 40 percent. According to Covarrubias, this equates to monthly savings of over $11,500 and a payback period of only seven weeks.

Drew Robb, a freelance writer, specializes in technology and engineering issues.

[From Connection Magazine October 2004]

Answering the Call for Hurricane Charley

By Carin Shulusky

Aggie Allbright wasn’t thinking of a hurricane when she opened her security and answering service business in 1979, but Hurricane Charley may have given them their finest moments. Aggie owns Port Charlotte Answering Service, a four-seat telemessaging call center and its parent, Security Alarm Corporation, in a sleepy Florida harbor town. It was a quiet town until Hurricane Charley put them on the map.

Hurricane Charley was predicted to land near Tampa; Port Charlotte was expected to be on the edge of the storm. Much of the Tampa area was evacuated, but not the area to the south, including Port Charlotte. Charley was also projected to hit land as a category two hurricane. When it hit Port Charlotte, Charley was a category four hurricane.

“We got to work at 7:30 AM on Friday, August 13th,” said Aggie. “We were told the hurricane was coming up the Gulf, but we didn’t know exactly where it would land. We had three operators, one manager, and myself in our safe room.”

Two years ago, Aggie built a new office, including a 28′ x 20′ safe room of solid concrete. The room was built to withstand 170 mile-per-hour winds. The safe room houses their call center, a bathroom, a computer room, and a small office. They have another small concrete building that holds their diesel-powered backup generator.

“By 2:00 PM, the Red Cross, one of our clients, sent out an emergency message that everyone who hadn’t left better hunker down.” “So we brought some families in the room with us and waited for it to hit, and boy did it hit. At 4:30 PM, we were taking turns watching a tornado through the little window.”

“We just kept answering call after call, after call. Many desperate, anguished calls came from people worried about their loved ones. Some of the calls were heart wrenching. Many were worried about elderly parents, begging someone to help them get out. But we couldn’t even get out to check on our own family members. The Red Cross even evacuated and we had to handle their calls.”

The electricity went out at 4:30 PM when the hurricane hit, but their emergency generator kicked in and they never lost a beat answering calls. When one agent got tired or overwhelmed with the desperation of the calls, someone else took over. Aggie has owned the business for 25 years but on that day, she took calls for the first time in a very long while. “We handled nearly 1,800 calls on that day. Our normal rate is around 1,100 calls,” she recalled. Most of the Port Charlotte Answering Service staff didn’t even know if their loved ones were okay, but they kept taking calls until 1:00 AM, when the phone lines went out.

Finally, with the phone lines out, it was time to leave their room and find their families. Aggie’s usual seven-minute drive home took her 30 minutes. There were so many trees on the road it was difficult for her to find her way home. “The next morning driving to work, I saw a friend sitting on top of the pile of rubble that had been his business for 25 years. All we could do was cry,” she said.

Two of Port Charlotte Answering Service’s employees lost their homes, seven had serious roof damage, and two had damage to their cars. Fortunately, none of their employees or their families were hurt in the storm. Most employees had no electricity in their homes for seven to 12 days.

“Although we had no electricity, no air conditioning, or hot water, our staff still came to work, even in the 100+ degree weather,” said Aggie.

“I am very pleased with our Telescan call processing system, too,” said Aggie. “Through all this, it continued to operate normally. We never lost a single beat,” she added. “I’m glad we had a system so easy to learn, because I had to instantly become an operator during the hurricane and it was a breeze to learn.”

Port Charlotte Answering Service will be dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane for some time to come. On their first day back to 100% service, they handled over 1,800 calls. Many of their clients lost their buildings, so they are depending more than ever on their answering service to keep them in business. Many of Port Charlotte Answering Service’s 190 clients are doctors. With their buildings gone, we are now taking their emergency calls 24/7 instead of the usual after hours. But we know things will get back to normal someday. We just have to hang in there until then,” said Aggie.

If you would like to help with the relief efforts in Florida, please contact:

Charlotte County Chapter of American Red Cross,
Hurricane Charley
1300-D Enterprise Drive
Port Charlotte, FL 33953

[From Connection Magazine October 2004]

VoIP Case Study: An Untapped Resource for Businesses

By Pat Traynor

If you look in any business magazine or newspaper these days, it’s hard to turn more than a couple pages without seeing an article about the hottest new technology: Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP as it is called by those in the technical know. VoIP is a relatively simple technology. It converts sound into packets of data that travel across the Internet or a private network (just like an email) and then reassembles them at their destination into their original form. In a conventional phone call, sound is converted into electronic signals that travel along a dedicated circuit through an elaborate network of switches.

While VoIP is the latest buzz technology (this week at least!), what most people don’t know is that it has been used in the business world for quite a while. Watched almost exclusively by CIOs and their IT organizations, the technology quietly took hold a few years ago and has made its way into almost every country, every industry, and every size business.

You may not have been paying attention to it, but VoIP has already helped shape business models and lower operating costs in all sizes of business. This is despite the economic environment that has surrounded VoIP’s existence – a bear economy that has brought hundreds of companies to their knees.

Detractors have criticized the technology for a number of reasons including reliability, sound quality, and the cost of implementation. However, the technology continues to improve and now offers sound quality and reliability on par with traditional phone service. The savings that VoIP provides in the long-term are undeniable and often, this savings easily offsets the cost of implementation.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of VoIP is that it allows companies to consolidate technology. Combining voice, data, fax, and video traffic into a single network reduces costs

by lowering the costs of hardware, software, and maintenance.

If you closely examine the economics of VoIP and the current trends, it becomes obvious that the first adopters will be startup companies, companies with voluminous long-distance calling expenses, and companies already planning to significantly upgrade or rebuild their network. It’s an investment in the future of the business.

A Success Story: To support this example, look at Ryla Teleservices, a market leader in outsourced customer contact, data verification, and validation services for business-to-business interactions. Almost three years ago, Mark Wilson, an entrepreneur and teleservices industry veteran, created Ryla Teleservices in Woodstock, GA. Ryla’s management team decided to implement a VoIP solution from AT&T during the initial construction of their network. Since Ryla’s business revolves around telephone data collection, a VoIP solution made financial sense. Wilson and his management team realized that VoIP would lower their long-distance and network maintenance costs as well as offer the flexibility to implement advanced technical features as the business grew.

Wilson believes that VoIP has contributed significantly to the success of his business. Ryla now employs more than 200 people and has produced double-digit revenue growth year upon year since its creation.

“The AT&T Managed Internet Service VoIP solution has clearly proven its value to our company. The service is reliable and the cost benefits are almost immeasurable. It was one of the first major decisions we made when starting up in 2002 and we’re very pleased,” says Wilson.

VoIP has allowed Ryla to provide more services, such as Web chat and email response management, without any additional telecom expenses. “This has had a positive effect on our profitability and gives us an edge over outsource call centers who aren’t using VoIP,” Wilson says. “As the business continues to grow, VoIP will provide the flexibility to implement more advanced systems to meet changing business demands.”

Ryla’s Director of Business Intelligence, Ashok Vairavan, maintains that the cost-savings and fixed-pricing model afforded by VoIP solutions are a key benefit to Ryla.  The company’s customer service agents handle millions of inbound and outbound interactions every year.

“A traditional public-switched telephone system would have cost us significantly more than what we’re paying for VoIP service,” stated Vairavan. “And a fixed monthly rate for an allocated amount of minutes of service, a typical feature of VoIP plans, allows us to effectively predict our telecom expenses each month, which is critical for a multi-channel contact center like Ryla.”

Ryla first contacted AT&T in March of 2002 and signed on for the Managed Internet Service (MIS) solution, which includes remote management of voice and Internet traffic. An AT&T engineer assigned to the Ryla project helped determine system and equipment requirements prior to system implementation. Once that was complete, AT&T remotely configured the VoIP lines and routers and began monitoring the service.  Since Ryla’s VoIP solution runs almost entirely on AT&T’s intelligent network, problems can be identified and solved before Ryla is even aware they exist.

“I sleep well at night knowing that, with AT&T’s VoIP solution, the service is always on and is being watched closely by experts,” says Leo Dashevskiy, Ryla’s Director of Information Technology. “The system is completely maintenance free to us, so we have more time to focus on our core capabilities. We don’t have to worry about software upgrades, configuration changes, and compatibility issues – it’s all done for us by AT&T.”

The Future of Telephony: Ryla is an excellent example of how an early adopter of VoIP is using the technology to gain a competitive edge. Yet, it is important to realize that VoIP won’t replace traditional phone systems overnight. After all, nearly one million rotary phones are still in use in the United States, even though Touch Tone phones were introduced nearly forty years ago.

The lesson for companies is that given the right situation, VoIP can dramatically alter operations and even business models. VoIP can assist large and mid-size businesses to lower costs and, more importantly, give smaller businesses the critical competitive edge they need to play ball with the big boys.

As VoIP flourishes, both businesses and consumers alike will harness the advanced capabilities that the technology offers. These capabilities extend far beyond anything now available through traditional phone service.

Because VoIP is available through the Internet, users enjoy two evolutionary advances in telephony. Computer and phone systems will become ubiquitously connected resulting in capabilities never before imagined and calls will be routed anywhere at any time.

Since calls can easily be routed to any Internet connection with a broadband connection, people can take their VoIP phone number anywhere they go. Whether they’re in a conference room or hotel room, working from a remote site or using a wireless phone, phone calls will reach them.

Of course, some people might not want to be reached wherever they go! When users want to sit down for a relaxing dinner with their family or powernap before a big meeting, they can simply route their calls directly to voicemail with the click of a button.

Because VoIP is easily integrated with a computer, users can access call logs capable of detailing incoming and outgoing calls by date, time and duration, as well as other criteria. Think of the convenience and power that this feature will offer to attorneys, call centers, and dozens of other professions that spend significant parts of their day using the phone. Also, think of the ability to access all email, voicemail, and fax messages from a single mailbox — whether you are calling to listen to emails or checking your computer for voicemails.

Connecting phone calls over the Internet will inevitably lead to the convergence of voice communication with all other types of communication platforms including email, instant messaging and video conferencing to name a few. How companies customize that technology to fit the needs of their business will be the most fascinating part of the VoIP revolution.

Businesses, and especially call centers, will begin adopting VoIP at an increasing pace, consumers will follow, and soon VoIP telephony will become the standard in communications.

VoIP offers unlimited possibilities. Think of what it can do for you.

Pat Traynor leads AT&T’s VoIP Services Acceleration, Professional Services, and Strategic Partnership. She is charged with advancing AT&T’s new integration services sales and driving revenue growth jointly with AT&T’s partners and agents. Traynor previously led AT&T’s hosting business to market success and was key to AT&T’s hosting services portfolio depth, global expansion and top industry ranking and recognition.

[From Connection MagazineJune 2004]

PeopleSoft Case Study: The Quest for Process Consistency

By Michael Holbrook

Company: PeopleSoft, Inc. is a leading provider of collaborative enterprise software. PeopleSoft Pure Internet Architecture enables organizations to reduce costs and increase productivity through collaboration with their customers, suppliers, and employees. Applications from PeopleSoft include Customer Relationship Management, Enterprise Service Automation, Supply Chain Management, Human Resources Management, Financials, and Enterprise Performance Management. More than 5,000 organizations in 140 countries run on PeopleSoft software. PeopleSoft maintains a global support organization with over 400 support personnel located around the world.

The Challenge: PeopleSoft has continued to expand its product lines to provide integrated customer solutions. As new products have been added, it became apparent that while the service delivery experience was good, it often varied across product groups. As a result, the company determined that enhanced support processes were needed to ensure a more consistent service experience. “Our goal was to make sure customers received a similar, high quality service experience across the growing number of product lines we support,” said Dave Hare, Vice President of Product Support Services for PeopleSoft.

Consistency across product lines becomes increasingly important as more and more customers use the integrated PeopleSoft product suites. Additionally, many PeopleSoft customers are global companies and it is critical to ensure that service quality is also consistent across geographic regions. This is central to PeopleSoft’s goal of providing superior service to all of its customers.

The Solution: PeopleSoft began by researching benchmarking and certification programs to determine which of its support processes were industry best practices and which could be improved upon. While the company had obtained ISO 9000 Series certification for its Global Support Center (GSC) operation, it was clear that the company would benefit from an additional focus on best practices. The GSC management team became aware of the Support Center Practices (SCP) Certification program through the SCP involvement of the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) product line, which resulted in significant improvements within the CRM support operation.

Due to PeopleSoft’s current successes with SCP and its ongoing partnership with Service & Support Professionals Association (SSPA), co-creators of the SCP Certification program along with 40 of its member companies and Service Strategies Corporation, PeopleSoft was confident that the SCP program could assist in providing the framework it was looking for to drive consistency throughout its GSC operation. PeopleSoft’s review of its practices revealed that the SCP program quantifies the effectiveness of customer support, establishes a foundation to build on existing processes, and provides a clear focus on measurable results. In addition, comprehensive annual audits would help to ensure that PeopleSoft continued to meet the requirements of over one hundred business elements defined in the program. “PeopleSoft has shown a strong commitment to service quality and consistency by adopting SCP across its global support organization and targeting certification for all of its support centers worldwide,” said Greg Coleman, Vice President of Certification for Service Strategies Corporation, the internationally recognized firm responsible for administering the SCP program and conducting on-site audits.

SCP has given PeopleSoft an industry accepted resource for identifying best practices. “We are now better equipped to develop best practices by using the certification criteria as a roadmap,” states Dave Hare. “The SCP program enforces and reinforces the consistency we are striving for. Customers are now getting a more consistent service experience because of our common processes across multi-product lines.”

The Future: “Our goal is to complete the certification process for our entire Global Support Center,” said Dave Hare. Currently, the company has portions of the organization certified in North and South America as well as Europe.

By preparing for initial certification for the balance of the GSC organization, then maintaining a focus on consistency through annual re-certification, PeopleSoft will be continually monitoring and re-evaluating its service operations. “When we make one customer happier, or one support analyst more productive, we see our SCP certification investment returned many times over.”

[From Connection MagazineJune 2004]

Sitel Improves Recruiting and Retention

By Melissa Prusher

Many companies select an outsourcing partner for their call center needs so that they may better focus on their core businesses. Sitel, a global provider of customer contact center services, prides itself on enabling companies to be more effective and efficient by choosing to outsource their call center functions.

As a global service provider, Sitel operates call centers in more than 20 countries in the world. With 11,000 employees in North America and 24,000 worldwide, consistency in the quality of their employees and customer service practitioners is imperative. One challenge faced by their human resources department was improving the effectiveness and efficiency of their recruiting and retention efforts.

“We have such a large volume of applicants and we wanted to cut down on the time it takes to screen them,” said Andie Gordman, Director of Human Resources for the financial services and consumer business units for Sitel North America. “We also had several assessment solutions. Each of our facilities had their own process and we wanted a standard process.”

Sitel turned to KenexaÒ to better manage their recruiting and to standardize the process across multiple facilities. At the same time, the Kenexa’s solutions enabled them to find comparable employees at their different locations – something important to clients who utilize several locations for their call center needs.

“Prior to our partnership with Kenexa, we had to interview every applicant to determine whether they were qualified or not,” explained Gordman. “The way it works now is every applicant comes into the contact center, sits down at a computer and takes several of Kenexa’s tests.”

One such test evaluates personality, experience, thinking ability, and problem solving to provide accurate performance predictions. Such an assessment tool improves retention by selecting candidates best suited to the requirements of the job.

“We have three versions of the tests to evaluate customer service skills, sales skills, and technical support skills,” added Gordman. “The test shows us if a person is a good fit based on what a successful employee profile looks like. Once they pass the first assessment, we use several skills-based assessments so we can test for computer skills, typing, grammar, and spelling.”

The nature of a global call center can require rapidly increasing the number of customer service professionals, possibly by the hundreds, and managing the overall process can be overwhelming. By choosing to utilize assessment tools, Sitel was able to reduce the time it took to screen and select applicants. At the same time, a rapid ramp-up provided the proof that assessment tools are a reliable indicator of an individual’s performance in the company.

“It’s proven that applicants who score higher are better performers,” confirmed Gordman. “We’ve gone through periods of time when we needed to quickly increase our employee numbers and decided to hire people who didn’t score as well on the assessments. We found that they didn’t work out as well as employees who scored higher.

Gordman firmly believes in using an assessment partner and appreciates having a technology solution to narrow down initial candidates. In addition to reducing manpower time scheduling and conducting in-person interviews, she also appreciates the synergy and consistency in the types of applicants they were seeing.

“If I had to pick the key benefit that is making the biggest difference for my company it would be the efficiency of the system,” she said. “One of our major goals is to provide high quality services to our clients in multiple locations. Because our human resources staff is using one tool, regardless of where they are, we are providing consistent types of employees to our clients.”

Gordman acknowledges that the questions asked and information gathered from the Kenexa assessments delivers better candidates and has helped them “define an employee’s strengths and where they’d be a good fit in the organization.”

Kenexa tests are a hosted ASP solution with 100 percent Web-based architecture. The software is designed to run over a low-bandwidth connection for easy access via conventional modem or a corporate Internet connection. Users indicate that it is easy to implement, efficient in managing the recruitment process, and effective in predicting which applicants would best fit in the organization.

“The reason to partner with Kenexa is the definite impact on the quality of the person you can hire,” concluded Gordman.

Melissa Prusher is a freelance writer specializing in workforce technologies. Sitel is a global provider of outsourced customer service interaction services. Kenexa is a provider of software and services for employee hiring and retention.

[From Connection MagazineMarch 2004]