Tuesday, July 31, 2007

VoIP telecom provider implements Virtual Observer

We recently completed an implementation for a Cisco VoIP service provider. The company handles approximately 70,000 calls a day.

They can now provide call recording capabilities, evaluation capabilities, and possibly screen capture capabilities to their portfolio of Cisco VoIP customers.

The two days of training went well, going over all of the included features and also discussing how VO can be presented to their customer base.

They were very excited with Virtual Observer's scalability.

Virtual Observer is a perfect recording option for hosted telecom service providers. The return on investment with VO is already best in the industry, but it becomes exponentially greater when you consider our value added features can be extended to your customer base.

Friday, July 27, 2007

CSI seeks to add new members to technology sales team

Our call center solutions firm is growing and we are looking for some dynamic individuals who will not only pound the pavement for our solutions but who will add to our team chemistry.

The right candidate should have a high comfort level with technology and be proficient in conveying value in a solution selling environment.

This person has to WANT to be our team's MVP. Candidates who arew seeking long term stability and consistent earnings growth will be very pleased with their decision to apply. Must also be well organized and process-driven. For more information about this position, please visit our career center.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Quicklist of tips for call center agents

* Maintain a positive, pleasant tone, but if you are over-the-top cheery, a caller who is disgruntled may be annoyed by your vibe.

* Ask your call center supervisors for training materials you can review during any down time. They will appreciate the initiative.

* Keep track of your own stats. # of calls handled/made, # of saves/upgrades, # cancellations, # of customers helped, # of times you needed help, etc...give yourself a reward when you break weekly records. Perhaps a Starbucks Frappucino?

* Make yourself available as a "go-to" person in your center for other agents, especially new ones, who are looking for help. Don't obnoxiously offer advice when they don't ask for it, but treat each co-worker as if they were a valued customer.

* If your center hasn't yet adopted any of the available call center technologies (quality monitoring, crm, workforce management) to improve performance, offer it as a suggestion to your immediate supervisor. Don't go over their head or they'll think you're gunning for their job.

* If you're going to browse the internet during your downtime, make sure it's industry-related, such as searching for "call center benchmarking studies" on Google.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More "Art of War" applied to the call center

This is the second in a series where we examine "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu, the oldest strategy book in the world, containing many lessons which can be reimagined for the contact center.

Today, let's examine rule # 12:

"12. Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison."

Here we can perceive that using a comparitive analysis of military conditions would be similar to the calibration of contact center benchmarks. Calibration is used in many world class call centers in order to evaluate the evaluators. Calibration can be used to identify scoring trends which may be unusual or anomalies. Adjustments can then be made to the evaluation process.

The call center translation for #14:

"Use benchmarks and calibration in order to improve your evaluation processes"

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What phone systems do most of our call recording prospects have?

In the last few months, we've been getting a lot of Nortel inquiries. We're not sure why we're seeing this more frequently - but we are compatible with many different models of Nortel, so it's a good fit.

Our bread and butter compatibility has always been with Avaya phone systems - analog, digital and VoIP. We've got some tremendous success stories recently:

- Harry & David Avaya Success Story
- Results-Tel Avaya Success Story
- Crutchfield Electronics Avaya Success Story
- DayTimers Avaya Success Story

We're developing a good reputable customer base of Cisco and 3com as well. We've published a 3com success story you can check out.

We also have a good history working with Siemens and Mitel.

There are a ton of good references for each model phone systems, which our sales team will be glad to share within our sales process.

As many companies are moving to VoIP or considering switching to VoIP in the near future, in most scenarios, the transition to VoIP call recording can be a seamless one. As demands for specific models of newer phone systems increase, our labs will be sure to be testing and adding them to the ranks of our compatibility list.

Monday, July 23, 2007

6 Pownce invitations to give out

This isn't really call center-related, but I thought it was news worthy enough to post. Pownce is a new turbo-IM/forum tool that alerts you to news from your friends in social networks. For example, if everyone in your LinkedIn contact list used Pownce to make announcements, change status, or to let people know where they were, you would automatically be pinged with the messgae. Like Twitter, the thought is you'll use these tools as kind of a hyper-blog, where you update it with every single activity.

Another example would be if all of your call center agents had Pownce, and they posted every time they finished a call, and they were all in your Pownce network, you could be notified with each change in status.

It's a strecth to see this as a business implementation, but it's still kind of a cool technology. Entirely web-based, you need to be invited to use it. I have six invitations, so comment below and I'll send you one if available.

Friday, July 20, 2007

New Call Center Openings this week

XM Radio to Open New Call Center in the Lonestar State
El Paso, Texas is the site where XM will open their eighth call center by November. The facility will be comprised of approximately three hundred new employees that will take calls from XM subscribers and auto dealerships incorporating the radios in cars. The center is run by GC Services in Houston.

Debt-Collection Agency Incoporates Center in Jacksonville
The Enhanced Recovery Corporation has its eyes fixated on opening a new call center in Ware County early 2008. The organization, founded in 1999, recovers unpaid debts for those with credit cards, teleco. firms, and retailers. Initially, ERC plans on hiring 150 employees, but later expanding to a little over 300. The area is welcoming them with open arms, especially because of the 4.5 unemplyoment rate. This is the third center for ERC, who already has two in Jacksonville and the Caribbean.

Empereon Marketing Works $1.1 Million Call Center Project
Over the next three years, close to 400 jobs will be opening in Potter County, Pennsylvania. The organization is leasing a 30,000 sq. ft. building that they will convert into a call center. They specialize in outbound telemarketing services, inbound customer service and technical assistance services. Empereon is based out of Arizona, but runs call centers in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico as well.

Phones Begin Ringing in AT&T's New Call Center
AT&T has chosen Downtown Indianapolis to implement their new call center. Today at 10 a.m., a ceremony at 220 North Meridian marked the grand opening that will eventually employ about 425 representatives and managers. The center will be utilized to help consumers install AT&T's high-speed Yahoo! internet services.

ETelecare Desires for Philippine Call Center
ETelecare Global Solutions, a business process outsourcing vendor, is attempting to complete a project to implement a new call center in Makati City, Philippines. They are shooting to have it completed by the third quarter of 2007 with 13,000 employees occupying the space. Currently, ETelecare has about 2,600 workers in the United States at various locations including Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

In the call recording marketplace, competitve replacement programs aren’t always what they seem to be

Are you facing an upgrade of your call recording software?

Every call recording software vendor offers some form of discount on the next upgrade of their software. The upgrade, typically a major new release with added features and often an overhaul of the user interface, varies greatly in their pricing models.

Some vendors charge a reasonable upgrade fee, around 10-15% of the original purchase price. Some of the larger companies charge upwards of 50%. At that point, the customer is locked in and forced into what basically amounts to a re-buy situation.

Some creative vendors have crafted “competitive replacement programs” which basically reward a new customer with a "credit" toward the new purchase.

CSI's own upgrade pricing model, already part of the industry’s lowest cost of ownership, does not include any “competitive replacement programs”.

We don't see a need to extend any special discounts or sale prices, as our prices are already very competitive. It's a unique position to not have to respond to these programs – upon closer analysis, our prospects and customers are also smart enough to cut through the mirage of a “competitive rescue” program and see that the value of Virtual Observer is already far beyond what can be presented with any fictitious discounting.

CSI customers with an active maintenance contract always get free full-system software upgrades, gain robust features with periodic free updates, enjoy rapid implementation and receive world class support.

Bottom line: be wary of special "competitive replacement programs". Fears over recent industry consolidation is valid and creates many questions, such as:

"My software was just purchased by a much larger company. Will they force me to upgrade to their software, which is much more expensive?"

"Will the acquiring company honor existing maintenance agreements?"

"Without knowing much about us, how will they support our own unique needs?"

Use SMDR integration to gain additional insights

There are two main reasons you might integrate your phone system's SMDR feed with your call recording system.

1) Many of our call recording projects utilize random sample recording to obtain a number of recordings per agent per month. Random sample recording is typically more affordable than 100% call logging in that less recording channels and servers are needed. Random sample recording yields enough recorded interactions to satisfy the quality assurance initiative.

In the past, random sample recordings were scheduled as a block of time recording. Block of time recordings can end up containing multiple calls, or can end up missing the starts and stops of some calls, or even dead air. Block of time will get the job done, but you gain a tremendous amount of efficiencies when you begin recording call-by-call.

Most phone systems have a Station Message Detail Recording(SMDR) feed which can be tapped to yield the start and stop of calls. Using SMDR, your company can record entire calls from start to finish instead of as block of time.

2) The other major reason to use SMDR is when you are doing trunkside or T1 recording of your phone traffic. You can use the SMDR feed to tie the phone calls to the appropriate agent.

Even more data can be captured when CTI integration is implemented. Information such as customer data is then associated with the interaction. CTI enables "cradle to grave" recording as well, following the call as it passes through departments.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Harry & David scale up their call quality monitoring for the holidays

In 1910 Samuel Rosenberg traded the luxurious Hotel Sorrento for 240 prime acres of pears in Southern Oregon's Rogue River Valley and named them Bear Creek Orchards after the nearby waterway. His sons Harry and David began one of the nation's premier direct marketing and e-commerce companies (Harry & David).

In order to support the thriving mail order business, Harry & David set up a customer service contact center. The contact center has changed significantly over the years, especially in terms of technology.

“We’ve implemented technology that was able to better utilize our workforce and increase the effectiveness of the interaction with the customer,” said Jason Phillipson, Director of Planning for Customer Operations.

“The biggest advantage new technology has is that it allowed us to hold our labor needs static. Advances in our online stores, sales & service applications, knowledgebase, telemarketing, call monitoring, and training systems have kept pace and often exceeded the demand for additional labor force. In fact, over the last 10 years the call centers’ labor needs have changed relatively little, while the business grew significantly,” he added.

Currently, Harry & David has several systems in use in their contact centers. The various applications include an order taking/customer service system, web/knowledgebase, email management, call recording and monitoring, electronic time card, electronic product information index, scheduling, multiple phone switches for multiple sites, electronic badge production, electronic employee statistics and evaluations, online work queues and more.

The call recording application is the Virtual Observer solution, interfacing with their Avaya phone system, and enabling call recording for quality assurance purposes. Employing about 300 customer service agents year round, the number swells to about 4000 across multiple contact centers during the busy holiday season.

“The scale of our holiday call activity pushes all our infrastructure and systems to their peak capacity. This is coupled with the condensed time frame we have to do it in….we hire and train the majority of the 4,000 in about 2 months time. There is also a lot of role transition. Many of our year-round staff are our leaders, trainers, and support staff during the holiday season.

During our holiday season we handle about 100,000 calls per day but during the off season we can go as low as 5,000. A typical day would be around 6,500 calls. Needless to say, it’s a busy time for us. The Virtual Observer system scales seamlessly during the holidays, whether it’s 300 users or 4000,” Jason stated.

When asked about the other contributing factors in Harry & David’s decision to implement CSI’s Virtual Observer solution, Jason replied with that “the major factors were price and usability. There are systems being sold out there with many more bells and whistles than Virtual Observer but the question, for us, was, would we really use all those extras? In the end we felt that CSI offered a solution that was one we could understand and use. We just couldn’t cost justify all those extra features. Because of the seasonality in our business, it is always a challenge to size a system for our peak and see that our costs and licensing fees reflect our lower usage the rest of the year. CSI accomplished that for us.”

Many e-commerce companies are faced with trying to achieve Visa payment card industry (PCI) compliance. Harry & David has implemented Virtual Observer’s Media Encryption technology to encrypt all interactions. Besides PCI compliance, this also helps to protect valuable customer information. “This did help us achieve PCI compliance, which is very important to us as we accept customers’ credit cards orders over the phone,” Jason added.

Asked about what type of impact Virtual Observer has had, Jason replied with “One of the immediate benefits was our ability to monitor that large influx of new associates we have at our season. Being able to give them feedback on their performance quickly and correct areas where they are having trouble has lower our attrition, during that critical period, and saved us money.”
“We highly recommend Virtual Observer for other e-commerce contact centers. The features, cost, and ease of use along with the good customer service provided by CSI makes this system an excellent choice.”

Harry & David provides consumers with gourmet-quality fruit and gift assortments year-round from their mail order catalogs, online store, or retail stores nationwide. Their headquarters is in Medford, Oregon, and they also have a campus in Hebron, Ohio. Harry & David operates a seasonal call center in Eugene, Oregon.

Friday, July 13, 2007

A search for the environment friendly call center, part one

Although many in the media have claimed that the energy bill and transportation costs for putting on a concert the scale of Live Earth outweighs any potential global change, I have to admit the concert and it's many interwoven global warming short films have made an impression - on at least a personal level. That's where it starts.

10 million people watched the concert on the Internet, the largest internet streaming event ever - and if 5% of viewers were impacted the same way, the exponential effects should be great.

Here are some additional resources relative to climate change:

Measure your personal impact on climate change


100% Solar Powered Data Center

Are there any solar powered call centers out there?

What can be done to make your call center more environmentally effective?

We will search the internet for any sign of green call centers and report back here with the results. We'll also compile a list of things call centers can do to become more environmentally friendly.

Excerpts from "The Art Of War"...applied to call centers

"The Art of War" by Sun Tzu is a classic Chinese military book which is often reinvisioned for business. It may be the oldest strategy book in the world.

As each lesson can be intrepreted for the business world, my thought is it could also be reimagined for the call center.

Today we'll examine rule # 14:

"14. By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat."

This one is easy as it can apply to using your statistical analysis to make projections:

- will we meet our goals?
- will we fail miserably?

Using evaluation tools, call centers can define their own criteria for success. Scoring the performance of each agent can result in identifying a trend which may be altered for improvement.

The call center translation for #14:

"With this performance criteria we can forecast success and where we need to make improvements"

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Home agent field growing rapidly

As opposed to outsourcing call center operations to international companies, many companies are now "homeshoring" to united states-based firms. If you extend this trend to the emerging South American and Latin American call center market, you can see industry analysts claiming there's a revolution occuring.

Spurring this trend to homeshoring, or "homesourcing" is the availability of technology to properly train, network and manage home-based agents. This allows the outsourced call center to rapidly expand operations, and the number of agents used, while maintaining low overhead costs.

In a story on TMCnet a leading distributed contact center technology and services provider in the U.S., announced today that the company is contracting with more than 16,000 home-based customer service and sales agents, or home agents. The company expects that number to reach 20,000 agents by year-end.

CSI has recently implemented Virtual Observer in a number of outsourced call center environments, allowing them to record calls and manage quality assurance.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Upgrades to call recording software are free for actively supported customers

We are still one of only a few (if any) call recording vendors who enable supported customers to obtain the latest and greatest version of product at no charge for software. We've upgraded 75% of our customer base and will continue to transition the rest of the VO customers with active maintenance contracts.

3.0 customers are also the beneficiaries of the additional features added to the existing product - for example, the Live Desktop feature set is an incredibly valuable tool for managing agents. This could have been a standalone add-on module, but the benefits are so great from a QA perspective and customer satisfaction standpoint, we had to include it as a standard feature. For more information about the Live Desktop functionality, please contact your CSI sales rep.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Tao of CSI: three core philosophies drive success

Three core business philosophies drive our success in the call recording and quality monitoring markets.

Many of our blog readers might not be familiar with the history of CSI. If you are not yet a customer or partner, you may not understand what we're all about. I'm hoping this helps to explain what drives us.

Since beginning as energy consultants in 1972, we've experienced all of the highs and lows of a thirty-five plus year business. Quickly becoming a custom computer programming house, we soon moved on to become a developer of a custom job shop manufacturing control system. Several years later, we've emerged as a strong call center solution provider.

We developed Virtual Observer (VO) as a robust, scalable call recording and quality monitoring system. We saw a hole in the marketplace once occupied by several bloated suites of bells and whistles. Many small and mid-sized call centers could not afford the benefit of a feature-rich call recording and quality monitoring implementation. Larger companies were forced to pay high upgrade fees because they were lacking choices. With the launch of Virtual Observer, CSI changed all of that.

How've we done it?

We have three core philosophies that make up our business mantra and combine to enable us to deliver the lowest cost of ownership in the industry.

The first is to “Build Great Customer Experiences”.

Our customer service philosophy drives everything in our organization, from the usability of our systems to our implementation and training teams. Perhaps the most evident result of this long-term customer strategy is in the aggressively low pricing of our upgrades – software is free for customers with active support agreements. This is practically unheard of in our industry. The largest percentage of your investment will come with the initial purchase, as opposed to upgrade offerings from our competition which essentially translates into a re-buy.

The second is our ability to allow customers to “Start Small and Think Big”.

Our sales philosophy starts with pricing structured so that a new customer can “Start Small and Think Big” -- implementing the right amount of functionality at the right time, and adding on new features as needed, as opposed to our competition’s methodology of forcing purchases of extra features that you’ll never really use, simply to justify the high price tag.”

Dan McGrail, Director of Product Development, added the third philosophy: “Don’t forget about “Simple, Effective, Affordable”.

Our operating philosophy dictates that every process, every product and every decision is based on it being simple, effective and affordable. We are able to manage operating costs by avoiding what some in the industry tout as “cutting edge”. Eventually “cutting edge” functionality becomes commodity, and then is made more affordable for our customer base. This is a huge component in allowing Virtual Observer to deliver a rapid return on investment.

Monday, July 09, 2007

What's new in the IVR world?

"IVR" stands for "Interactive Voice Response" and many of our customers utilize such systems to guide callers through all of the available options when they call. For more detailed information, visit the Answers.com page on IVR.

Once a week we are going to feature news links for call center solutions that compliment Virtual Observer. You can click on the title of this post above, and then bookmark it and come back anytime to see the latest, dynamically updated IVR news.

Note: email subscribers may not see the RSS feed embedded in this post. In this case, click here to view the entire article.

Friday, July 06, 2007

CSI partner seeks new sales rep in Illinois

North American Communications Resources (NACR) is seeking to add sales representatives for their Illinois territory. Interested parties can email us here and we'll get you in contact with the powers that be at NACR.

NACR, a Value Added Solutions Provider, launched in 1993 with only five employees. Today, they are Avaya’s largest Business Partner worldwide and a five-time Business Partner of the Year, with employees and locations across the United States. NACR built a quality reputation as a nationwide provider of end-to-end communications solutions for organizations of all types and sizes — offering systems and support for every need, from Voice over IP (VoIP) and converged network integration, to consultative services, ongoing maintenance, and repairs.

NACR actively presents CSI's Virtual Observer (VO) as a preferred call recording solution, an integral component in their complete scope of communications product and services.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Will Business users ever adopt Google's phone and web apps?

Google recently purchased unified-telephone service provider Grand Central for an awful lot of money. Grand Central allows users to take all of their phone #s and centralize them in one place, with one unified number. Grand Central offers a ton of features, including the ability to view voicemails as text on the web, to playback voicemails on the web, to customize greetings, ringback tones and much, much more from the control panel, which is now run by Google. It's in beta.

Google buys companies and then incorporates their services into their own free services as part of their advertising-supported ecosystem. They recently did this with Feedburner, who used to offer a "Pro" package of stats about your blog, for a nominal fee. Now that Google's in the house, everything is free.

Google offers free web-based word processing, spreadsheet, presentations and calendar apps. Right now it seems unlikely that many businesses will use that as their core business apps standard, but Google is betting they will at some point. Of course, Gmail is free and along with all the other apps, they can give Microsoft Office a run for the money, functionally. Plus, all work is saved on the web, accessible from anywhere you can log in.

Let's hypothesize a bit: say 20% of small businesses starting using Google Apps instead of MS Office. The primary reason may be to save money on MS licensing fees. They then would be very likely to use a telecom app from Google for the very same reason: not only will it be free, but also it will be integrated with the web apps they use. Address books will be shared, Voicemails and Emails together in one place.

It seems that if 20% of small businesses adopt the Google software-as-a-service model, eventually, mid-sized and even some larger sized companies may do the same, once they trust the security of the concept. Google's betting that if one of its' services is tried, it will only attract users and businesses to its' other services.

Did I forget to mention that Google has long been rumored to offer free wifi access? Can VoIP services ala Skype be far behind?

We've added a new poll asking "Will Businesses Ever Use Google Apps?". The poll is located in the sidebar, on the right ------>

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

4 new customer implementations in USA and Canada

CSI's professional implementation and training team just returned from 4 successful onsite visits to new customers. Often taking on a consultative role with the new clients, we always try to help them get up and running as quickly as possible, beating expectations.

The marketing and sales department feels confident sending the trainers out to the field, as they usually convert new customers into new product champions, willing to become testimonials, case studies and referenceable contacts.

I'll be looking to talk more in-depth with these customers over time as take them from a new implementation to a long-term client that has achieved and sustained a rapid return on investment.

The four clients were of the following industries:
* hospital/medical center
* wireless provider
* insurance company
* non-profit agricultural organization

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