Buying Guide for Call Center Software

Thursday Jan 19th 2017 by Drew Robb
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Enterprises selecting call center software have a huge array of options. These are some of the best.

Writing a buying guide to cover call center software is somewhat like doing a short blog post that is supposed to detail the cultures of planet earth. There is just too much to cover and not enough space.

So rather than trying to list and describe every single one of the many facets of call center technology and applications, we decided to cherry pick some key applications to provide an overview of the many tools available.

But no matter how it is approached, there are always going to be glaring omissions. And to make matters worse, the technology is evolving so rapidly that guides like this can quickly become dated. Karen Hardy, vice president of product and business management at Avaya, noted that whole areas of technology are now being absorbed into call center systems.

“Analytics are big in call centers, as well as the gathering of data across various sources like back-end systems, which traditionally has never been done,” said Hardy. “These developments endeavor to deliver a personalized and proactive customer experience.”

Buying Tips

For those about to enter the vendor selection fray, here are some tips from Hardy to help smooth the process:

  • Select tools that are flexible enough to allow you to respond at the pace of the consumer.
  • Don’t lock yourself into something that limits your ability to adopt other tools to satisfy ongoing business needs.
  • Understand your customer’s optimal journey – and prioritize what will bring the combination of 1) highest satisfaction resulting in improved net promoter score, 2) lowest friction experience, 3) biggest return.
  • Look for contact center interfaces that parallel how the agents do their jobs.
  • Move from traditional or queue-based routing to attribute-based routing or matching, as the former optimizes resource utilization at the cost of the customer experience. Attribute-based routing, on the other hand, augments the incoming interaction with details from others systems to figure out age, demographics, interests are and other information useful to the agent.
  • Factor in ease of operation, simplicity of management, and ability to extract extensive and complete data events for later analytics.

“A platform that makes it simple for managers to really manage the way they think about their contact center will improve employee satisfaction at all levels — not just for managers,” said Hardy. “Also, a platform that makes it simple to apply the best analytics of the day makes the company more competitive against others in their industry vertical.”

Rajeev Venkat, senior director of solutions marketing at Verint, offered additional buying tips:

  • Partner with a provider that offers services that go beyond deployment, such as helping companies plan, implement and integrate contact center solutions efficiently in a way that’s practical.
  • To increase employee engagement, adopt a knowledge management system along with a call center technology suite. This makes it easier to provide answers to customer issues along their channel of choice. Such tools should also help agents find answers by searching, browsing or following guided processes.

Craig Borowski, a researcher for Software Advice, a site that offers reviews and comparisons of call center software products, had several additional buying suggestions:

  • Start with an examination of existing workflow processes. Reevaluate, then redesign, those in light of any planned company-wide shifts in strategy. Once strategy and workflow have been clarified, begin looking for the software that will best support them.
  • Whereas yesterday’s call center focused on solving each issue as cheaply as possible, an engagement hub takes a long-term perspective. From this perspective, customer engagement hubs can invest more time and expense solving each issue rather than being focused too much on call queue management and call scripting as part of a cost-containment strategy.
  • Look to improve self-service resources supported by a knowledge management application on the backend. These applications are increasingly integrated into customer service (and even CRM) platforms, making self-service resource creation an extension of the workflows of frontline agents.

Vendor Tools

Here is a brief sampling of some of the noteworthy call center tools to consider. At the end, we provide additional sources where you can find long lists of further call center products and solutions.

Avaya Oceana:

Avaya Oceana is promoted as being a next-generation customer engagement platform that supports all traditional media, as well as social engagement, reporting and analytics. Such omni-channel functionality has been touted by vendors for many years, but rarely measures up. Avaya claims to provide a singular, high-quality personalized experience that occurs regardless of where or what the customer is using to get service.

“Multi-touch typically means separate streams for each channel rather than a blending of channels that can and are often used during the customer’s transaction journey,” said Hardy. “Reports and data sources can end up disjointed, embedded into individual programs, systems, applications, making it nearly impossible for the business to have a single view of the customer.”

She said Avaya Oceana has dramatically improved the user experience via a browser-based interface that facilitates any channel or customer touchpoint. Agents are fed a customer profile, interaction history, preferences, screen pops from the CRM system and other contextual data.

Avaya Oceana

Avaya Oceana

Five9:

Five9 is a provider of cloud software for the enterprise contact center market. The latest version of Five9’s Virtual Contact Center (VCC) includes voice, web, chat, email, video and social media capabilities.

Many contact centers use of a variety of different on-premise systems that are cobbled together. This shackles agents with tools that are not integrated and don’t allow them to easily support customers. Five9’s integrated and cloud-based approached is aimed at solving this problem. In addition to allowing agents to connect with customers across all channels and in a fully integrated manner, other features include the following:

  • Customer journey analytics and lifetime journey visualization: Provides enterprises with insight into the entire customer journey, understanding customer behaviors, patterns and preferences.
  • Proactive engagement: Shifts care from reactive to proactive to meet evolving customer expectations by combining analytics and context in real-time to predict customer behavior patterns and recommended next steps.
  • Personalized service: Integrates the customer journey across systems to deliver a personalized experience, addressing many consumers’ top expectation, which is to know their history. Leveraging data, knowledge and resources across all systems eliminates the “one size fits all” disjointed experience common with many businesses.

Five9

Five9’s cloud-based Virtual Contact Center (VCC).

ShoreTel Connect Contact Center for CLOUD:

ShoreTel has noticed trends such as the dominance of cloud deployments, the blurring of the boundary between the customer service organization and the rest of the organization, the demand for tighter integration between contact center software and other enterprise applications, and the rise in importance of real-time analytics to help businesses understand the current state of customer interactions as they are happening.

“Contact center vendors are deploying some of the same technologies to help customers understand their businesses that have been traditionally used by big the data industry, with particular emphasis on the presentation layer,” said Kumar Priyavrat, senior product manager, ShoreTel. “Contact center vendors are increasingly standardizing the integration with unified communication as well as third-party applications such CRM in a big way.”

Accordingly, ShoreTel Connect Contact Center for Cloud is a full-featured cloud-based contact center which supports voice, email and chat. It has the following components:

  • Contact Center Director – the graphical user interface for configuring the application. It includes all functionalities necessary to configure the business rules for routing calls, managing users and groups, configuring channels (voice, email, and chat), IVRs and DR recovery settings.
  • ShoreTel Interaction Center — a web client for all agent functions and supervisor coaching functions. Supervisors can monitor agent activity and queue/group activity, and when necessary, interact with agents using monitor, whisper coaching and barge-in. Supervisors also can review key performance indicators to assess contact center performance.
  • Agent Manager — used by managers and supervisors to obtain real-time statistical information concerning call center activities. The information can be displayed in tables, forms and graphic formats, providing a picture of what is going on in the call center. Agent Manager also enables supervisors to adjust resources by adding and removing agents from groups.
  • Graphical Call Control Script – an administration application that allows you to create call control scripts.
  • ShoreTel Connect Contact Center Reports — generates historical statistical reports that can be used in evaluating past activities and planning future actions. It contains predefined reports and customizable templates.
  • Event Feed – to support third party integrations such as workforce optimization integrations.

“Before buying a contact center solution, understand the vendor roadmap,” said Priyavrat. “Make sure that the product will continue to evolve to meet your future business needs.”

ShoreTel Connect

ShoreTel Connect

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Service

Microsoft Dynamics 365’s Customer Service solution is said to make it effortless for agents to offer service anytime, anywhere on desktop or mobile device. In addition to a branded online support portal that leverages an organized, searchable knowledge base to deliver consistent, up-to-date answers, Dynamics 365 for Customer Service users gain peer-to-peer support, direct interaction with subject matter experts, integrated chat, co-browse, click-to-call and video capabilities.

In addition to core case-management capabilities, agents can solve cases faster using Dynamics 365’s machine-learning capabilities that surface related cases and related knowledge articles, including data that resides outside of the customer service application. Collaboration tools also help speed resolution and avoid escalations. Social care capabilities also leverage machine learning to identify sentiment and intent, with the ability to automatically create and route cases to an appropriate agent queue. All of this is done through the same interface. Further features include Learning Path, which helps agents and other users get up to speed faster through guided learning scenarios. Gamification improves performance and adoption as well by rewarding optimal behaviors.

“Embedded Power BI enables organizations to include data from third-party applications in their analysis for deeper business insights, analysis and exploration,” said Matt Kresch, director of product marketing, Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Service. “Power BI has natural language capabilities that allow users to instantly render reports and visualizations.

Microsoft Dynamics 365

Microsoft Dynamics 365

Verint Workforce Optimization

There are plenty of good workforce optimization suites on the market. For example, the Verint Workforce Optimization (WFO) suite is said to offer organizations a way to capture, evaluate, manage and analyze omni-channel customer interactions. Unified applications such as Recording (IP, TDM, SIP and screens), quality management, enterprise workforce management, performance management (including eLearning, gamification, and coaching) and desktop and process analytics help organizations access information.

“Verint WFO considers and recognizes each agent’s skills, proficiencies and preferences of when they want to work, when they want time off and when they can take on overtime,” said Rajeev Venkat, senior director of solutions marketing, Verint. “It gives agents visibility into when the center is over/understaffed as it pertains to their skills.”

This allows them to flexibly pick-up voluntary time off and/or overtime in short 15-minute interval increments. That flexibility enables employees to self-manage schedules while allowing the manager of the call center to ensure service levels are met.

Verint Performance Management

Verint Performance Management

Monet Metrics

Another WFO possibility is available from Monet Software. This suite includes Monet Metrics for performance management. The analytics provided by Monet Metrics are said to make performance management faster and more accurate. Data is delivered so it is easier for mangers to identify agent skill sets and skill gaps that need to be filled via training.

To function well, performance management has to receive accurate data from workforce management and quality management applications, as well as up-to-date information from training, billing and other areas. Chuck Ciarlo, CEO of Monet, said that the elements within Monet WFO integrate so as to ensure Monet Metrics is fed accurate numbers. Done right, an abundance of work hours can be eliminated, replaced by automation.

“What formerly required stacks of paperwork and hours of manual operations can be completed automatically,” said Ciarlo.

Monet Metrics

Monet Metrics

More Options for Call Center Software

Other worthy call center tools include ZenDesk for customer support, VanillaSoft for phone sales and CRM, predictive dialing from ChaseData, and a cloud-based contact center from Ytel.

For more possibilities, see listings of call center products from Software Advice and Capterra.

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in Florida, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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