You are here

Consultants’ Play Unique Roles in Contact Centers

Facebook LinkedIn Google+ Twitter

Unified communications offers so many benefits to contact centers that deciding to deploy UC should be a "no brainer."

So says Stephen Leaden, founder and president of Leaden Associates. "Having instant messaging and chat functions to communicate with the supervisor, shortening the length of outbound call dialing, increasing the speed of answers - everything improves," he says.

What may not be so obvious is the unique role that consultants can play in the decision to deploy contact center UC.

While vendors, channel partners and VARs know their solution’s advantages, capacities and requirements, they often lack broader business operations experience. A good consultant brings a depth of knowledge that can elevate the success of a channel partner’s contact center (CC) deployment.

"A consultant is looking at aspects that are not the channel partner's core competency," says COMgroup President J.R. Simmons, adding that CPs don't get paid for time spent vetting a client's internal business processes.

"Our clients are in the trenches every day and have little ability to step back and examine the root cause of issues that can determine success or failure of the customer interaction,” says Sperco Associates Managing Director Diane Halliwell. “That’s our role.”

Consultants assess a number of inputs. "Our focus is people, process and technology," says Chris Thalassinos of Communications Intelligence Group. "We factor those three elements to determine what the UC solution should look like."

The Caller Experience
Whether a deployment is a new CC, a replacement system, an expansion of an existing system or a combined operation due to a merger, most consultants recommend focusing on the needs of the end user - not the CC agent, but the CC customer.

“How do we gain user satisfaction in a contact center?” asks Ernie Holling, president and chief strategist of InTech. For revenue-generating CCs in particular, this is an important metric as customers form opinions quickly and can share their impressions widely via social media and review sites.

“We use average speed of answer and abandoned call rate as indicators,” says Leaden. “Those two basics show us - is this a good experience or not so good? And then we need to assess how important that is to the organization.”

Thalassinos agrees. "What is the client’s expectation of the caller experience?" he asks. Consultants can help with cost/benefits analysis; for example some operations may find that for a non-revenue generating CC (such as one handling returns), a customer wait time of up to an hour is acceptable.

“Understanding the operational value of the CC is paramount when assessing unified communication solution choices,” continues Thalassinos.  “What types of interactions will happen? Is it inbound, outbound, blended? Is multimedia a key element? What kind of metrics are important?”

Ultimately, says Leaden, consultants leverage this information and their experience to solve this equation for their clients: “how can we pay for and create added value for this contact center?”

Beyond Technology

“Most of the clients who bring a consultant in are approaching things from a technology perspective,” says Halliwell. “They say ‘What I’ve got isn’t working.’ But what I can show them is that the issue isn’t just technology, it’s often about interdepartmental interaction.”

Indeed, “sometimes we find solutions to problems that have nothing to do with technology,” says Simmons. “It’s about reformulating goals and bringing a new approach to the business process.” Halliwell says that by talking to personnel at all levels of an organization, consultants can discover consistent operational themes that point to the root cause of CC dysfunction.

With this knowledge, consultants often recommend performance indexing, new staffing and compensation plans, as well as changes to IVR and call flows. "Fundamentally, we want to help clients make better use of what they have," says Simmons. "And to deploy these changes properly and integrate them with the backend, we need the support of a channel partner."

Halliwell demonstrates how this deep operational review points back to the caller experience: “There are so many customer touch points: IVR, announcements, the website, mailings, social media. If these are all owned by different people in the organization and if they speak with different voices, the customer can get the impression that the company has no idea what they’re doing.” A consultant can work with an enterprise at the highest operational levels to facilitate the interdepartmental collaboration that can maximize contact center effectiveness.

Mapping for Today and Tomorrow

Good consultants offer clients both present and future benefit.

In the near term, their operational expertise helps enterprises best “map their people to the FTEs and the process of how the call is answered and routed. This optimizes staff time which is typically a CC’s largest line item expense,” says Thalassinos. “Then we address underlying technology to deploy the right solution to tie it all together. It’s about efficiency: how do I reduce my operational expense, increase service levels and make it functional for the organization.”

But consultants also work to “future proof” a CC to the extent possible by staying on top of larger industry trends.

“We’re always cross-pollinating and looking at different metrics,” says Holling. “Consultants bring knowledge of other methodologies that can be deployed.”

“Consultants have a full, unique view of industry verticals,” says Leaden. “We see how unified communications integrates with the overall process and vision” for where where industries are headed.

Leaden cites the trend toward integrating customer surveys into almost every customer touch point. “The industry is ramping. Everyone is incentivizing with surveys. Take healthcare. With Medicare, the grade of patient surveys directly impacts hospital reimbursements.” As a result, customer service is improving across the board.

In the past, “we’ve had a focus on cost containment instead of customer satisfaction,” says Holling. “That was a tactical mistake on a strategic path.  It’s important that we do anything we can to improve ease of use and modes of contact that build relationships with the customer.” Mirroring the touch points cited by Halliwell, he continues, “we must use the right technical tools, the right vocabularies, the right speech, the right keywords to build rapport with the customer - because they’re not always callers anymore.”

Did you find this blog helpful? Share it with your colleagues via your social networks

Did you miss the first six blogs in this series?  Here are links to:

Our sources for this blog, members of ShoreTel's Consultant Liaison Program Advisory Board:

Diane Halliwell is a Managing Director at Sperco Associates, leading the Contact Center practice.  She has consulted in the telecommunications field for over 30 years and in the Contact Center arena for over 20 years.  She provides strategic direction for the evaluation, design and implementation  of voice systems including contact center solutions. She also identifies problematic workflows, processes, and gaps in communication within an enterprise and provides recommendations to address these issues.

Ernie Holling is President and Chief Strategist of InTech, which he founded in 1986.He specializes in providing crisis intervention at the enterprise level and in developing technology strategy for complex, multi-site/vendor environments and contact centers. He is a member of the Project Manager Institute, the Telecommunications Industry Association, the Utilities Telecommunications Council, and is a past vice president of the board of directors for the Society of Telecommunications Consultants.

Stephen Leaden is founder and President of Leaden Associates, Inc., an independent consulting firm providing specialized support to enterprises in VoIP, unified communications, contact centers, converged networks, and cloud-based architectures. A past president of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants,  he's been in the telecommunications field over 30 years and  is a frequent speaker at national trade shows, a contributing expert for UC Strategies.com, and a contributor to IDG and The Voice Report.

 J.R. Simmons is President and Principal Consultant of COMgroup, Inc., with 37 years of experience in the telecommunications systems industry, including 28 years as a consultant providing planning, design, analysis, and implementation management skills. Currentprojects include strategic planning, data networking design, systems analysis, IP telephony, and call centers. J.R. was elected to the board of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants in 2011 and to the Executive Board of the STC in 2012.

Chris Thalassinos of Toronto's Communications Intelligence Group has over 20 years experience in working with companies to strategize and realize innovative business and technology solutions. As an advisor, he focuses on project leadership, solutions development and client relationship management and guides organizations to effective deployments of emerging and converging technologies.