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Alison Diana What To Know When Buying Call Center Software

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By Alison Diana

Features and Capabilities that Support Efficiency, Productivity and Customer Satisfaction

The sound of a busy call center is music to any manager's ears. Call center software can fine-tune that cacophony into a symphony of productivity, effectiveness and customer satisfaction. When properly selected and then effectively implemented, call center software also allows a business to better leverage its existing staff of agents through real-time performance management, better resource allocation, skills-based activity assignments and more effective scheduling.

Like any software technology selection or implementation project, there are steps to take - and avoid - when it comes to selecting and buying the most appropriate call center software for your business. An investment of up-front time is much more likely to result in strong financial and operational returns on your limited call center budget. After all, a call center often is the primary way in which customers and prospects communicate with your business: It should, therefore, reflect well on your organization.

Whether a call center focuses on inbound calls or outbound calls, it must handle a large volume of calls and other communication methods simultaneously. Respondents must be able to forward customer inquiries to the appropriate customer service representative or quickly escalate a phone call depending on its nature. No matter if a contact center is taking catalog orders or responding to bank customers' rate inquiries, callers want fast and accurate responses that result in the desired outcome, be it a successfully completed purchase or update on a credit application.

Depending on your organization's needs, a contact center may include a portfolio of productivity systems such as speech recognition software, interactive voice response (IVR), predictive dialing, call recording and monitoring, customer relationship management software, customer analytics and workforce management. But no matter how your contact center is configured, there are a number of vital considerations to take when purchasing call center software.

Integrated Systems
To be most effective, contact center systems should integrate with other business software applications such as customer relationship management (CRM) software; enterprise resource planning (ERP) software; phone-based technologies such as PBX switches and call routers; warehouse or inventory management, and customer analytics used to monitor and act upon call-time waits or hang-ups.

Unified Communications
Today, people expect - if not, demand - multiple lines of communication, ranging from standard telephone service to instant messaging, email and live chat. An integrated call center solution that includes all communication tools currently in use and one that can be upgraded, if needed, to incorporate additional modes ensures customers can reach you how and when they choose.

Even if, for example, instant messaging is not a good fit today, it could well be a match in the near-future. Including this capability on your list of must-have software features makes today's solution applicable for tomorrow's needs.

Technical Choices
Organizations have many basic technical choices to make, perhaps the first being whether to keep the call center software in-house or to tap a managed service provider (MSP) specializing in hosted (often called software as a Service (SaaS) or on-demand) call center or customer relationship management (CRM) software. Also consider Voice over IP (VoIP), which delivers significant cost-savings and can also be delivered on premise or on-demand. Some call center applications require VoIP, and most support this Internet voice communications technology.

Smaller businesses may prefer a SaaS call center solution, with its predictable monthly bill and ongoing outsourced support. Companies with more than 100 call center employees may prefer an in-house system. There is, of course, no one-size-fit-all approach, and some large businesses prefer a hosted system while smaller companies may want the control of an internal on-premise system.

Tried and Tested
It is, of course, very wise to speak to current users of the software vendors' or MSPs on your software short-list. Only real customers can discuss any problem areas, how their partner responds to concerns, ease-of-use, real training experience and employee satisfaction. Speaking to customers also helps provide insight into whether the supplier is a good fit for your company's culture, technical requirements and future plans. Three references is often the charm, especially if you can find customers with similar operations or call center set-ups.

Drill Down
Consider too the most important features of your enterprise software requirements and thoroughly test those capabilities early in the call center software selection process. Routing, automatic call distribution, reporting and response are critical, and flexibility is important when seeking innovative and efficient ways to serve customers. An easily customizable software allows managers and executives to create reports they want, rather than forcing them into pre-configured formats. Check to see if your candidates have advanced automatic call distribution that forwards calls to another team if the usual group is unavailable. This will, of course, slash hold time and boost customer satisfaction.

Since call centers may have high-turnover, review the software's ease-of-training to ensure new employees can use the solution from Day One - or at least, Day Two.

Getting Interactive
Automated voice response systems can eliminate the need for some human touch, a cost-savings move. Some solutions collect callers' information while they wait for a live agent, while others completely address issues and inquiries via interactive voice response. And some call center systems feature Advanced Queue Management to deliver features such as scheduled call-back.

Off-Site Employees
Some companies, such as JetBlue Airlines, do not have one large call center. Instead, contact center agents work from home or off-site, accessing a central database and call center software solution through their web browsers. This, of course, saves on rental space or allows a company to stay in a smaller space, and also expands the potential call center agent pool beyond a given geography. If this scenario matches your current or future needs, it's important to ensure your new contact center system easily and centrally manages customer service representatives around the country or the world.

Your call center staff - which often are the sole point of personal contact between consumers and your business - need real-time software solutions that empower them to answer questions, research issues, resolve incidents and generate sales. With the wealth of call center software solutions available today, you will find at least one that supports staffs' efforts to leave every point-of-contact on a high note. End

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When properly selected and then effectively implemented, call center software also allows a business to better leverage its existing staff of agents through real-time performance management, better resource allocation, skills-based activity assignments and more effective scheduling.


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