Questions to ask your potential cloud contact centre software providor

Your organization has decided it’s time to move your contact centre to a cloud based platform. Or maybe you’re in the process of setting up a new contact centre and the cloud offers obvious benefits over the traditional option of running a hardware and software yourself on your own premises.

Cloud computing in the contact centre market is booming and there’s no shortage of companies that will pitch to get your business.

Making the wrong choice could be expensive or at the very least limit you in terms of the functionality and the scalability that you would otherwise enjoy. Possibly, not now but in the future as your operation matures and your requirements evolve.

There are obvious questions, you’d ask a potential supplier around pricing and contractual obligations, but there’s a range of other aspects that require consideration. Some which may not be immediately apparent. I’m speaking with Justin Aldrich from Unity4 and we’re talking about the questions you need to ask a potential cloud contact centre provider.

There’s a lot of material in this session, so we’ve split it into episodes. In this first installment we talk about data security, contracts and about some of the functionality you should expect as it relates to inbound call routing, outbound capability and everything that happens before and after the call including the other communication channels of email, SMS and social media.

In the second installment, we continue to talk about this functionality, and also about telecommunications charges, scalability and support.

Here’s Part 1

Simon: Justin let’s first touch on one of the big issues of moving to the cloud and that’s the issue of data management and data storage. In a cloud-based environment, your data obviously doesn’t live with you on your premises but rather is housed in a data centre. And that data centre may be used by a number of different companies so can you briefly run the listener through the concepts of sole tenancy and multi-tenancy as it relates to data centres and fill us in to the type of things that you’ll need to understand about how data is being stored.

Data management and storage in the cloud.

Justin: Certainly and I think it’s a question that we are asked almost up front straight by any organization that we’re talking to.

The phase of overseas data centres and the scare stories and the negative media are something long behind the industry. Unity4, it’s data centres are based here in Australia for our Australian customers. We have vast experience with financial services institutions and with government bodies so we adhere to the highest level of security around. . . where our data is stored, how our data is stored.

Data centres: Multi-tenancy and sole tenancy.

Now you mentioned multi-tenancy and sole tenancy. Some organizations in terms of where their data is stored and where their tenancy for a cloud based solution is set up, have no issue with sharing a tenancy or sharing a particular area for the data to be stored. Those organizations perhaps are in noncompetitive situations or their data is not particularly customer sensitive and there are those that require sole tenancy, that being a particular area that, that organizations data and no body else’s is restricted to. We find with our financial services, our clients and certainly with our government body clients that they require sole tenancy and they require any customer information to be segregated from anybody else’s.

PCI Compliance

That said, one of the key areas around data is all around PCI compliance and the collection of credit card information or payment information. Being a PCI compliant organization allows us, regardless of whether an organization sits within a multi-tendency or a sole tendency set up, all of that specific information is not stored against the client.

Each time, compliance is at the top of the conversation and we can go into at length at a later time. But for people who understand what PCI compliance is effectively it is the way that credit card information or payment information is collected, how call recording or data entry is stopped at the point where that information is collected and that information is not stored with client interaction or customer interaction information.

So if you look at the way Unity4 is set up now here in Australia and managed, there are a number of tiers with five being the strictest in terms of security and typically reserved for government or defense type projects. Unity4 utilize tier four and three data centres for our hosting requirements. We split them geographically for data recovery, disaster recovery or business continuity purposes and all of our data centre designs are certified to security standards and so on. And you know having worked with government and financial services institutions our data centres have been audited to the highest level of security that those organizations require. And we welcome any organization to test those audits.

Simon: Okay very good. Let me just touch back very briefly on PCI compliance that you mentioned there and just for the listener, because I anticipate that certain people in smaller sized companies don’t realize what an important issue this potently is for them, if they’re looking to house and collect credit card data.
But as Justin was mentioning the PCI DSS stands for the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. And it’s a worldwide standard that has 12 requirements for companies, taking consumer credit card information and processing payments and so forth. So just to recap on that, obviously Justin if you’re business or your campaign will be handling credit card information, then you’ll need it and you’re systems need to be PCI DSS compliant. That’s right isn’t it?

Justin: That is correct and in Unity4 one area of our business actually specializes in charitable donations or fundraising so we work with some of Australia’s largest fundraising institutes and charities.. And part of that process is making outbound calls to members of the public and to organizations and collecting charitable donations on behave of those charities.

99.9% of the time that requires the collection of a credit card number and expiration date, specific information about the credit card holder, and passing that information through to a payment gateway for verification. The payment gateway allows us as an organization to be able to verify that payment has cleared and to provide a receipt number to the credit card holder. Call recording within PCI is stopped at that point, there are a number of different ways of managing it. A person on the phone can actually type in the details through the keypad of their telephone.

But the real key in PCI compliance is that the credit card information that is collected is not stored or kept at a contact centre level. It is provided through to the payment gateway provider who is also PCI compliant and the credit card information is encrypted and not recorded to any customer interaction that has been collected as well. So it separates that credit card information out and handles it all in a completely different way.

And you’re right in some things Simon that some of the smaller, medium organizations who to date have managed to interact with their customers and take credit card information over the phone, it doesn’t necessarily at this point have a direct impact on them. It will do over a period of time but it’s certainly in the larger scale businesses who manage customer credit cards interactions on a regular basis, is of key importance and to find a provider with PCI DSS compliance to the highest level, who already knows how to integrate seamlessly to paying the gateway providers – who are also PCI compliant is absolutely the key.

Contractual arrangements with cloud contact centre providers

Simon: Alright, very good. Let’s move on a step and let’s go ahead and talk about contracts. One of the attractions of the cloud based contact centre or cloud based contact centre solution is that the company can access the platform on a per user basis, per user per month basis. Rather than having to make a huge upfront investment and for that hardware and software to be sitting around irrespective of whether there is one, or a hundred agents. In the cloud you pay for what you use. But some companies will seek to engage you for a contractual basis or a contractual term of some nature so let’s very briefly talk about the contracts and what sort of contractual obligations are common.

Justin: Yeah look you’re absolutely right Simon and we did touch on this in our previous recording. At Unity4 we have developed what we think is a very fair and equitable model and I’ll touch on that in a minute. But looking at the industry there are those organizations who have moved from a traditional model to a cloud based model and they’ve really struggled if you like to change their costing model accordingly.
You’ve touched on the fact that a hefty capital expenditure rather that operating expenditure. A lot of organizations have invested millions of dollars in hardware and software that supports the contact centre. Now when an organization spends that kind of money on hardware and software there are annual maintenance contracts that go with that as well as the IT resource costs to maintain, upgrade and generally run business as usual. So for some of those organizations who’ve taken those kind of solutions and effectively made them cloud based, they have struggled to change their costing models so they are still looking at making organizations sign up for a contract period, and associating the ongoing hardware, software costs.

With Unity4, our solution was developed in the cloud for the cloud, before cloud became a fashionable word. And it was set up to actually run our at home contact centre operation so we managed outsourcing for a number of organizations, charitable organizations, government who provide work to us, for our agents who are located all over Australia and is in indeed the UK, working from home to be able to provide those services back to those organizations.

When we look at our technology platform that allows organizations to do the same or to be able to move away from an IT heavy setup and we look at charging a monthly cost. So there’s a monthly cost which is per user per month calculated at the highest number of users who log into the system on any one month period. So that allows organizations to manage their usage, manage their cost very effectively.

The per user per month model

That said there is typically a small set up cost that allows us to make certain configurations and link into existing CRM systems or payment gateways and so on to manage that integration. But what we find using that per month per user per month costing model, it allows organizations to manage their operating expenditure moving forward. It also is not on a contractual basis so should a particular organization wish to dramatically reduce the number of contact centre agents they had using the system that’s okay. If they wish to stop using the solution for a period of time, that’s ok. People, business changes or what ever that is fine as well. We have organizations who have paid the set up fee and have our solution on standby for emergency use. So for example if you can imagine a fire brigade service who needs to use the system perhaps during an emergency…during a bush fire emergency, the system is sitting there not being used and they activate it, put agents on the phone and they will receive a bill for the period of time that they used the system. Then the system can effectively be back on the shelf and not be used again with no cost.

So we find that’s the fairest and most credible way to charge at our cloud based contact centre solution and we work very close with organizations to help them manage their usage and train them accordingly, so that they can…they can really manage down their costs . You know in some organizations that can actually be the change from a cost based contact centre into a revenue generating based contact centre. Which is awesome for organizations to be able to do that.

Simon: Excellent alright. Let’s then delve into the level of functionality and talk about the things that your contact centre platform should be able to do for you. And I’ve got a list here. I’m going to run through them and you can fill us in on some aspects of each. Let’s start with the ACD or the automatic call distributor. And that’s the functionality that makes the right call got to the right agent. Tell us a little bit about what we’re going to be looking for here.

Functionality: ACD

Justin: Well typically in contact centre technology of the past he ACD plus the other things that you’re going to mention as we roll through this list were all separate pieces of technology. Some were provided all by the same organization as modules and others were provided by a number of different organizations and then integrated together to provide the one solution. What you really should be expecting from a cloud based contact centre provider is that ACD delivers exactly the same functionality as what used to be a very expensive standalone piece of technology.

You’re right in terms of what an ACD does it allows calls to come in and be routed to the most suitable person, the most skilled agent as required. So you know working with an IVR that may be the individual calling in and chooses whether they are actually looking to purchase something or whether they’re looking at a billing inquiry, whether they’re looking at a customer service or a technical inquiry. And that then allows that call to be routed to the person with the right skills at the right time to be able to get the right answers to the customer in a timely manner. And a properly developed and configured ACD allows organizations to dramatically increase their customer satisfaction. Whether that’s measured in by scores or whether it’s measured in personal surveys. But you really should be looking at exactly the same functionality as an expensive piece of standalone technology. You should be looking at the same functionality from your cloud contact centre provider.

Preview & predictive dialing

Simon: Okay so you were talking then about the inbound calls and routing them to the best skilled agent, let’s touch on outbound and let’s look at predictive dialing. Could you fill us in with the differences between perhaps preview dialing and predictive dialing? And what an organization who is wanting to make large outbound campaigns should be looking for in their predictive dialer?

Justin: Well just to touch on the end of your question there I think really organizations who are looking at predominantly outbound work, whether that be customer acquisition work, cross sales or product sales, really need to not look at preview or predictive dialing as two separate pieces of technology or two separate requirements.

Within the solution that we have created both preview and predictive dialing are made available to organization’s and what we find typically is that organizations start with preview dialing which allows the agent to have a look at the record and make some assessments about the call that they are about to make; predictive dialing then on the flip side of that puts all of the numbers in a particular data set into the dialer and allows those calls to be made and then routed to the next available agent immediately with a whisper or a beep in their ear. So that they know they’re on an outbound call. So it really depends on what type of outbound calls you’re making but typically you find that people start with preview dialing which allows their agents to make certain assessments before they make that outbound call but very rapidly move into a blended mixture of both preview and predictive dialing.

Again like the ACD element that we talked about earlier it is key that you find an organization that does not look at these as two distinct pieces of technology or capability. If that is the case, typically what people…what organization’s will find is that they are operating in a preview dialing mode, if they stick their hand up and want to work in a predictive dialing mode it comes with an additional cost. That shouldn’t be the case. And certainly within Unity4’s cloud based contact centre solution both functionalities are available as options and the ability to run both in parallel for different campaigns, different product sets or different teams with in the one organization is really key.

Simon: Sure okay. Well while we’re on outbound let’s touch on scripts and call scripting. Rather than a static block of text in front of the call centre agent, a system like Unity4 will have a very flexible call scripting tool actually prompts the operator, the agent, through the call, based on the nature of the call. So tell us a little bit about that.

Call scripting

Justin: Yeah look your absolutely right and I think we’ve all been on the receiving end of calls that are very clearly scripted. It’s frustrating as a customer to receive calls of that nature, it’s very impersonal and typically leads both the agent and the customer down a path that doesn’t necessarily result in the outcome that they’re looking for.

Call scripts that change dynamically

With in the Unity4 platform, our scripting engine is what we would call dynamic. So that as we collect information on the call, we can input that data or that customer interaction and the script will change accordingly.

Now our scripting engine has been developed from very simple to extraordinarily complex scripts. If you look at the financial services marketplace there are scripting engines that are linked to underwriting platforms. So just by the very nature in that example if somebody’s age fits into a certain bracket the script will change all the way through to ask the most appropriate questions to get the outcome which in that example might be a premium for a particular insurance product. Again the script and the script may change if that individual is a smoker, or if that individual is married or single or if that individual has dependent children.

So it allows a vast level of automation that gives the agent the power to have a much more personalized and connected communication with the customer rather than following a standard script that meet some percentage of the people that they’re going to call.

Call scripts for compliance and governance

Again just using the financial services in the insurance perspective, scripting has to be tied down from a compliance and governance perspective so that financial advice is not provided for example. General advice is. So we have both the need to allow the most conversational piece from the agent to the customer but we also need to tie that into governance and legislation compliance as well from the financial services perspective. So a free flowing scripting engine that links directly to input data is really the way to make sure that those conversations flow kind of neatly.

Simon: Okay I think you’ve touched on a very important point there because your campaign managers at the contact centre would in some cases like their agents to be very conversational with their prospects and customers on the phone they would like them to be building rapport and just getting a conversation going. Sometimes as you’ve said in financial services, things need to be very clearly scripted and thereby recorded and that leads me neatly onto my next point which is about call monitoring and recording. Talk us through some of the things that a platform like Unity4 would be able to do in terms of call monitoring and recording.

Call monitoring and recording

Justin: Okay again to start with, I would say that in the past and in the traditional context in this space there are providers that purely provide solutions around call monitoring and recording and quality assurance. They’re a standalone piece of technology and software that’s been developed over a long period of time and cost a huge amount of money.

Within the Unity4 platform the fact that the platform was designed for our contact centre use initially, call monitoring, call recording, quality assurance has been built into the solution. For some organizations it’s absolutely key and it’s a critical piece of managing their governance and legislation, to monitor, or to record every single call. And to store those accordingly. Now when we as individuals as consumers contact our bank or contact our utility provider or contact our mobile phone provider we typically here that…that recorded message to say that calls will be recorded and will be used for training purposes. It allows team leaders and contact centre managers and operational people to continually monitor how an agent or a customer service representative is interacting with a client, it also allows should there be a complaint or an issue, it allows the organization to be able to revive that call recording to the customer to an ombudsman or whatever level that may get to. To be able to provide evidence of the call, what was said, what was agreed to. Also as I mentioned earlier, it allows those team leaders and contact centre managers to work one on one with their agents to listen to calls that have been made and to highlight areas that should be praised, highlight areas that could require a little bit more work, and ultimately you know that alone means or drives towards a better customer experience when you’re picking up the phone and ringing one of it’s providers.

Quality assurance and call monitoring.

Quality assurance, goes hand in hand with call monitoring and call recording, a lot of organizations, certainly those who are financial services based, or utilities based, have a level of QA or quality assurance that they have to carry out. That may be verifying that a sale is actually a sale. Verifying that everything that is required by law to be asked or gone through has been gone through so that they can verify that, that particular sale the agent has flagged is a legitimate sale, if not or if information was missed out or questions not asked. It gives that organization the opportunity to go back to that customer, make sure the customer is happy with the information they received over the telephone. So it’s a safety net and it should be recognized as a safety net for the customer as much as it is a safety net for the call centre provider and ultimately the organization selling whatever product or communicating whatever information to the individuals.

This is part 1 of the discussion, you can find part 2 here.

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