Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Reinventing Call Centre Management

Just a quick post regarding an upcoming conference I am speaking at, Reinventing Call Centre Management on March 18 & 19 in Toronto. Now you have fair warning to either attend or book something else to save you from attending.

I will be speaking on Leadership Strategies for High performance call and contact centers. This is a meaty topic and I looking forward to it. For more information on the conference you can visit http://www.federatedpress.com/pdf/RCCT0803-E.pdf

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Challenges in Employing Research Reports to Make Purchase Decisions

The Challenges in Employing Research Reports to Make Purchase Decisions

There are a number of sources where call and contact center operators can gain insight into the offerings of contact center telephony vendors. The majority of these are provided or sponsored by the vendors and as such are suspect to greater or lesser degrees. There are a few research organizations that research and provide assessments of the vendors though even these are not perfect as many are based upon vendor submissions and interviews and can only be as good as the research analysts’ questions and depth of research completed.

In reality each call or contact center is unique and has unique requirements, while whitepapers and research studies can be helpful in assessing which vendors may be able to deliver the solution for your center there is no substitute for conducting a detailed assessment and analysis of your own requirements.

Selecting a purchasing a call/contact center telephony is a significant purchase and for organizations that rely upon their center as a primary customer interface, and who doesn’t today. A bad purchase decision can have significant financial, not to mention career limiting impact. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise to see organizations relying on ‘research’ from big name firms to validate their own findings and in some cases as the primary basis of a purchase decision.

Before committing to a business decision based upon a research study, it is important to understand the methodology and objectives of the study. For example Gartner in describing their methodology for their ‘Magic Quadrant’ research studies states that their study provides “snapshots of markets and their participants[1]”. Further Gartner also states in explaining their methodology, “is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis of every vendor in a market”.

A look at the methodology employed by Gartner may be cause to examine more closely the suitability of their study as a basis for a business decision. The Magic Quadrant scoring is broken down into two components “Completeness of vision” and “Ability to execute”. On the surface few would argue about the value of these two assessment criteria in an assessment, but a deeper dive surfaces more than a few questions. The research is heavily weighted to information provided by the vendors through briefings, product documentation, and client provided references. This approach increases the likelihood that the vendors are able to secure a superior review due to the effort they devote to disclosing and managing information provided to Gartner. This is likely more often the case in “completeness of Vision” which deals to a large degree with the product roadmap and future development. The “Ability to Execute” by nature is focused on the information and references provided by the vendor. Every vendor has clients who love them and will provide a positive and flattering point of view.

While the results reflect the results generated by the process, it is not without challenges and all potential purchasers would be wise to keep a few relevant points in mind:
1. The vendors assessed are not all inclusive. Some organizations do not participate in the process. The vendor may be too small or simply not focused on the contact center market space.
2. Magic Quadrant results may not be representative of the real world. For example, Cisco ranks very high in the Gartner assessment, below.
Figure 1. Magic Quadrant for Contact Center Infrastructure, North America, 2007
Source: Gartner (August 2007)

Yet Cisco implemented in spring 2007 their new ‘A2Q’ (Assessment to Quality) process which requires all resellers and integrators (this includes their top tier ‘Gold Certified Partners’) to allow Cisco two weeks to review all code before it is deployed. This is certainly a positive step given the inherent complexity in the Cisco solution, to provide a superior end result, it can also be seen as a response to significant stability issues that Cisco has had with their contact center product. In one case that TRG is familiar with a client was unable to complete call routing and reporting for almost six months following a change to their auto attendant messaging. Yet in the 2007 Magic Quadrant Cisco received the highest marks for ‘Ability to execute’. Cisco is not the only example: Oracle touts their Oracle Seibel hosted CRM as being recognized as a leading platform, yet it has been plagued by stability issues, unresolved help desk tickets and an ineffective offshore help desk. In this case Gartner identified Oracle as a ‘visionary’. A less flattering label may well be that of vaporware, because the solution doesn’t deliver what it promises.

The Magic Quadrant assessment does not include all vendors in the market. Some are too new, some are too small and some simply elect not to participate in the process. One example of an omitted vendor is ShoreTel. ShoreTel is a publicly traded IP telephony vendor (SHOR) which was a late entrant into the call and contact center market space. The company deployed their first IP PBX solution in 1998 and did not have a fully featured call/contact center offering until 2004. ShoreTel however has an advantage over many of their competitors in both the IP PBX and Contact Center markets in that they developed their solution from a blank page. ShoreTel is not encumbered by legacy equipment and a desire to ensure compatibility and future migrations from a legacy base, nor have they assembled their code based upon acquisition and the inherent integration of thousand of lines of code to complete specific or discrete tasks and activities. Freedom from these restrictions has allowed ShoreTel to develop and deploy a good call/contact center platform. While the ShoreTel solution may be in somewhat less robust than other solutions on the market today, depending upon the user requirements it may well be the best alternative for a significant percentage of contact center operators.

The following chart outlines the results of TRG call/contact center vendor selection engagement that was completed for a Fortune 500 company with more than 650 agents in numerous centers across the country.

Figure2- TRG- Commissioned Assessment

Specific user requirements were developed (41 mandatory and 14 future requirements were identified) and bids were solicited from 14 firms including all of the major players in this sector including: Cisco, Avaya, Nortel, NEC, and Interactive Intelligence, as well as Mitel, ShoreTel and others. TRG short listed Cisco, NEC and ShoreTel. At the end of the process it was ShoreTel was number 1 in the TRG rankings ahead of Cisco who was ranked as #2.

The results above are not to suggest that ShoreTel is the best solution for every company, nor that ShoreTel has the best functionality for every application, it doesn’t, but it does suggest that when companies examine their needs and look for the vendor that best meets those needs they may be surprised, with the result. ShoreTel for example offers a competent call center solution, with many of the enhancements organizations are seeking today.

Clearly while the Gartner Magic Quadrant is very informative and does provide an insight into the vendors selected it is, at the end of the day a “snapshot” that is skewed based upon Gartner’s vendor selection and assessment model. This research is a good point of reference for understanding the vendors, but by its very design is skewed to those vendors who invest the greatest amount of time and resources to managing this process. This should be a point of caution for any organization that bases their purchase decision on Gartner of any other similar reports, thinking that “nobody gets fired for buying IBM” (or basing their purchasing decision on a well regarded research report).

So what is the preferred method for making a purchase decision? As we have stated previously, each call or contact center is unique and so should be the best solution to meet its needs. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. The best solution will be the solution that best meets to company’s’ needs today and expected future requirements. Employing an independent consultant can assist an organization is clarifying and weighting the functional requirements for today, the ‘nice to have’ and functionality expected to required in the future, though this may also be completed internally if the resources and competencies exist. Developing a Request for Proposal (RFP) that sets out these requirements is a logical next step in the process. Scoring the responses against the predetermined criteria will ensure that the best vendor to meet your current and future needs is identified. Lastly, complete due diligence to prove the ability of the vendor to deliver the desired functionality, and to do so in the manner desired, completes the assessment process. Follow the above steps will ensure that you end up with the solution you need and not just one that has received research accolades. You will own this decision for a long time; make sure it is the right one for you.

For more information about The Taylor Reach Group, Inc. please visit our website at http://www.thetaylorreachgroup.com/ .

[1] Gartner -Magic Quadrants and MarketScopes: How Gartner Evaluates Vendors Within a Market

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gratuitous self promotion

This has been an exciting fall for us at TRG; we have secured a number of new clients and launched some new services. In particular we are excited about two specific service offerings: Managed Service and Pay for Performance consulting.

TRG Managed Services may not fit with your view of contact center consulting, and frankly, it didn’t fit with mine until I realized the number of calls and emails I would get from clients as they prepared to go into planning, quarterly, and performance or budget meetings. Before they shared their performance, strategies or goals they wanted a litmus test. They wanted to ask our opinion about how they were doing…. Were the results good? Were their goals reasonable? How did these stack up against others in their vertical? What would we add?

These may seem like small questions and in fact they generally didn’t require a great deal of time to answer, we simply needed to understand the organization, it’s goals and aspirations for the contact center and had to have a historical view of the center to put the information in context. What did surprise us was the frequency of the questions. We began to see a market opportunity here.

So we asked our clients what they felt they got from the process and received answers such as “we wanted an independent view of how we were doing” and “We wanted to see if our goals were reasonable” or “ We wanted a dry run to review the numbers and ensure we could answer senior managements questions” and lastly “did we include everything we should have in the budget, are our assumptions reasonable?”

Based on this feedback we were sure we did have a service opportunity, not traditional or large projects, but rather small micro projects in 1 to 2 hour blocks of time. For less than a $1,000 per month our clients could have 10 hours of our time and use TRG as a sounding board, an advisor or a reality check.

The second service offering: Pay for Performance Consulting came about after discussing with some current and former clients the barriers they had encountered in retaining a firm like TRG. The single biggest challenge they had to overcome internally was the risk…”We pay a lot of money and we don’t really know what we get for it”. Having spent many years on the client side we understood this issue and while we do guarantee a 300% ROI on implementing our Recommendations, that doesn’t really help us get in the door in the first place. So we decided that the only way we could make it easier for companies and organizations to engage us was to eliminate their risk, by taking the risk ourselves.

The result was launching our Pay for Performance consulting services where we provide an estimate for a project based on a detailed scope of work and then execute the project with the client’s agreement. But it is the client who determines what value they received from this exercise and they decide what to pay.

For more information on TRG’s Managed Services or Pay for Performance consulting please call us at 416-979-8692 or email us at info@thetaylorreachgroup.com

Monday, December 10, 2007

Dumb Outsourcing Mistakes Bright Contact Center Executives Make

Dumb Outsourcing Mistakes Bright Contact Center Executives Make

We recently wrote an article outlining ‘Ten dumb things, bright contact enter mangers do’ and we were surprised by the response from readers and by the number of downloads and forwards we received. So we decided to follow up the general contact center management, with some more specific guidance for center manager as they look at outsourcing.

It is amazing that otherwise bright contact center executive that often make planned and considered decisions in other areas of their business, somehow seem to have their grey matter neutralized as they charge headlong into outsourcing.

The following is a list of regular challenges and mistakes we have seen bright contact center executives do while assessing and evaluating outsourcing and offshoring.

Don’t establish why outsourcing is being done or considered in the first place. After all outsourcing must be a good idea if our competitors are doing it.

Don’t investigate alternative solutions. If you have already decided that you need to outsource your contact center then looking at alternatives can be downright inconvenient. What would happen if you found a better solution?

Outsource for the sake of following the trend. It was in Fortune, Forbes or Business Week, so it must be right. The magazine said everyone else is going to India, so we don’t want to wait too long and miss out.

Travel to the offshore location and check out the hotels and amenities, after all if the bigwigs want to visit they will need somewhere nice to stay.

Don’t get competitive bids, why do we need them, they just delay the process. Besides a contact center is a contact center and we know we will save 80% so why quibble and delay over a few percentage point of savings.

Don’t establish objective criteria for evaluating outsourcers and the proposals. Criteria, such who have we heard of, who do our competitors use? Why make it any harder than it has to be

Don’t underestimate the power of psychic training. I just think a thought here in my office and my offshore outsourcer knows…scary.

Don’t bother to customize your staff training materials, they’re fine, besides the outsourcers has an extensive training program built around accent neutralization.

Don’t be concerned that your offshore partner doesn’t understand your customers. Really what aspect of your customer relationship can’t be addressed by watching 26 hours of Friends?

Don’t worry about what your customers will think, they may like the challenge of understanding new accents, words and phrases. Heck, they probably won’t notice the change.

Just send everything to the outsourcer; they will sort it out at their end…after all they are the experts.

Don’t involve the outsourcer with marketing/sales meetings that will just confuse and distract them from serving our customers.

Just get on a plane, you can find an outsource partner when you land. You can use the time in the air better to figure out how to spend your bonus for saving the company so much money.

Don’t visit their contact center, why take the trouble, after all they have nice pictures on their website.

Don’t plan to have to manage the relationship, they are the experts anyway, right and if there is a problem they will call me…at 3 in the morning.

Don’t budget additional expense to manage the relationship. How much can it really cost anyway to manage a few hundred folks dealing with your most important assets halfway around the world?

What mistakes would you add to the list? Let us know by email at feedback@thetaylorreachgroup.com

Of course there are many excellent outsource firms domestically, near shore and offshore. Many of these top flight companies have saved some of our otherwise bright executives from making these very mistakes. But like with everything else where there a good partners there can also be bad ones and it is the executive that makes the decision that must be vary.