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Call Center Software Selection Best Practices

Shopping for call center software can be an overwhelming task. I am currently working predominately with banks, but the same is true for any industry. First of all, who on earth do you choose? It may vary depending on your vertical, the size of your call center, identifying essential features versus the ones that would just be nice to have… the list goes on. It seems like the longer you look at the available software options the less any of them really make sense. If you’re just upgrading your system, you’ve been here before and know what to expect. Not that that makes it any easier. If you are implementing a system for the first time it can be a bear of a task.

So what are the real drivers that ultimately lead to the buying decision? In my experience it has been two things:

  1. Staff recommendation, and
  2. The recommendation of the staff

Not a typo – you read that correctly. Yes, cost is a major factor, but not the main driver since it can be talked around easily by the right people on the inside. Sadly, there may also be some voices in the room with greater influence that will ultimately sway the decision maker. This is dangerous and potentially costly.

Who Does the Shopping?

When shopping for a large ticket item like a phone system or call center software you will likely have certain people be part of the vetting process. Those people typically will be a V.P. overseeing the department(s) the system will be implemented for, an operations manager of said department(s), IT personnel, and probably at least one or two of your front line supervisors/support personnel. Depending on your institution or business this may vary slightly, but should be pretty close. Generally speaking, executive management will be presented with the options by the VP and use their recommendation to approve the purchase.

Now that I’ve explained some things that you already know, what’s the problem with this type of arrangement?  It’s not merely that there are issues to overcome – there are always issues. The problem here is that each of the players will have their own interests and will prioritize the issues differently. The supervisor is mainly concerned about how the agents will be affected. I.T. is primarily concerned with how much work managing this new system is going to add to their already full schedules. The head of operations oversees the people that will manage the day-to-day, but will likely be removed from the practical applications and implications of certain tools/limitations. Finally, the VP’s primary concern will be how to get the cost of all this approved. It’s a perfect recipe for discord.

In all the purchases and implementations I have been a part of there has never been a true concerted effort to make the best decision for the business as a whole. Instead, this large purchase is more likely to make life easier for one or two segments of the business at the expense of all the others. Since I started working on the vendor side of things I will admit that I’ve seen some great examples of true team efforts in this process. Sadly however, they are few and far between. Most examples I’ve come across in passing perpetuate much of what I have witnessed first-hand. And one of the most unfortunate aspects about this set up is that the person sitting at the very top of this institution is really none the wiser. By dutifully heeding the recommendations of his or her trusted advisors, they could be getting ready to lose their tails off while being blissfully unaware of the impending doom.

You can call me crazy, but ladies and gentleman I’ve seen it. Hours upon hours spent on shopping, RPFs, purchasing, SOWs, implementation, training… only to learn of system limitations too late in the game. And then what happens? The realization sets in that a quarter of a million dollar mistake has been made, and finding someone willing to take credit for the decision is as likely as finding Jimmy Hoffa greeting shoppers at Walmart. Now, instead of focusing on improving processes and making things more efficient, management has to talk around the costly mistake. It’s one of the finest examples of self-preservation I’ve ever been witness to.

Call Center Software: What to Look For

If you’re a bank or credit union looking for call center software then you’re likely going to be given some options by your core provider. Sometimes the core provider themselves will have a call center solution to offer either onsite or off premise. (I will get into some of the benefits and drawbacks of outsourcing your work later in this article). Another option you’ll likely come across in your search will be from your phone system provider. There are many excellent phone systems, some with incredible capabilities, many of which you will find to be the most costly of all your options. I’ll preface my final statement by advising this is merely an observation, not in any way an attempt to bash anyone or anything. Simply said, just because a company is an expert in phone systems or core banking does not necessarily make them the best candidate for your call center solution. Okay, my opinions aside, now let’s look at some specific questions you should be asking.

Is the Software Fully-Integrated?

When you’re shopping software it’s easy to get starry eyed over the list of features and functions. Everything you could have ever wanted at your fingertips: core integration, screen pops, call and screen recording, automated call back feature, CRM integration, surveys, coaching tools… the list goes on. Most cloud based options will be limited here despite having very competitive pricing. Phone systems on the other hand will give you access to just about whatever you can dream of and come with price tags to prove it.

Where is the Software Manufactured?

This is not a question asked often enough. The reality is that many call center software vendors are really just resellers. Yes, their name is on the box but the tech itself was created by someone else. What that means is when it comes to support you will often be dealing with an outsourced segment of the business overseas. It’s not a deal breaker but its good know up front what you’re really getting into.

How Many Sub-Vendors Does It Take To Make A "Complete” Product?

It’s important to be mindful that while the phone system options are vast, they are in almost every occasion options that are not provided directly through that vendor. What I mean by that is that while your phone system has the ability to record phone calls – they will likely be using a third party vendor to facilitate the process. Want automated call back feature or screen recording? These items can easily be added on for price tags of $150k-200k each – why? Because what your phone system vendors won’t tell you is that while their systems are capable of certain functions, they’re not the ones that build the interfaces. So they outsource that work, charge you a premium on top of their costs and give you another vendor to deal with in the event something goes wrong. A fully integrated option on the other hand will provide all of these features through the same manufacturer.

What’s the Shelf Life?

This is another question very often overlooked and one that has a significant impact. Like most products we deal with today, most call center software has an expiration date. It’s great for the companies selling the product, but for the consumer, it’s costly. Coming to a product’s end of life and having to deal with owning a system that is no longer supported can easily make you feel trapped. Finding yourself in this situation can result in making a purchasing decision rooted in fear rather than sound due diligence. Ask your vendor about their time frames on this. How long is it before they plan to sunset their products? Are there any incentives available to you once they’ve phased out a product? In the rare instance you find a company that does not sunset their products, ask them why not.

Which Features Come Standard?

Demonstrations are a great way to get a feel for the products, just keep in mind that they’re all biased. For one, every system has its weaknesses. Manufacturers will almost never be up front with what they are, so ask lots of questions. As part of the demonstration process you will be shown all of the bells and whistles. Just because it can do it, doesn’t mean it will do for you it after it’s purchased. Many of the features and functionality that offer the greatest levels of efficiency enhancements are not part of the native software package. As I mentioned above, make sure to ask about all of the functionality being shown to you and whether or not it’s something that they manufacture first hand or if it’s being outsourced. Keep in mind is that not everything that glitters is gold. One of the nicest looking systems I ever managed was more difficult to work with and less efficient than the system it replaced.

Will We Have Access to the Data?

Good data is essential! Almost all call center software will have reporting of some kind – some of it good and usable, other pieces that seem only to take up space on the list of available reports. One aspect that is vital, regardless of how great the reporting, is that you have access to the data. It may seem like a no-brainer, but not every system is going to give you access the way you want it. Native reporting in most cases will give you the ability to export to excel, but what you really want to do is take data directly from the database to create custom reporting. Even if it’s not something you feel you need to do today, having that ability will prove to be extremely valuable as your organization and requirements grow.

What Can I Expect From Support?

This is a biggie! Personally, I’ve had excellent experiences in this area as well as a few horror stories. Your best bet is to reach out to current customers of the vendors you’re shopping. Speak with as many references as possible. Even if their business segment is slightly different from yours you will still get the most well rounded view of both the strengths and weaknesses in the support. Here are just a few specific questions that should be asked:

  • Will they manage support with 3rd party vendors when they are used?
  • Will I need to provide dedicated staff to the management of the system?
  • How often are updates performed, and what is the typical impact to operations during and after an update?
  • Is there a cost to upgrade to newer versions?
  • What types of system modifications/maintenance is included in what I pay for versus what will be billed as custom work?

These are just a few examples off the top of my head. The main point I want to drive home here is not to be afraid to ask as many questions as you can. There’s nothing worse than getting locked into a 5+ year contract with a tool that ultimately doesn’t live up to half of what you thought it would. Or in the case that it can, find out that it’s going to cost you tens of thousands more in order to get it done.

Keep An Open Mind

A lot of what I’ve discussed so far has been mostly defensive in nature. Yes, it’s important to be on guard and know what to look out for. It’s also equally important to go into this process expecting to learn something. The entire purpose for shopping call center software should be to leverage technology so that your organization can be more efficient. Efficiency should be doing two things for you: 1 – increasing output and 2 – reducing your costs. Of course a nice byproduct of efficiency is an enhanced customer experience. If you’re not looking at this way, you should at the very least ponder it. I suggest that you not simply consider the cost, but really consider the time you will save as well as the increase in output you can achieve. Then monetize the savings and increased production to calculate the true value of the system, rather than the cost.

Though not exhaustive, I hope that you’ve found what I put together for you in this article to be insightful. There really is so much more depth to any one of these segments that warrant serious consideration.

Above all else, my recommendation prior to even starting your search is to put together a focus group within your organization to really iron out what is important. It’s not common practice, but spend time gaining insight from the folks that interact directly with your customers. When it comes time to view the capability of the products, bring in the people that are going to be working with it day in, and day out. They are going to be the ones that ask the questions you don’t know you should ask.

About the Author

JD is an efficiency expert, consultant and “unofficial wave maker." He fosters the difficult conversations that are necessary to inspire growth in businesses and call centers by subtly reshaping the mindset of traditional business practices.

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