James Dunn, CEO, TelStar Hosted Services, Delivers Webinar on Appraising Call Center Performance and Leveraging the Cloud
James P. Dunn, CEO, TelStar Hosted Services, Inc., “Your Call Center in the Cloud!™”, delivered an interesting webinar on Appraising Call Center Performance and Leveraging the Cloud, on Tuesday November 8, 2011, sponsored by Vocalcom and Customer Interaction Solutions magazine. The webinar covered how companies can successfully conduct performance appraisals internally. You can view the webinar and download the slides below.
James P. Dunn, CEO, TelStar Hosted Services, Inc., “Your Call Center in the Cloud!™”, has over 30 years of experience in call center and telecommunications services, transforming struggling businesses into profitable ones. For the past 15 years, he conducted performance appraisals of emerging growth companies with his partner, Ralph Peluso, COO of TelStar Hosted Services, Inc., many on behalf of private equity firms.
Enterprise Performance Appraisal
In his webinar, he provided a tactical review of what managers can do to improve call center performance. Dunn begins, “We are often asked by CEOs what we can do to improve our performance…The Enterprise Performance Appraisal is an intensive, on-site business evaluation. It’s given to stakeholders of the business, and it should be rapid, accurate and actionable information. “
Dunn says that “Stakeholders should expect an objective analysis of the operating and financial realities of the business, delivered in a format that gives decision makers necessary information. It should be a prioritized set of strategic and tactical action items designed to meet key business goals, in areas of profitability, cost control, sales effectiveness, and operational efficiency. It should have a near-term implementation plan with measurable performance targets.”
Dunn says that the structure is fairly simple. Dunn covered how to identify the issue, how to conduct the performance appraisal, and how to organize those results to improve performance. He outlined several typical corporate triggers for a performance appraisal, such as sales underperformance, client attrition, business integration, new key initiatives from the board, having the management bandwidth needed and the ability to fund new initiatives, how to better organize to hit our goals, or key executives leaving.
According to Dunn, an Enterprise Performance Appraisal is a customized engagement, and it needs senior executive sponsorship. “This is something that you can perform yourself, but whomever you assign this to should have an objective viewpoint” Dunn says. A business review takes two to three weeks, involves the key players, the key metrics, and includes a business review, management review, organization structure review, and a functional area review including: sales and marketing, an operations assessment, a financial evaluation, a business process review, and a review of infrastructure support.
Dunn describes the process. “When we used to do these, it was typically we would step in there with the senior management team in a face-to-face meeting, and deliver the ten most important issues that we found. It was quite common for the CEO to look at us and say “that was just terrible, like getting report cards when I was a kid; however, you were absolutely correct.” So It was pragmatic, it was hands-on, it was believable, it was honest, because it’s a lot about listening about what the organization is and looking at the results and aligning them, it is intuitive and collaborative. And a simple assessment gets buy-in when you start to implement new processes…so the Enterprise Performance Appraisal is fairly simple. You take an issue, appraise it objectively, deliver those results and then you have a tactical plan to move forward.”
Dunn outlines three case studies of companies for which he conducted Enterprise Performance Appraisals and the results.
POLL 1: Which of these have occurred in your company in the last 5 years?
Situation I – Private Equity investment
In the first situation, Dunn says “a private equity firm had made an investment into a large business-to-consumer learning company…that sells a software package that assists in the learning process. We were asked to conduct a tactical assessment of the sales delivery organization…This company used a lot of television for advertising and they were also using outsourced partners to answer a lot of their questions. And that’s a very difficult part to forecast, when are those ads going to run in certain regional markets, and how many calls are going to come in, and what’s our performance behind it. So…it was an acquisition call, it was a sales call, and it was tightly aligned with marketing. But it had some very scary components like are we properly staffed, and they were using multiple outsourcers to help them perform their tasks.”
Dunn stated that they did the assessment, interviewed several different levels of the company and interviewed all their outsourcers. The performance appraisal reviewed people, process, and technology in support of the contact center to check for alignment with service delivery goals.
Dunn explains “We generated 50 to 60 tasks, numbered them, set a priority for each from 1 to 5 and …we would ultimately only focus on the number ones, the ones radically effecting the operating environment.” They offered a description of the issue, the expected practice, and the gap or opportunity that becomes part of the tactical plan.
Dunn described the process with internal customer service representatives. “Typically when we talk to a rep we like to ask them the question “How did you do today,” and if a rep is tightly managed and knows their goals they are going to give you an answer like “well I’m supposed to answer this number of calls, but I am only doing this and I had this one guy who took too long,” but they are really tightly aligned with what their goals are. In this case, we found the metrics around the representatives were very sketchy, the Telesales group has recently been separated from the Customer Service, supervisors did not know their attrition rates or the length of service, etc.”
Dunn states that normally, he would expect the supervisor to have a working knowledge of attrition rates, the hiring practice, a job profile, Service Levels, etc. After listening to multiple calls, Dunn felt the agent interaction seemed reasonable given there is little process, training, tools, or guidance. He saw the opportunities that the company needed a succinct job description, hiring strategy, training program, performance goals, etc. In addition, he covered issues of monitoring and coaching.
In reviewing the results, Dunn made the following observations: “These are all pragmatic things that we can do without extra investment.”
“We actually found that they were leaving 20,000 to 30,000 calls a month unanswered which is a lot of money left on the table and they didn’t even have insight as to what was going on there. “
“Why we picked some of the partners we picked like Vocalcom what separates competitors from just players is having a scoreboard and a strong sense of responsibility to meet these goals.”
After reviewing the assessment, Dunn says that “What we do is we take these 50 or 60 things and boil them down to succinct issues and then we deliver them to the CEO. We created a two page report to senior management with recommendations for investment.”
In their report, Dunn says that “The Company needed to align the consumer experience, delivery infrastructure, and product lifecycle.” He and his partner concluded that the company is passionate about the product, has made a significant investment into marketing activities, and is seeing strong market acceptance of the product/brand. However, the infrastructure that delivers the customer experience is immature. The Company develops products that move through a product lifecycle. The Customer Experience should be a conscious experience aligned with the products’ lifecycles. The company needed to ensure that information is used to quickly drive change in product, documentation, process, and technology to deliver maximum revenue –as Dunn notes, “the defined experience for the forecasted cost.”
Dunn also said that the company needed to create a learn-to-learn environment. He continued that “We concluded that the company needed to operate in a disciplined, yet flexible environment that can monitor and measure results in real time and drive change in a fact based manner. This suggested investment in standardized operating processes, such as service levels that are managed at every customer touch point; scripts/interactions that support the customer, product, and marketing campaign i.e. sale, scheduled call back, service issue, etc. and a daily operational review of results.”
In addition Dunn notes that the Company needed to “And last, evolve. Evolve the organization, the plan, and the ability to execute. The Company has contact center resources internally, and with outsourced vendor relationships. Regardless of where the resources reside, the Company needs resources in support of the contact center, such as training/standard operating procedures, defined work activity, delivery mechanisms, workflow, workforce management, etc.”
Dunn remarks that “The contact center is “The Voice of the Customer.” Listen and evolve accordingly. The company had many opportunities to maximize take rate, enhance the customer experience, and minimize the cost associated with the product/service delivered.”
Dunn continues “so what were the results…We delivered this to the CEO, and then the CEO asked us to deliver it to all the functional areas. So we aligned with them, and we ultimately went to the outsourcers and delivered [these results]…and we created a prioritized plan to execute. These were simple things, these were things well within their control, some of them required some investment, but mostly it was fixing process and it was focus on the most important issues in the business.”
Dunn concludes “the company evaluated the vendors and made different choices. The marketing effectiveness increased 55% over the next two quarters. Marketing was able to take information captured in the call center and create a better message, drive more leads into the call center and were able to turn more of those leads into productive sales. They developed a strong technology point-of-view to measure their internal operations, they created a shared scoreboard and their sales increased for several quarters.”
Situation II – Health Care Model Change
The second situation that Dunn describes is regarding a behavioral health care company. Dunn remarks that “Call Center Technology …which many of us tend to think of as very static, but in many situations it is still a very disruptive technology. “
Dunn describes a behavioral health care client, a company doing drug and alcohol addiction services. This company was offering a new approach to counseling, treating the addiction but also identifying a mental health issue that needs to be treated in conjunction. To educate people to what they were doing, they were early adopters in creating hundreds of microsites to describe their products.
Dunn explains “In the old days, a company like this, if I had a center let’s say in Denver, I would hire a salesperson in Denver that would go work with the local hospitals and they would get referrals in that way. In today’s world with hundreds of microsites, somebody in New York who has an issue or has a family member that might have an issue may say “hey I’d like to send them to this one in Denver, because I think it better meets the needs of what the conditions were, and it may be more discreet. So by default they had to do a virtual enrollment. So the call center was still very disruptive, how do you do a very sensitive enrollment like this in a call center. So they had about 50 seats of inbound and outbound, it was blended, and they did have a strong focus on social networking, and by the way since this is obviously a very touchy subject, there was a huge investment in security and HIPAA compliance.”
Dunn told the client “You need to restructure your overall approach to organizational design, you need to bring in more call center people, you need to put in place much more effective coaching, and whatnot, but it was very effective…In this case, this is a company where a cloud computing environment make great sense… they have infrastructure but they’re not an overly big IT group and their core focus as a company is not on running IT or running call center. So in this case, there is this opportunity for them to work with a best of breed player like us with Vocalcom or a number of competitors that are out there, where you can buy that call center technology via the cloud. It is in a secure environment, it can be stood up and managed quickly, and in our secure environment, even if they bought everything, at the best practices if they’re not installing it in that right environment with the disaster recovery …there is a lot of concern that they will have protected data, and be able to operate in the event of a disaster.”
Dunn describes the results. “We did evaluate communications-as-a-service, they are able to avoid $750,000 in capital expense in going to the cloud, and they were able to reduce their overall operating costs, because they’re working with a best-of-breed provider who is a bigger buyer, so they get better costs as well…because they are working with people who understand call center, they get the scoreboard to promote their effective engagement almost immediately. In this case, again, it was a wonderful thing to see. They were about 80% full on a monthly basis when we started the engagement. Within about 6 months after delivery of this and with a lot of effort on their part, they actually had a backlog. And when your average sale is about $25,000 to $30,000 a month, that’s a significant amount of revenue…and by working in some other areas, we didn’t leave them until we were able to dramatically reduce their security risk very quickly.”
POLL 2: In which area would you most need an assessment for your company?
Situation III – Fulfillment Company
The third situation is a fulfillment company. Dunn describes, “This is a company that does outsource fulfillment, meaning they run mailroom services and whatnot, they work for a lot of best-of-breed clients, they work in a multilingual environment, they have been in business for quite some time and have a wonderful relationship with all their clients. So in this economy they decided how do we expand, how do we create more revenue opportunity. So this was a new initiative by senior management of which they decided maybe we can go out to these same clients that we provide fulfillment services for and we can provide call center for them. We have the people, we have the management skills, we have all the process around that. Our biggest fear though is obviously around the technology side because this is not the technology we typically work in on the call center side. They do have a secure environment. They wanted to avoid large cap ex, and they wanted to work together to impress these current clients, acquire new clients, and expand their business.”
Dunn observes that the Company did not have the IT personnel, so they looked at the cloud, and they also wanted a partner to understand their market and help them win the business.
Dunn declares “The cloud IT focus circumvents a lot of start-up time. So if they were going to go out and build the call centers and the cloud from scratch It would have added four to five months to the process plus a lot of cost because they are talking about several hundred seats in call center here. Also the call center providers today help extend the call center expertise and the reach that they would have had a hard time acquiring from scratch…They wanted to work with a cloud provider who also could give them a premise based option…..TelStar Hosted, when we deliver a cloud based IT solution,…we are an extension of their IT team, they are buying the IT capabilities as service. But if at some point in time they we have an initiative or [they tell us that] “we have a client that is demanding that we have it in our sites and we own all the technology” we can give them that option, too, they can buy that from our partner Vocalcom….We reduced their overall expense, with buying efficiency as well, we have large relationships…and we are able from the start to give them a scoreboard from which they, their clients and us could all measure our effectiveness and improve our performance over time.”
POLL 3: Have you considered a cloud, or hosted, solution for your call center services?
Dunn concludes that “Companies can learn to perform a call center performance appraisal and leverage that information to improve your performance overall. You need executive sponsorship, you need objectivity, many of the functional areas are involved, it is a team building opportunity, its affordable (if you say there are things you can’t afford right now that’s ok, it happens all the time but there is much you can focus on to improve), rapidly actionable in days not weeks, and will help stimulate growth and positive behavior within the organization.”
Dunn added “Thank you to Vocalcom for giving us this opportunity to speak with you. We would love to continue this conversation with you to see if there are areas we can work together or find areas where we can help you to improve your business, and we look forward to talking with each and every one of you.”
Question and Answer
Q. Does your system offer: 1- a facility for me to add multiple clients to your server 2- white label the service 3- add a custom SIP account?
A. In general, our system will allow a facility to do multiple clients, we do have a white label service and we do allow custom SIP accounts.
Q. How can the cloud help address issues that call centers typically face?
A. In Communications-as-a-Service, when we talk about the cloud, call center is People Process and Technology Working in Concert…it’s a lot of teamwork on every aspect of it…when you are constantly trying to coordinate the technology change with the discipline of running a good operation…they are sitting on antiquated technology or technology is changing quickly or their business is changing quickly and they have all their capital tied up in CapEx and they can’t move to meet the business need. With the cloud, they can move to new equipment with minimal capital expenditure. Also we are call center experts so we try to help you, and really understand what your issues are. Also, to use Vocalcom as an example, the software is wonderfully designed, has huge analytics, is already well structured to interface with social media work, and Vocalcom is a global leader. The Cloud is a great way to buy Communications-as-a-Service today.
Q. What are the advantages of using the Cloud vs. a CRM?
A. Communications-as-a-Service will have scripting and will interface with your CRM system. A CRM system can be costly to acquire and service. The best example of CRM in the cloud is Salesforce. It is more effective for medium-sized organizations not big enough to command a big technical infrastructure. A key question is: does it integrate easily with the CRMs that are important in your market niche?
Q. What CRM do you use in your Hosted Call Center?
A. We work with several hundred clients using call center to deliver their technology. There are multiple CRMs. We do have multiple CRMs common in the SMB marketplace that we interface with, namely Salesforce, NICE, IEX, Sugarcrm, Goldmine, and Orangecrm.
Q. Have you any kind of trial?
A. We do have a trial. We can get somebody ten seats in a matter of days, if you want it highly customized that’s different but we can get you up and trying it.
Q. What kind of SLAs do you find customers are expecting from a cloud IVR?
A. As the provider, if I provide you a cloud what do you expect. Reliability is the number one issue everybody has when they are going to the cloud and as a technology company we want to be at five nines or above but I can also say that anytime there is a bad transaction when the person didn’t answer the phone quickly or there’s latency in the call…we’ve all failed and we need to have the passion, enthusiasm, discipline and the energy to constantly be trying to drive that to a different level. So from the cloud we’re finding our clients are expecting on demand delivery when they need it and anything less than that they’re going to beat me up, and that’s what we expect.
Q. What are the most important factors in transforming organizations?
A. Some of the most important factors that we’ve learned:
- You’ve got to have management buy in to be able to objectively go out and tear back the layers of the onion and get to the root cause of what the issues are. For this to be successful you’ve got to have buy-in and that’s at all levels of management.
- You’ve got to be objective about identifying the root cause
- It’s got to be the organization being enthusiastic about implementation. And when you do that…if you can get one out there really quick, where it’s a success for everybody, Success breeds success so try to get that win out quickly so you can move forward.
Q. Can you do this analysis internally? When do you need an outside organization?
A. It’s amazing how many organizations go outside to do this as opposed to develop the skills internally and sometimes you have a political environment that requires that…but if you can learn to do this internally on your own and empower the folks that are going to implement the changes to do this, you have a much better chance of moving the needle in a positive manner quickly.