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by Technews
Issue Date: August 2007

Call centres: caveat emptor

16 August 2007

Does your provider live up to these standards?
Tellumat Telecoms, a distinguished SA business communications specialist with over two million ports sold in two decades, warns against hasty acquisition of call centre platforms in a fast-growing local contact centre environment.
Bennie Langenhoven, GM of Tellumat Telecoms, says buyers should closely examine the offerings they are presented with, as well as the commitment and credentials of providers.
* A long engagement
"The most important thing to look out for when buying a call centre platform is the extent to which the provider will engage you as the customer," Langenhoven says. "They should offer to work closely with various levels of company stakeholders, to come to a full understanding of your requirements."
He says a good provider will spend time with senior management of the customer enterprise, to understand the call centre's business drivers; with the call centre manager, to discuss problems and measurable metrics; and even team leaders and supervisors. "The IT manager is becoming much more involved in the organisation's business process and is therefore key to the decision making process as well as the successful roll-out of the final solution."
VOIP is often sold as the transport medium that makes integration with back-office systems such as CRM a cinch, continues Langenhoven. "But integration is just as much a possibility with TDM (time-division multiplexing) infrastructure. No matter which technology is being used, the customer must ask their provider if they have the expertise to tie their call centre to their back-office systems, should they want that."
* Fine print
Langenhoven says it is vital to look out for clauses that will impact on the service levels of the call centre. "Discuss matters like guaranteed levels of service, uptime and the quality of the support."
* A sense of knowing
Another clue is the provider's background. "Some merely distribute technology on behalf of an overseas principal," he points out. "Tellumat has over a long period designed, developed and manufactured PBXs, and supplied thousands to Telkom. Even though much of our portfolio today is third-party technology, we have an intimate understanding of this field."
* Today, tomorrow, forever
Langenhoven says it is moreover important to consider current as well as future call centre needs. "The rule of thumb is to employ technology you have used and trust for your current needs, but where you see a need to evolve your capabilities to remote extensions, collaboration and so forth, implement next-generation technology."
* Prove it
The provider must be willing to perform a proof-of-concept installation that leaves the customer with no uncertainty about its capabilities, Langenhoven adds. "Ask for a 10-seater evaluation platform to be put through its paces by different agents. Make sure you are happy it serves your business and operational needs."
* Standards delivered
Tellumat adheres to a variety of standards, set by industry organisations and ratified by bodies such as the SABS and International Telecommunications Union. Langenhoven advises call centres to ask for a compliance checklist.
If the call centre platform comes with a management information system that delivers productivity and other reports, customers should have the freedom to customise their reports themselves at no extra costs, and without the need for special skills.
* Full disclosure
"Do not only look at the quote," Langenhoven further stresses. "Try to come to a total cost of ownership figure, considering reliability (downtime), the resources needed to maintain or customise, upgrades and expansion costs, and the licensing regime. Look out for an annual licence fee, as opposed to a once-off fee.
* VPN or no VPN?
Finally, Langenhoven says the technology must be examined for its possible need of ancillary services. "For instance, given the limitations of ADSL broadband to provide a fixed IP address, make sure the technology you acquire makes provision for remote extensions without the need for a VPN."
Customers would do well to realise their own influence in coming to the correct buying decision, Langenhoven sums up. "Any provider worth their salt should be able to sail through a simple checklist like this, but many will not be able to. Knowledge is power."

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