Friday, June 26, 2015

Broken Knight: Consequences of Rushing into Production

Tuesday June 23rd was a huge day for people like me in the video game world. Batman: Arkham Knight was releasing and all of the reviews had been stellar. Reviews were glowing about how flawlessly the game ran and performed on the PS4, which made me incredibly happy as the PS4 is my platform of choice. However, the PC port of the game was a complete disaster. The game was so broken on PC that the publisher has stopped selling the PC version until it is fixed. That is quite a blow to all the PC players out there and puts a really ugly stamp on the game itself. The game itself had been delayed twice, and it appears that even with these delays, the PC version was still rushed into production.

Rushing your contact center ACD into live situations can also have consequences.

  • Using untested IVRs: While using the Q-Suite's visual IVR builder can be intuitive, the builder itself cannot apply automatic logic to the flow of the call. This logic must be accounted for by the administrator who is building the call flow for the contact center ACD. If the IVR is poorly constructed, odd or unintended situations may arise when a customer calls in. Test, tweak, and test some more to avoid this.
  • Under/Overestimating call volumes: If you speed along the turn up of your contact center without any prior data or analysis in regards to call volumes, you may end up in a scenario where you have a massive call volume and a grossly understaffed contact center, which is likely going to result in a larger than expected number of missed or abandoned calls. Customers can get very unhappy if they are unable to reach an agent. On the flip side, call volume is much less than predicted which results in having numerous agents sitting around doing nothing while getting paid to do so. Certainly not an ideal situation for the contact center owners.
  • Hardware: We touched on a few hardware issues in a previous post, and even talked about using some common sense when constructing your contact center ACD's infrastructure. I cannot really stress this enough though. If you are expecting 200 concurrent calls, do not make due with hardware that can only support 100, just so you can be in production. It's simply not a good idea.
I know that in the hectic world of software and contact centers, time is money, so deadlines get pushed and can get pushed hard. Just try to remember that implementing a poorly designed and poorly resourced contact center ACD just so you can be in production as fast as possible, could have serious longer term consequences that may result in not being in production at all.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Common Sense and the Contact Center ACD

Here are a quick hitters about common sense and the contact center ACD:
  • If you feel like you must use a virtual server, please don't configure the virtual device to have more resources than the actual physical server. Just because it's virtual doesn't magically transform your 8GB physical server into three 32GB virtual devices.
  • Network latency is going to happen if you decide that routing calls from Manilla to Los Angeles to London to Manilla is a good idea. Just because it is VoIP does not mean that data all of sudden gets transmitted instantly, just like normal old internet traffic does not get transmitted instantly.
  • If your hosted platform gives you minimum and recommended specifications for your servers and you opt for the minimum, do not be surprised when certain services are not performing in a desired fashion. If you decide that an Asterisk server only needs the minimum requirements, which will handle X amount of calls, do not be shocked when X+1 calls will cause problems.
I would like to think that these are quite obvious, however, they appear not to be. We talked last week about how to avoid extinction for your contact center. Having common sense can go a long way in making sure that doesn't happen.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Jurassic World opens this weekend! Avoiding Extinction in your Contact Center

It's been a long long time since I've been this excited for a movie. I have fond memories of hitting the local theater back in 1993 and being awestruck for the entire experience. Even today, the top notch special effects in Jurassic Park hold up against recent films. That is quite a feat. However, dinosaurs had their time and extinction was their fate. How can you avoid this for your contact center?

In your contact center ACD, hardware is truly going to be the main factor here. Servers and workstations are going to be required to run your contact center, so it's highly recommended to overcompensate on the hardware resources. Sure that $250 computer at Best Buy might have the minimum required specifications to run the necessary software for an agent station, but that machine might be completely tapped out in a month or two, and you may need to upgrade which can result in downtime.

The same type of thinking can be applied to your servers as well, since they will be handling the bulk of the contact center ACD's processing power. Disk space and RAM are fairly inexpensive today, so go for 32GB of RAM instead of 16GB. Get that 2TB hard drive in favor of a 500GB drive. Not having enough free memory and disk space can cripple a contact center. If actual hardware isn't a preferred option, have a hosted platform do all the heavy lifting for you in this regard. It may save you some money up front as well.

Redundancy is also a great option for ensuring that your contact center can survive a catastrophic failure at a single location. A common configuration would be to have on-site hardware with a duplicate set of backups in the cloud that will spring into action if and when a local disruption occurs, such as a hardware failure on the database server.

Planning ahead can be a key component into the survivability of your contact center. Don't go the way of the dodo or our dinosaur friends and find yourself extinct.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Get All Agents on the Same Page: Use Scripts to Access Your Issue Tracking System

We've looked at Q-Suite's script builder before and how easy and flexible it can be for creating agent scripts. While the script feature is typically used to build the proper flow for the agent-customer interaction, which may involve data gathering by the agent, it can be used in in different ways. Let's explore how we can use the script builder to merge agent scripting and issue tracking on the same page.

For this case, we can build an agent script that contains a single component. This component allows the builder to specify an external url which will open the url in the component and will act as a self-contained pseudo-web browser. What this essentially means is that you can embed a second web browser instance into the actual browser instance, so that you can access two completely different urls at the same time. In this particular situation, we have the agent using the web portal for the contact center ACD software, while also being free to navigate the script component's site, which would be the issue tracking software.

Using this type of functionality, agents can freely navigate within the realm of the issue tracker without the need to create a new browser tab or separate window. The ability to stay on the page, while doing issue tracking and contact center ACD related tasks can greatly improve productivity.

The effectiveness of this method has also been detailed over on another blog. Please have a look!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Progressing Through Destiny's House of Wolves at My Own Pace: Take the Same Approach for Your Contact Center Leads

Destiny's disc (I still like physical media for games if I can help it) has been the exclusive tenant of my PS4's disc drive since launching on September 9th, 2014. I've been through the campaign, completed Nightfalls, the Vault of Glass, and Crota's End many times. The latest expansion, House of Wolves, dropped May 19th, and I am completely enjoying my time there. I'm mostly a casual player, so I don't get bent out of shape if I fail to reach the max level on my characters (I do have a 34 Hunter though) or I don't get all the best gear as quickly as possible. I'll get there at some point. However I've already seen threads and forum posts pop up from the hardcore players who have already maxed out all 3 characters and now they are asking the question 'What else is left for me to do?' This can apply to how your contact leads are dialed. Let's have a look.

It's very hard to pinpoint the exact dialing speeds that the contact center software should be using in order to maximize agent efficiency. If you dial leads too slowly, agents may not be fully utilizing their clocked time at the center. If you dial too quickly, agents may be overwhelmed and client interaction can suffer. There are 3 major dialing types in the Q-Suite:
  1. Predictive - Depending on how your contact center is staffed, this type of outbound dialing can be most effective way of dialing the most leads in the most efficient manner. Used correctly, it's a powerful way to use the contact center software to get those leads dialed and relayed to the agents. Used incorrectly, the call center software will dial leads too quickly, and many of those leads will result in dropped calls due to agents not being available, which is not a favourable outcome.
  2. Progressive - The contact center dialer will pass leads to the agents and will auto-initiate the dialing sequence in a 1:1 fashion. This allows the agents to be fully focused on a single lead. Since the contact center software is handling the dial, the agent purely needs to concentrate on the customer data presented to them as well as any scripting that will be associated to the call.
  3. Preview - Preview dialing is almost identical to progressive dialing with one exception. When preview dialing, the agent is responsible for manually starting the dial sequence. This method can be incredibly useful for the agents if there happens to be a large amount of relevant data in regards to the customer or the campaign.
All 3 of the major dialing types in the contact center software have their pros and cons. It's up to the center itself to determine which type is the best fit so that leads can be handled in the most efficient manner.

With that in mind, Skolas will feel my wrath. Eventually. Eyes up, Guardians.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Farewell David Letterman! Retiring (Your Leads) Can Be a Good Thing

David Letterman had a pretty spectacular career as a late night talk show host. He started his late night gig at NBC in 1982 and ended his storied career this week over on CBS. That's 33 years of being on late night television. Impressive. However, sometimes you just have to call it quits and retire. Contact center leads can also be gracefully retired and there can be a few reasons as to why your contact center would want to follow this route.
  • Poor lead quality - Lead quality in the contact center realm typically refers to the probability that a lead will actually pick up the phone where called. Leads that are cold calls will most definitely have a poorer quality that leads that get generated via a website form, as an example. If your list of leads is simply not getting you the results you want, retiring the list and removing the leads from the campaign is a viable option.
  • Dialing intervals - Some contact centers have rules in place regarding when to dial leads. A major example is having lists of leads that you may only want to dial for a calendar month. In this case, the monthly leads get loaded into the dialer and the contact center agents dial as they normally would. At the end of the month, these lists of leads are retired in favour of a new batch of monthly leads. Rinse and repeat as needed.
  • Max call/dial count - Business and legal rules can also have a huge impact on retiring leads. Let's say for example that the US state that you are calling into only allows a contact center to call a specific phone number 5 times, before legal action could be taken. Nobody wants a potential customer to sue them, so lead checking can be put in place to validate if the lead has reached these limits. If the lead has, the Q-Suite has the ability to retire the lead automatically.
As stated above, retiring isn't an awful thing and some people even think of it as one of best things to ever happen to them (my father comes to mind here). Apply that line of thinking to your contact center, and perhaps your leads will thank you...somehow. As a parting gift, here's David Letterman's final Top 10 segment. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has the best one.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Timeout! Sports, Kids, and Contact Centers

Timeouts in the sporting world are almost always used in an effective manner. Sure there's the odd time where it turns into an amazing disaster (Chris Webber in the 1993 NCAA Finals comes to mind), but for the most part, they are used as methods to take a breather, either to get your players rested for a final push down the stretch or to get a break from getting overwhelmed by the opposing team. In terms of kids, timeouts are administered when a child needs a break, either from misbehaving or being overstimulated. How can we apply timeouts in our contact center? Let's have a look at a few of the ways the Q-Suite can use these.

  • Hold Timeout - When a agent handles a call, there may be numerous reasons as to why the agent needs to place the caller on hold. If your contact center has hard limits on how long a caller is allowed to be placed on hold, you can set a Hold Timeout duration. Upon setting the duration, a contact center administrator can decide what to do if the timeout is exceeded. Stay on hold or route to a different IVR are options that can be chosen. 
  • No Answer Timeout -  This setting applies to outbound dialing and is the amount of time that the dialer will wait until it determines that the end point is not answering. The duration in seconds for this particular contact center configuration option is typically set to something between 30-40 seconds. Setting the timeout too low may result in many calls that get flagged as no answers simply because the end point did not have enough time to register the attempt.
  • Queue Max Wait Time - The sophisticated visual IVR builder in the Q-Suite allows you to configure nodes that will route a caller to an inbound queue. The Max Wait Time option is a very crucial setting as this will handle the amount of time that a caller will stay waiting in the queue before automatically exiting. Depending on what the business rules of the contact center state, this setting will vary widely across different instances. It is usually up to the client to determine a proper value. In most cases, sites have opted to set this value to be a very large number. This large number will cause one of two results: 1) if the caller does in fact wait it out, they are almost guaranteed to be routed to an agent or 2) the caller initiates some form of queue option via DTMF that will allow them to control where they go next.
Using timeouts wisely can help alleviate certain situations when it comes to sports, kids, and the contact center. Make use of these options and they can help turn the tide in your favour.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Open or Closed Relationship: Which One is Right for You?

Open source software has come a long way in the last few decades. What was once just a mash of code lying around that lacked features and actual usefulness and usability, can now be full-fledged solutions for individuals and companies alike. Is an open source based software solution right for you or your contact center though? Let's compare a few points of interest.
  1. Cost: This is really the big topic here. Commercial software suites are going to be significantly more expensive that an open source based solution, like Q-Suite. Leveraging well-established, industry favoured open source products like Asterisk and Apache will dramatically decrease your initial costs of getting a contact center solution off the ground.
  2. Customization: As far as open source software is concerned, everyone is essentially an owner of the software and can make and design custom features and changes to the code base if they wish. This of course will require some form of subject matter expertise from the person doing these things. Code base changes and additions can be submitted to the company that controls the software product and can even be implemented into the end product so that any and all parties who wish to use the software can use these new modules. Closed source solutions would require requests made to the entity that owns the software and would allow for almost no level of freedom to make custom edits.
  3. Knowledge Base: While they may be a huge user base for a commercial product, it's almost certain that there will be more information more widely available on the internet in regards to the open source products. Users of open source software tend to be more vocal, creative, and supportive of other users when it comes to helping out with questions and even troubleshooting.
Purchasing the right contact center software suite for your company is a massive decision. Weigh your options fully and chose the best solution that suits your needs.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Avengers Follow Up Post: Age Of Ultron Gets TKO'ed

Apologies for the off topic post, but it appears that the talk regarding the biggest boxing match in decades chewing into the opening weekend for the new Avengers movie was amazingly valid. Sure the estimated take of $187M is impressive, but that's a full $20M below the first Avengers movie, and this iteration was expected to shatter that number. I imagine that overall Disney is slightly disappointed, but there's no doubt that this movie is going to be a money maker for them, just not as big as they had hoped.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Avengers Assemble! Gathering the Pieces You Need for Your Contact Center ACD

It's a big weekend for movie fans. The first weekend in May unofficially begins the summer season for Hollywood blockbusters, and there's never been an absolute lock for a tentpole like Avengers: Age of Ultron. After the first Avengers film completely shattered the record for the opening weekend take with a lofty $207M, the sequel is expected to surpass that. Quite incredible. Just as the Marvel universe needed to gather Earth's mightiest heroes, you too will need to wrangle up the proper components for your contact center ACD. Let's have a look.

We can break it down to 3 major categories:
  1. Physical Hardware - You are going to need computing power in order to get your call center to run smoothly. Whether you choose to house your servers on site or up, up, away in the cloud, your servers are the backbone of the operation.
  2. Software - While you can construct a contact center out of bits and pieces of software here and there, it's highly recommended and beneficial to choose a bundled solution that includes all of the necessary software components that you will need. The Q-Suite is a fantastic, cost-effective choice for this and you can see it action here.
  3. Staffing - We're not quite to the point where robots or drones can do all of the contact center work for you (sorry Ultron), so you are going to need your own team of skilled agents to handle the VoIP interactions with your customers. Those agents are also going to need somewhere to work, so assuming you want a centralized location for these agents, you'll need the proper type of office space. Plan accordingly.
It seems a bit of a stretch to link the Avengers with your contact center, but from a high-level top down approach, some of the same principles can be applied. I, for one, am definitely looking forward to seeing this movie and I hope it delivers on all levels. I'll leave you with a trailer to help get you excited for it as well. Enjoy!