Systems integrators are the unsung heroes of technology; while the solution developers and manufacturers get the laurels for their innovations the integrators turn them into reality at the customers’ level.
One such organization that appreciates what system integrators can do for them is The Dalbey Education Institute, a privately-held firm that offers students practical, home-based online instructional tools or personalized, teacher-led courses regardless of their background.
Dalbey Education, located in Westminster, Colo. recently teamed up with MSN Communications,
Inc., a systems integrator and reseller based in Centennial, Colo. to upgrade its predictive dialers, used to reach out to existing and prospective students, to help it boost productivity and draw in more business at less cost.
The school has a 40-agent contact center with 160 outbound and 40 inbound agents located at its campus. A teleservices firm qualifies leads generated from infomercials that it then forwards to Dalbey for follow-up via a specialized team of 16 agents. The outbound agents make 35,000 calls weekly; the inbound staff process approximately 20,000 inbound inquiries in the same period.
Dalbey’s programs have proven popular, so much so that by 2008 the volume of inquiries, and leads, were outstripping the ability of the contact center to efficiently handle them, especially outbound. The firm had a top end: 250 agents that its existing phone system could support. It also relied on manual dialing.
At the same time Dalbey wanted closer integration between its CRM and lead management system and contact manager applications, all of which were being used almost exclusively with the phone network. These needs and limitations prompted Dalbey to go shopping for solutions.
“The lack of a dialer for the outbound piece of our contact center reduced our flexibility and thus was our primary motivator for looking at a different system,” says Jim Bracking, Vice President of Technology, Dalbey Education. “There were many limitations of the existing phone system and it was being pushed to the limit. We were beginning to have a few more failovers. While we had already taken steps to create redundancy, I still wasn’t comfortable with the situation and the threat.
“We were eager to try different techniques to make our agents more efficient, but the old system presented us with complications that would have prevented us from achieving what we wanted. There simply was no API exposed for development purposes.”
In April 2008 Dalbey Education began looking buying predictive dialers, narrowing the choices to four and began assessing them to see if they could meet current and forecasted needs, regardless of whether contact center applications would be traditional or specialized. While one dialer it reviewed could sit on top of the enterprise software it already had and perform adequately, that product would not work well in future outbound/inbound blended environments that it was looking at.
“From a price perspective, when you look at a dialer sitting one on top of contact management software, the total cost of the system becomes disproportionate to the amount of added functionally you receive, ” explains Bracking.
In June 2008 Dalbey Education approached MSN Communications, which it had already teamed up before on voice, data, storage, and environmental UPS projects. After talking with MSN Communications account manager Todd Braidech and call center specialist Cliff Wiser on the company’s outbound needs, Dalbey Education determined that upgrading to the Cisco (News
) Unified Intelligent Contact Management Enterprise dialer, Outbound Option, would satisfy its needs.
Doing so, said Braidech would create an IP-based contact center offering a smooth integration of inbound and outbound voice applications with Internet applications. Some of those include real-time chat, Web collaboration and e-mail.
“The upgrade and the integration via Cisco’s solution from MSN Communications would enable a single Dalbey Education contact center agent to automatically blend between inbound and outbound modes, regardless of which communications channel one of its customers might select,” says Bracking.
Seamless technology deployment is vital for any contact center and Dalbey’s is no exception. Bracking insisted the conversion from the old environment to the new one had to be phased in and go very smoothly. He and his team and MSN’s spent two months enabling the new dialer: planning, installation, integration, testing, cutover, and burn-in. Thanks to such careful preparation launching the application went very smoothly, going live later that summer. In contrast when Dalbey had its old phone system put in, one much less sophisticated, the work took 16 weeks.
One of the few challenges pertaining to the new system involved scripting. A lack of a compatible language used for scripts at the enterprise phone level resulted in Dalbey Education and MSN Communications teaming to re-write each script. MSN Communications followed up by devising training schedules for personnel and building and installing servers onsite.
When the Cisco solution was put in the contact center agents were brought on-stream first. MSN Communication installers took just two days when two weeks had been planned.
Dalbey Education could not be happier with results. On the outbound side that at the time the new dialer was turned on, agents were converting roughly 15 sales per week. Following dialer tests and the writing of campaign manager software to help improve the dialer’s accuracy and efficiency, sales results improved rapidly. Today, sales from this specific effort regularly exceed 100 per week. The best week to date by the agent team has been 145 sales.
“My math says ‘then-versus-now’ sales gain improvements can reach as high as 1,000 percent per week,” says Bracking.
An additional benefit is a new ability to collect ‘best time to call’ data. This helps improve live contact rates over answering machines and non-responses.
“We devote time to evaluate past contact data and trends, realizing that time zone windows slide across the country, “explains Bracking. “It prompts us to ask, ‘what is the ideal time to call within each area code?’”
On the inbound side new features such as priority queuing means premier customers are automatically routed to the top of the queue upon being connected to the contact center to ensure they experience minimum wait times. The skills-based routing capability, which was once quite limited, now re-routes selected calls to selected agents.
“Our system automatically determines which agents are performing optimally on any given day,” Bracking notes. “Skills-based routing allows us to adjust for anyone regardless of the type of sales day - strong, slow or simply average - they’re having.”
During 2009, Bracking has a goal of integrating the Cisco desktop agent into his lead manager application to make the agent’s job easier and more efficient and improve the overall experience for contact center employees. Now his comfort level has improved and he has full trust in the year-old deployment.
“Our phones are the most critical component of our company,” says Bracking. “We’re rock solid now. That good feeling, combined with the flexibility we didn’t realize we’d be getting, is opening new avenues of how we can think about our business, gain new efficiencies and increase our sales. And for that I give many thanks and appreciation for Cliff Wiser and his colleagues at MSN Communications.”
Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Tim Gray