Interview: Talking IP Contact Center Solutions with Fonality
June 23, 2009
This month’s Supplier Survey focuses on IP contact center solutions. Replying for Fonality is Corey Brundage, vice president of product and marketing.
What top trends do you see happening in both contact centers and in your industry and what is driving these trends?
One key trend Fonality (News - Alert) has noticed is that organizations are starting to view contact centers as a measureable service and loyalty center rather than just a simple cost center. They are realizing they can more effectively measure customer service and consequently increase sales and revenues. As larger organizations make this paradigm shift we’re seeing these operational trends and technologies having a trickle-down effect down into the SMB (small-midsized business) space as well. We’re noticing smaller organizations are pursuing these same operational efficiencies and measurable ROIs in their own organizations. The call/contact center is no longer just a part of large organizations.
Fonality, for instance, offers the same solutions larger enterprises have had for some time but in affordable packages designed for smaller organizations. We like to call this space the ‘micro call center market’, and believe that we are, in fact, defining and leading the charge in delivering solutions that meet the demands of this new niche market.
We see enterprise solution providers rush to provide scaled down solutions while smaller players tout their scalability. What we’re discovering is that the enterprise vendor solutions aren’t intuitive and require dedicated resources, while the smaller/emerging vendor solutions lack the features and completeness required to meet customer demands. A positive result of these efforts is that we expect to see more and improved choices for the SMB.
What new products, services, and/or enhancements to your existing solutions have you developed, or perhaps are currently working on in response to these issues, and how will they help contact centers improve their performance?
Smaller organizations have unique requirements in selecting their communication solutions. Despite the same operational demands they lack the dedicated resources of larger organizations. Solutions designed for the SMB market have to be easy to deploy and easy to administer. Fonality has always recognized the unique requirements of the SMB call center (or micro call center) and has recently launched two products to cater to their needs:
(a) PBXtra Unified Agent Edition (UAE)
With Salesforce CRM and PBXtra Unified Agent, companies can increase close rates, revenue and profits, while providing improved customer service and dramatically reducing sales and support costs. What sets UAE apart from other phone/CRM integration is that UAE is a fully turnkey solution that associates Salesforce and PBXtra in the cloud and instantly automates call center activity tracking, reporting, and alerts, while offering powerful phone system features such as CRM-enabled presence and call distribution.
Additional features include:
* Track and record all call data in Salesforce CRM automatically
* View customer call histories and listen to recorded messages from Salesforce CRM
* Understand exactly how call follow-up times impact profitability
* Find out the number of calls it takes to convert a lead to a sale
* Report on and rank agent performance across a variety of metrics
* Visually report agent calling frequency and duration
* Instantly report on neglected opportunities and recover potentially lost revenues
* View desktop alerts with inbound caller name, number, and even the deal size in dollars
* Advanced screen pops instantly provide all caller records and history
* Note-taking windows launch automatically for immediate data entry
* Setup calls to skip the queue and be automatically routed to the call’s opportunity owner
(b) HUD Queues
HUD Queues expands the suite of features available to PBXtra Call Center customers as an add-on to Fonality’s Unified Communications (News - Alert) desktop application, HUD.
HUD Queues is designed to be used by phone-based sales and support teams to manage call center queues. A visual queue provides a virtual wallboard at the desktop to show agents and managers all calls in queue. A real-time queue control system allows managers to drag and drop calls onto agents and broadcast messages to some or all agents simultaneously. Managers can set up alerts to be notified when calls have been holding too long or a call has been abandoned. Real-time queue statistics can also be broadcast, allowing for up-to-the second views of call centers vitals such as completion rate, abandonment rate, holding volume, estimated hold time, and even ASA (average speed of answer).
Where does your firm fit in your marketplace? What are your core differentiators? How would you describe your view of the future evolution of the company? Have you recently or do you plan to enter new markets and if which ones, why, and through what means?
Fonality is known for its price advantage, achieved with a unique cost-saving architecture, open-source software, and non-proprietary hardware. We are typically 40 percent -80 percent less than the competition in the traditional IP-PBX (News - Alert) space and even more affordable in the contact center space where the competition can be 300 percent the price or more.
Beyond affordability, Fonality phone systems are feature-rich, intuitive, easy to install, administer and use. Fonality believes it is the first to truly recognize and serve the SMB in this manner and no other vendor offers the completeness of solution for the sub-100 call category.
From a technology perspective, another item that sets Fonality apart from competitors is our Hybrid-Hosted architecture and managed system approach. This patent-pending architecture offers the reliability and quality of a premise-based PBX system with the convenience and cost benefits of a hosted system. While unique in the VoIP Industry, this half-cloud, half-premise, managed approach for mission critical solutions has been adopted and validated in several other industries such as storage, security, and back-up/ disaster recovery (think: Gmail and Google (News - Alert) Gears for instance).
In the unified communications arena, Fonality is the leader for its market segment. Fonality’s HUD unifies presence, chat, SMS, voice, voice messaging, e-mail, and conferencing in a single interface. HUD also supports call center functionality for agents and supervisors (such as with the HUD Queues edition outlined above) and acts as an Attendant or Operator console as well. In fact, all of this power is packed into a single, easy to use desktop application which brings a whole new meaning to the word ‘unified’.
Discuss the state of technology with IP solutions. Is it arriving, has it arrived, or does it have a ways to go and if so why and what is needed for it to get there? Also where are we at on SIP adoption? What are the benefits of SIP and are they being realized and if not what lies in the way?
The technology to deploy pure IP exists but isn’t always perceived as the best choice. In Fonality’s market segment, smaller organizations with a single site location will often not rely on IP service (VoIP trunks) due to the potential increased cost in network hardware and bandwidth and the fear of less reliability. We almost always see smaller businesses choose IP-based systems however for the advanced applications, management, and mobility it affords (regardless of their phone service preference). IP systems provide benefits such as remote management or integration with applications like Salesforce.com (News - Alert) such as in the case of our PBXtra Unified Agent Edition.
State of the SIP? Traditional, legacy PBX vendors still seem to intentionally hold up SIP development and deployment. They prefer customers use their proprietary TDM protocols or proprietary IP protocols due to the fact that SIP gives customers flexibility to choose non-proprietary hardware. Since Fonality was founded in 2004, the company has used only open communication protocols, and encouraged customers to invest in hardware that does not require or facilitate “vendor lock-in.”
In our experience most small and medium sized businesses care less about what protocol is under the hood however but rather that the product works and improves their top and bottom lines.
Concerns have been raised about ensuring QoS especially to home agents and about whether there is sufficient hard ROI in making business case to migrate to IP from TDM in contact centers. What is your response and what do you recommend to customers and prospects facing these issues?
Fact: the majority of Fonality’s sales team operates remotely with reps working out of their home offices. In using and developing our own product we have found that even with a very modest investment in consumer-based firewall/routers (which often support QoS, non-blocking architectures, and even Layer 3 routing), an IP-based system can provide excellent quality, comparable to that of a TDM system. Fonality has a recommended list of very affordable solutions for our customers.
There is also a debate between hard and soft IP phones, with issues such as desktop resource consumption being raised. Discuss. Which technology do you think is best for contact centers and why?
In a contact center environment hard phones are the best choice. Softphones, while providing mobility, still have major disadvantages in most environments. IP soft phones do not have the added benefit of DSP chips or hardware-enabled echo cancellation for instance. They share processing power, a network adapter, and memory on the host PC or Mac. Customers will also need a high-grade headset. Here’s a quick test... Ask any agent what happened the last time they tried to watch a YouTube video (accidentally, of course) while on a call with their softphone. They always offer the same response: well, the video was hilarious!
What shape do you see contact centers and your industry going forward? Where are the growth markets? What do you see happening post-downturn?
Trends in the industry would suggest call centers will continue to become multi-modal, incorporating file/document sharing, communications-enabled business process, (business) social networking, and presence awareness. Fonality continues to focus in growing its call center segment by enhancing its already rich feature set to accommodate trends such as these. As the industry continues to evolve unified communications and call centers will offer SMBs the simplicity and productivity that consumers currently find with Web 2.0 applications.
Fonality’s market emphasis lies in the SMB segment. There exists a significant opportunity for growth and market share. Businesses, now more than ever, need to find ways to operate more efficiently. Contact centers are the highest growth segment for Fonality with more than 50 percent of its customers currently using Fonality’s PBXtra Call Center edition.
When the economy recovers history has shown us small businesses will be ahead of the corporate curve in terms of growth and spend. Fonality will be well positioned to capture this under-served segment.
What best practices do you recommend in buying, installing, and getting the most value from your offerings?
(a) Utilize all available free resources
Fonality provides several online resources that are geared not only to presenting our unique solutions but also empower its buyers by providing industry thought leadership through relevant white papers and its dedicated learning center.
(b) Confirm network and technology compatibility
Fonality also has a dedicated team of sales engineers to address all potential technical issues to ensure a flawless deployment and installation. If professional installation is still required Fonality offers those services as well.
(c) Ask about scalability
Requirements change quickly especially for smaller organizations. Fonality solutions are designed to grow as businesses grow. Add users, new feature sets, and upgrade editions easily and seamlessly thanks to Fonality’s unique Hybrid-Hosted architecture.
(d) Focus on long term ROI vs. short term CapEx
We will often see customers shy away from selecting a solution based on a large initial capital investment. However, versus hosted solutions, choosing a Fonality phone system will end up costing you less in as little as 24 months.
(e) Inquire about disaster recovery, system monitoring, upgrades, and updates
Fonality’s Hybrid-Hosted architecture ensures upgrades and updates are automatically distributed to all systems. Fonality also provides proactive monitoring and self-healing for its phone systems and, if required, can provide recovery of all critical system configuration data in the case of complete system failure automatically over the cloud.
Don’t forget to check out TMCnet’s White Paper Library, which provides a selection of in-depth information on relevant topics affecting the IP Communications industry. The library offers white papers, case studies and other documents which are free to registered users.
Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Michael Dinan