CALL CENTERS: How to Choose a Call Center Partner

What should a call center look for in a speech recognition company when it seeks to speech enable its operation? A heavy burden rests on any company in choosing between vendors. Choosing a company to speech enable your operation is a strategic business decision that can make the difference between a short-term technology solution and a mutually beneficial, growing business relationship. Ameritech evaluates hundreds of vendors when selecting partners for its portfolio. To select the best in the industry, we use standard criteria to evaluate companies and ask the right questions. Prior to applying standard criteria to distinguish between companies, here are some things you should look for in potential business partners whether they are distributors or manufacturers: Choose reputable & financially sound vendor.
Large or small, find a company you can trust to be with you as your needs grow and change. Check out their reputation in the industry and research the financial stability of the company. The last thing you want is for a company to go out of business after you purchased its products and services. Choose an experienced systems integrator.
Especially in the world of speech recognition, the company that creates the business application will determine the success of the implementation more so than the accuracy of the speech recognizer. Logic is often fuzzy at best, and most of the time the creativity of the spoken script design and the skills of the application developers determine the level of satisfaction with the system. Ensure application is supportable.
Often times, hardware and product support is available from any one of the vendors that provide one or more of the components required in a call center implementation. However, somebody needs to be able to support the entire system, which can include multiple applications and interfaces in addition to hardware and product support. Make sure you have one phone number to call. The support person will be able to apply the right resources from the right vendor to help you with your specific issue. Consulting services can ease complexities of choices.
Because there are so many companies that provide call center products and services, an experienced consultant can aid in wading through that quagmire. An experienced consultant will know market prices and can lower your cost of ownership. Choose a service that can provide operational excellence for agents.
A purchase is never just buying technology anymore. It is also incorporating technology with process improvement initiatives. Choose a vendor or service that can provide system training.
Each vendor offers training on its specific product or service. Look for the vendor who can provide training on multiple applications in concert with each other. These vendors can provide training programs for agents, supervisors, and systems administrators for the complete implementation. Check references.
Always ask for and verify references of previous customers. Many companies have slick brochures, PowerPoint presentations, and even application demonstrations. Verify directly with customers that they are satisfied with the vendor’s implementation. With the above recommendations in mind, you may want to use the following standard criteria to evaluate the specifics about each vendor.

Bob Vilsoet is the Director of Systems Integration for Ameritech’s Call Center Solutions Group, which offers, through partners, such call center components and services as Automatic Call Distributors (ACD), Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology, Speech Recognition, Computer Telephony Integration (CTI), Internet Integration, workforce management, help desk applications, agent quality assurance programs, consulting, staffing, and site selection. He can be reached at 312 364-4100, by fax at 312 364-4483 or by e mail at robert.w.vilsoet@mail.ameritech.com


No. Evaluation Categories Factors to Consider Questions You Should Ask
  INDUSTRY Marketplace recognition
… Industry ranking
… Reputation
Is it in the call center industry?
COMPANY Strength

… Financial stability

… Reliability

How viable is this company as a business entity?
… How old is the company?
… Is the company public or private?
… Are there any domestic and/or global affiliations?
… Who are the investors?
… Where is the corporation located?
… Where are the sales offices located?
… What is the annual revenue?
… How many FTE employees?
… What is the Company structure?
MARKETPLACE, VISION and STRATEGY Vision of the call center market

… Approach and investments

Are they a good fit with your business philosophy, call center product plan and strategy?
… What experience do they have selling to the call center market?
… If just penetrating, what has been their previous focus?
… How large the market share is currently in the industry? In the call center market?
… What experience do they have in the implementation of specific products?
… Complex integration?

… Services

What do they sell?
… What are their strongest moving lines of business?
… Or their lead into accounts?
… And why?
(in the product line of interest)

Number of customers

… Number of installations

… Largest number of concurrent users deployed

… Smallest

Any and how many in the call center market segment?

… Do you have a copy of their customer list (specific to call centers)

(include source)
Market share Include definition, i.e. By application? By revenue size? By customer? By sites? By seats?
  INDUSTRY FOCUS Vertical industries

… Horizontal applications

… Call Center market

In which industry or industries have they built their market?
… Which industries are they currently strongest in? Or focused on?
… What is their future direction?

… Distributors

… Co-marketing relationships

… Other relationships

Number of direct sales reps
… What is their role?
… Who are their current U.S. distributors?
… How do they do business with them?
… Is there currently an exclusivity with any of them?
… Length of relationships
… How successful have these relationships been?
… Who are their distributors or channels within your area?
… Are there different levels of relationship? Which preferred and why?
… How do they handle competitive situations among distributors and self (where the vendor has a direct sales force and distributors)?
… What is their future strategy around distribution channels?
… What are their expectations of a distributor? (i.e. performance, support, etc.)

… Help Desk

… Product Warranty

… Training

What type of customer and distributor support is offered?
… Maintenance; Help Desk (hours; number of consultants); Installation; Warranty Period: Training (on-/off-site)
… User Forums?

… Business case development/ROI

… Proposals, RFP, RFI

… Sales/Marketing

What is the organizational support structure for distributors? (Indicate number of Full Time Equivalents dedicated to each function)
… Will there be a dedicated team or single point of contact for your company?
… What are the marketing resources available? How do they handle leads?
… Training - sales/technical

… Cycle times

Who is typically responsible for this role with distributors?
… What is their preferred way?
… What is the average development cycle time to deployment?
PRICING Pricing strategy What are the drivers for the product? I.e. # of agents, sites, etc., complexity of configuration
… What is the pricing structure (MSRP)?
… Where are the breakpoints?
… Concurrent v. total seats?
DISTRIBUTOR DISCOUNTS Discount structure Is there a distributor discount structure in place? Is this standard across all distributors?
… What is the structure based on?
… What are the different tiers?
… Allowance for ramp-up?
PROMOTIONS / INCENTIVES Product trials without obligation

… Prototype testing in a lab environment

What is available?
… What have they done in the past? And what are they planning in the future?

… Modules

How is the product packaged?
… What is in the core/basic package?

… Business alliances

Does this company utilize technology that follows your corporate standards for internal applications?
… If so, what were the criteria for that particular solution fit?
… In implementation, what went well? What didn’t?

… Outsourced

Where are they spending their money in development of products?
… Is development done in-house? Or outsourced?
… How many employees in research and development (RandD)
… What is the typical cycle time from development to product introduction?
DEVELOPMENT PARTNERS Specific areas Who are they?

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