Which of these scenarios best describes you?
Maybe you’re finding that your premise-based phone system is outdated. You’re looking for a level of flexibility that your current system has trouble matching and you’re finding that your lick customer support could be more efficient and effective.
Or, maybe you’ve upgraded to the Cloud but you’re finding that your current vendor struggles with reliability. The larger your business grows, the more you’re noticing these problems.
Perhaps you’re just getting started and you’re looking to construct your support team, and your phone system needs to be a balance of quality and cost-effectiveness.
Or you’re finding that your reporting strategies are ineffective. You invest huge amounts of time pulling together performance reports only to find that they aren’t as insightful as they could be.
Recognizing yourself in any of these scenarios means one thing: you’re looking for a new phone vendor. Thanks to the current state of technological advancement, you have countless options at your fingertips, and it can be a daunting task to craft a custom phone system for your business. What you need is preparation: you need to know what features are available to you and which of them you need. In this article, you’re going to be given a general overview of the features currently available, which will help you to ease your decision-making process.
The core of your phone system is, necessarily, the basic functions of your telephone system. These features dictate how your calls are handled, how effectively they’re directed to agents, and your customer’s experience while they’re on hold.
The Interactive Voice Response (IVR) means you’re able to give the caller a custom experience. When a customer contacts the IVR, the IVR automatically recognizes the purpose of their call, authenticates them, and then routes them to the right agent. Additional features you might keep an eye out for are speech recognition software and visual IVR, which will ideally allow you to customize greetings and update the system when you need to do so.
Once the IVR has identified the caller and nature of the call, Automated Call Distribution is the feature that directs your caller to the proper agent. There are several features available with Automated Call Distribution to help you customize your caller’s experience. Skills-based Routing, for example, let’s you route calls based on specific skill sets. For example, if your customer is calling about making a purchase, you’d want them directed to the sales team. If they’ve already made a purchase and they’re looking for follow-up information, you’d want them talking to tech support. If you operate on an international level and you handle foreign languages, you’d want to direct them to your foreign language team.
Schedule-based Routing gives you direct control of where calls go depending on your schedule. For example, you could direct calls in one direction during normal business hours, and direct them elsewhere during off-business hours. Additional Routing Options allow you to route calls to softphones and off-location phones. Finally, queues give you the power to customize your customer’s experience while they wait for an available agent. For example, a caller looking to reach the sales team could have a different wait experience than someone looking to reach the tech support team.
When it comes to queues, there are a few features that help to optimally customize your caller’s experience. Let’s go over a few of the features within queues.
Custom Announcements let you streamline your waiting experience by giving you the power to upload custom messages. For example, you might insert an advertisement for a new product. If you find that your agents are getting the same question over and over again, you might upload an announcement covering this information, which will reduce call volume and help free up your agents to handle issues elsewhere. Estimated Wait Time is a popular feature as you’ve able to give your caller an idea of how long it will be before they’re able to speak to an agent. Queue callback is a fantastic feature that allows callers to call in, establish their place in the queue, and then hang up. When the next agent becomes available, the agent returns the call. This helps to reduce the number of abandoned calls and smooth out heavy call volumes. Timeout Destination is a feature that counters the call timeout, i.e. when the queue times out. Usually this means that the system will simply hang up on the caller, which results in dissatisfaction and a poor customer experience. Timeout Destination means that when the queue times out, your caller gets a voicemail explaining the reason the call is being terminated.
On top of IVR and Automated Call Distribution, Call Monitoring helps you to manage your support team and ensure that you’re delivering the highest possible call quality. Call Recording is relatively self-explanatory – it means your vendor keeps a recording of your phone call after the call has occurred, so you can listen to it for quality assurance. When it comes to call recording, make sure you ask the vendor how long they keep the recordings so you can plan accordingly. Similarly, Live Listening lets you listen in on calls while they’re underway. This allows managers to assist agents by offering direction or even taking over the call, allowing the agent to listen and learn how to handle similar situations in the future.
IVR, Automated Call Distribution and Call Monitoring comprise the largest elements of your core system. There are several other features available to help you streamline and customize your call experience. For example, Outbound dialing allows you to rapidly return calls to customers through the phone system. Warm and Blind Transfers allow your agents to transfer calls within your company and communicate with the receiving agent before the call is received. Call Dispositions or Wrap-up Codes identify what callers are calling about so you can see what the popular issues are, and allow you to streamline your call center by uploading a custom announcement. Voicemail lets your caller leave messages, with some vendors offering voice-to-text voicemails. Greetings let you to customize your greeting, and extensions allow your customers to call agents directly rather than having to navigate the menu again. Caller ID allows you to set what they see on their caller ID, and also allows you to view their ID. Concurrent Calling sets the maximum number of customers that can populate the queue before the queue goes into a timeout. Built-in Collaboration and messaging is an instant-messaging function that allows your agents to communicate internally, and conference bridges let you set up conference calls.
Beyond the Core Features, Reporting is another crucial component to your business. You want to know what your callers are calling about and how your agents are resolving the issues. Here are a few features that will help you to streamline your operation by maximizing your reporting potential.
Custom reporting gives you the ability to customize your reporting and provides a level of flexibility that out-of-the-box reports are unable to match, allowing you to maintain consistency. Scheduled reporting makes tracking KPIs a cinch by sending reports to you at predetermined intervals. Real time reporting puts the minute-to-minute status of your company at your fingertips by providing dashboards, allowing you to monitor spikes in call volume and fine-tune the direction of your company quickly and effectively.
The Core Features comprise the core of your phone system, and the reporting system lets you monitor your phone system. Next up is the integrations process. You want your phone system to integrate well with your current tools, as well as those you’ll be implementing in the future. Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) creates and maintains records of your callers, meaning your agents will be able to pull the records in CRMs like Zendesk and Salesforce when the customer calls.
CRM Integrations streamlines your ticketing system by adding a phone widget, rather than forcing your agents to monitor a whole new tool or screen. Omnichannel allows you to integrate multiple methods of communication such as chat, social media, and SMS (text) which helps you to create a comprehensive and seamless communication experience for your customers. Click to Call adds a widget to your website that lets customers easily call support or queue themselves to receive a call from the next available agent.
The core system, reporting, and integrations are going to be the bulk of your concern while you’re on the market for a new phone system. There are a few additional features that you can use to maximize your system and provide a quality experience for your callers.
Some vendors offer other support channels that can mimic the omnichannel experience by providing you with video calling, social media, chat, and email functions. Integrated Knowledge Bases makes it easier for your callers and your agents to resolve issues by centralizing your knowledge all in one place. Workforce Management designs your schedules based on spikes in call volume, meaning your centers are staffed during peak times and less staffed during slow times. Built-in quality assurance features let you rate calls and deliver reviews to your agents. Integrated surveys will allow you to automatically send customer satisfaction or Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey to your caller, creating an opportunity for your customers to provide you with valuable insight, and speech analytics allow you to transcribe calls, maximizing your ability to mine information and fine tune your customer service model.
Now that you have an idea of what to look for in your phone system, here are a few tips on how to choose a vendor. Remember that your relationship with a vendor is a partnership and that some vendors might be better suited for your needs than others. Just like any other partnership, you want to match with the right partner to ensure a fruitful and beneficial relationship.
Uptime and Reliability is an important detail. Ask them about their uptime guarantee and then compare and contrast it against competing companies. Additionally, ask them about their bandwidth requirements, which are important if your agents are working remotely – they need to have a fast enough connection to keep up with calls during peak hours. Last but not least, run a Google search of the vendor and see what others are saying in reviews and on social media, which will give you an insight of how well the vendor has worked for others.
Security is another important thing to keep in mind, especially if PCI compliance is a priority. Your customers’ personal information needs to be secure at all times if you’re going to maintain credibility. One good example of this is your customer’s credit card information, which ideally should not be recorded. Find out if you’ll need to pause the recording (automatically or manually) to keep this information being recorded, or if your customers can submit their information via dialpad rather than saying it aloud. Finding out the vendor’s maintenance schedule will give you insight into how often they perform updates and how these updates will impact your call center. Get a feel for their technical support team, as you’ll likely be becoming best friends with them when they become your vendor. Make sure they know what they’re talking about and they’re friendly so the inevitable technical issues will be resolved quickly and without drama. Find out about their professional services so you know what’s included in the system, whether or not they can offer custom options, and whether or not there’s a feature that doesn’t come standard for which you’ll have to pay extra. Finally, find out the launch time. Implementing a new phone system is a major investment of time regardless of the vendor you choose, and you’re going to want to get an estimate about how much time it will take before you commit. On top of this, bear in mind that you might have to port your existing phone numbers to the new system, and your team might need to be trained.
Finally, the last thing you’re going to want to consider is pricing. You want to consider this last instead of first because functionality beats out price. If you try to cut corners financially while implementing a phone system, you’re likely to end up with a system that doesn’t fully support your operation – which is going to cost you more money in the long run.
Take into account per seat cost. The majority of vendors will charge based on a per-seat basis. Make sure you know if they’re charging based on agent or concurrent seats. For example, you don’t want to be charged for 60 agents if you only have 25 of them using it at any given time. You also want to know if you’re being charged for unlimited or per minute. If the former, inquire – “unlimited” might have a cap and you want to know what it is beforehand. While unlimited might seem to be the easy choice, do take a look at how much time you spend on calls. You may find that going with per-minute billing is cheaper than paying a flat rate for unlimited – just bear in mind that going the per-minute route will result in a bill that fluctuates each month. International rates are a good thing to ask about if you have customers outside the country, and adding additional telephone numbers will probably add extra fees (monthly, porting, etc.) You’ll also want to find out if you can port your numbers over to a new system if you change providers.
Choosing a new phone system and vendor can be a tough chore, but it’s time and effort well spent: your phone system is one of the most important elements of your business and you want to make sure you’re delivering top-notch customer experiences. Use this guide to help you choose a system and functions that are going to work for you, and if you’ve implemented a new system in the past, let us know what your experience was like and what you learned. If you need any help Digitcom will be happy to help you make the transition. Send us an email or ring us on the phone today!