In a perfect world, Dave Pelkey, chief operating officer at Tuition Management Systems, would have waited one more year before taking the leap to a pure IP contact center. But Pelkey didnt have the luxury of time.
By early 2003, it had become clear that TMS existing PBX system wouldnt support the companys growth much longer. Not interested in half-measures, Pelkey quickly investigated his options, then partnered with Nuasis—TMS prime solution provider—and eventually launched a robust contact center. He hasnt looked back since.
“Today, our contact center is our competitive advantage,” said Pelkey. “Our customers get a consistent level of service across multiple communication channels.”
In business since 1985, TMS manages tuition payment plans for educational institutions.
In May 2004, Nuasis rolled out at TMS headquarters in Warwick, R.I., its IP-based NuContact Center, which supports phone, e-mail, Web chat and deferred response capabilities, as well as IVR (Interactive Voice Response) for self-service. The system replaces a Nortel ACD (Automatic Call Distributor) solution that had been in place for about eight years.
TMS decision makers readily agree that the successful implementation of their IP contact center has everything to do with Nuasis, their prime solution provider, and Nuasis channel partner VoiceGenie Technologies, a provider of VoiceXML platforms.
“Nuasis has given me access to the people I need to work with to make the solution work in our environment, including VoiceGenie,” said Pelkey.
The channel partnership between Nuasis and VoiceGenie, with their similar philosophies on standards and open systems, was a perfect fit. Nuasis wanted NuContact Center to be a more complete solution with the addition of speech recognition, and VoiceGenie, a vendor of VoiceXML point solutions.
“The partnership allows both companies to enhance our respective offerings,” said Joe McFadden, vice president of marketing at Nuasis, based in Mountain View, Calif.
For a company such as TMS, the call center sits at the core of TMS business. According to Pelkey, its the key channel for communication and delivering services to customers. At the same time, call center operating costs take a direct hit on TMS bottom line. So it comes as no surprise that a growing company such as TMS has a keen interest in optimizing its call center infrastructure.
As an application on the data network, NuContact Center provides ease of integration, according to McFadden. “Basically,” he said, “we eliminate the complexity of deploying CTI [computer-telephony integration] middleware, which can cost a lot of money and time.”
Ease of integration is the foundation of products such as NuContact Center. “How seamlessly you can integrate applications will determine the level of customer satisfaction,” Pelkey said.
According to McFadden, the call center is shaping up as a leading application for VOIP (voice over IP). “I often talk to IT managers, and, for them, VOIP is about the benefits, such as the ability to create a single pool of agents and simplified CRM [customer relationship management] integration,” McFadden said.
Frank Tersigni, vice president of marketing and business development at Toronto-based VoiceGenie, agreed. “Standards-based VOIP allows the call center to participate in the IT infrastructure in a more compelling way,” Tersigni said.
Back in 2003 at the Call Center World show in Las Vegas, TMS officials met with representatives from Cisco Systems, Nortel and a young company, Nuasis. One technology option proposed to Pelkey was a hybrid IP solution that would have allowed TMS to establish a road map to a pure IP contact center while preserving its existing technology investments.
The price was right
Pelkey said he believed the NuContact Center technology was right for TMS and so was the price—approximately $300,000 with end-to-end vendor support thrown in for free. “We were an early adopter of the solution,” he said.
Getting on board with a well-established vendor would have been a cinch, said Pelkey, but getting buy-in from TMS owners on a well-funded technology startup was more challenging. Armed with vendor background information and assurances, Pelkey said he approached TMS owners, who, as it turned out, clearly understood the strategic importance of VOIP to the companys future success.
“Our partnership with VoiceGenie gave us a low-cost, fast development cycle and allowed us to get the product to market quickly,” said McFadden. NuContact Center has live agent and self-service capability, letting customers choose their communication channel.
Not all customer calls require live agent capability.
“In TMS case, it was clear that a percentage of calls were simple in nature—such as a payment status check or address change, for example—and could be handled with self-service capability,” said VoiceGenies Tersigni.
While one of VOIPs most touted benefits is savings in telecommunications costs, McFadden said, thats not the case anymore with the decline in telecommunications costs. “Companies see the greatest efficiencies in labor costs,” he said.
Working primarily with Nuasis engineers and ongoing professional support services, TMS progressed from system design to developing workflows to phased implementation.
With NuContact Center in production in Warwick for almost two years, TMS has reaped many of the benefits it expected, said Pelkey. Examples include a 10 percent reduction in seasonal labor requirements and call duration reduced by 45 seconds on average.
The IP solution has also allowed TMS to launch new services. For instance, My EPC (education payment counselor) matches customer account numbers with specific agents to promote relationship building. TMS also offers outbound calling services to help schools with marketing campaigns. In addition, the company developed a proprietary application thats integrated with the contact center solution and is designed to improve the quality and integrity of tracking internal marketing initiatives.
How does TMS know if customers can tell the difference between the old call center and the new IP contact center?
“What we know is that customers want a timely response when they call. This is about avoidance of dissatisfaction,” said Pelkey.
Lynn Haber is a freelance writer based in Norwell, Mass. Contact her at [email protected].
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