Questions You Need Answered Before Purchasing Call Center Management Software for the Enterprise

By Mark Ruggles, Platform28 on June 11, 2014

If you already have a premise-based Contact Center solution, and are considering making the move to a cloud-based platform, or, if you are thinking about migrating away from your existing cloud-based vendor, the following questions are designed to help buyers level the playing field when evaluating cloud Cs Center management software vendors. Areas of discovery fall into five categories – Hardware, Analytics, Software, Service and Support and Investment.

Finding answers to the following questions can help an enterprise get a clear understanding of a vendor’s overall capabilities.

Hardware

Q. What does the vendor’s core topology look like?

A. The vendor should be able to produce a high level picture of what the production ready platform looks like.

Q. How does the vendor interop with the carriers?

A. Is it a SIP level connection or is there TDM involved?  If the vendor does connect via TDM, the rationale for this will be an interesting case study.

Q. How many carriers does the vendor work with?

A. You want to ensure the vendor is tied into all the major carriers.  This eliminates single points of failure.

Q. What documentation is available on active/ production servers?

A. You want to see the vendor’s disaster recovery plan and methodology.  Again, looking to eliminate as many single points of failure as possible.

Q. Is the system architecture PCI compliant?

A. Another requirement that’s becoming more and more mainstream.  Does the vendor provide its clients a method for secure credit card payments?  Is it PCI compliant or is it PCI certified? There is a vast difference between the two.

Q. Do both TDM and SIP options exist?

A. This question is asked to ensure the vendor is capable of providing telephony by whatever means necessary.  Some rural locations cannot support SIP, which makes TDM crucial.

Q. Are there any hardware requirements for a client to manage onsite? 

A. Look for answers that do not just refer to PCs, terminals, phones and routers. 

Analytics

Q. What reports can be run in production?

A. Think about any limitations that exist with your current Analytics capabilities, for example, what number of standard reports do you have access to? Are you able to get custom reports, and if so, how long do you have to wait for them? Are your reports run with historical or real-time data? Use these questions you ask of your current Analytics to ensure you select a vendor that will provide the flexibility and range of reports your business needs.

Q. Are there any call recording limitations? 

A. Do you plan to download recordings?  How regularly? Some vendors provide a standard, limited amount of space as part of their core service offering.  Ask what this storage limit is and whether additional storage can be provided for a fee.

Q. Is the system multi-tenant? 

A. The benefit of multi-tenant systems is that they allow easy manipulation of physical locations and subsequent team associations.  Reports roll up under these configurations.  Systems that are not multi-tenant have much more rudimentary reporting structures and are less scalable.

Q. What is required to add immediate capacity? 

A. If the system is built using traditional architecture, additional equipment will need to be added to allow for greater capacity.  Note – true cloud architecture allows for on-demand scalability.

Q. How many overall ports does the vendor have available? 

A. If the vendor supports true cloud architecture, they should have an unlimited number of ports.

Q. How many ports are leveraged daily? 

A. If you can get this number as well as the number of clients the vendor supports daily, you can do the math to understand the average size user based on ports consumed.

Q. What restrictions do clients have in accessing the vendor’s servers? 

A. Leveraging a cloud platform is not the same as having your own premise-based database.  Accessing backend data is not necessarily on demand.

Q. What is the business continuity plan? 

A. Make sure there are no single points of failure.  Does the vendor have multiple facilities?

Q. What is their Disaster Recovery plan?  How can you be sure you won’t lose your data in the vendor’s cloud environment?

A. Ask about geo-redundancy.

Software

Q. What is the core software written in? 

A. You hope to learn it’s a popular web technology.  The more proprietary and obscure, the tougher it may be to work with.

Q. What is the core database? 

A. Hopefully it’s SQL based, relational, and scales well.

Q. How can a customer access the database? 

A. Find out if there are existing hooks.  Can you actually review the data schema?

Q. What real-time integrations are available?  What popular tools has the vendor integrated with?

A. Finding out about what integrations their other customers have done, and the custom level of any of those integrations will demonstrate how adept the vendor is at managing integration.

Q. What are the published APIs? 

A. Make sure to review the vendor’s published APIs before partnering.  You want to ensure as much flexibility as possible.

Q. Is there any thick client software? 

A. The more web-based the better.  If there are thick applications, be sure to understand why.

Q. What thin client environments are supported? 

A. Determine if the vendor can support thin client environments. Ask how this affects voice.  Does voice require a separate SIP device in addition to the thin client.

Q. What are the minimum specs for user stations? 

A. Make sure you will not be forced to buy the latest/ greatest PCs to support the vendor’s cloud environment.

Q. What browsers are supported? 

A. If the vendor does not support all major browsers this can be a problem.  Also, what versions does the vendor support?  Sometimes vendors support older versions and can be several releases behind in software updates.

Q. What SIP devices are supported? 

A. Find out whether you have the option of purchasing your own Polycom phones or whether you will need to use the vendor’s soft phones.  Consider if you have legacy SIP devices you prefer to leverage.

Q. What roles based security is available? 

A. Determine to what extent you can limit users within the environment and how easy this would be to maintain.

Q. Can a client support their own multi-tenant instances? 

A. For example, find out whether you would be able to bring up your own instances of sub clients and whether a client can act as its own provider to its internal clients.

Q. What multimedia is supported? 

A. It’s important you have the ability to link social media, e-mail and chat into the call center platform.

Q.Is there an SDK available? 

A. This will help you determine if you can use the platform as a development kit for your own internal applications.

Services/ Support

Q. What services are included with the vendor’s off-the-shelf pricing? 

A. Determine what the list price does and does not include. For example, what services would be charged as extras?  What does a typical roll out look like?  What is the average services bill? Explore as many of the service costs as possible, pre-contract.

Q What is the vendor’s support model? 

A. Figure out what standard versus premium looks like in terms of support costs. Typically cloud providers roll support costs into the monthly subscription costs.

Q. How can you ensure you will receive a consistent level of support that meets your business needs?

A. For example, if a higher value customer has an urgent need, how does the vendor deal with that hierarchy?  Because service/ support costs are often rolled into user costs and billed monthly, you will want to be confident that your organization will receive the support it needs if other larger customers experience problems at the same time as you.

Q. How many customers does the vendor currently support? 

A. It’s helpful to know whom you are competing with for support services.

Q. What does an average size customer look like? 

A. Try to make sure you’re not the biggest customer but more importantly, not the smallest customer.

Q. Who is the vendor’s largest client? 

A. They will likely share this with you in the sales presentation. This will help give you an idea of their scale and capabilities.

Q. How many customers have multiple locations? 

A. This is useful in determining how well versed the vendor is in geographic diversity.

Q. How many customers run MPLS to the vendor’s COLO? 

A. If the vendor won’t disclose the names of their larger customers, a question like this will at least, give you an idea of how many bigger customers they have. Typically, larger customers elect MPLS connectivity for quality of service.

Q. How many customers run VPN to the vendor’s COLO?

A. It will be interesting to see the breakdown between MPLS and VPN.

Q. Does the vendor support open Internet connectivity? 

A. You will want to know beforehand how easy it is to access the platform. This will help determine your internal BCP strategy.

Q. How many developers are on staff? 

A. You want to know the platform is being actively developed and supported.

Q. Does the vendor outsource development? 

A. Don’t be surprised if the answer is ‘Yes’. Most providers do to a certain extent, however, get the percentage breakdown.

Q. How may support staff does the vendor have? 

A. Avoid vendors that have 15 support staff and thousands of customers.  It’s a simple statistical observance.

Q. What are the supports hours of operation? 

A. If the vendor operates 8am – 5pm EST and your operation runs 8am – 5am PST, how will this impact your operations?

Q. Are there after hour support options? 

A. Again, if the vendor shuts down their support at a certain time and you have an issue, how does it get resolved and does this resolution happen in a timely fashion that meets your organization’s needs.

Q. Can you see an example of their Service Level Agreement? 

A. This helps avoid tough negotiating points from the onset.

Q. What is the process for opening a support ticket? 

A. Determine if you are expected to call or email. Can you log your own tickets?

How can you monitor open support cases?  Do you have to call in, or can you monitor via the web?

Q. What if a support question turns into a custom development request? 

A. Find out as soon as possible how the vendor defines Professional/ Custom Services, what it costs and the extent to which it delays the deliverables.

Investment

Q. What is the vendor’s annual revenue? 

A. In addition to this golden nugget, ask what it was for each year over the last three years.  You want to be comfortable with the size company you’re looking to partner with. You also want to make sure it’s financially stable.  Too much, or too little growth is something you may want to avoid.

Finding out how much debt the vendor manages ensures you deal with a company that is profitable.  Ask if you can review the vendor’s P&L.

Q. What is the minimum contract amount?  Is this monthly or annual? 

A. What are your options – do you have to break it down every thirty days?  Can you do it quarterly?  Annually?

Q. How long has the vendor been in business? 

A. If it’s a start-up, are you comfortable taking on the level of risk associated with a start-up?

Q. Is there a discount for signing a longer-term contract? 

A. Longer term contracts should offer a price advantage.

Q. Can you review one of the vendor’s  sample contracts? 

A. Know what you’re getting into as quickly as possible.  You want to identify any red flags.