This is an outline for writing an RFI for a turnkey predictive dialer system. A turnkey system is a complete predictive dialer solution containing all the elements required for immediate use. For the most part you are looking at something “off the shelf”. Your vendor will deliver, install, train, and support on this system. For information on building your own proprietary dialer/telephony solution (not turnkey) visit us at www.calltrol.com and follow the links to the developer section.
Due to rapid advancements in technology, the best predictive dialers today do much more than their past counterparts. Features such as digital recording, conferencing, silent observation & agent coaching and direct processing of inbound calls are typically standard. Because of the broad range of capabilities and the years over which these systems have evolved you will find both simple and sophisticated solutions at all price points. Price is not directly related to features and performance anymore. Correspondingly there are vast differences in needs among buyers. Understanding your needs and placing importance criteria upon them (i.e. mandatory, desired, optional) is essential in evaluating the responses you will receive from prospective vendors.
#1) Know if you want an Auto Dialer or a Predictive Dialer (or both):
Auto Dialers call telephone numbers from a database and send only the live connected calls to agents in the pool. The Auto Dialer will only call out when there is an available agent to take the call. Auto dialers save agents from the physical task of dialing, hanging up, and listening to busy signals, operator intercepts (SIT tones), and answering machines. Auto Dialers are used in small call centers or in business-to-business environments where a live person almost always answers a phone.
A Predictive Dialer is a system that uses sophisticated mathematical equations and algorithms to determine the pace at which to dial. Phone numbers are called based upon projections as to when a person will answer and coordinating that answer with the completion of a prior call by any one of the agents in the pool. Predictive dialers work best with a minimum of eight agents.
Many systems marketed as predictive dialers do not use true predictions to make calls. These so called Power Dialers are often identified by the following characteristics: Fixed ratio of lines per agent, agent can only get calls from lines assigned to them, system is always dialing at the same speed (or a user controllable speed) regardless of agent status causing a high abandonment rates or long wait times.
Based on a variety of factors, a predictive dialer dynamically calculates its pacing to best keep all operators talking. One strong advantage to a predictive dialer is that operator efficiency (talk time) can be increased by as much as 300% over automatic dialing (Newton’s Telecom Dictionary by Harry Newton). One disadvantage to predictive dialing is the occasional abandoned call, whereby a live connection is made and no operator is available. Today’s best dialers allow the user to dynamically affect call pacing to maintain an acceptable (and legal) abandonment rate.
#2) Recognize there are many pieces in the puzzle:
You only want to send out the RFI once, so know what you want to know. Provide as much information to your prospective vendors as possible to reduce questions and confusion. A typical situation you want to avoid is signing a purchase contract based on a good proposal only to discover (too late) your database software and hardware are inadequate and need replacing.
You must consider both Telephony and Data Processing hardware and software. By communicating what you need and what you already own will ensure a relevant and complete proposal from prospective vendors. This knowledge will also help you to read and compare the proposals as they come in. If there are some components you wish to source independently, (agent PCs are a good example) request separate pricing on those items. It is common practice to request a detailed diagram of the proposed solution so you can visualize any configuration gaps.
Hardware - The physical equipment that interfaces with your telephone lines and agent headsets. This is the equipment that provides the dialing; connecting and other phone call processing and encompass one PC or many large pieces of equipment including a PBX or ACD.
Software - The logic that controls the above equipment and provides communications interfacing with the agent desktop application(s).
Hardware - The physical equipment that stores the data and runs the programs to manipulate and report on the data. This includes the agent desktop terminals or PCs and servers..
Software - The programs that present data/scripts/forms to the agents, status & reporting to the supervisor(s) and database storage & maintenance (but not the database itself).
#3) Don’t be coy about your company:
The most beneficial RFI responses will be ones that directly suit your needs. We recommend against being vague about your plans. Be as forthcoming as possible with information such as the nature of your business, the inquiry (exploratory, immediate, etc.), scope of your needs (number of agents and sites, percent of inbound vs. outbound etc.), intended purchase and implementation time frame, and some general and technical background on your organization.
Provide the names and contact information for the individual(s) to whom correspondence should be directed and provide a reasonable deadline for questions and a response due date. Specify whether different individuals are responsible for different areas (i.e. telecom, database, receipt of completed RFI documents, etc.). Mention any preferred means of communication for the various types of correspondence that may occur as well as the preferred/required format of the responses and the number of copies.
You should consider conducting a vendor conference call, which will save time by answering all questions at once and also providing an opportunity to get a personal feel for the players.
NOTE: Placing undue burden, restrictions or other demands on the vendors could significantly reduce your response and possibly cheat you out of the best solution for your needs. Some common mistakes we have seen are:
- Inadequate time for vendors to respond to lengthy and detailed questions.
- Strict and often unreasonable deadlines and procedural rules that automatically disqualify vendors.
- Excessive cost in bidding relative to the value of the purchase: Travel, large numbers of copies of the completed responses in numerous paper and digital formats.
Vendors want your business. Good vendors want to answer your questions completely and accurately and during the process will get an idea whether they can fill your need. Good vendors will not respond to you if there is not a good fit. So, the RFI process helps them learn about you, just as it helps you learn about them.
#4) Plan for growth:
Don’t start off with an obsolete system. Make sure the dialer product you purchase will suit your needs in the future. Many dialer systems will last 10 years or longer. Find out how many trunks can be installed per system and the maximum number of users per system. If you are looking at an autodialer, ask if it can be upgraded to predictive one day (if that is your goal). If you are just running outbound campaigns now, verify the system can be upgraded to blended (serving both inbound and outbound calls) without unreasonable charges or disruption of business, and find out if the system supports remote agents and how that is accomplished. Request a list of all available features and options and ask for several pricing scenarios.
#5) Get detailed information on the dialer software:
Dialer suppliers are varied in their approach to presenting and organizing customer data. Inquire about the standard screens, standard fields, limitations, capacity for additional screens, scripting and other call automation tools and features. Ask about the customization features and what the costs are for professional services associated with customization. You will also want to know about campaign management/insertion/deletion and the maximum number of simultaneous campaigns the application allows. A demonstration or example tutorial available online or on a CD will give you a good feel for the application’s layout and user friendliness.
Inquire about the development language the dialer application is written in. Make sure it is universally supported and not obsolete. All the systems you are investigating should enable voice recording. Verify if it is integrated into the dialer solution or if it is provided by separate equipment and determine your preference.
Make sure you are in compliance with the law:
The new FTC Telemarketing Sales Rule (effective October 1, 2003) has made many dialer products on the market obsolete and incapable with keeping you “legal”. Abandonment rate overrides, voice message delivery, detailed campaign reporting, and caller ID output at the campaign level are all required now. Ask what version of the software is being proposed and when it was released, and request information about the methods employed to abide by current FTC requirements. There are exceptions to these FTC regulations. Prospective vendors should be fluent in all the new rules’ provisions.
#6) Get detailed information on the dialer hardware:
The actual dialer is an integral part of your system. It will need to be well maintained and protected. The components inside today’s’ dialers are expensive, and should be housed in an appropriate chassis, typically industrial grade (which is between commercial grade and carrier grade in hardiness). Inquire about who the manufacturers of the dialer chassis and the components are. Verify the proposal includes only new components unless you have specified refurbished parts are acceptable. All PCs and components have environmental requirements (power, temperature, humidity, etc.), so inquire about them to be sure your have a facility that can comply.
Some telephony hardware components are more common and available in the marketplace than others. Purchasing systems with proprietary telephony components is not recommended. Availability of replacement parts is crucial so find out about replacement parts policies, procedures, time frames, and costs. Many companies offer several support options. Also, stocking spare parts is recommended. Request a separate quote for a spare parts kit.
#7) Maintenance and support:
It is the strategy of some dialer vendors to offer low pricing on their systems and require high pricing on maintenance and support contracts. By annually charging hundreds of dollars per seat in support they recoup the lost revenue on the initial sale. There are contact center operators who are glad for this arrangement because it reduces the cost of acquisition. Avoid getting trapped financially by thoroughly analyzing total acquisition and ongoing cost, including cost you will have to bear in addition to those paid to the vendor. We recommend requesting a five-year cost of ownership analysis to provide an accurate picture of the system’s costs. Make sure you get detailed information on all software and hardware maintenance and support policies and component part warranties and guarantees. And again, take into consideration “off quote” items, such as items you must provide such as staff, infrastructure and software licenses. Often times simply having a system that uses a standard database, operating system or reporting tools can tremendously impact long term costs due to the common nature of the skills required for ongoing operation and maintenance.
In addition to the general benefit of automating the dialing of calls to reduce agent idle time and increase productivity there are a number of surrounding features and technologies that will impact the performance, maintenance and overall ROI of the system. Many of the questions in this document do not cover those areas. These areas include your phone network and type of lines, your database’s source, management and design, and the peculiarities of certain vertical markets. We at Calltrol are happy to discuss any questions regarding computer telephony integration (CTI) and are glad to make recommendations for your next contact center system.
Originally Published in ContactCenterWorld.com, August 11, 2003.