Established in 1971 The Consortium is a national procurement and fulfilment business focussed on meeting the needs of its customers from the social care, education, and training sectors. The Consortium is the largest independent supplier of education resources in the UK and its products include; stationery, living aids, furniture, office and business equipment, medical and personal care items, janitorial products, and activities products. The company employs over 240 people at its headquarters in Trowbridge, Wiltshire that comprises warehouse, distribution and an inbound/outbound sales contact centre managing orders from its range of over 30,000 products.
As the business grew and the number of staff and products lines increased the limitations of its 7-year-old TDM based telephone system became a significant barrier to the future development of the organisation.
Business Support Director at The Consortium, Joe Caddell explains, “The problem with our incumbent system was its rigidity. For example, the call routing function was very cumbersome – to move staff from one type of call to taking another type, required them to log out of one queue and then log in to the next, resulting in missed calls. Maintenance was an on-going headache and even simple configurations required a call to our third-party support organisation which was not only very expensive, but also time consuming. The system also did not offer the level of IVR (Interactive Voice Response) capability that we needed to deploy our new business development plans. All of these restrictions had an adverse effect on our ability to react to the seasonal peaks that occur in our business. During these periods the number of calls can triple from around 500 to over 1500 a day. Management information was poor, to the point that we simply did not know how many potential sales calls we were missing.”
He continues, “The old system was holding us back, not only were we losing business, but critical new initiatives, such as introducing new brands and different product lines within the business were impossible to implement due to its inherent limitations.”
A decision was made to replace the existing system. To ensure that the company made the correct investment a thorough and rigorous analysis of the products and technology currently available on the market was conducted.
Joe Caddell explains, “ As we operate both an inbound and outbound contact centre operation, the telephone system is critical to our business success, therefore the decision on what product to implement was not taken lightly. We formed a project team representing the key areas of our business including; the customer service operations manager, Kim Valentine, the business system development manager, Val Kirby, I.T specialist Nigel Taylor, Helen Rose who would be responsible for staff training and myself. We then drafted a comprehensive ‘Statement of Requirements’ (SOR) that set out exactly what we needed from a new system. At this stage we were not concerned at all with the technology itself, the critical factor was how the proposed solution would address and match our business requirements.”
The Selection Process
The project team sent the SOR to 12 potential suppliers, from which a short list of three was selected. Joe describes the selection process, “We acknowledged that VoIP (Voice over IP) was the emerging dominant technology and this was reflected in the response we received from the 12 suppliers. However we didn’t necessarily want a system that was ‘bleeding edge’ but was simply advanced enough to deliver our business requirements and provide a high degree of proven reliability and future-proofing.”
Joe continues, “Short-listing the final three was not easy as the proposals from all the vendors had merit. However, based on our criteria we initially selected three competent, but very similar hybrid solutions based on up-dated TDM technology. I say initially because once this decision was made there was a nagging doubt within the team that we had somehow missed an opportunity to fully embrace IP technology and the real business benefits it would bring in favour of staying within the safety of our existing comfort zone. We decided therefore, to introduce a fourth contender (at the expense of one of the hybrids), a ‘pure’ IP PBX from Swyx, supplied by Swyx reseller GP Telecoms. Although the Swyx solution was originally considered too risky, a step too far if you like, once we had carried out our research we realised that it was more of a risk not to consider it. Unlike the others, it was not reliant on any proprietary hardware therefore growth would not be restricted by physical limitations, it could integrate seamlessly into our existing data network environment and it was incredibly simple to configure and use.”
The company then conducted an extensive evaluation of the three finalists, that included an on-site demonstration, a small pilot operation and an exhaustive review of reference sites and testimonials. The results, according to Joe, surprised everyone, “The final selection was unanimous – Swyx was the number one choice of everybody and given the diversity of all the participants involved this was astonishing”.
The Swyx solution was implemented in two phases, firstly the call centre and then two weeks later the back-office was also moved onto the new telephony platform. As a precaution the old system was initially left in place, just in case of any serious problems, but in the end it was not needed.
PA Helen Rose, responsible for training the staff explains how the new technology was initially received, “At first I think everyone was excited, but also a bit wary of the new system. As a member of the project team I had seen at first hand how simple, yet powerful the new system was compared with the old one. My challenge however, was to communicate this enthusiasm to our users. To do this we set up a training room equipped with PCs, telephones and a large flat screen TV and, with the help of GP Telecom, arranged a number of training days, whereby the staff could get practical ‘hands-on’ experience of the new product”
Customer Services Operations Manager, Kim Valentine adds, “The staff had no problem adopting the new technology and this has been further endorsed by the level of control they now have on their own personal telephony configuration.”
Once the system had been running for a couple of months, the project team carried out a comparative analysis of the system against their original business requirements. A summary of the results is shown below:
- The new call routing has enabled the company to capture almost every call that comes in – with call-backs to the few customers that were missed. According to The Consortium, this is now providing “outstanding customer service”
- The improved flexibility means that the company can meet changing customer demand quickly, ironing out the seasonal and daily peaks by adding new users simply and quickly and routing calls according to skill-set.
- Call recording has improved the quality of staff training – a facility that was price prohibitive on many of the competing solutions
- The enhanced management reporting has moved the company from the ‘Stone Age’ to one which can act dynamically on real-time data to improve and fine-tune every aspect of the business operation
- All ‘moves and changes’ (MACs) can now be carried out in-house
- Supports new business requirements such as multi-branding i.e. Answering calls in the name of a specific product line/brand
- Reduced overall running costs by around 25% and has achieved an internal return on investment of nearly 30%
- Voice mail has added a higher degree of professionalism to the operation.
- The ability to integrate their Infor System 21 ERP system in the near future to develop customer service, enhance their outbound new business campaigns and improve their customer retention
Joe Caddell sums up The Consortium’s experience of using the Swyx technology, “So far the project has been a complete success and has met all our selection criteria. This has been backed up by the support we have received from GP Telecom which has been excellent.”
Val Kirby provides a further endorsement, “We feel that we have only scratched the surface of what we can do with Swyx and over the coming months we will look at a number of other projects including ‘home based agents’, ERP integration and CLI capture to further enhance the efficiency of our business operation. “
Joe concludes; “The Swyx solution is now such an integral part of our business that our operation would suffer severely if we had to go back to our original TDM based phone system”.
Swyx Partner: Elite Telecom