A valuable solution for communications for SMEs

A new telephony and call centre solution has transformed the way e.surv Chartered Surveyors is able to work.

A new telephony and call centre solution has transformed the way e.surv Chartered Surveyors is able to work. 

The business implemented a robust solution from Inter-Tel that gave it call monitoring and reporting software, unified messaging and Voice over IP connecting locations, to replace its out-of-date legacy system.

The company is now easily maintaining its service level agreements (SLAs), calls are handled promptly and efficiently and call costs have been reduced.

E.surv runs a substantial call centre operation and, as such, it relies heavily on its telephony solution. But its old Index system from Avaya had not grown with the company, which has expanded almost four-fold in over 10 years. Due to its age, the Index did not have much of the capability that e.surv knew was available in more modern solutions, such as the ability to monitor and manage call levels.

Also, the old telephony solution was starting to show its age in terms of performance and was generating customer complaints. Nigel Adams, national IT manager at e.serv, comments: “At 10 years old, the Avaya switch’s parts were starting to fail. That isn’t a criticism - it’s just what you’d expect. We were starting to get weird routing problems that led to customer complaints.

“Calls were going up blind alleys where the phone was ringing but no one was answering. Our supplier couldn’t solve the problem, although they eventually created a solution that worked around it.”

This problem was detrimental to the company’s reputation, Adams states: “We work with some of the UK’s top lenders. We can’t afford to have this type of problem.”

E.surv offers a range of mainly residential survey and valuation services to private sellers and buyers and the institutional lending market. It works with major High Street lenders and mortgage brokers throughout the UK. These clients demand tough SLAs and e.surv has to provide that same quality of service to those lenders’ and mortgage brokers’ clients, with whom e.surv books evaluation appointments with.

The ‘blind alley’ calling issue worked as an expedient to e.surv finally starting to look at alternatives to its existing telephony system. The company began talking to its Avaya Index suppliers about upgrading the existing system, yet Adams says the cost of doing that seemed pointless when it would need to be changed over for something more modern at some point in the future anyway.

There were several functions that e.surv wanted its new system to include and the ability to track position and flows for calls through improved call reporting and management was vital. It also decided that PC-based wall boards, which show information on the number of calls waiting and agents working, was required.

“We weren’t happy with the call reporting we received,” Adams says. “It was inflexible and getting changes made to it was almost impossible, as our third-party suppliers rarely responded to us.”

Also, the old system was based on ISDN30 and only allowed caller line identity for the business’ main number. The new system had to work on ISDN30E so that people within the business would be able to issue caller line identity for individual extensions.

The company also required a solution that would encompass its Newcastle office and home workers. The Newcastle office needed to be linked to the main system to reduce the cost of internal calls, and the Kettering call centre needed to be able to flow calls through to the Newcastle office during peak times.

Adams explains: “We were looking initially at linking our Newcastle office into the main system at our head office in Kettering. That would mean we needed a lot of capacity for now - and for future growth. We hoped that we would also be able to get a solution that included home working for management level staff.”

E.surv was working to a tight time frame on the project, due to the ongoing routing problem. In October 2005, e.surv started seeking advice from people it knew to be knowledgeable about telephony systems and technologies before it called in any vendors and it approached several companies to explore potential offerings before it made a shortlist, which included Inter-Tel, Avaya and one other company.

Inter-Tel won the tender at the beginning of December 2005. The main reasons were cost and its personal response to e.surv’s questions. “We chose Inter-Tel as it gave us value for money for a large number of features and the quality of service we received from Inter-Tel during the tendering process. Inter-Tel also said it had no problem with stock. Two weeks after we said yes, the installation began,” says Adams.

Before the installation, a mini system was set up at e.surv and department heads, agents and IT staff were trained by Inter-Tel technicians.

The Inter-Tel Axxess system was installed at the Kettering office  with 260 extensions. This was connected over a pre-existing IP link to the Newcastle office, which had a 5200 model communications server from the 5000 Series installed in early January after the Kettering implementation had settled down, to support another 40 people. This also provided the business with free internal calls.

Additionally, Inter-Tel’s Swan Solutions Call View was installed in both Kettering and Newcastle for PC-based wall boards. All extensions have been issued with Inter-Tel 8560 phones. Adams says: “We already had Cat 5 cabling to the desks here in Kettering, which is why we didn’t bother going for IP phones.”

The main challenge for the installation was that e.surv’s systems operate until midnight seven days a week. “We can’t afford to have the system down for any length of time,” Adams says.

The implementation was set to take place on a weekend, so e.surv’s IT department stripped out all the systems it could at unoccupied desks on Saturday morning so all Inter-Tel had to concentrate on was the installation itself.

“There was no sequence to it at all. The implementation was literally done over a 24-hour period. It was up and running on the Monday morning. Overall, it was quite a spectacular big bang, which is what you need in this type of business,” says Adams.

A large part of the installation’s success on the Saturday hinged on the co-operation of BT, which was tasked with changing over the ISDN30 lines to ISDN30E. “We needed a prompt change-over of lines when the old Index system came out, as the new system from Inter-Tel wouldn’t run on ISDN30. BT turned up on time and did what it said it was going to do.”

There were no major problems during or after the implementation, Adam says: “You’d expect problems in something delivered in such indecent haste. You approach something like this with a little trepidation, but it went better than expected. Although everything was tested as it went in, there were a few trivial problems such as loose connections.

“Under the same circumstances I wouldn’t have done anything different, except perhaps spending more time to get ready for it, but that’s more psychological,” he adds. “It all worked well. Now, our calls go where they are supposed to go and we have had no more customer complaints.”

Adams is pleased with the new system. In terms of cost, he says the company has bought and is paying for the ongoing maintenance of a larger system covering the entire business with highly specified functionality, for little more money than it was paying for the old Avaya Index system.

Return on investment has not been a central issue in the implementation of e.surv’s new voice solution, Adams states. “The driver for this was never money; it was a system designed to support our customers and our needs. We are a very customer-facing business; we couldn’t have calls going up blind alleys and not being answered.

“As such, we didn’t even consider return on investment; we looked at how we would write the expenditure off over a number of years, so we did take the financials into account. But overall we weren’t trying to save money with this implementation. We knew we would have to invest a significant amount of money, but the finer computations were not an issue.”

In the near future e.surv will add IP phones to the network so it can increase the number of home workers it has by plugging into their domestic broadband connection. The business may also look at video conferencing facilities, to enhance the voice conferencing it does already.

Not much is really planned in terms of additions to the system, however, Adams comments: “We specified it very highly to begin with. It has been designed to be future proof. Our objective at the outset was to invest in something that would last. Trying to judge return on investment wasn’t important; the solution just had to do what our customers and our people needed from it. [Now,] the system is more visible and we have an improvement in call answering times.”

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