Friday, August 17, 2012

The ContactSuite Story - Contact centre CRM from the ground up

You may have noticed on our website that Telnet has now made our in-house CRM solution, ContactSuite available as a standalone product (ie you can use the product without needing to first be a contact centre or Octopus client).  I thought it would be a good time to blog a little about what ContactSuite actually is and where it came from.

What is it?

If you’ve read the whitepaper (Here) then you’ll know that it’s a CRM (Customer Relationship Management ) solution, the essence of which means that it can track incoming or outgoing contacts (that  we call “interactions”)  and, if you need to , arrange collections of interactions together (into what we call “cases”), all while relating these to a database of customers.
Sounds easy right?  Well if you read my blog on disaster recovery, one of the things I mentioned was that it was always the simple everyone-must-have-these-kind-of-problems things that vendors told you they didn’t have a solution for!  This led us over the years to time and time again conclude we had to build our own contact centre focussed solution rather than pick something up of the shelf.
One if the main requirements that we had of a CRM solution– was one of flexibility and ability to react to new requirements.  We also had to make sure we could integrate into our telephony system (even if it changed or got updated) and allow us to manage a very complex mix of different inbound and outbound processes and staff.  
A quirky requirement was also that it must be easy to integrate other CRMs – either through a database or API, or embedded in the screen.  It must of course be incredibly fast – wasting time on the contact centre front line is quite literally wasting money, oh, and it had to do all this and be completely web based (relying on no software other than a web browser installed on the client)

Humble Beginnings

Nearly everything we do at Telnet seems to have a “humble beginnings” story, and the application that became our core CRM is certainly no exception. We have in fact been using  ContactSuite, or one of it’s predecessors (Call Manager and Client Manager) for over 13 years.
Then and Now - Client Manger circa 1999 vs ContactSuite 

In the early days the main driver was a tool to create outbound campaigns and use our Zeacom phone system as an autodialler.  Gradually other functionality was added including inbound calling (screenpops), agent management, knowledge management, email/fax/SMS, “customer centric” CRM capabilities and so on until we had a very feature rich suite of applications.

Head in the Clouds?

“Cloud Computing” in my opinion is a much overused and overhyped terminology.  Most people, including tech pros, fail to really understand what it is despite everyone being told this is the way of the future.  In reality there is little new in the tech world, and “Cloud Computing” has really been around forever (depending on your definition).
One premise of the current crop of cloud offerings though really struck a chord with us when we started to use  ContactSuite at our remote Octopus (itself really a “cloud” solution) sites.  Traditionally  ContactSuite  was an installed Windows app, and this started to be a challenge to support once it was outside our own walls – managing update rollouts and testing against hardware and networks outside our direct control became much harder than we’d hoped.
The solution was to look at the “cloud solutions” in the marketplace, including some, like Litmos and Basecamp, that we were already using ourselves.  There were two key traits – they required no installation on the client machine, and they worked completely within a web browser.


The natural progression was for  ContactSuite  to become a web application – but was that even possible?   ContactSuite  used a variety of technologies – such as a local client based plugin for the telephony platform, real time communication with servers to generate screen pops and client side plug ins for various applications we’d developed over the years.  Turning this into a web application wasn’t going to be easy!
Our biggest worry was speed – was it even possible to use an event from the phone system to generate in a web based application, in real time, where time was money, a “screenpop” for an agent to correctly greet a caller without delay.  Our reference examples were actually social media sites, which use real time chat – we thought if they can do it, why can’t we?
We had an ace up our sleeves though, personally knowing the founder of a successful kiwi born cloud company gave us the chance to get a handle on all this, and, crucially, to work with him to get a working model of our biggest challenge – the CS Screenpop.  Armed with this, and Telnet’s skilled dev team (including a new member with a background in web based CRM design), the project had it’s first beta out within months.

The Final Product?

ContactSuite (or CS2 as it’s known in house) has been in prime time operational use now since early 2011 and has come a long way in that time. One of the original principles of the project was that one of the benefits of a “cloud” application, other than keeping it simple for the users, is that you can apply principles such as continuous integration to allow for incremental improvements, without needing significant rewrite or “new version” deployments.  The analogy of choice here was Gmail – Do you know what “version” of gmail you use? – no improvements happen all the time and users get the benefit of all these incremental improvements without the “forklift” upgrades needed by other products.
ContactSuite is improving all the time – the latest innovations due to hit the application in September/October being an all new knowledge management engine, with better search capabilities, all new content creation tools, and “social knowledge” support (using the brains of your users to improve the quality of the information at hand.
ContactSuite has been, and continues to be an exciting product to work on – and has taken Telnet to a new level.   Making this available to everyone is the next level of progress as I’m sure we’ll be tasked with once again solving more “simple problems” that nobody else can.  Our ability to integrate with other platforms, and dedicated in house configuration and dev team are pretty excited to see what new challenges lay ahead!

If you want to have a look at  ContactSuite or see how it might help your business, drop us a line at one of the places in the “contact us” page and we’ll set up a meeting or webinar to go through it


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