From the monthly archives: December 2010

Water-drop-3 (240px wide)This is the third post I’ve written looking at the debate on how best to add the much-desired feature of virtual queuing (VQ) to the call center experience. (Virtual queuing in a nutshell: The company will call you back when an agent is ready, rather than asking you to wait on hold.)

This series of posts was prompted by an essay posted by Eric Camulli of Virtual Hold Technologies (VHT) called “I applaud the concept, but Lucyphone could be hurting more than helping”. Lucyphone’s CEO posted a response in the comments. Both are worth reading.

Quick recap

  • VHT, Lucyphone and Fonolo all offer Virtual Queuing solutions, all with different approaches.
  • VHT follows the traditional approach of installing and integrating at the call center. In an earlier post, I explained why there is a dramatic advantage to delivering this service without needing new equipment in the call center: Is the secret to virtual queuing in the cloud?
  • Lucyphone is “cloud-based”, i.e. nothing installed at the call center. Furthermore it is a consumer-driven service, i.e. the caller decides that he wants to use it before dialing the company. Lucyphone adds the virtual queuing option without needing any cooperation (or permission) from the company being called. I call this a unilateral approach.
  • Fonolo’s offering, which we call Hold for Me, is also cloud-based but is bilateral. We feel this is the best of all worlds, and this series of posts is part of our effort to explain why.

Now back to the debate. The first point raised in Eric’s post was privacy and security, which I discussed a recent post.

The second concern related to call center operations, which I discussed in my last post.

Missed opportunity for savings

Eric’s third point…

…while Lucy waits on hold instead of the caller, toll minutes are still being accrued. When an integrated virtual queuing solution is used, no toll minutes accrue during the wait for a return call.

Some background on this: Companies pay more for calls that come in on a toll-free number. How much more? Well, the cost of inbound toll-free varies greatly. I’ve heard as high as 6 cents a minute and as low as 2. But even at the lowest end, this is double the cost of a regular call*.

To put it another way: not only is waiting on hold a poor experience for the caller, it also wastes money for the company. The traditional approach to queuing is simply “lose-lose”.

How VQ saves money

When companies replace hold-time with virtual queuing, they get savings in two ways. 1) During hold-time, they don’t pay for inbound minutes on their toll line and 2) After hold-time, the company connects to the caller through an outbound call, which is cheaper than having the call be inbound on the toll-free line.

With LucyPhone, all the telco charges remain. Their CEO responds in the comments: “Our efforts are always aligned with maximizing the efficiency of contact centers and leveraging VoIP technology to achieve telco savings, thereby creating ROI.” I’m not sure how they do that, but I’m looking forward to learning more.

How does Fonolo’s hybrid approach measure up? With Hold for Me, the entire call is handled as an outbound call to the consumer, so no toll-free charges are incurred. Unlike VHT, Fonolo does have to maintain a connection during hold time so not every penny is wrung out of the process. The majority of cost savings remain, though, and the dramatically lower cost of implementation more than compensates for this disadvantage.

* Telco folks: Yes, I know the math isn’t this simple and that, at high volume, there are different ways to factor calling costs. No matter how you slice it though, inbound toll-free calls cost more.


Water-drop-2 (240px wide)In my last post, I quoted from a post written by Virtual Hold’s Eric Camulli talking about Lucyphone. It was titled “I applaud the concept, but Lucyphone could be hurting more than helping”.

Both companies offer virtual queuing, which is the idea that the company will call you back when an agent is ready, rather than asking you to wait on hold.

One idea, three approaches

Virtual Hold represents the traditional approach — installing hardware and software at the call center. Lucyphone represents a disruptive new approach — based in the cloud and “unilateral” (i.e. not requiring any cooperation from the company). My company, Fonolo, also offers virtual queuing, using an approach that is a hybrid of the two.

The first point in Eric’s post concerned security, and my previous post added some thoughts on that. Here’s his second point:

Messing with agent performance metrics

To an agent, this [call-back] process is falsely accruing as ‘talk time’ — a metric by which many agents are measured to ensure high performance. So, is it possible that Lucy is skewing agent stats and affecting agent performance bonus? Yes, it’s possible…and not fair to them, either. … It’s possible that by skewing this data, Lucy may result in poorer customer service in the long run.

This is a concern we have also encountered in talking to companies about Fonolo’s virtual queuing service, Hold-for-Me. The only solution here is to work through these issues with the company, specifically the call center managers. The internal metrics used at the call center might have to be adjusted, depending on how they are set up.

There are also issues around workflow: How long does an agent wait during the callback for the customer to answer? What if that call goes to voicemail? What if the line is busy?

And finally, some small amount of agent training is also required.

Everyone has to bend a little

Yes, this pops the bubble of the pure “no-touch” installation that makes the cloud-based approach so attractive. But it is still a fraction of the effort compared with installing hardware at the call center. And our early results indicate that there is still very good ROI for the company. I hope to share some of those results on this blog in the near future.