Austar tunes UC for better customer service

Best-of-breed approach may impact scalability

With around 750,000 customers and 3 million calls a year, pay TV provider Austar has improved its customer service through unified communications by reducing average call handling times by 15 per cent.

CIO Dean Walters said Austar did a strategic review of its voice infrastructure three years ago and discovered scalability and reliability issues with its mixed-vendor approach.

In 2007, Austar announced a $5.7 million deal with UC integrator Touchbase to migrate its Avaya contact centre infrastructure to Cisco equipment.

Over the past two years the company has completed a replacement of its voice network and integrated it with enterprise applications.

“We needed to create a scalable and reliable platform, and wanted to support a better customer service strategy like remote call centre environments,” Walters said.

A desire to serve customers more effectively across more multimedia channels was also a design goal.

“We’ve been successful in moving customers to a highly self-service model, but we still needed good customer support,” Walters said.

After spending more than three months on the design, the implementation project took about 12 months and involved a migration to Cisco for call routing and multimedia support with integrated natural language voice response.

Walters likens changing a business telephony system to a “heart-lung transplant” and is happy there was no business impact.

“We had to work with a telephony partner to redesign network for the high-availability we needed,” he said. “Engineers might pull the plug, but you can’t do that with 1000 people on the phone.”

Walters said while there are best-of-breed integration approaches to UC, the platforms can be fragile when you start to scale.

“VoIP for us is old news, but rolling out 700 endpoints to call centre staff and making sure it integrates with call routing and adding multimedia features like IM, SMS and video, it wasn’t until I saw Cisco bring this whole platform to market did we become confident we could proceed.”

Walters, who has been CIO at Austar for 5 years, said although the company has been using Cisco’s CallManager since 1998, only in a full IP world can a call centre be run from “anywhere in the world”.

“We deployed some seats in Manila and from a technology perspective it was just a case of using the software and turning on the routing. The hardest part was training.”

Austar’s entire operations runs on IP phones and softphones are used in its call centres.

“We are very happy with the outcome,” Walters said. “Customer service was a key selling criteria. There has been a 15 per cent drop in average handle time through a combination of routing and integration to CRM. We have the ability to run a complex ecosystem and be able to turn it on a dime. This also translates to a great customer experience.”

With its network in tune with business processes, Austar can reconfigure its routing daily to align with what’s happening in the business. For example, on a heavy billing day the routing will be directed towards the business.

“The network has proven extremely resilient to supporting rapid change without degradation,” Walters said.

Despite there being a few “gotchas” in the integration work, Walters said identifying problems during the planning phase made the deployment low-risk.

“There are always challenges in these projects, but it all comes down to scope. We put a lot of work into planning and wanted to improve the business incrementally not radically so we had clearly defined phases.”

Walters said CIOs can easily get through a multi-million dollar project and find showstoppers if it’s not planned properly.

“We will be adding features over the next five years on this platform,” he said. “There are more customer service options, including self service.”

Austar already supports “click to talk” customer interactions, and with broadband quality improving plans to offer video chats with customers.

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Tags unified communicationscustomer serviceAustarcisco

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