Beth Schultz
Beth Schultz is editor of No Jitter and program co-chair for Enterprise Connect. Beth has more than two decades of...
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Beth Schultz | January 25, 2017 |


'Cloud or Nothing' for Global Hotelier Contact Centers

'Cloud or Nothing' for Global Hotelier Contact Centers Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group exemplifies the move away from aging premises infrastructure as it aims to boost flexibility and improve customer experience.

Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group exemplifies the move away from aging premises infrastructure as it aims to boost flexibility and improve customer experience.

In this week's inaugural No Jitter On Air podcast, we explore the state of the cloud contact center market and enterprise adoption with industry guru Sheila McGee-Smith, of McGee-Smith Analytics. If you haven't had a chance to tune in, and are grappling with contact center decisions, you'll definitely want to take a listen. For the time being, however, let me share this one point that she made: "The move to the cloud is getting dictated ..., in this market, by aging infrastructure."

Perhaps that's a bit of a no-brainer, but what's real within the enterprise can sometimes get lost amid the hype of new stuff, cloud services included. Truth is, many contact centers today operate off of on-premises systems installed back in 1999 to address Y2K issues that never materialized. Since then, we've seen financial downturns during which upgrade budgets all but disappeared, leaving companies "sort of waking up in this age of customer experience and seeing very dated infrastructure -- in a lot of cases [it's been] 10 to 15 years since they made a major change," McGee-Smith said.

Tune in to the inaugural No Jitter On Air podcast episode and hear contact center expert Sheila McGee-Smith explore the question, "Cloud Contact Center: The New Normal?" in advance of her similarly titled session at Enterprise Connect 2017, coming March 27 to 30 in Orlando, Fla.

When enterprises do reach one of these decision points and recognize the need for change, "cloud is always in the mix today -- [whereas] maybe as recently as three years ago it might have been in the mix," McGee-Smith added. She noted, however, that this is not to say cloud is always going to be the right answer, but that companies are going to take a look at cloud alternatives to premises deployments before making a decision.

Nothing But Phone Calls
This observation matches the situation at Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group (CRHG) to a T, as I learned in a recent conversation with John Zurn, senior director of reservations and customer care at CRHG. Until Oct. 18, 2016, he told me, CRHG, a global hotel company with more than 1,400 properties in 115 countries and territories, ran its reservations and customer care operations from five disparate contact centers -- one each in the U.S. (its largest, in Omaha, Neb.), China, India, Ireland, and the Philippines. Each center had its own phone system, and none of those was in great shape.

"On the premises, we were many versions out of date, and never really in any capacity could we function across the geographic regions," Zurn said. For example, "routing calls from Omaha to Dublin or vice versa was pretty hard to do, and it took a lot of time and a heavy IT/telephony administrator footprint to do it."

Specifically, CRHG had different versions of an Avaya switch running in contact centers in Omaha; Manila (Philippines); and Dublin (Ireland). A fourth Avaya switch, in China, was much larger and more up to date, but was owned and operated by CRHG's then-sister company, Carlson Wagonlit Travel. CRHG had been piggy-backing on top of that system but lost its ride, so to speak, following the parent company's sale of CRHG to Chinese investors. Meantime in India, CRHG had been using a Rockwell phone switch.

On top of all that, CRHG supports English speakers in each contact center, as well as a multitude of additional languages, from Cantonese and Mandarin in China to Hindi and Tamal in India, plus 17 languages in Europe. In total, some 250 to 300 call center agents handle upwards of 2.5 million calls yearly, Zurn said.

"We didn't have flexibility, ... and we didn't have even the notion of anything but phone calls," he said. "We could pick up the phone, and that was about it -- we didn't know who we were talking to, really. And we didn't know if they were calling back or if the call was their first [or if they were a loyalty member of any status]. And we couldn't transfer them easily to the regional centers."

What's more, CRHG had no viable business continuity plan for any site. If a snowstorm in Omaha kept call center agents from getting to work, calls coming into that contact center would go unanswered. "That was really not a customer experience we could continue with," Zurn said.

But to McGee-Smith's point about aged infrastructure and the cloud, that all changed in one fell swoop. "Up until Oct. 18 of 2016 we had the same system we had had for 12 years. Then we modernized," Zurn said. And modernization meant going to the cloud.

Cloud or Nothing
Turning to a cloud model was all but a given, as CRHG "no longer wanted to take on the obligation of the care and feeding of the heavy support structures around premises-based solutions." So while the company "cast a broad net" in its RFP process, pulling in proposals on premises systems as well as cloud software, truthfully, "it really was cloud or nothing," Zurn said.

CRHG selected inContact's Customer Interaction Cloud on the strength of its software and maturity in the contact center-as-a-service space, he said. The top criteria were:

  • Scalability -- Adding agents, even at new sites, needed to be as simple as adding a license and providing some remedial training, Zurn said. "At some point we are going to get into South America, and now I know it will be a simple as extending a session of inContact into the right place and adding seats."

  • Flexibility -- Although CRHG hasn't done so yet, Zurn said he likes that he will be able to tune licenses by agent and site. "Not everybody will have the chat function, for instance. We can add the chat function to an individual and take it back throughout the month -- that's the flexibility we'll have."

  • Cost containment and reduction -- Modern infrastructure means CRHG can now move beyond just voice and create an omnichannel strategy, "integrating multiple channels into a single point to be managed and optimized in workforce management," Zurn said. Down the road, he added, CRHG is looking to the potential of using natural language recognition, which would allow guests to do more self-service and come to answers as quick as possible without going into a live interaction. In the meantime, CRHG is implementing chat, and will integrate email and social media channels, as well. "We will meet the guests where they want to be met -- and if we can help them find solutions on lower-cost channels, well that brings cost-effectiveness to the hotels, too."

See All, Know All
Additionally, inContact integrates with Tableau, which CRHG uses for analytics, reporting, and data visualization. "We have a view of every single phone call, phone number, contact ID. We know who is calling, and we never had that before," Zurn said. "We know what's occurring, the nature of the calls, and how to present rates on the different channels to our guests."

CRHG is now recording 100% of its calls, and voice analytics on those recordings will follow. "We will have the ability to put analytics on top of the recordings and start to look at every single call -- transcribe a call from a voice record to a text record, apply sentiment analysis to it, and start to see insights emerge from every call... every single call."

Previously, CRHG had been limited to asking guests to complete surveys, and hoping for a one-in-10 response rate. Even then, the response would almost always be based on the guest's last experience with a hotel -- not with the contact center. "What we'd get was, 'Well, I was at your hotel in Paris....' We like that -- don't get me wrong. But it doesn't inform us about the contact center, and the voice of the guest wasn't coming through on the voice channels," Zurn said.

Three months in and of course CRHG has "only just touched the surface" of what inContact can offer via the cloud. "But," Zurn assured me, "as fast as we can turn services on we're turning them on and we're impacting that guest experience with every lever we pull."

Hear more contact center/customer experience cloud case studies at Enterprise Connect 2017, March 27 to 30, in Orlando, Fla. View the Contact Center track, and register now using the code NOJITTER to receive $300 off an Entire Event pass or a free Expo Plus pass.

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