The Benefits and Considerations of Outsourcing
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EXECUTIVE OVERVIEW There’s a lot more to the automated fax/communication services market than there was just a few short years ago. It’s not just about Fax-on-Demand anymore, thanks to gains in fax technology and growing acceptance of the key factors and benefits that drive automated communication applications. Today’s customers demand information delivery options-service/support agents, Interactive Voice Response (IVR), web sites, fax, mail-and they use them at different times for different reasons. Budgets dictate that communications be efficient. Staffing for routine information requests is expensive, and traditional print fulfillment is costly, labor-intensive, and slow. So, along with Fax-on-Demand, there’s: Online Desktop Faxing-provides handy access to a company’s faxable documents right from the desktop Online Production Fax-processes leads, order confirmations, and other customer transactions via the web Fax-to-Email-enables users to retrieve and manage faxes from the same location where they receive email Fax and Email Broadcasting-gets a company’s message out to thousands of recipients within minutes 800 Fax Receive-provides customers with a toll-free, never-busy fax number to use for high-volume inbound faxes. Interactive Voice Response or IVR-provides requesters with voice response option vs. fax-only response Web Remote Fax Broadcasting-enables a company to launch its own fax broadcasts from anywhere, anytime. Many companies have implemented internal automated communications systems, only to turn to outsourcing when the applications became too complex, multi-departmental, and costly in terms of equipment and personnel. While there’s some excellent off-the-shelf fax software on the market today, it doesn’t come with the expertise needed to tie automated communication services together into an enterprise-wide solution. Nor does it supply the staff time or inclination required to maintain and grow one or more applications. Enter an outsourced automated fax/communication services bureau.
The list of service bureaus is long and varied. Finding the right one requires a realistic assessment of a company’s mass communication objectives-and careful evaluation of the capabilities and experience of prospective bureaus.
This White Paper lays out the benefits of outsourcing fax/communication services, and the criteria for selecting and evaluating an outside bureau. It is for companies contemplating the use of automated fax/communication services or wishing to assess their current outsourcing strategies.
THE KEY BENEFITS OF OUTSOURCING Corporate cost-cutting and a renewed focus on core competencies are driving the growing trend toward outsourcing. Today, many companies that do have the staff resources and technical prowess-F1000 companies like 3M, Apple Computer, Hewlett-Packard, and Cisco Systems-still choose to outsource automated fax/communication services. Why? The key benefits are compelling.
Demonstrable savings and no up-front risk With outsourcing, there are no capital equipment or software costs, and literature fulfillment can be achieved at 50 to 70 percent the cost of traditional paper-based distribution. A qualified services bureau can manage every aspect of system capability and capacity, application design, service implementation, training, security, and data reporting. What’s more, you don’t have to worry about technology upgrades or obsolescence. Outsourcing is also a cost-effective way to “test drive” fax-back and other automated communication options in sales and marketing campaigns.
Enterprise-wide implementation support In corporate America, no one is clearly “in charge” of automated communication. Should Marketing Communications manage it? Telecom? MIS? Customer Support? Early fax communication adopters (companies such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel) discovered that their applications were driven by departmental mavericks, without consistency and control from computer or telecommunications managers. As fax and other automated communications gain acceptance and proliferate, companies still struggle to determine which department should own and manage enterprise-wide applications. So, they turn to an outside bureau for cohesive enterprise-wide implementation and support.
Automated, timely data collection An ancillary benefit of many automated communication services is the customer information they yield, which may include name, company, fax number, and history of information requests that divulge specific product interests. An outsourced services bureau can ensure that a company’s application data is collected, sorted, and reported quickly-in time to follow-up on sales leads while they’re still hot. Extensive fax databases, gathered over time, can be a valuable resource for executing highly targeted marketing campaigns and promotions.
SELECTING A FAX/COMMUNICATION SERVICES BUREAU GROUNDWORK: YOUR OBJECTIVES & AUDIENCE
The list of companies offering fax and other automated communication services is long and varied. Finding the right one requires a well thought-out assessment of your mass communication objectives, and careful evaluation of the capabilities and experience of prospective bureaus.
Before you start shopping for an outside services bureau, take the time to define your mass communication objectives. Defining your objectives up front will help to lay the foundation for smooth implementation, and will go a long way in helping you select a bureau best suited to your needs and requirements. Your objective(s) may be to: Reduce literature fulfillment costs by X% Shorten the sales cycle for field personnel Streamline lead generation Free up customer and technical support staff through automation Whatever your objectives, make them specific and doable. Then use them to determine who you want to reach and which areas of the company (inside and outside) your automated application will serve. Some applications, for instance, are designed to field requests from varied audiences, while others are highly targeted or access-restricted. Prioritizing your target audiences will prove especially helpful during actual implementation, when you’ll have to make decisions about user points of access, voice scripts, document templates, and other custom features of your automated communication application.
Think also about the scope of what you want to achieve-not just today but in the future. Do you want to link all your customers and staff through one centralized system, or are you simply augmenting your call center or other company department with a separate fax document request line? Do you plan to experiment with a variety of automated communication services as you test promotional campaigns? Are you looking for a bureau to manage an occasional large fax broadcast or a long-term partner to assist in your ongoing sales, support, and marketing efforts? Are you thinking about fax-enabling your web site?
SELECTING A FAX/COMMUNICATION SERVICES BUREAU GROUNDWORK: YOUR FAX DOCUMENT LIBRARY At the core of several automated communication applications is a company’s centralized fax document library. While the day-to-day library maintenance and updating can and should be done by the chosen services bureau, initial document hunting and gathering is an important step and one that an outside firm can’t help you with to a large extent. The document-selection process inevitably will take you longer than planned. In deciding which documents to include in your library, remember the 80/20 Rule-80% of your callers will request 20% of your documents. Spend your energy locating the latest versions of that coveted 20%.
The procedure for submitting fax library documents naturally varies from bureau to bureau. Find out exactly what’s expected from you and ensure that you’re comfortable with the process. In any event, document submission shouldn’t be arduous or time-consuming, nor should you have to contend with a lot of re-formatting. A bureau should be equipped to accept your documents in virtually any popular, widely used format. Hard-copy or electronic documents are usually acceptable; however, the highest quality fax output is derived from electronic files.
Whatever your library includes, look to the services bureau to help you group documents so that callers can easily locate and request the information. Expect a firm to take about two weeks to organize and implement a 50-document library.
MULTIPLE POINTS OF ACCESS Access to your faxable documents can be achieved in several ways, depending on your existing information distribution methods and the extent you wish to supplement them with an automated response option.
FAX-ON-DEMAND. Callers access fax documents via an existing corporate toll-free number (800 or 888), a separate dedicated toll-free number, or a toll number (includes international callers). The services bureau should be able to help you sort out which Fax-on-Demand integration-including call flows and document indexing-is right for you.
ONLINE FAXING. Employees have access to faxable documents right at their fingertips. Online faxing is an ideal application in telesales and technical support/customer service environments-minimizing the amount of time agents spend fulfilling requests for routine information such as spec sheets, tech tips, product updates, and dealer location lists.
Depending on your system connectivity methods and objectives, online faxing can be achieved in several ways. Do you want online access via individual desktop computers, giving your employees direct access to your company’s fax document library? Do you want to give customers with Internet access the option of selecting, printing, and or forwarding documents from your company’s fax library? Regardless of your immediate objectives, find an outside firm that can integrate multiple points of access to your document library. You may not be ready to fax-enable your web site today, but if it’s something you envision down the road, your services bureau should have the wherewithal to integrate Internet access to your document library smoothly and efficiently. In other words, make sure that the firm you choose has the systems, expertise, and flexibility to grow with your company.
SELECTING A FAX/COMMUNICATION SERVICES BUREAU BEYOND THE FAX DOCUMENT LIBRARY There are also a variety of automated communication services that don’t depend on a centralized document library. Chief among them:
FAX AND EMAIL BROADCASTING. The near-simultaneous transmission of a document to many locations. Used for distributing product announcements, press releases, newsletters, registration forms, event confirmation, etc. Some service bureaus also handle e-mail broadcasting.
ONLINE PRODUCTION FAX. Generates, merges, and collates custom faxed documents and forms based on data input. Used for purchase orders, invoices, account balances/portfolio updates, sales leads, order status, event confirmations, registration packets, etc.
Enables users to receive faxes in the same location as their email. Used for getting leads to outbound salespeople quickly, keeping mobile workers in touch, and for anyone who wants to view and manage faxes with ease. 800
Provides a never-busy, toll-free response mechanism for high-volume incoming faxes. Used for collecting responses to large-scale marketing campaigns, customer-record deletion requests, address changes, etc.
INTERACTIVE VOICE RESPONSE.
Gives callers the additional option of an immediate voice response to their information request, versus fax-only. IVR is great for communicating quick, dynamic data such as order/inventory status, account balances, and dealer locations.
WEB REMOTE FAX BROADCASTING. Enables a company to launch its own fax broadcasts (anywhere, anytime) using the service bureau’s system capacity
SELECTING A FAX/COMMUNICATION SERVICES BUREAU BEHIND THE SCENES: SYSTEMS, PEOPLE, & REPORTING In addition to specific applications and their implementations, an automated communication services bureau should be evaluated on several “behind-the-scenes” equipment capabilities, practices, and procedures. They include system modularity and transmission speed, system monitoring and backup, account management, and data reporting capabilities.
SYSTEM MODULARITY & TRANSMISSION SPEED The number of incoming line and outgoing port capacities a bureau has is, essentially, a non-issue for companies who choose to outsource. Any automated communication services bureau today with state-of-the-art equipment can expand its capacity in less than a month. A more telling question to ask a prospective bureau is, “How does your infrastructure support your clients’ needs, and how do you determine when increased capacity is needed?” Inquire whether the firm has a protocol for monitoring volume capacity.
Fax transmission speed is important-especially since bureaus charge for Fax-on-Demand and most other automated fax services on a per-minute transaction basis. Seek out a firm that can transmit faxes at the highest fax speed, 14.4 kbps. In this day and age, there’s no reason for a company not to attempt to send its transmissions at at least 14.4. At that speed, a page of text takes 45 seconds to 1 minute to transmit. Don’t be shy to ask the bureau for recent statistics on its transmission times vs. speeds. What’s more, a bureau should be equipped to adapt to faster transmission as technology advances and fax device speed increases.
Also, find out whether you’ll be charged for actual transmission time (i.e., for only documents delivered successfully), not for delivery attempts that fail because the receiving fax is out of paper or busy. Ask about the bureau’s policy regarding fax retry (how many retries are attempted before the transaction is classified a failure)?
SYSTEM MONITORING & BACKUP Around-the-clock monitoring of telephony networks, computer networks, and outbound sending systems is critical. Your services bureau should have an automated process for testing every aspect of its system at tight intervals (e.g., every 15 minutes), and assurance that a technician will respond immediately if a malfunction is detected. Servers and hardware should be kept in a climate-controlled area, securely mounted and reasonably protected against damage from earthquakes, windstorms, and other acts of nature.
Inquire whether the system is protected by an uninterrupted power supply (UPS). What about a back-up generator to further guard against harm from power failures or surges? Are there redundant servers? Does the bureau have a formal procedure for data recovery in the event of a power outage or disaster? If so, when was it last tested? Ask to see the procedure in writing.
In addition, the bureau should perform nightly backup of all its systems and databases. There should also be routine (preferably weekly) backup of all system files to tape or other means, for storage in a secure off-site facility.
FULL-SERVICE ACCOUNT MANAGEMENT In the area of account management, it’s important to know what you need and expect from an outsourced bureau. Account management requirements can, of course, vary dramatically for a small company vs. a large one. Does the services bureau have experience dealing with companies the same size as yours? Who will be on your “account management team” and how will they interact with you (e.g., contact frequency, mode of communication, on-site vs. off)? What procedures (formal and informal) and systems are in place to meet your specific account needs, and to educate your company on various automated communication applications and uses?
Regardless of your company’s size, you should feel confident that there will be enough staff on the bureau’s side to respond to your questions and concerns on a day-to-day basis (if need be); expedite new fax requests, changes, and updates accurately; and meet your immediate and future automated communication needs.
PRODUCTION. A handful of bureaus have in-house production departments. Depending on the firm’s breadth of expertise, production services may include voice script modifications, document creation, conversion and image enhancement, cover sheet creation and/or modifications, database management, and application modification.
Since most documents aren’t designed for maximum fax transmission or visual fax impact, you’ll want to query the services bureau about its conversion and resolution enhancement techniques, including acceptable file formats. Be assured that your documents-text and graphics-will be optimized for high resolution, readability, and speed in fax transmission. For instance, to attain high quality and depth for the fax medium, documents can be converted to 200 dpi. Background screens can be removed, and color stripped and alternatively presented in black, white, and gray scales.
Another point to consider is your own corporate document standards. How important is preserving the integrity of your company logo, trademarks, and other corporate emblems in documents transmitted via fax? If this is a weighty consideration, look for a services bureau that’s respectful of your document conventions and procedures-and can heed them without compromising document turnaround or quality.
TECHNICAL OPERATIONS. Again, depending on the bureau’s breadth of experience, operations can encompass technical support, custom web page development, and custom reporting and programming services.
MARKETING. Very few automated communication services bureaus have demonstrated knowledge and staff seasoned in marketing communications strategies and techniques. It’s worth your time to seek one that does, if you’d like an additional layer of expertise on the automated communication applications best suited for your sales, marketing, and lead-generation efforts.
REPORTING THE WAY YOU WANT IT
Tracking application usage data is essential, and a services bureau should provide you with regular summary reports (weekly and/or monthly depending on the application). At a minimum, fax usage reports should show the number of customers who accessed your application, how much time they spent using it, the documents requested, and transmission success and error rates. This type of reporting not only helps you keep tabs on your application transaction usage, but serves as a handy resource for database list clean-up and lead information.
What type of data will you get back? Reports should be easy to read and usable-you shouldn’t have to work hard to find application usage data such as: Total number of calls received during the period Inbound and outbound call duration Documents requested-in order of fax request priority Fax delivery error summaries-how many faxes were attempted, failed, and why Ask how the reports will be delivered to you: hard copy, electronically, both? Does the bureau have the capability to provide browser-based, online access to your application usage data? Such real-time access can provide you with both immediate availability to your historical and current transaction data, as well as data for “a slice of time” that ties into a promotion or other company event. Lastly, find out whether the bureau can generate custom reports, e.g., by ANI or PIN, or by geographical region.
SELECTING A FAX/COMMUNICATION SERVICES BUREAU REFERENCES & TRY BEFORE YOU BUY Whatever you do, don’t choose a services bureau based solely on pennies per delivered page, transmission speed, or any other single cost or performance criterion. Remember, you’re looking for a “package of expertise.”
To that end, ask for client references, three at least. Specifically, get the names of contacts for whom the bureau has developed and implemented the same application you are seeking. Also ask the bureau for a demonstration-fax numbers, web sites, document templates of actual applications-that you can access, listen to, see, and sample yourself Are the voice prompts intuitive and easy to follow? Does the voice sound professional (one that you’d like to represent your company)? Is the fax document you requested legible? Does it look good? How long did it take for the requested document to transmit? Is web access to faxable documents clear and easy to navigate online? Is the fax document template personalized? Customized with the client’s logo?
GETTING THE MOST FROM A FAX/COMMUNICATION SERVICES BUREAU CONCLUSIONS Define your mass communication objectives and audiences Your answers will make a difference to your budget and the service provider you choose.
Understand who you will affect and who you will need to implement a successful application As with any corporate undertaking, it’s important to have the right people on your side. If you’re the project leader for your company’s automated communication system, you’re also its Number 1 cheerleader. Think of who will be positively affected by your efforts (e.g., telecommunications systems experts, corporate trainers, web masters) and get them involved from the outset
Give yourself ample time to assemble a “winning” fax document library (if appropriate for your application) If your application requires a centralized library of faxable literature, initial document hunting and gathering is a critical first step-and the one element an outside organization can’t help you with to any great extent. If you’re the project coordinator, cajole your fellow employees to identify, find, and update the documents needed to support and inform your customers.
Check “behind the scenes” (the bureau’s systems, technical prowess and procedures, account management, reporting) And get references!
Lastly, have some fun. In choosing to outsource automated communication services, you’ve already made the decision to expand your customer reach and improve mass communications with proven technology-at low cost and no risk to you. Now find an outside provider whose capabilities and setup match your specific objectives and goals.
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