It was New Year's Eve 2009, and everyone was celebrating — except for iSelect general manager for Sales and Operations, Joanna Thomas. Instead, she was signing a deal with Interactive Intelligence for an outbound dialler to set up in her call centre.
"It ruined my New Year," she joked.
Interactive Intelligence managing director Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Brendan Maree chimed in with, "it made mine".
Thomas had been in contact with various telcos, because iSelect — which brokers life insurance, car insurance and health insurance — had decided that it wanted to do outbound calls based on the contact details gleaned from its website, which had a low conversion rate.
She said that looking into Interactive Intelligence had been "totally random"; she received a cold call from an Interactive Intelligence salesperson, and told them not to bother showing her demos. As a result, they took her to World Vision's call centre, where she decided that she liked the product — which led to the end-of-year signing.
One of the reasons that she chose the product was its ability for skills-based dialling, where, for example, an older person will not be connected to a Generation Y call agent, or a single young female will be connected to a male agent.
"It's almost like a dating service," Thomas said.
The company had already been doing outbound calls manually since November. Thomas said that she had told Interactive Intelligence that she'd like to have the outbound dialler operating before April, although she was setting a deadline that she didn't think the company would meet, having had to extend their deadlines before.
"I was kidding when I said that we wanted to launch it before Easter," she said.
Being non-technical, she hired a dialler administrator on 1 March, one who had never used Interactive Intelligence's product. The service went live on 15 March.
From 30 licences acquired initially for the trial, outbound sales have grown to become 65 per cent of the business. iSelect now has 120 licences; it plans to grow this to 500. Thomas said that if she called today asking for 40 more licences, she'd have them up and running by Monday.
She has spikes in licence requirement, especially around tax time, following television advertising that tells people to either get their health insurance or else lose out on tax rebates. She said that the company had allowed her to rent licences for the peak time.
Maree said that he wouldn't do that for new customers, unless he was approached with a proposition of why they needed it.
Such flexibility could also be provided by the company's service offering, according to Maree, but iSelect said that it preferred to host its own kit. Maree also said that Interactive Intelligence had not had the as-a-service product running out of an Australian datacentre until October 2010. The company now has space in the Sydney-based Equinix datacentre.
Interactive Intelligence has already achieved its budget for this year, despite only being just over halfway through, and has doubled its employees in Australia over the last 12 months after acquiring reseller Call Time solutions.
It has just announced the fourth version of its Customer Interaction Centre, which includes a new real-time speech analytics application that alerts call centre managers of which calls they should listen into by monitoring customer and call agent keywords. It also gives agents points for positive keywords.
Thomas said that she had been "devastated" that this product, which will be available next month, wasn't there when she was looking for a similar product.
She paid $350,000 for licences, servers and professional services for an alternate product; $60,000 of this was for nine servers that the company required. She said that this had been a good deal, although the deployment of the product is still going on after six months. She wouldn't name the company concerned, but said that it was one of two main providers of the technology.
The Interactive product would have set her back $30,000, according to Thomas, and would be real time, while the other product wasn't.
The new version of Interactive Intelligence's Interaction Centre also sports an altered architecture, moving media processing to a separate media server. This, it said, improves scalability by allowing the company to have one Customer Interaction Centre acting as an application server, but multiple media servers.
The new version also includes an Interaction Web Portal, which allows customers of contact centres who are providing an outsourced service to listen in on calls between customers and agents.
For existing Customer Interaction Centre customers, upgrading to 4.0 is not a chargeable upgrade, according to Joseph Staples, Interactive Intelligence senior vice president, Worldwide Marketing.