Heat of the moment

OAO Technology's Letty Towers had only 45 days to build a call center application targeted at day traders. Working with partners and Siebel's Call Center package, Towers managed to pull it off while landing another deal for her company.

Letty Towers managed to breeze through a challenging project. Letty Towers doesn't break a sweat when she's facing a pressure-packed deadline, which happens frequently in her role as a project manager at OAO Technology Solutions (OAOT). Just ask the folks at Tradecast Securities Inc., which turned to OAOT and several other partners when it needed a new call-center application to target the hot market for day traders.

"We had 45 days to build [the] call center," says Towers. But before OAOT stepped into the spotlight, it was important for the company to understand Tradecast's existing business operations and its future goals.

Tradecast developed the first personal stock-trading software for Windows and Macintosh users in 1996. Originally targeting brokers and extremely active private traders, the 30-person firm had an elite but manageably small clientele. By 1999, Tradecast decided to pursue the booming day-trader market with a new software package and a direct pipeline to the major stock ex changes. The company put together a marketing plan, which included a direct-mail campaign aimed at 750,000 prospects.

Boiling Point
Unfortunately, Tradecast didn't have a call center equipped to handle the anticipated response. Without such a center, Tradecast's new business strategy would surely suffer a meltdown. Indeed, Tradecast's prospects were sophisticated investors to whom time meant money—often lots of it—and who had to be carefully qualified to comply with SEC regulations.

"Normally, this project would take six to 12 months of research," says Steve Schoppa, Tradecast's director of operations. "But we decided to launch this project in August 1999 and wanted it online by Q4. I had to pull a team together in 60 days."

Schoppa considered customer-relationship management (CRM) applications from SAP and Interactive Intelligence Inc., and "un-PBX" solutions such as Artisoft's Televantage. The company ultimately adopted Siebel Systems' Call Center package.

"We chose Siebel, because, once it was integrated with our system, it would provide the most comprehensive solution," Schoppa explains.

Siebel referred Schoppa to OAOT, which has an office not far from Tradecast's Houston headquarters. Schoppa liked what he saw in OAOT. "They came to the table very well-prepared with market research. They learned our industry very intimately in just 30 days. We liked the fact that they listened carefully to what our executives had to say about our industry, customer base, prospects and customer-service goals. It was very impressive."

Tradecast's top priority was to provide top-notch customer service. With that in mind, the new call center required software that tracks and manages contact history, trouble-ticket records, and marketing and advertising campaigns to determine which efforts provide the best return on investment, Schoppa says.

Tradecast also needed sophisticated call-center agent scripts; the ability to deal with customers via phone, fax, e-mail and text chat; and a way to capture, store and review all customer contacts for quality-control purposes.

"Siebel had it, and OAOT understood it," asserts Schoppa.

Beat The Clock
The project landed in OAOT's lap the week of Thanksgiving 1999. But the professional-services firm didn't have much time to celebrate the holidays. Indeed, the call center had to be built in a mere 45 days.

"The design of the inbound call agent's desktop application was greatly complicated by [SEC] regulations," OAOT's Towers explains. "Basically, the agents could answer questions about software, but they can't answer securities trading questions." The agents had to determine which questions had to be escalated to a licensed securities adviser, based in part upon prospects' answers to qualifying questions.

Moreover, OAOT had to make some delicate design tweaks to protect customer data. Some database fields had to be hidden from unlicensed phone agents and made available only to licensed advisers and managers.

Fortunately, Towers says, "Siebel has much of this functionality out of the box. We kept the agents' views and data fields very simple. Most of the complexity happened in 'hidden' workflow code."

Towers and her three developers finished the Siebel application on time, in December. Meanwhile, another partner was working to meet Tradecast's computer-telephony integration needs.

Remember These Guys?
Tradecast had a Nortel Network Meridian PBX system with 30 extensions. NCR Corp.'s CIS Professional Services group was charged with integrating the PBX with the Siebel app.

"It was a fairly standard and traditional job," says Arnie Van Wyck, an NCR senior consultant on the three-person project. NCR implemented call routing, automatic phone-number identification and screen-pops using the Internet Contact Center Solution from Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories.

Yet another partner was needed to implement Tradecast's quality-control system. E-talk Corp., formerly Teknekron Infoswitch, provided a software package that records customer-agent phone calls. E-talk commands 60 percent of the call-center quality management market, according to research firm Frost & Sullivan.

"The last 30 days' worth of [Tradecast] calls are available on the system," says Rich Pape, e-talk account manager. "And older calls are archived off-line."

Tradecast can retrieve call samples based on an agent's ID, time, customer group or subgroup, or an individual customer's account number.

Other e-talk modules help supervisors evaluate agents' performance to improve their training.

Tradecast's Schoppa is impressed with e-talk's system. "We receive numerous e-mails praising our customer service," he says.

Meanwhile, OAOT turned to yet another partner: Kavanaugh Consulting, a specialist in call-center staffing and training. Kava naugh and OAOT often work together and refer cli ents to each other, says Mitch Pierce, CTO of OAOT.

"A lot of our success is attributable to OAOT and Kavanaugh," says Tradecast's Schoppa. "We went live in December 1999, and there were very few surprises. OAOT and Kavanaugh were there to resolve issues on the spot."

Hot Project, Cool Results
So far, the call-center system has more than met Tradecast's needs. The company is now starting to integrate Siebel's software into other parts of its business, including software sales. In March, OAOT landed a $1 million contract to work on Tradecast's new Siebel projects. Sounds like another hot partnering opportunity.

At A Glance

CustomerTradecast Securities Ltd., Houston(www.tradecast.com)
Customer Market Day traders, brokers
Company Size30 employees
Business Need Scale call center to handle thousands of demanding customers
Lead IntegratorOAO Technology Solutions, Greenbelt, Md.(www.oaot.com)
Technology PartnersSiebel Systems, NCR Professional Services Group
Deal MakerOAO's expertise in total CRM, grasp of client's needs
Options EvaluatedSAP, Interactive Intelligence, Artisoft
Hardware ChosenCompaq Prolinea 7000 servers, Nortel Meridian PBX
Software ChosenSiebel Systems Call Center (www.siebel.com), Genesys CTI (www.genesyslab.com), e-talk contact monitoring/analysis recording system
Service ProvidersSprint (telephony services), Kavanaugh Consulting (staffing and training)
ResultCut sales closing time by five days, gained control of marketing efforts