Case Study: The Weiss Group

The Weiss Group, a Florida-based financial publisher, was using a legacy PBX to run its subscriber services contact center, but the system was costing them $15,000 per month in leasing charges. The high ongoing cost, plus the uncertainty of their vendor’s technology roadmap, encouraged Weiss’ IT directors to search for alternatives. They needed tools that would allow them to integrate their business phone system needs with their customer service operations, give them room to grow into new features, and reduce their cost footprint. What they found was Mitel®’s MiContact Center for Microsoft Lync. This software platform allowed Weiss to combine the benefits of a business communications system with a contact-center-specific call routing engine. Weiss leveraged Mitel’s tight-knit integration with Lync, Exchange, Active Directory, and the Office applications to reap significant cost savings and provide ongoing productivity benefits.

Weiss’ Initial Situation

The Weiss Group, founded in 1971, is one of the most widely-read investment newsletter publishers in the U.S. The company provides research and analysis designed to empower investors with information and tools to make more informed, independent decisions. Among Weiss’ publications is “Money and Markets,” which reaches 450,000 readers each day.

Their contact center handles inbound service calls for subscription issues, and a significant amount of outbound marketing and sales calls, primarily to existing customers. James Santillo, who runs the center, describes the environment as very high-touch – the customers who call are extremely high value, often spending thousands of dollars for subscriptions to financial information that can be very time sensitive.

Despite this high value, Santillo says, most inbound subscriber calls are operationally very straightforward – people calling if they didn’t receive their daily newsletter, or who need password resets. He adds that some subscribers call with questions geared to particular research interests, which the reps can respond to with some basic advice, and information about subscribing to appropriate newsletters the firm offers. To handle that load, the center has a total of 35 agents, and an average day logs about 1,000 calls. Some of those agents handle both inbound and outbound calls, and a core of five are strictly on outbound. 

The key challenge the company faced was coping with an outdated telephony infrastructure for both its business users and its contact center agents. Instead of owning the technology outright, Weiss was leasing it for $15,000 per month. In addition, they were carrying the cost of hard lines and T1 connections. The company needed to move to a more advanced digital platform for its core PBX functions, and considered the options that were offered through its leasing vendor, but they were not satisfied that the vendor in place at that point could draw them a roadmap for continuing upgrades that was cost-effective for both business and contact center users. And if possible, Weiss wanted to cut infrastructure costs, not raise them. They wanted to see if it would be possible to reap the benefits of advancing technology to have a better phone system for less. So they started looking around to see what other options might be a good fit.

Searching For an Alternative to Leasing

At the same time as the company’s first explorations of telephony alternatives, they were also looking for an effective instant messaging/presence  system to replace a Linux-based tool called OpenFire. The logical candidate for that replacement was Microsoft’s Office Communications Server (OCS). Santillo says that they were looking for advanced digital unified communications features like group chat.

Weiss implemented a pilot program to test the viability of OCS as a company UC platform, building it out on top of the existing leased PBX. The results were very positive, and the company ultimately selected OCS 2007 as the internal messaging application platform.

Santillo says that when he informed the CEO and the unit director with news that the OCS system they had piloted for IM “could do voice too, they were surprised at that.” They were intrigued by the possibility of having the OCS platform integrate with the phone system, their main questions focusing on whether that kind of platform was reliable enough and scalable enough for an enterprise voice deployment.

Shortly thereafter, Microsoft formally transitioned OCS to the more advanced Lync platform. Weiss did a cost analysis and demo for the CEO and director of technology, and the results were positive enough to raise questions about how the company should proceed: with a deployment just for the office users, or for the office plus the company’s contact center seats. They struggled to determine whether there would still be cost savings for Lync in the office and for 35 contact center seats, especially compared to the leasing arrangement.

Knowing that they could free up resources by switching the core phone system to Lync, they began exploring the landscape for contact center systems that could integrate with it. At that point they were still considering the phone system and the contact center system as separate,
stand-alone deployments.

But faced with a changing technology landscape and an openness to revamping the company’s overall deployment, Santillo and his colleagues began thinking outside the box. When looking at the various options on the market, they came across Mitel, a Canadian company that was building an inbound contact center platform for Lync, even before the product was formally on the market.

The Mitel MiContact Center for Microsoft Lync is a modular, integrated software suite that runs on the unified communications and Voice-over-IP architecture of the Microsoft Lync Server 2010 platform and Lync 2010 desktop client. The Mitel system brings full ACD capabilities to the core business phone system, along with a suite of agent management applications that allow a company to leverage the Lync platform for a much wider spectrum of telephony uses. It includes must-have features that contact centers depend upon, like real-time information displays for supervisors and agents, supervisor control of agents and queues, and extensive reporting and analysis options. In other words, it offered a way to leverage the investment that the company was going to make anyway (in a UC messaging system) to improve both the business phone system and the contact center infrastructure - at the same time.

Santillo says that the Mitel option wasn’t a full-blown contact center, “but it turns Lync into one.” Weiss wasn’t in the market for a full-fledged contact center system, so this was a perfect option for them.

The company did a proof of concept with Mitel, porting functionality from the existing leased phone system into Lync even before Lync was officially rolled out by Microsoft in 2010. Within four months Weiss was ready to commit to a replacement for the old phone system. The internal IM and office communication system from OCS 2007
was replaced by Lync, and the contact center tool with Mitel’s application.

The old vendor – the one Weiss was leasing the phone system from – never believed that Weiss would switch away from the standard model. “The reason we chose Mitel is that it is a call routing engine within Lync. It’s not transferring the call outside the system.” Mitel’s application only does the contact center signaling, giving that tool an advantage over a dedicated contact center platform– it was more easily deployed and managed, and not duplicative of the functions of the core Lync platform. Not surprisingly, the final selection came down to questions of cost and architecture.

Seeing Immediate Financial Benefits

Santillo says that Mitel development staff was very accessible during the entire deployment process, and they had just a two-week turnover from one system to another. The final cutover, which entailed setting up the servers and associated services, took just a day.

It wasn’t long before Weiss saw the financial benefits of the transition. Instead of paying $15,000 a month for a lease, Weiss now just has to pay maintenance on the system that it owns. “Our CEO was tickled pink,” Santillo says. In addition, Weiss was able to reduce the workforce and save the equivalent of seven jobs.

Weiss sees better redundancy in the system, and better overall use of resources because the switching platform is now software based (unlike the previous, hardware-based call routing tool). And with the integrated platform, the company can make do without some of the dedicated hard telecom lines that it was paying for. Weiss is saving $4,500 to $5,000 per month just from the company’s reduced T-1 and PSTN footprint.

Lessons Learned

Weiss was transitioning from an expensive legacy platform that didn’t provide them with room to grow into new features or to optimize the features they had. This is a situation faced by many companies with aging infrastructure and small- to mid-sized contact centers.

Increasingly, those firms are coming to realize the need to integrate their messaging systems, core business phone systems, and their contact center call routing. To do this they need to consider the connectivity advantages between applications, including Exchange, Active Directory, and the Office suite. Building on Lync allows
for quick deployment and familiarization with the solution– leading to a rapid payback on the investment.

Weiss’ experience shows that small firms don’t have to be boxed into legacy or proprietary solutions that involve expensive and siloed applications for unified messaging, communications and contact centers. Instead, leveraging the tight-knit Mitel contact center tool allowed them to reallocate considerable resources to more productive use, and to position their communications infrastructure for the future.