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If you've invested in a CRM system like Salesforce or Desk.com you've probably already started to realize the benefits of having all of your customer data stored in one place. But, did you know that by using a CTI adapter to integrate inbound and outbound phone calls with your CRM, you can extend your investment, while driving dramatic improvements in sales and service productivity.

What's a CTI adapter?

CTI stands for computer telephony integration. The term is used to describe solutions that, for example, allow a sales rep to simply click on a contact to place a call, or help someone who's calling your business "press 2" to reach customer service.

Phone in the middle of other comms

CTI adapters- and the call center software that powers them- also open on-screen pop ups for agents that include incoming caller information - and even case information pulled from the CRM - allowing your agents to personalize each customer interaction.

Benefits of integrating your CRM and telephone system

Integrating your telephone system with your CRM will mean that your sales team will actually use your CRM, providing you with a full view of sales activity. For example, it may appear as though a particular sales agent has not done much work when in reality they've been on the phone for hours but their calls haven't been logged and couldn't be recorded. By having your reps place all calls from a soft phone or desktop phone integrated with the CRM or its mobile application such as Salesforce1, those calls will all be logged and tracked.

In addition to increasing the use of your CRM, your sales reps can also avoid slow manual dialing and even use automated dialing modes to reach more prospects. You can improve conversion rates by prioritizing hot leads - for example those coming for your website - by putting them at the top of a rep's dial list.

For service teams, it's all about resolving issues more quickly and improving customer satisfaction. With integrated IVR and ACD capabilities, call center software can be used to provide self-service options to callers, along with the ability to be easily connected to an agent. These solutions also arm your agents with all of the information stored in your CRM, enabling them to quickly answer questions and solve problems.

So what should you look for when selecting a CTI adapter and call center solution? Here are seven suggestions.

1.Built to work with your CRM.

Many vendors develop for their own interface first and only then work on integration with various CRM applications, so look for a provider that is focused on your particular CRM. For example, NewVoiceMedia provides a CTI integration that is solely focused on Salesforce and Desk.com. Another example is Zendesk, which now offers its own CTI solution (although other providers also offer Zendesk telephony adapters)

2. Offers complete reliability

We are talking about your phone system here folks. Think about how much it will cost you if your sales team can't be on the phone for a day or even a few hours, or if your customers can't contact your service department. You want a telephony provider that is completely reliable. For example, NewVoiceMedia guarantees 99.999% uptime, which is about as good as you can get. It was even the first company to publicly post the results of its end-to-end system tests, which have run continuously for more than three years.

3. Integrates with your CRM

To ensure your agents don't have to switch back and forth between the CRM system and a separate telephony application, your phone system should work seamlessly through your web browser and not require that a separate application be downloaded and installed. Additionally, you need dialer software that can use the lists you build directly within the CRM. Many systems need you to upload call lists and sync between the CRM and dialer software, also requiring your administrator to ensure that all fields are mapped perfectly, otherwise uploads can fail. The tighter the integration, the fewer maintenance headaches you'll have, and the more up-to-date your system will be.

4. Cloud-based or on premise

Call center software platforms come in a variety of flavors, from the traditional on premise variety, to pure, multi-tenant cloud offerings. In the CRM space, the leading vendor, Salesforce, is a pure cloud solution. Cloud offerings provide a lot of benefits, particularly to small and mid-sized businesses, including less maintenance, greater scalability and lower up-front costs. If you've decided to move to a cloud CRM like Salesforce, you'll probably also want a telephony provider that is pure cloud. If fact, for these solutions it's not really about CTI anymore - it's now about cloud-to-cloud telephony Integration.

5. Complies with PCI DSS requirements

If you take credit card payments, you need a solution that complies with PCI DSS requirements - which restrict how card information is stored and transmitted. Some, like Five9, offer third party plug-in applications that redact credit card information from call recordings after the call. Others, like the one offered by NewVoiceMedia, allow card payments over the phone to be "agentless". This allows the caller to speak with an agent before being transferred to the secure automated system to enter their card details. No cardholder details are stored and the call is not recorded while they are providing their information.

6. Offers real-time reports and dashboards

Perhaps nothing is more important than monitoring and tracking the performance of your sales and service teams. You'll need to make sure you can get all of the traditional call center metrics displayed in your CRM's reporting interface including things like, average handle time, talk time, dropped call percentages and the like. But you'll also want to tie that into other information that is stored in your CRM. For example, you might want a dashboard that showcases which tickets required multiple calls before they could be closed. You might then want to be able drill down and listen to the calls to understand why it took multiple interactions to resolve an issue and take corrective action, for example offering agent training.

7. Includes gamification features

You don't want to just track performance, you want to motivate your sales and service agents to be more effective. Consider providers that offer gamification that is integrated with both your CRM and their telephony platform. This will allow you to deploy competitions, leaderboards, rewards and incentives to increase team performance.

What are the next steps?

These are just a few of the things you'll ultimately want to think about when choosing a phone system to integrate with your CRM. The next step is to evaluate call center solutions such as NewVoiceMedia to ensure that the vendor you choose meets your needs.

This post originally appeared on GetApp.

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