Crosstalk with Select Telecom (Fall 2014)

As Chief Information Officer at the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS), Gene Maillet had a lot of requirements to fulfill when searching for a new phone system: affordable call center functionality, easy administration, call oversight/reporting, and robust disaster recovery.  “Our existing Nortel system was approaching 10 years old, and it was massive.  With our upcoming office relocation, it was just too big to move, and we wanted to upgrade to the latest and greatest.”

With the assistance of a communications consultant, AIFS evaluated a handful of hosted and on-premises systems from different providers, focusing especially on the VoIP call center software features.  With 10+ call groups spread across seven or eight different business programs in cultural and educational exchange, it is critical for AIFS to have sophisticated inbound and outbound call direction based on division, number dialed, etc.  In addition, the Stamford, CT office has 160 employees, and AIFS supervisors need insight at their fingertips into the entire office’s call activity.

After an extensive search, Gene recalls, “ShoreTel emerged as the best combination of value and price.”  In fact, since the Stamford office installation, many of AIFS’s half-dozen offices in the US have decided to follow suit with their own ShoreTel installations.  Comparing the various solutions available, it quickly became apparent why ShoreTel was the right option to support multiple AIFS office locations.

“First, though hosted solutions can be affordable for a smaller business, they turned out to be double the price for this many users.  Regular ‘business users’ were cheap, but ‘call center users’ were much more expensive.  We’re not a call center, but we needed that functionality,” Gene explains.

“Second, though we considered top-name solutions from Cisco, Avaya, etc., ShoreTel was the only one that was built from the ground up to provide this kind of functionality.  As a result, it’s much easier to administer, has better app integration, and boasts a more modern architecture which wasn’t clunky like some of these other solutions, many of which were adapted later to add call center features but never really designed for it.”

The ShoreTel solution also proved optimally suited for AIFS’s disaster recovery (DR) provisions.  After struggling through inclement weather and office closings with their old system, AIFS recognized the value that 24/7 reliability and the ability to work remotely would bring to their business.  “We wanted to be proactive about the future,” says Gene.  Working with Select Telecom and a communications consultant, AIFS created a robust DR plan that included moving the ShoreTel unit to a managed data center instead of locating it in the Stamford office.  Unlike a typical office, the managed colocation offers back-up generators and multiple carrier lines to assure zero downtime, even in an emergency situation.

The installation took place in September of 2013.  Once Select Telecom had extracted all of the old extension information from the existing system, the new ShoreTel servers were set up and the cutover took place in just two hours on the day of the move.  “It was quite smooth,” Gene recalls.

Select Telecom conducted multiple training sessions with each division a week prior to the move, and then staffed a team of four to help AIFS employees troubleshoot any problems immediately after the cutover.  And the support didn’t disappear after installation.  “Select Telecom has hosted three or four ‘refreshers’ since then to make sure everyone continues to use the software efficiently.”

AIFS has been “really pleased” with the results of their upgrade.  The robust and reliable DR redundancies have proven particularly effective.  “It was a rough winter last year, and we didn’t miss a beat when there was a snow day.  We just turn on the out of office functionality and our phone and business systems work remotely from home.  We don’t have to close down the office for the day anymore because of snow – our customers don’t even know that we’re not at our desks.”

In addition, AIFS was able to achieve the detailed level of reporting they’d been searching for.  Says Gene, “The supervisors in each division got upgraded supervisor agent licenses which allow them to monitor call activity for their group.  And to give the entire team a view of the call activity, Select Telecom worked with a contractor to build us a custom ‘wall board’ that gives dashboard stats for each group the agent is affiliated with.  Also, Danielle [Crawford, Select Telecom Account Manager & CSR] provides us with customized call center phone reports once a week.”

Overall, AIFS was continually impressed with the level of service they could count on from everyone at Select Telecom.  Gene recounts one incident in particular where he felt the team at Select really went above and beyond.  “During the first two or three months, there was a sporadic issue with call quality – occasionally we’d get a call with a lot of static or a delay.  Jerry [Moscariello, Select Telecom VP] did a lot of troubleshooting, putting in a monitoring device and attending our weekly conference call.”

Ultimately, Jerry was able to trace it down to an issue with the carrier, which AIFS was able to get the carrier to fix.  “Select Telecom played a huge role in resolving this, even though it wasn’t their problem.  Without the expertise provided by Select Telecom, we may never have figured this out.  Their dedication is a major part of the success factor.”