Cisco unified communications saves money for Henny Penny

Henny Penny swapped out its aging Avaya PBXs for Cisco unified communication gear and wound up with a more expensive system that saves money on travel and improves communication with distributors.

The changeover required a new data network and getting rid of the company's entire old phone network, but the result is a system that has more features and is easier to manage and maintain, says Brad Fletcher, the communications manager for the privately held cooking products manufacturer. The Eaton, Ohio, company has three manufacturing facilities as well as three international sales offices and 35 regional sales representatives.

In 2006 when it became apparent that Henny Penny would have to upgrade its Avaya Definity PBXs, it made the decision to go IP, Fletcher says. So it upgraded its network from Fast Ethernet to Gigabit Ethernet starting in 2006, in part to be ready to support the QoS needed for VoIP. The company had a Cisco data network before, and stuck with it for the upgrade, he says. It upgraded security at the same time, also with Cisco gear.

The old phone switches were augmented by Intuity Audix messaging for voice mail. The company has three call centers – for customer service, parts and tech support – and it used to depend on “hunt group” call-distribution methods that diverted calls to lists of phone numbers and rang the first line that was free, Fletcher says.

The company had no telecom staff to speak of, so any changes required calling in outside help. “Nobody was a phone person here, so it made sense to look at VoIP. We figured it would be an easy transition and we struggled to do anything with the Avaya system at the time,” he says.

Before the swap, the technical support call center was clamoring for better tools because it was negotiating with a large food-services customer that was demanding they spend no more than a minute on hold when they called for service. Henny Penny needed a way to monitor and document those times, Fletcher says.

Henny Penny considered sticking with Avaya in its migration to VoIP because the transition would have required upgrades but not fork-lifting all the Avaya gear. Cisco Unified Communications Manager, Unified Contact Center Express, Unified MeetingPlace Express and Cisco UCCX Agents cost more and meant scrapping the Avaya equipment. It also took a lot more effort to install than Avaya's would have, but Henny Penny is making up for it now with better management and administration of the call centers, Fletcher says.

The old system had no reporting, so there were no statistics on how long customers waited for service, how many hung up before anyone answered, or how long agents spent with each caller. “We couldn't tell how well they were doing for our customers,” he says.

The Cisco system provides reporting and enables information gathered by one contact center to be transferred along with the call to another. So if tech support takes a call and determines a customer needs a new part, that call could be transferred to the parts center along with all the customer information in a data format on the UCCX platform. “It cuts down on asking questions twice, cuts time on the phone and reduces frustration,” Fletcher says.

The system supports skills-based routing, so an initial agent taking customer information can quickly find an agent with the right knowledge to help, he says. It also enables use of instant messaging to get input from other agents during calls to help customers faster.

Henny Penny has distributed Unified Personal Communicator client software to its sales teams so they can set up inexpensive videoconferences that have saved the company $131,251 the first year, Fletcher says.

UPC clients enable salespeople in the United States to conference after hours with their counterparts in China, which has a 13-hour time difference. Rather than coming in to work at 10 p.m. to sit in a videoconference room, they can fire up their laptops and inexpensive video cameras to connect via VPN over their home broadband connections, Fletcher says.

But if they do want to conference from work, the Polycom room conferencing gear Henny Penny already had in place is interoperable with the Cisco equipment, he says. So groups of employees can join the Cisco-based videoconferences.

The UC system supports meetings and conferences with distributors as well. The conferences are something the company never had before, with several hundred distributors attending to hear marketing updates, sales figures and the like, Fletcher says. Before, such information was shared on CDs that were mailed out or in files that were downloaded.

The Cisco system might have been more costly, but ROI was not the only factor Henny Penny considered, Fletcher says. “Numbers are important to us, but quality and value are really important to us, too,” he says. “Uptime is more important than cost.”

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