• January 1, 2016
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

The FCC Saves Millions with Zendesk

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent U.S. government agency created by Congress in 1934 to regulate radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable communications in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. And while the agency gained a reputation for clamping down on shock jocks like Howard Stern and breaking the telephone monopoly in the mid-1990s, its mission today is far more complicated. The agency also helps consumers stop robocalls, enrolls consumers on the national Do Not Call Registry, settles disputes with Internet and cell phone service providers, and promotes net neutrality, among a wide range of other tasks.

In addition, the FCC handles roughly 450,000 consumer complaints per year, which equates to 1,500 to 2,000 every day. It routinely interfaces with 1,500 carriers and serves a target customer base of more than 320 million people—i.e., the entire population of the United States. Its roughly $350 million annual budget is funded entirely by regulatory fees. It is made up of 18 bureaus and offices that, combined, are staffed by 1,700 federal employees.

And while the FCC is charged with the oversight of cutting-edge technology, its internal systems were anything but modern. Pressure for a change was mounting, and even Congress got in the act, requiring the FCC to make it easier for the public to interact with it. First up was the need to replace a 15-year-old consumer complaint system and 18 outdated complaint forms.

Early on, the project seemed both large and expensive, amounting to a massive undertaking to "modernize the FCC and its more than 200 outdated systems," recalls Dustin Laun, senior adviser of innovation for the FCC. The FCC's chief information officer, David Bray, was tasked with the effort, and his preliminary plans were to build an on-premises system with a $3.2 million price tag and a completion timeline of up to two years.

Laun suggested a cloud-based solution instead. After extensive market research, the FCC chose to implement Zendesk's customer service platform as the backbone for its Consumer Help Center Web portal and to provide ticketing support via email and Web form. The agency will also replace its legacy contact center systems, in use by a pool of 75 agents, with Zendesk Voice.

The Consumer Help Center, which the FCC rolled out in January 2015, provides consumer education tools, complaint-status tracking, faster complaint handling, and greater transparency. The system allows carriers and service providers to collaborate with the FCC on complaints and even supplies high-level data about them, with breakdowns by category (such as phone or TV), service type (such as cable or broadcast), state, and more.

The Zendesk system does a far better job of handling complaints than the old system. Under the previous system, customer complaints were lodged through the FCC's toll-free number or online forms. The turnaround time was at least 30 days, and tracking was minimal at best.

Perhaps the biggest benefit for the FCC—and ultimately for the American public—was the cost savings. Whereas an on-premises system would have cost $3.2 million, the Zendesk system was deployed for only about $450,000. And the deployment timeline was reduced from a year or two to less than six months.

Additionally, the system will save the FCC money over time. It will cost roughly $100,000 a year to maintain, compared to the estimated $640,000 for upkeep of a similar on-premises system.

Due in large part to the FCC's success with the cloud-based Zendesk technology, the agency plans to move nearly all of its IT functions to the cloud by the end of 2017. Its aggressive strategy includes removing servers from its Washington, D.C., headquarters while at the same time updating current and future applications and systems for use in the cloud.

The Payoff

By deploying a cloud-based customer portal from Zendesk, the Federal Communications Commission has saved:

  • $2.8 million in deployment costs;
  • $540,000 per year in maintenance costs; and
  • months of implementation time.

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