Distributed Call Centers Move Into The Decade Of
BY LOU VOLPE, GEOTEL COMMUNICATIONS
With the new millennium will begin the decade of intimacy, according to GartnerGroup, a
Connecticut-based research firm, which states that today's traditional call center will be
turned into a dynamic customer contact center focused on the individual requirements of
the customer. Under this new model, the call center will serve as a kind of customer
intelligence center, breaking down any barriers between customer and company, fostering a
sense of customer intimacy.
For many companies, the trend toward customer intimacy is mandating a
"one-and-done" call-handling strategy to displace the "more-is-better"
philosophy of call center management. In fact, success for companies in the future will
rest upon their ability to fulfill the particular information needs of each customer when
and how the customer wants it. As part of the one-and-done evolution, companies are
closely evaluating the customer's interaction experience. For instance, does the customer
prefer to contact the company via the phone using automated self-service prompts? Is the
customer more interested in accessing account information via the Web or through e-mail?
What is a customer's expectation for real-time, personalized attention after a transaction
on the Web is complete? What happens in a voice response system when a customer calls a
mortgage hot line but then wants information on a checking account?
In all of these scenarios, there are several fundamental questions that companies need
to answer to support their customer intimacy strategy. How do you ensure that every
process and every customer interaction is properly executed from the customer's point of
view? How does an existing technology infrastructure need to be modified to accommodate
new services and meet the expectations of customers? This article will address these
questions and discuss the technology underpinning a company's ability to enhance its
The Beginning Of The Network-Level Call Center Environment
In the future, most of the technology and infrastructure spending between now and the
beginning of the next millennium will focus on ensuring that customer profile and
transaction data are available to agents. The need for real-time information at the point
of customer contact is contributing to a move away from the ACD silo model that is
currently in place in most call centers. Rather, companies are eager to deploy
event-driven, network-based computer-telephony integration (CTI) solutions that
effectively gather, normalize and deliver data to the agent's desktop to personalized
transactions. To do so, they are upgrading existing technology, creating enterprise
networks of distributed call centers, data mining their customer information databases for
use in call-routing and screen-pop applications and linking legacy systems with newer
enabling technologies to provide appropriate service for every caller.
CTI, coupled with open telephony architectures, is creating applications that deliver
new functionality that enables customer intimacy in the call center. This includes
automated processing of inbound calls, intelligent routing of calls based on the caller's
telephone number or other unique identifier and customer database lookups to automatically
flag a call's importance to the company. These elements are just some of the techniques
essential in deploying a customer intimacy program.
The New Era Of Distributed Call Centers
With a network-level distributed call center model, a company ceases to treat each call
center as an individual silo of customer contact. Instead, the focus is on determining a
caller's needs and relationship to the business and selecting the most appropriate
resource in the enterprise to service the request, thereby enhancing customer intimacy. In
this model, all agents, voice response systems and electronic access systems are viewed as
a single pool.
Since a distributed call center system resides at the network level, it can execute
critical call and data routing decisions before the call terminates at an individual call
center or agent location. Calls can be routed based on a multitude of dynamic variables or
rules which are defined by the company and based on number dialed, ANI, location of the
caller, caller-entered digits, customer database lookup, agent availability or skill, time
of day or week or even the cost of the telephone call. The intelligent call routing
application, using information about the caller collected by the network, improves call
handling by automatically identifying the caller, the reason for the call and the value
the caller represents to the company.
Through the deployment of network-level interactive voice response (IVR) technology and
CTI, companies can efficiently segment calls within a distributed call center environment.
Depending upon the specific parameters of the implementation, a company can use
information gathered in the call routing process to initiate special treatment based on
caller attributes, learn more about customer expectations and requirements and maximize
the use of information at the desktop in support of business goals. The company enjoys the
ability to better track, deliver and make business decisions about the call, while meeting
its strategic goal of delivering value to the caller.
A sophisticated strategy can establish a prompt at the network level, enabling the
caller to enter an account number, social security number or some other customized
identifier. That call can then be directed to the correct skill group. In addition,
information about the caller (along with the call) is delivered to the skilled agent at
the same time. The screen pop can be delivered to the serving agent, regardless of where
the call entered the network and where the serving agent may be located.
Sometimes, additional information about a call is also transmitted. For example, using
the account number entered into the network IVR, a database lookup allows more detailed
profile information to be sent to the agent's screen. In this way, the routing system
enables personalized service to each customer. The benefits to the company are more
productive answering resources, lower network transmission costs, shorter call length and,
ultimately, more satisfied customers. The benefit to the customer is a customized,
accurate and timely transaction offered in a highly personalized way.
This approach ensures that companies have total control over the entire enterprise of
networks, disparate equipment and resources. Companies control everything from the network
to the desktop in the distributed call center. The desktop is
"enterprise-enabled," allowing the entire enterprise to be aligned in support of
strategic and operational business objectives at the point of customer contact through
CTI. This shift marks a fundamental change in the way a company uses its enterprise-level
view of events and data in conjunction with IVR and CTI initiatives to impact customer
Technology Supports Caller Segmentation And Caller Attributes
Here is an example. The caller is prompted by a network-level IVR for an account number,
frequent flyer number or other customized identifier. The intelligent call routing
software includes the data from the prompt in a pre-route request along with information
from a customer database lookup if applicable, and instructs the network where to send the
At the same time, a message is sent to the terminating location indicating caller
identity and/or other significant information stored on the caller. When the call arrives
at the terminating ACD, a server process has already obtained the data about the customer
and is ready to deliver the information to the agent in the form of a screen pop. Call and
data delivery are synchronized once the ACD selects the appropriate agent.
Driving this process is intelligent call processing software that monitors the call
center, knows the status of every agent and keeps track of each incoming customer contact.
It "sees" the status of every connected peripheral device and every connected
network so caller-prompted data can be used to send the call to the best destination and a
screen is popped with the corresponding data when an agent receives the call. Regardless
of the call's starting point and final destination, call detail and data are routed along
with the call. Working dynamically from the network to the desktop dramatically improves
record-retrieval time, leverages existing technology investments, improves customer
service and directly maps call handling to business objectives.
In addition, when call center reporting is handled at an enterprise level, real-time
and historical data can be mixed, matched and analyzed. Information on skill group, trunk
group, service, etc., can be combined with data from different parts of the call center
enterprise to give real-time and historical "snapshot" views and free the
business from the constraints normally associated with automatic call distributor (ACD)
and network data aggregation. Since data are "normalized," an organization is
able to more accurately measure the effectiveness of tactical call handling processes
across centers and get a better "fix" on the service being provided to callers.
By using sophisticated features of today's technology, a company can take full
advantage of all its answering resources and improve the overall quality of customer
service. Because companies can provide, control and manage agent skill groups as a single,
unified virtual team, there is no longer a need to proliferate skills at all centers or to
resort to switched overflow to find an appropriate agent.
Resource fragmentation is minimized through the ability to identify calls and
appropriate agents as soon as possible at the network level. There is a greater population
of primary agents from which to choose, rather than having to direct the call to the
agents once it reaches a switch, where the population of primary agents is smaller. This
benefits both caller and company because:
- The call is answered the first time, and the call length is shortened,
- The call is handled by a primary agent trained specifically for the skill,
- Fewer secondary or tertiary agents are handling calls requiring skills they do not
- Tie lines and switch ports are no longer wasted in a search for agents elsewhere.
In addition, a company's existing hardware and networking investment is extended to
accommodate growth and technology evolution. Using standard CTI network technology and
advanced intelligent network (AIN) capabilities to transform the public network into an
applications platform, intelligent call routing extends software control of toll-free call
routing to the network level.
Improved System Management And Reporting
The real-time statistics now available to a company with this new model are also used to
achieve a new level of system management enterprisewide. With a truly distributed call
center, a company receives control and real-time knowledge of the status of its agents,
centers and trunks throughout the enterprise. That information, when used in conjunction
with consolidated historical reporting for all calls across all attached ACDs, PBXs and
IVRs, enables an organization to develop long-range customer contact strategies for
tactical objectives, while reinforcing strategic business goals.
For the company as well as the caller, this means that the call centers have grown to
serve the business as a whole. This model takes the next step beyond traditional
ACD-based-only skills routing by extending public and private network solutions with
enterprisewide, intelligent call processing. This approach enables an organization to
blend the logic of both the network and premises (call center) system, as well as customer
By integrating these technologies to unite call center sites, companies can deploy a
proactive rather than reactive strategy to the handling and management of calls. As a
result, calls are handled more effectively and, for the first time, enterprise level data
are available to provide a comprehensive view of the call from the caller's perspective --
a benefit to the company and the caller.
Lou Volpe is senior vice president of sales and marketing for GeoTel Communications
Corporation. Mr. Volpe has more than 25 years of experience in the high-technology
industry. GeoTel Communications Corporation provides customer-interaction software
solutions for mission-critical call center applications. The company's network-to-desktop
CTI products unify voice/data distribution systems, creating a single platform for