The Internet is revolutionizing the way we do business. For instance, I can go to Amazon.com and this Web site will not only remember who I
am, but also what books I have ordered in the past, as well as provide book
recommendations based on other customers which have similar reading habits. The Internet
gives me the ability to find products and order them online without having to pick up the
phone. What does this have to do with CTI? Plenty! I will tell you why very shortly.
While it is true that online commerce, known as e-commerce is booming, the technology
still has a ways to go. For instance, while surfing Amazon.com, I needed to know some
information before I would actually make the purchase. Unfortunately, there was no
click-to-chat button or even an email button that I could see to ask my question. It was
such a quick and simple question, it was quite frustrating that I couldn't contact
Amazon.com. My impulsive buying mood just was not being met to my satisfaction, so I gave
up and went down to the local bookstore, got the answer to my question, and bought the
Now granted, Amazon.com is meant to be a self-service Web site, so maybe I shouldn't
have expected as much. After all, if I pull into a self-service gas station, should I
expect the gas attendant to pump my gas? Of course not! But on the other hand, perhaps I
should expect more from Amazon? Perhaps Amazon is "missing the boat" when it
comes to providing its customers "live" interaction for better customer service?
Obviously, there are quite a bit of costs associated with providing "live help"
in the form of a call center, if Amazon ever decided to go that route. Amazon has a huge
daily volume of sales, so perhaps if some sort of "live interaction" was enabled
on their site, they would require such a huge call center to take the calls, that
profitability would be reduced.
But in my opinion, e-commerce is heading down the path of live customer interaction
with multimedia agents very soon. The penalty for not providing customers with the ability
to reach a live person is just too great. For example, suppose another "startup"
comes along and offers virtually the same thing that Amazon does (books, movies, tapes,
etc) but with one added caveat - live customer interaction in the event the Web
visitor/potential customer has a question. A potential customer can simply click on a Web
button, which initiates a text-based chat session, or even initiates an Internet telephony
phone call (VoIP), which is routed into the company's ACD queue. I for one would prefer
the startup, since I know I will be helped by a live agent in the event I just can't find
the information I am looking for on the Web site. So my prior statement about Amazon
requiring a huge call center is not necessarily a detriment to their profitability. If
anything, Amazon would sell more products from customers making inquiries to their
"hypothetical" agents, especially since the agents can "up-sell" the
customer. Then, perhaps instead of my Amazon stock doubling in value every other month,
they would triple instead!
CTI - The Glue That Binds
CTI will be the great enabler of this next-generation of e-commerce. In the coming months
we are going to see more and more companies providing solutions which
"integrate" e-commerce with CTI technologies. This includes the ability to press
a button on a Web page to initiate a Web call-back, push Web pages to the customer's
browser, and perform Internet telephony calls. CTI will also be used to take any customer
interaction requests, whether it's an Internet telephony call request, chat request, email
request, or Web call-back request and integrate these requests into an advanced ACD. These
advanced ACDs can treat all of these customer interaction types will varying response
times, with the added advantage that all of these varying customer interactions are all
tracked in a centralized database, resulting in very useful reports. One company that I am
aware of has an advanced ACD which covers at least two of these customer interaction types
- Interactive Intelligence's EIC product treats chat requests, and incoming calls the
same, by putting them into the same ACD. Look for more companies to follow this model in
the near future.
Computer telephony integration or the "marriage" of computer technologies
with telephony technologies is becoming more important in a world which is becoming
increasingly more communication-centric. Customers will soon expect companies to provide
not such self-service Web sites, IVR and 800 numbers, but also email which is responded to
in a reasonable timeframe (email routing software), Web-based callbacks, Internet
telephony calls, live chat capabilities, and more. CTI is the technology by which these
new innovative communication methods can not only be implemented, but also managed in an
effective manner. These new communication methods are going to have to work with legacy
telephony equipment such as ACDs and predictive dialers, as well as the legacy reporting
mechanisms, such as call accounting systems. It is not enough that these new technologies
"integrate" with existing telephony hardware, but that they integrate in such a
manner as to provide effective reports. For example, how many Web callbacks for Customer A
did we receive for the month of January versus the number of regular calls Customer A
made? Did an email request solve the problem for Customer A on the first try, or did it
result in an incoming call to resolve the issue? These are some sample queries, that an
administrator will need to be able to make to manage and gauge the effectiveness of any
There are several companies, which provide a solution to manage at least one of these
new advanced customer interaction types (Web callback, IP telephony calls, text-based
chat). For instance, E-Fusion handles text-based chat requests, Lucent's CentreVu product
handles Internet telephony calls and routes them directly to an agent's telephone, and
Paknetx handles Internet telephony calls, text-based chat, and Web call-back. Other
companies in this space include CosmoCom, Ballisoft, NetSpeak, VocalTec, Nortel Networks,
Companies are starting to realize that their Web-site is a valuable resource not only
for increasing revenue but also retaining customers. If a Web site is difficult to
navigate or to find the information needed, this will leave a bad taste in customers'
mouths, which will undoubtedly adversely affect any present or future business
transactions. But even the best organized or best managed Web site will never be perfect.
Thus, the ability to have human interaction accessible via the Internet will still be a
key differentiator in providing better customer service to your customers than your
competitors. Thus, e-commerce sites as we know them today are dead! They will have to
evolve to survive.
On a more pessimistic note, I wouldn't look for the major e-commerce Web sites, such as
e-Bay, Amazon, or Dell to provide live interaction on their Web site in the
near future. Unfortunately, these companies are interested more in showing their latest
and greatest revenue numbers to stock analysts to make their stock shoot through the roof.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but eventually, revenue will be more directly
tied to customer service and customer loyalty. Self-service web sites are not known for
their customer service, although they do often have a loyal following, including Amazon.
Problem is, that if a startup comes along that provides the same service but includes the
ability to reach a live agent, then customers will turn away from these well known sites
and come to a much more "user-friendly" Web site. As such, the major e-commerce
companies are going to have to take a hit on their stock and invest in CTI-enabling their
Web site with call center agents in the foreseeable future.
But keep your eye on Web sites from medium to large call centers, financial
institutions, outsourcing agencies, smaller e-commerce sites, and help desks to be the
first ones to institute these advanced CTI technologies. CTI combined with the Internet is
going to happen, it's just a matter of when. Until then, I'm headed over to E-trade.com to
research some Yahoo stock I keep hearing about. Now if only I could click on "call a
stock broker" to ask an E-trade agent if Yahoo is a good stock to invest in!
Tom Keating is chief technical officer and executive technology editor for TMC. He
welcomes your feedback. To contact him, send your e-mail to Tom Keating
As the only
"phone-guy" in our company, I've often mentioned the difference between analog
and digital technology to our users, only to get blank stares in return. Last year, I
selected a digital switch from Lucent Technologies as the phone system of choice. My
reasons: time and money. Our site in Cleveland has about 300 users, 30 of which are in the
call-center. Of those 30, they've had 4 different styles of digital phones, no less than
two dozen different call flow and button layout configurations (and counting), let alone
the troubleshooting issues that usually follow. By that account, I needed the service
level, resources and customer service of Lucent and Bell Laboratories. As far as money, it
is more expensive on the digital side, but our sales and call-center are revenue
generating; therefore, the digital solution was more easily justified.
Jay Frameli, Telecom Analyst,
Tom Keating's Reply:
Certainly no one said supporting digital phones was easy! As for justifying more expensive
digital phones just because call centers are a revenue stream, that argument may start to
fade away as feature-rich PC-PBXs utilizing analog phones and CTI PC-phone software start
to "win over" call center managers and decision-makers. Then the
"justification" won't be based merely on the functionality of the phone itself,
but rather the third party applications that support it.
I am a certified Picazo VS1 technician. I no longer work for the company. I used to
install and program these systems, but I wanted to clarify something for you. The reason,
you could not put a VGA card in the server to run a color monitor is that the programmers
have borrowed video memory to help provide an extension to the DOS limitation of the 640k
barrier. Also, you should look more closely at the ACD functions of the system. It really
has a very robust software package for a low price point. Additional functionality I'd
like to see added to the system are fax detection for routing fax calls, and busy lamps on
the PEUs. It would be nice to look at the PEU ports and determine if the port is in use.
Duane A. Longhofer, Systems Engineer
Convergent Communications, Inc.
Thanks for your thoughts on the Picazo review. We've encountered similar
"shared memory" conflicts with other products we've tested. For instance, I
remember installing an ATI PCI video card which required a lot of consecutive "shared
memory". Unfortunately, the video card's extensive utilization of "shared
memory" interfered with a Brooktrout board I was trying to install on Windows NT.
Thus, DOS isn't the only operating system with memory limitations. The only way I figured
out a "shared memory conflict" was that the Brooktrout manual specified that it
needed a certain range of "shared memory" in order to function.
A Windows NT memory diagnostic utility showed that the ATI video card was chewing
up several blocks of shared memory. Although "shared memory" is a different
issue than DOS's 640K conventional memory limit you mentioned, I thought you (as well as
our readers) would find this story interesting if not helpful in the future when
troubleshooting hardware installs.
Intercom/overhead paging is a current advantage for digital phones, although the only
real future limitation of analog is that its signal is susceptible to interference, unlike
the clean digital phone signal. Separate intercom systems have been available in homes for
at least 30 years. I wonder if there are any small footprint business-class intercom
systems to run along side the analog phone system? They could even use the second pair on
the cable. Although analog's advantage is not having proprietary phones, it's still just a
matter of time before these intercom systems also get integrated into proprietary analog
phones, and may even already exist in some for the KSU-less analog phones. I believe the
markets that companies like Altigen and Artisoft have created have so greatly increased
the demand for better featured analog phone sets that it's just a matter of time before
better products are available. It's easier to revamp telephone technology than to revamp
the key PBX system itself, which is why I'm buying into the analog PC/PBX market.
You're right about Altigen and Artisoft helping to drive better analog phones in
both features and in matching digital sound quality (although it might be tough to match
digital sound quality). I've used both analog and digital phones, and can't tell the
difference, unless I'm using a cheap analog phone or if I'm getting crosstalk from poor
wiring in the ceiling or on the punchblock. If the wiring is done properly, analog sound
quality isn't that bad. Also, good point about it being easier to redesign a phone rather
than the phone system.
Your article was a nice summary of options when it comes to phones. I wanted to point
out that in addition to message waiting and backlit displays, Nortel's analog portfolio
includes the Venture KSUless series. This analog solution is a 3x8 communication system
that can stand alone or sit in front of a CT/PBX server to provide a 3 line desktop
presence with DSS/BLF capability to 8 extensions. In addition to a full duplex
speakerphone, the Venture has intercom capability for overhead paging to other Venture
extensions. You can also plug in a box called the Enhanced Feature Adapter for interface
to an external paging system. There is a Venture DTAD unit that can also answer two calls
Pete Fernald, National Account Executive Enterprise Solutions
I'm glad to hear Nortel is working with the PC-PBX vendors in providing Nortel analog
phones which have many of the advanced capabilities that are traditionally known only on
digital sets. P.S. You might want to take a peek at the TMC Labs review of the Nortel
Meridian USB phone in this issue!