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September 2008 | Volume 27 / Number 4
Workforce Optimization

Contact Center Recording: More Than Logging Calls

By Brendan B. Read
Senior Contributing Editor, Customer Interaction Solutions

Call recording used to be about taping, utilizing, and archiving calls to obtain better performance from agents or in case there is a customer issue and the information is needed to resolve the matter.

No more. Call recording is becoming a multifaceted tool whose data is being tapped by a growing range of complementary and sophisticated applications. These include performance management, quality assurance (QA) systems, and speech analytics, with linkages to eLearning, quality management and workforce management solutions.

Keith Dawson (News - Alert), Senior Analyst, Frost & Sullivan, sees bundling as an effective means by call recording vendors to grow revenues.

"Basic call recording technology is essentially commoditized, and prices have been dropping for some time now, thereby forcing vendors to try to expand the feature set up the value chain," Dawson points out.

These add-ons are becoming popular with contact centers. Donna Fluss, President, DMG Consulting LLC, cites speech analytics, whose sales more than doubled to 1,242 by the end of 2007 from 603 in 2006.

"The benefit of integrated suites is that you don't have to invest the time and effort in integrating a number of different applications, "explains Fluss. "They generally have a single administration environment and share data and key performance indicators between applications [which is handy]. For example, when evaluating the customer experience, you need to use data from the QA process that measures how well agents adhere to internal policies and procedures and data from a surveying solution to determine if customers are satisfied with these policies and procedures."

Rich Marcia, Marketing Director, Coordinated Systems, Inc. (CSI) is also seeing more contact centers of all sizes using call recordings as training tools to enhance performance.

"In the past, only the larger centers were able to take advantage of the feature sets such as elearning, integrated screen capture, and media encryption which come with the industryleading call recording systems because of high prices," he explains. "We're seeing this barrier coming down due to emerging products which have a strong quality and training focus and deliver a scalable solution."

Integrated Offerings and Customers
One of the latest combined offerings is from Telstrat (News - Alert), which replaced its Call Parrot call recording line earlier this year with Engage. Engage encompasses call and screen recording with tracking and coach, agent scripting and call automation, and workforce management.

While Engage may appear on first glance to be a bundle, which implies buying a package at once, it is instead made up of integrated modules that lets customer start with call recording and add additional functions and features at any time as their needs and budget allows. This lets organizations better match capabilities to their current needs.

"With distributed, multi-site operations and even agents working from home, contact centers' needs have grown beyond call recording, "says TelStrat President Kevin Smith. "Increasing agent counts and call volumes mean organizations require additional tools to maintain a consistent quality message and optimum operational efficiency."

IBM (News - Alert) Unveils Data Masking Technology

What if a simple phone conversation could leave your identity compromised? With attacks on Web browsers at an all time high, many security experts believe attacks on contact center phone systems and audio files will be next.

That's because such interactions offer a motherlode of sensitive like credit card, PIN, and Social Security/Social Insurance numbers that criminals want to get their hands on.

There are privacy regulations such as HIPAA and standards such as PCI that mandate masking cardholder data. Yet the traditional techniques to comply with them are slow, cumbersome, costly and not always accurate. Also PCI applies only to card transactions; it does not cover others.

In response to this looming threat, researchers at IBM's India Research Lab have developed a first-of-a kind speech masking tool, now in prototype, that detects and masks private and sensitive information collected from audio recordings of phone conversations. The solution will be using methods including keyword spotting and phonetic based indexing.

The speech recognition technology will automatically erases all sensitive customer information from them before they are stored. This speech tool promises to be quick, reliable, cost effective, and secure way in removing such data from calls.

IBM is piloting the technology in its contact centers and will be making refinements to it before rolling out the tool to the public.

Regulatory compliance
When applying call recording, contact center managers must work with a growing array of regulations such as HIPAA and FTC (News - Alert) guidelines, plus standards such as the payment card industry (PCI) standards.

The PCI standard has direct impact on call recordings as it affects how recordings are archived, reports Donna Fluss, President, DMG Consulting LLC. It limits how enterprises record credit card information shared with their agents during a phone conversation; it does not cover e-mail or chat.

The PCI operating guideline is that only people that must have access to credit card numbers should be able to see them during the replay. Most organizations interpret this to mean that their quality assurance (QA) staff should not have access to credit card numbers during the QA replay.

"PCI compliance can be challenging because it changes the quality assurance process by limiting who has access to calls," Fluss points out. "Exacerbating this challenge is that there are many interpretations of the PCI standard so many organizations are not sure what they need to do to be compliant. Managers must work with their internal regulatory staff to decide how to comply with these guidelines."

The combining strategy is paying off for both suppliers and contact centers. NICE's Smart- Center solution, launched last year, includes call recording, quality management, interaction analytics, performance management, workforce management, a customer feedback application, and agent coaching.

One of SmartCenter's latest and largest customers is the Salt River Project (SRP), located in the fast-growing Phoenix, Arix. Area and is the third largest electric utility in the US with nearly 1 million customers. It chose SmartCenter solutions to help it manage and support the growth of its IP-enabled contact centers, which receive more than three million calls per year.

"We want to be sure that SRP maintains its high standards for customer service while further improving efficiencies," says Michael Lowe, Customer Services Executive Salt River Project. "We're confident that the NICE solutions will help us maintain outstanding telephone service to customers while we continue to grow rapidly. "

The IP Revolution
As reported in July's IP story, more contact centers are switching their networks to IP from TDM to reduce call handling and infrastructure costs, and to better enable flexible applications such as application hosting, telework and informal centers like at branch banks and retail counters.

That means more contact centers are deploying IP recording technology. As of the end of 2007, shipments of VoIP recording ports exceeded that of TDM ports, reports Donna Fluss.

IP recording solutions provide several key advantages over their TDM counterparts including lower costs, such as for archiving and storage, and the ability to more easily support the value-add solutions.

IP-based solutions have also been evolving and improving. The early IP-based recording solutions were hardware based. The current IPbased recording solutions are software based.

"With software-based IP recording, you do not need to upgrade hardware when you want to add recording ports, which gives you considerable operational flexibility and saves money," explains Fluss.

CSI's Marcia is seeing firms switch from harvesting calls with packet sniffing technologies to grabbing audio directly from the phone system software using APIs such as Avaya's device media call control (DMCC) and Cisco's (News - Alert) Active Recording. Packet sniffers require extra hardware to capture calls whereas API recording harvests calls directly from the phone system.

The IP switchover is attracting developer interest, and new recording products. For example, OrecX's new IP-enabled Oreka TR recording solution can be indexed by time, agent/employee, date, and a variety of other fields, facilitating hassle-free and instantaneous record retention, search and retrieval. It allows for all-call, ondemand or selective recording while providing managers with options for live call monitoring.

The software is built on an open source platform, which the firm says offers increased flexibility and lower cost compared with closed proprietary solutions.

Oreka TR works by recording SIP sessions, passively listening to network packets. Both ends of the conversation are mixed together, and each call is logged as a separate audio file. The recording is logged using a standard sound device and can record multiple channels at the same time, storing each recording as a separate audio file.

If your contact center is planning to move to IP, be sure to find out whether candidate recording suppliers can capture encrypted IP packets.

"Several prominent IP providers are moving to encrypted environments," explains Kristyn Emenecker, director, solutions marketing, Verint (News - Alert) Witness Actionable Solutions. "Yet not every recording vendor is able to record them, so contact centers should enquire before selecting a vendor."

Added Features and Delivery Methods
There continues to be an evolution in call recording features and in delivery method whether TDM or IP to make these tools more affordable to a wider range of contact centers.

CSI's Virtual Observer recording and monitoring solution now uses DMCC, which captures audio without packet sniffing or recording boards. More significantly Virtual Observer now taps and archives e-mail and chat as well as audio. This feature would enable contact centers to obtain a complete multichannel view and record of customers' interactions. There is a growing need for this functionality as more people migrate from voice to e-mail, SMS, and chat.

Small contact centers and small/midsized businesses (SMBs) can now benefit from powerful, scalable, and affordable call recording solutions and their value-add features.

Verint's new Verint Witness Actionable Solutions' Impact 360 Express software is designed specifically for the smaller contact center.

With Impact 360 Express, these contact centers can record, evaluate and store customer interactions; automate and simplify forecasting and scheduling; turn recorded customer interactions into best-practice training scenarios; and deliver skills-improving courses and feedback to agents. They obtain comparable functionality, performance and productivity gains as the large, multi-site, distributed enterprises that many of them aspire to become; Impact 360 Express can grow with these companies.

There are more call recording solutions being offered through alternative delivery methods. Telrex (News - Alert) has made its CallRex™ suite of IP call recording and call center optimization solutions available by subscription: firms simply pay a monthly fee for the number of users being recorded.

"We believe that our subscription-based offering lowers the cost of entry and makes call recording technology accessible to businesses of every size," says Telrex president Robert Kapela (News - Alert).

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