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TMC Labs
October 2001
  

TeleVantage 4.1

Artisoft, Inc.
5 Cambridge Center
Cambridge, MA 02142
Ph: 617-354-0600
Web site: http://www.artisoft.com

Price: $200 per server, $200 per trunk line, $100 per station line, $100 per desktop client, $250 per VoIP connection, $250 per call center agent

2001 Editors' Choice Awards

RATINGS (0'5)
Installation: 5
Documentation: 5
Features: 4.75
GUI: 5
Overall: A


Artisoft develops one of our favorite products in the communications industry -- TeleVantage. The reason we like TeleVantage so much is that it is a comprehensive PC-PBX system that is very easy to use and administer and offers many useful features. These features include VoIP, call follow-me, caller ID screen-pop, desktop call control, visual voice messaging retrieval and more.

TeleVantage is an open-platform software-based PC-PBX system running on Windows NT/2000 with telephony hardware for trunk and extension termination. The TeleVantage Client has been rewritten using a collection of COM objects, allowing third-party developers to use them to build custom applications. TMC Labs test-drove TeleVantage 4.1, which has several new features, including enhanced call center functionality and now supports up to 96 trunks and 264 extensions.

INSTALLATION
We were shipped a turnkey system with the telephony boards and server software pre-loaded. However, we've installed TeleVantage server a number of times in the past, so we know it's a snap to install. Also, since TeleVantage is sold through channels, end users won't have to deal with installation. Nevertheless, we've always been quite pleased with the ease of installation of the TeleVantage system. Also, the initial configuration of this PC-PBX is uncomplicated utilizing TeleVantage's user-friendly graphical user interface.

DOCUMENTATION
This product features excellent online help that includes traditional Windows help files as well as HTML help files. Both are very well organized and simple to navigate. The manuals are superb, featuring plenty of screenshots, a well-organized layout and detailed step-by-step instructions. We couldn't find much to complain about, other than the admin manual being 379 pages long, which is to be expected for such a comprehensive phone system.

FEATURES
TeleVantage has too many features to list here, but we'll highlight some of the important ones, particularly the call center functionality. First, we should mention that v4.1 has a "hands-free answering" mode that lets you leave your phone off-hook while waiting for calls without hearing a dial tone. When a new call arrives, you hear a zip tone and you are connected to the call. This is perfect for call centers, since agents can simply receive one call after the other without lifting the receiver.

Call centers will enjoy the new "account codes" capability that lets you track calls back to one or more "accounts," such as clients or customers who need to be billed. You can even have users enter account codes for every call on a per-user basis.

It goes without saying that a call center is not complete without some type of call recording capability, and TeleVantage has this covered. For quality assurance purposes, call centers can turn on automatic call recording for every 1 out of every nth agent call, every 1 out of nth queue call, or both. In addition to recording capabilities, supervisors can monitor the call, coach the agent (whisper mode) or join the call in progress.

TeleVantage supports full ACD functionality with several routing methods, including round robin, longest idle, fewest calls, least talk time, simultaneous ring and top down. A nice feature is that TeleVantage will automatically set an agent "On Break" if the agent doesn't answer a predetermined number of calls. Call center managers will appreciated TeleVantage's easy-to-use Call Center Reporter, which can be used to analyze ACD workgroups, queues, agents, hold time and more.

A TAPI Service Provider is included to allow for support with Act!, Outlook, GoldMine, GoldMine FrontOffice 2000 or other TAPI-compliant applications. Utilizing TAPI, you can place calls from TAPI applications and receive screen-pop identification when someone calls you.

Other features include:

  • Call logging lets each user see a record of his or her own calls, while giving administrators access to the company's complete log.
     
  • E-mail and pager notification of incoming voice mail lets you attach voice files to the notification.
     
  • Smart Do Not Disturb sends your calls straight to voice mail -- while letting important calls from specific individuals or groups ring your phone.
     
  • Platform-independent Web-based client enables users with a browser to access voice mail or manage personal settings.
     
  • "Follow-me" call forwarding features routing lists that try several locations to find you.
     
  • Create personalized routing lists for specific callers.
     
  • Built-in Internet H.323 gateway saves money by routing calls over the Internet or your Intranet. It supports tie-lines between branch offices and even allows your customers to call you from a Web page.
     
  • Extend TeleVantage with IVR plug-ins that seamlessly integrate IVR and other call-control applications and pass caller input or database information to TeleVantage users.
     
  • Support for CLASS feature phones with caller ID displays, caller ID on call waiting, and message waiting lights.
     
  • Prompt users to leave a callback number if caller ID is not available.

OPERATIONAL TESTING
Administrative duties have been improved since we last tested TeleVantage. TeleVantage has a new Roles feature to provide administrators with a way to assign permissions to a group of people. Similar to Class of Service, utilizing Roles, users can now inherit permissions from one or more roles, such as Administrators or Users.

We liked the Personal Status feature, which lets you indicate your availability to other users. You can create personal status settings (lunch, vacation, out of the office, etc.) that can change all your customized settings "on the fly," including your forwarding number, your active greeting, your routing list, or prevent your phone from ringing. This can all be done in one step as opposed to changing your greeting, forwarding number and other settings one at a time.

On a similar note, Call Rules let you change the way calls are handled based on who calls or a particular date or time. For example, you can automatically send specific calls to voice mail during lunch or change your personal greeting after hours and so forth.

Of the most interest to us was TeleVantage's new call center support. Artisoft's licensing model allows each licensed agent to participate in an unlimited number of queues. TeleVantage's previous support for ACD-type features, now called ACD Workgroups, is still supported and is included at no additional cost. Customers who do not need the extensive functionality of call center queues can use ACD Workgroups.

We tested the queue feature by dialing into the Sales Queue that we created at extension 500. After dialing extension 500, we were immediately put into the sales queue. The call was then directed to an agent logged-in to this queue according to the pre-set routing rules, i.e., longest idle agent, round robin, etc. A comprehensive Queue Monitor view shows detailed agent status information and queue statistics broken down by day, custom shifts and periods including which agents are available, on a call, on break or signed out.

While the caller is in the queue, "on hold" messages can be customized to repeat or not repeat at specific intervals and can change in real-time based on caller data or other variables. Messages can include average wait time or the number of other callers ahead of the current caller. In addition, queues can prompt callers for customer ID numbers or other custom data which are stored in variables that can be displayed in the Call Monitor, sent to an IVR plug-in for processing, or used to affect the queue's hold messages, such as "top priority customers." Also, TeleVantage provides an "overflow" feature that allows you to configure one or more agents into overflow groups so that calls will only go to them after all the primary agents are busy. For the really productive, hard-working agent looking to increase his or her call volume, a click on the Wrap-up icon on the status bar (a clock) will terminate the wrap-up time early if the agent is ready for the next call.

A useful TeleVantage function is that if agents leave their stations without signing out, TeleVantage can optionally put them "On Break" when they do not answer calls. Another helpful feature is that the agents do not need the TeleVantage client application running to change their status. Agents can sign in, sign out or go on break by pressing *51, *52 and *53 respectively on their phones. Also, agents can see calls waiting in a queue and take them before the calls are offered. Supervisors can change an agent's personal status in the Extensions pane for when the agents forget to do so. Another nice feature is the ability to log-on to the TeleVantage client from any desk and receive calls at that location. This is great in environments where the seating arrangement is not static, such as organizations with three work shifts and where the workspace is shared.

TeleVantage supports VoIP via the H.323 standard. We made a VoIP call from NetMeeting to the IP address of the TV server and it performed flawlessly with excellent voice quality. Artisoft told us they have worked with PolyCom and E-Tel to get their H.323 phones to work with TeleVantage, so that you can actually have VoIP phone extensions, which is great for telecommuters.

We should mention that Artisoft features third-party support, including support for Digisoft's CRM application, which includes scripting and real-time reporting. By utilizing Artisoft's COM objects or TAPI support, third-party developers can integrate their application into the TeleVantage platform.

Desktop call control within TeleVantage has always been a strong suit. TMC Labs has long believed that TeleVantage has the cleanest and easiest to use interface of any PC-based PBX platform. For instance, using the Extensions pane in the Call Monitor view, you can transfer a call by dragging it onto an extension. Similarly, you can call an extension by dragging it from the Extensions pane into the Call Monitor. To create a conference, press SHIFT and drag and drop a call or extension onto another call. With caller ID available, you can drag a voice message or Call Log entry into the Call Monitor to call it back. You can even pull callers out of voice mail. We also liked the Extensions pane, which shows the current status of the people you define in specific tabs, such as the "All" tab, "Sales Queue" tab, etc. Receptionists will like this status feature since they will know if someone is out of the office, on vacation, on the phone or some other status.

A nice usability improvement is that if you monitor calls from different users or queues, you can define specific incoming call notification for specific types of calls. For example, you could have the client's title bar flash for queue calls, but not for your personal calls.

Finally, Artisoft TeleVantage supports one-number follow-me so callers can reach you no matter where you are. You can even define special greetings that play between routing list actions, such as "Attempting to call my cell phone, please stay on the line."

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
We could not figure out if TeleVantage allows you to pre-specify a maximum queue wait time before automatically directing callers to leave a message. This might be especially important for 800 numbers where the company is paying for the call. Thus, we would like to see the caller automatically directed to voice mail if the queue time reaches a certain threshold, such as 30 minutes.

Although a caller can manually abandon the queue via DTMF and leave a message in the specific queue inbox, we have a suggestion for this feature as well. We would like the voice message to be automatically directed to the next agent according to the specified routing rules. Essentially, it would ring the next agent's desk as though it were a live incoming call and then play the voice message. This would prevent voice mail from sitting in the queue unanswered in the event calls keep coming in and the original agent doesn't have a chance to check the voice messages. It also improves the appearance of "good customer service" since the voice message can be more quickly returned.

One minor usability complaint is that you cannot highlight a phone number typed into the Notes field associated with a voice message and then perform right-click, "Dial number." You can, of course, copy/paste the number into the Dial field, but that's an extra step. Another suggestion is to have the ability to drag and drop a voice message into Outlook.

Finally, we would like to have the ability to search the Notes field where the voice messages are stored, which would then highlight the voice mail based on the keywords to find it quicker. This is particularly useful in situations where the voice mail box grows larger than 50 messages, such as the General mailbox.

CONCLUSION
Artisoft has taken an already feature-rich product and added call center functionality to make this product a perfect fit for the small to medium business, whether or not they have a formal call center. When you consider the costs of the TeleVantage software, Intel hardware, a server and phones, you find a system will run about $500-$600 per user (excluding installation costs). Then when you take into account the $250 per agent price, the price is $750-$850 per agent. This means that TeleVantage delivers call center functionality for less than the de facto "$1,000 per agent" price point. With its extensive feature set, easy-to-use graphical user interface, ease of administration, and support for third-party development, TMC Labs would not hesitate to recommend this product.

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