In my January 1997
"Publisher's Outlook," I pointed out that advanced technology and customer
service are two of the main ingredients comprising a company's competitive advantage.
The more I learn about the explosive growth of advanced technology, the
more I become convinced that it is only a matter of time before today's call centers
become obsolete. When I say it's only a matter of time, I don't mean the next five years -
I mean within the next 16 to 24 months.
Natural Speech Recognition Seems Promising, Indeed
During a recent visit to Philips Speech Processing, a division of Philips Corporation, I
was intrigued by the impressive telephony-based natural speech recognition technology they
have developed. Natural speech technology allows users to speak as they would normally,
without pausing between words.
This technology is potentially most useful in an inbound call center. With
traditional speech recognition IVRs, callers are constrained by the inability of the IVR
to comprehend words more complex than "yes," "no," or spoken numerals.
To resolve a problem, a caller had to wade through an oftentimes cumbersome menu in order
to reach a live agent or to find the necessary information.
Natural speech recognition, in its ideal form, relaxes these constraints.
A caller can speak his or her problem in his or her own words ("naturally"),
while the computer intelligence driving the application parses out the key words, compares
those words against its knowledge base and then routes the call to the agent best able to
resolve the problem. Properly deployed, this technology will potentially decrease the
length of time a caller is on hold, eliminate the time the customer needs to negotiate the
IVR menu, and thus reduce the company's 800-number service bill, all while increasing the
customer's satisfaction at having their problem dealt with in an expeditious manner.
I learned that the research department at Philips employed the services of
approximately 20,000 volunteers during the development of this technology to ensure that
the software recognizes any and all accents and phraseologies. This software, when fully
implemented and executed, can potentially carry out intelligent conversations with callers
and actively handle travelling personnel, training, hotel and theater reservations, not to
mention database building and cleanup.
We applaud Philips Corporation for taking this major leadership role and
paving the way for enormous new product and application opportunities in the call center
industry. For more information on this technology, please refer to Telemarketing &
Call Center Solutions magazine and call Linda A. Dunlea or Bruce Cooperman of
Philips Speech Processing at 516-921-9310.
In many call centers similar functions are currently being conducted by
live operators. Given the severe shortage of talent at all levels in our industry, and the
unacceptably high turnover rate, telephony-based speech recognition (when fully developed
and implemented) offers great promise for all call centers.
Call Center Operations
The call center is the part of a company (whether outsourced or in-house operation) that
directly interacts with customers. Call center agents must have the proper technology (and
training) to be able to satisfy customer needs swiftly and effectively.
When one speaks about the call center industry, there are two basic
subjects - people and technology. People refers to a company's customers and
representatives. Technology refers to CTI, the Internet, multimedia, and
telecommunications equipment - the media agents use to interact with customers. When
talented and knowledgeable people have high-quality tools to deploy in satisfying
customers' needs, synergy is achieved. This synergy can be defined as a company's
competitive edge, or, that which distinguishes it from others offering similar products or
services. The maintenance of that edge is of the utmost priority.
Maintain Your Competitive Edge By Attending TCCS SPRING '97
To help you maintain your company's competitive edge, for our TCCS SPRING '97
conference and exposition (May 6-8 at the Los Angeles Convention Center West Hall B, Los
Angeles, California), we have assembled some of the finest minds in the industry to
provide an in-depth look at the various aspects of call center operations, from the
technology involved, to the management practices that create the synergy between people
and the tools they employ. As the leading source of call center information and
technology, we see it as our corporate mission and responsibility to supply you with the
information you need to maintain your company's edge.
Call Center Management
Many of the topics within the TCCS SPRING '97 conference have been designed to
provide all managers and executives with a solid foundation upon which to make tactical
business decisions. The sessions were designed to provide the participants with the most
up-to-date information available on the issues involved. Some of the topics are:
Benchmarking - What are the various industry standards for inbound
and outbound telemarketing campaigns? How can you design your call center to meet or
Reengineering - Call centers are poised for major changes; why are
they going to change and how? How will the new technologies such as e-mail, IVR, faxing
and interactive services affect the development and evolution of the call center?
Multimedia - Call centers must be able to accept data from
customers in a wide variety of forms.
The Right Solution - Today's sales managers must know how and
when to blend technology with selling skills. It is vital that a company utilizes the
proper software package for their business-to-business or business-to-consumer needs.
Customer Service - Customer call-tracking applications, automation
practices, IVRs, ACDs, intelligent call routing, skills-based routing; these solutions are
essential for a company that wants to maintain its competitive edge.
Help Desk - Not only is it necessary for you to understand your
clients' requirements, but it is also vital that you examine the help desk from within,
i.e., optimum staffing configuration, operational audit process, performance measurements,
maintenance of service level objectives and help desk metrics.
The Internet - The use of Internet-enabled call centers as a
two-way communications tool for agent/user collaboration will have a significant, positive
impact on sales and customer responsiveness.
Crucial CTI Technologies
Computer-telephony integration (CTI) is a broad term referring to the application of
computer intelligence to telecommunications devices. Its two most basic goals are to
enhance business-consumer relations and corporate productivity. Some of the sessions at
TCCS that incorporate this topic are:
Streamlining - Advances in CTI have provided a new generation of
support automation solutions such as ANI, DNIS and screen synchronization which companies
use to streamline support and increase customer satisfaction.
Maximizing ROI - CTI technology is expensive; it is very important
for a company to make certain that the investment contributes positively to the bottom
Videoconferencing - The advent of low-cost technology allows users
and corporations to equip personal computers with video cameras: when your customers get
used to dealing with video, every call center will support it.
Unified Messaging - The ability to blend fax, voice and e-mail into
a single unified interface will make every person in a company more efficient.
Telecommuting - Not only is daily physical commuting inefficient,
but it pollutes the environment and has caused government legislation. Telecommuting is
made easier with the implementation of CTI technology.
Application Generators - New programming tools make it possible for
even the novice programmer to quickly develop complex IVR, fax-on-demand and other
interactive CTI applications.
For those of you interested in further exploring the benefits and
potentials of these explosive new technologies, for all qualified subscribers we are
offering a free, one-year subscription to our groundbreaking new publication, CTI
magazine, the authority on computer, Internet and network telephony. To take advantage of
this limited offer, please call 800-243-6002, or subscribe online at http://www.ctimag.com/cti/csub.htm
The Internet and Call Center Expo
We have created a new industry event, dedicated to this fascinating and ground-breaking
arena - The Internet and Call Center Expo (ICC). This conference is designed
to provide you with in- depth information not only about every aspect of integrating your
call center with the Web, but also how to make money in the process. Some topics which
will be featured at the ICC SPRING '97 conference are:
Site Creation - From vision to rollout, learn from the experts
about the pitfalls and rewards.
Online Database - Take your online presence to a new level by
integrating your Web site with your customer and product databases. Not only will this
increase customer satisfaction, but the automation will decrease expenditures.
Web-Enabling - The first "call me" buttons can already be
found on many Web sites. This technology allows your customers to answer their own
questions and then call upon you for the resolution of specific questions.
I hope that even after a discussion as brief as this one, you can see how
the people who employ the technology and the technology itself are inextricably
intertwined. The most advanced technology is useless without the properly trained
individuals to bring it to life. The reverse is also true: for a dedicated service
representative the goal is to help a customer as efficiently as possible, but it is an
impossible task without the proper advanced technology.
If you feel overwhelmed and perhaps a bit confused by this blitz of
information, the best advice I can give you is to take a breath, relax, and then resolve
to avail yourself of every scrap of data pertinent to your needs. The TCCS SPRING
'97 Conference and Exposition is the place to come to not only learn about the technology
and applications of that technology from acknowledged experts, but it is also the place to
exchange views with your colleagues, the leading service agencies, and the vendors who
produce the technology. I look forward to welcoming you to TCCS SPRING '97, located
in the Los Angeles Convention Center, West Hall B, Los Angeles, California, May 6-8, 1997.
Publisher & Editor-in-Chief