|Voice, E-mail And The Web: The Three-Lane Highway To
The Latest In Routing Technologies
By Carl Schoeneberger,
After more than 15 years, the principal goal of contact centers remains
the same ' route the right contact to the right agent at the right time.
Recent trends have made that challenge much more difficult as more and
more organizations find themselves operating multiple contact centers and
allowing customers to reach agents through the medium of their choice:
telephone, e-mail or Web. Multisite, multimedia routing, in particular,
becomes a complex and costly issue.
Next-generation IP contact centers hold the answer to these routing
Numerous generations of routing technologies have been deployed to improve
customer service while holding the line on costs. Early schemes included
FIFO queuing and routing based on trunk groups, followed by intelligent
call routing based on network data such as DNIS and touchtone input, and
later database information. Subsequent innovations included skills-based
routing that led to agent group workflows and the ability to route across
multiple, dispersed ACD systems.
To understand where the newer trends are leading, it's helpful to take a
look at four areas where routing technologies can have an impact on
customer service and cost control. First, the latest-generation systems
address the need to route contacts to the best agents across the
enterprise using new agent matching engines and to prioritize contact
handling based on business values versus media channels.
Second, with the addition of new media types, there is a need to
intelligently route e-mail and Web traffic as efficiently as voice, thus
solving a host of media routing issues such as contact prioritization and
Third, the latest generation systems integrate media on a single system
based on one IP network, enabling distribution of all contacts across the
And fourth, these new systems eliminate computer-telephony integration
(CTI), which can have an enormous impact on implementation costs and
Current Enterprise Routing Technologies
Multisite contact center operations are a reality today for many
companies. Reasons for operating multiple centers include the need to
place centers close to available workforces, business continuity planning,
prior mergers and acquisitions, or as part of a follow-the-sun strategy.
Multiple centers can operate independently, but the benefits of
networking centers are too great to ignore. As an example, following
Erlang C rules, networking allows multiple smaller groups to share common
work and therefore handle the same number of contacts with fewer agents
overall. However, networking can be as rudimentary as T1 circuits
directing overflow voice calls, or as sophisticated as fully integrated
telephony and data networking. The degree to which centers are networked
will determine routing efficiencies, the ability to generate consolidated
reports and the size of cost savings.
The contact center manager has several options when implementing a
multisite architecture. Legacy circuit-based ACD switches can be
front-ended with pre-routers or connected together with T1s. The advantage
with this hybrid approach is that investment in legacy ACDs can be
leveraged. This approach, however, dramatically increases complexity,
integration costs and system management requirements while still relying
on both the telephony and corporate data networks.
Another hybrid approach is dispersed circuit-based ACDs tied together
via IP rather than telephony tie lines. This is not a total IP solution.
The IP connections are between the switches only. Telephony lines are
still required from each switch to agent sets. This, of course, does not
eliminate the two networks, but does reduce telephony charges.
A third option is a centralized, 'pure' IP-based ACD solution. This
approach reduces system and network operating costs and telephony service
charges and also simplifies the distribution of multimedia contacts. The
disadvantages to these first attempts at an IP-based architecture have
been centralized processing, constrained scalability (e.g., a practical
limit of approximately 75 agents) and no local PSTN access. Additionally,
these solutions have been focused primarily on voice.
One variation on the approaches mentioned above seeks to resolve the
issues of handling multiple media types through a universal queue (i.e.,
where all contacts are routed to agents using a single set of business
rules regardless of whether they are inbound, outbound, voice or data).
This is accomplished with a media router, a routing engine that is
separate from the ACD, e-mail system, etc. For companies with an existing
technology base of ACDs, IVRs, ERMS and Web collaboration, the media
router approach allows them to implement a universal queue. This requires
computer-telephony integration (CTI) links that can add significant costs.
While companies may leverage their existing investment, they also add new
expenses and must continue to maintain multiple systems.
Next-generation IP systems eliminate many of the constraints described
above. The latest solutions provide a single, distributed IP-based
architecture to manage routing across multiple sites. In the case of phone
calls, once a call reaches the voice gateway, the call is handled entirely
as voice over IP. Because the architecture uses distributed processing
techniques, scalability is no longer an issue.
By networking systems over the corporate data network, routing in a
pure IP contact center environment enables visibility to all agents,
ensuring that the customer reaches the agent most qualified to help. As a
result, the likelihood of first-call resolution is higher, thus increasing
cost savings and improving customer service. Management reports are
consolidated across multiple sites, simplifying the reporting process and
lowering the cost of consolidating reports. And networking more
efficiently distributes contacts across all centers based on
enterprisewide visibility on call activity and agent availability.
Routing Technologies For Multimedia Contact Handling
Handling multiple media effectively is a high priority for contact center
managers. Yet, companies continue to struggle with the implementation and
management of multiple, separate systems for voice, e-mail and Web.
Separate networks, together with separate workflow engines, separate
databases or datamarts needed for consolidated reporting, as well as CTI
middleware, are required to integrate discrete voice, e-mail and Web media
Media-centric routing typically results in telephone calls being
handled first, because customers are 'live' and on hold. Response
times are measured in seconds or minutes. E-mail messages can wait from 2
to 48 hours because these contacts are considered lower priority. Web
contacts are not measured in time handled, but in number of transactions
completed. However, this traditional customer service model may not always
be the correct one. What if, for example, a gold customer sends an e-mail
at the same time that a not-so-gold customer places a call to the contact
center? Traditional systems do not allow the gold customer's e-mail to
be handled before the voice call customer.
With a next-generation IP contact center, multimedia is routed on one
IP platform. The three formerly separate media-specific agent group
workflows are now integrated into a single workflow. Rather than
individual databases, a single database suffices, and expensive CTI can be
Now contact centers can prioritize by business logic, or the value of
the customer to the business, not by the type of media. Next-generation IP
contact centers can
route the contact to the right agent and prioritize handling irrespective
of medium, as in the example of a gold versus not-so-gold customer. As an
added benefit, agents can also be more productive by handling multimedia
content. Just as agents in the past have handled voice messages during low
call-volume periods during the day, they can now respond to e-mail
messages during those same periods.
Priority Routing And Queuing Based On Agent Skills And Business
The ability to efficiently route all types of media contacts to an
available agent is only part of the solution. Just as important is routing
to the right agent. Skills-based routing is the current model, which
allows the contact center to connect the customer to the agent with the
best skill set to satisfy the call.
The most common approach to skills-based routing has been the creation
of agent groups and supergroups. Agents, for example, may have been
divided into support, sales and customer service channels; then subdivided
by language such as English versus Spanish; followed by skills; and then
by medium (e.g., voice, e-mail, Web). Further division adds even more
All this information has to be entered manually into agent group
tables. One group may include all agents in Product
Support/English/Product1/Skill A. Another group might be Product
Support/Spanish/Product 1/Skill B, and so on through all the permutations.
Any change in traffic patterns, personnel or business practices requires
cumbersome updates to each group or subgroup. Administrative complexity
increases exponentially with the addition of each new group and subgroup,
presenting a practical limit to the granularity into which skill sets are
divided. Regardless of the number of hierarchical divisions, queues are
structured by groups, not by best agent.
Today, superior customer service demands that routing and queuing be
based on skills and business logic. Next-generation IP contact centers
replace agent groups and their cumbersome tables with simple workflow
routines. Rather than assigning agents to groups with group attributes,
the call center manager assigns characteristics or attributes to
individual agents, much like records are managed in a relational database.
The next step is to create workflows or profiles for customers. When a
customer contacts the center, the system 'profiles' the customer using
data from the network or a CRM database. The system looks at the set of
available agents and compares the attributes of those agents to determine
which best matches the customer profile. Queuing to multiple agent group
queues is replaced with essentially one universal queue.
Given this capability to match customers with agents using new,
powerful matching engines, contact center managers can now prioritize how
contacts should be handled based on weighting mechanisms that reflect
business criteria. For example, if a gold customer e-mails the center
after four other silver-rated phone callers enter the queue, the center
may choose to serve the gold customer first, based on weighting and
thresholds. These weighting values and thresholds can be modified in
real-time, enabling managers to dynamically re-prioritize customer
contacts and respond quickly to changing conditions.
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