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October 1999


CosmoCall Universe

CosmoCom, Inc.
Phone: 516- 851-0100
Web Site: www.cosmocom.com

Pricing: Ten-seat starter system is $40,000, includes upgrades and support options.

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RATINGS (0-5)
Installation: 4.5
Documentation 4.5
Features: 5
Testing: 4.5
Overall: A-


Unofficially, “Universe” is actually CosmoCall 3.0. The new version features multimedia-on-hold, Microsoft NetMeeting 3.0x integration, audio, video and text chat, MSMQ support, improved e-mail routing and more. This release impressed us with its installation process and well-designed administration and agent interfaces.

Installation
Installing the ACD server portion of Universe requires careful planning. Administrators need to make decisions about which components to install or not to install, whether to have multiple components on one server or whether to distribute the components, and what degree of customization they prefer. Also, configuring agents and groups is largely based on Windows’ own profiles, which is efficient, but requires care and patience. Adding the “click here” button to your organization’s Web site also requires meticulous attention to detail. Buttons can be primitive links or elaborate images, and while the actual behind-the-scenes coding doesn’t require an expert Webmaster, the entire process should definitely receive input from the managers of your call center, Web site, MIS staff and telecom staff. We wouldn’t call any part of the installation process difficult, though. It’s just complicated, and should be handled by your more experienced people. Meanwhile, installing the agent software (and training the agents) is a task you can delegate to any competent MIS technician. Once NT Workstation is installed with NetMeeting, the service pack, the option pack and Outlook 98, the actual CosmoCall agent is a simple wizard installation. Add the Exchange and CosmoCall account information, and the agent machine is ready. (Note that every agent uses only a headset, and not a telephone. This way, all voice calls are handled the same.)

System requirements for installing Universe are lengthy, but not excessive. Recommended for a basic setup are Windows NT Server 4.0 for the ACD component, running Microsoft IIS version 4 with .ASP support, a Dialogic voice board (we used a D/41ESC) for the Telephone Connection Server with 250 MB of disk space available, and Microsoft Exchange Server with CosmoCom’s Message/E-mail Connec-tion Server. The server components can be combined or distributed; at a minimum, the main ACD server requires 30 MB of disk space, 128 MB RAM, the latest NT service pack and a 233 MHz Pentium or newer, as well as SQL 7.0. Agents’ systems require Windows NT Workstation 4.0, the latest service pack, a minimum of 166 MHz, 10 MB of disk space, Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.01 with Service Pack 1 and NetMeeting 2.1 or newer (although 3.0x is recommended), DirectX and Outlook 98, and a full-duplex headset, sound card and video camera. Minimum requirements for end users include a 486/66 PC with 16 MB RAM, Windows 95 and Internet Explorer 4.01 with Service Pack 1 or Netscape Navigator 3.x. However, we recommend installing the ACD and related servers on more up-to-date systems, for example, Pentium II 450s with at least 128 MB RAM. A nice touch is that the system includes copies of the NT and 9x option packs and service packs, as well as Internet Explorer 5, NetMeeting 3.01, Outlook 98 and viewers for Acrobat, PowerPoint and Word files.

Documentation
The documentation for Universe was still in an early beta form when we received it, but it provided a decent preview of what the final version would be like. There are several chapters, including administrator and agent installation, administrator and agent guides, configuration planning, reports, technical requirements, third-party software and a “what’s new” section. From what we saw, the manual still needs a lot of work in its organization, but most major topics seem to be covered, and the conceptual and technical explanations are clear, making good use of screen captures. Another section uses a flow chart to explain sample installations, which will be a tremendous aid for both decision makers and installers.

Features
There are several pieces of Universe to examine. On the administration server(s), there is the “configurator” for setting up file locations, default call settings, etc. There is also the administration interface, where you configure settings for agents, groups, rules and messages, although this interface does not need to be open for the product to work because it’s all based on Windows NT services. Also, there are the agent interface, the end user interface and the Web integration issues.

The “Configurator” is used to set up file locations, software parameters, etc. It is accessed through the Start menu, or through a Windows shortcut, but we’d like to see it also be accessible through the administration interface, explained below. Other than this minor flaw, we find this tool quite useful. Script options are set through five menu choices. “Call Center Information” sets the suite’s IP address and name, plus the path to your script directory. “No Agents Action” sets the URL and message for callers to receive when they enter a hold queue. “Caller Information” configures the caller telephone type, caller URL, Web caller initial URL, caller message and name, caller queue, caller priority and required skills. “Web Configuration” sets the script directory, Web caller directory and window title, an option to always push URLs in a new window, .ASP and Java settings, the Java directory URL and the Java window dimensions in pixels. Finally, the “Optional Parameters” tab configures integration with other applications; up to five additional parameters can be set here. Parameter examples include customer identifications, shopping cart identifications, trouble tickets, order numbers, etc.

CosmoCall’s administration program is for configuring groups, agent options and similar settings. It’s on the simpler side, with smartly arranged menu choices, colorful icons and an uncrowded feel. Across the top, four menu choices include File, New, Delete and Help. Below this is an 11-button toolbar, with button help, that accesses features like log in/log out, as well as “add new” buttons for agents, teams, skills, wrap-up/release codes, etc. The main window offers 10 options, which include:

  • Personnel — Configures new agents, their groups and their skills,
  • Groups — Agents grouped by topic of expertise or any other category,
  • Teams — Groups of agents grouped for administrative purposes,
  • Skills — For example, agents who help with troubleshooting, ordering, foreign language customers, etc.,
  • Queues — For example, queues based on caller locations, reason for calling, priority, etc.,
  • Events — This menu specifies which scripts to execute for particular events, and lists event descriptions,
  • Scripts — Specifies script names, descriptions and locations,
  • Release codes — Codes and descriptions for when agents are on breaks,
  • Wrap-up codes — Call results codes and descriptions,
  • Connection servers — Configures settings for telephone, message and Internet chat servers.

CosmoCall Universe’s agent interface is concise and efficient. However, we urge system installers to provide agents with more powerful computers than are required, because there are several instances where the software refreshes the screen, and you don’t want to make customers wait while agents stare at an hourglass.

There are numerous customization options for the agents to configure as they like. Half of these options are accessed through the File/Preferences menu, where agents will find four tabs. In the General tab, there is a pointer to a dictionary/spell checker file, which can work as agents type, as well as a feature to choose their own .WAV file for telephony rings. Under the Chat Dialogue tab, agents can set their preferences for the fonts, sizes, styles and colors of the text chat interface. The Agent tab holds the settings for canned phrases (a library of commonly used phrases that the agent can push to the caller without having to retype every time), including a path field to select your organization’s own phrase file. Last, the Call Flow section includes settings for “On Ring” (auto-answer, bring agent to front, show received URL), “On Call Termination” (hide chat, ask for chat save, auto-save) and “On Pick-Up” (send customizable hello message). Other options in this tab include a toggle for “Ask before hang-up” and “Synchronize sent URL with caller.” There is also a “reset to default” button, which works for all four tabs.
The second half of the customization options is under the View/Customize menu. The actual method of customization follows the Microsoft Office convention, where the Toolbars tab is for creating and editing, and the Tools tab is for controlling the individual toolbar items. There is also an Options tab here, with choices for displaying larger icons, “ScreenTips” (button help), ScreenTips with shortcut keys and three kinds of menu animations.

Beside the normal agent options, like dial, get caller info, auto-answer, clear screen, availability toggle, etc.; the Universe agent interface gives advanced features as well. These include NetMeeting and URL pushing, customizable unavailable and wrap-up codes and an excellent agent/group reporting feature that updates statistics in real-time. (Refresh rates are adjustable in one-second intervals from 15 to 60 seconds, and reports are provided for specific queues, groups, agents and the call center as a whole.)

Operational Testing
The experience a caller receives is a positive one. Callers using POTS enter a traditional-sounding IVR system, which purposely does not give the caller any indication that their call will be received in packet-form in a call center where agents don’t even have telephones. Callers from the Web deal with a normal online ordering and product information site, except that the site will also have a “Talk To Us” button. New callers may need to register — a step determined by the organization being called — and customers may be presented with system requirements. Once the actual call is initiated and the caller is queued, the traditional concepts of “audio on hold” can be replaced with anything from a simple “please hold” graphic to an extremely detailed audio/video file — essentially a commercial.

For a product designed with enterprise-scale intentions, we found that CosmoCall Universe is almost as easy to use as any standard Windows application, from its look and feel to its menu setup to its administration and reporting features. In fact, CosmoCom engineers have made their intentions clear, by incorporating the Windows NT user manager, the NetMeeting 3 client and many standard Windows-like methods of task accomplishment.

Because of this tight integration, organizations using Universe will be able to support the product among lower-level MIS personnel, which is a testament to its usability — in the administration interface (and especially in the agent interface), the learning curve is virtually nonexistent. The most tedious part of maintaining Universe will be keeping its agent groups and databases up-to-date, and linking it with the ordering, tracking or other back-end software that may already be resident at your business. Another useful feature for an administrator is the Agent State interface, where call center directors can see every agent’s current status and initiate NetMeeting calls to them.

For the agent, the most critical transitions for a product like Universe will be adapting to a telephoneless workstation and, for the text calls, mastering the techniques of writing a conversation instead of speaking one. Many of today’s call centers already have agents who are trained to compose e-mail replies, but there are many techniques and issues relevant to the back-and-forth of text chat that may seem unnatural to agents who are used to speaking instead. (Speech recognition technology, if it were fast enough and accurate enough, could ease this transition by allowing the agents to speak the caller’s answers — instead of typing them — and inputting the translated speech directly into the text chat window.) Agents will find it easy to use features like URL and phrase pushing, call wrap-ups and outbound dialing and transferring. Agents will also need to be trained on NetMeeting, which is the more difficult tool to learn.

Room For Improvement
CosmoCom seems to have designed most of the Universe features for the appropriate user levels, but additional features could be helpful. For example, we’d like to see tighter integration with Microsoft Outlook. We also feel that the administration interface, the Configurator and the Agent States menu could be combined in a single location, to make it easier for administrators to get a total picture of their system at any time. Finally, although the documentation we reviewed was only in its beta form, there was no indication that there might be an agent’s cheat-sheet of sorts, which would be quite useful. A cheat-sheet in the form of an on-screen taskbar would be even more helpful. Also, even though the user’s manual includes a chapter about integrating Universe with other applications, there are enough issues raised for the chapter to be an entire book of its own — for now, we’d settle for more extensive discussions of the integration possibilities.

Conclusion
We really liked Universe. It’s clear that the designers put a fair amount of effort into the interfaces and functionality. Because of the tight Microsoft integration of this product, it’s a good solution for organizations that want the simplest possible answer without having to hire a consultant and an interconnect. CosmoCom also provided us with exceptional technical support when we needed it. All of these things combined to make the product a worthwhile solution, and we’re confident that most of our “Room For Improvement” issues can be fixed. Overall, this new version deserves our Editor’s Choice award.


Web Call-Through Solutions Examined, Part I

If you’re seeking a way to make your inbound call center agents more productive while simultaneously providing callers with a better experience, consider implementing a Web-based multimedia call-through solution, also known as a Web ACD.

Unlike Web-based callback systems, where end users click on an icon on your site to reserve a spot in your agents’ callback queue, Web call-through systems use IP technology to let callers start their own sessions directly from the browser. While they’re on hold, you can push any multimedia content, and the actual chat can use any combination of interactive voice, data, video or text. Plus, calls appear the same to your agents, whether they enter the call center through IP or PSTN.

TMC™ Labs recently examined three Web call-through products. The first one is CosmoCall Universe (from CosmoCom, succeeding version 2.1). We also examined the PNX ACD 3.0 from PakNetX, succeeding version 2.x, and Net2Phone’s Click2Talk system, which runs as a paid service linked to your Web site instead of as premise equipment. We will present our assessment of the latter two products in this column next month.







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