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call center technology solutions

October 1999

Logging And Monitoring Technologies: How To Buy And Why


Every customer contact center has a number of reasons to record transactions. Think your call center may be different? Ask yourself the following questions.

  • Is your organization subject to compliance requirements from any level of governmental or regulatory agency?
  • Is it important that you limit risk or liability regarding transactions or the exchange of information?
  • Are you concerned about the quality of service your agents provide your customers?
  • Is the customer experience important to your company's strategic goals and its bottom line?

It's a good bet that most or all of these requirements apply to your situation. In today's business environment, all companies are focused on providing superior customer service...or should be. If you intend to purchase recording equipment to address these issues, it's best to start by defining the objectives of your call center.
Are you selling something or providing a service? Are you providing information or offering customer support? Are money or other assets being transferred? Or, is your call center performing all of these activities? Recording these events satisfies a number of objectives, all of which fall into two categories: "transaction verification" and "quality monitoring."

Transaction Verification
This category applies especially to financial industries such as banking, investment and insurance and firms trading in securities, commodities, utilities and other financial instruments, all regulated by the NASD and the SEC. Recording not only helps meet the compliance requirements set out by the NASD and the SEC, it also protects the bank, as well as consumers and investors, by being able to settle disputes quickly and definitively.

Transaction verification is important in a wide range of other industries, among them telecommunications, where the FCC closely regulates corporate interactions with consumers. For example, when consumers are asked to switch from one long-distance service provider to another, that decision to switch must be verified by a third party. Recording consumer transactions in compliance with requirements set out by the FCC can eliminate accusations of “baiting and switching.”

Reducing Company Risk
There are many more examples that show the importance of transaction verification. For instance, one of the largest North American suppliers of ready-mix cement records phone orders specifying the volume and grade of cement. Imagine how much money is at stake when thousands of tons of pre-mixed cement arrive on a job site and it’s the wrong grade? For this company, it’s essential to determine who made the mistake.

Savings In Liability
Insurance Costs
Insurance providers recognize the value of using voice recording and, therefore, it’s a widely accepted practice in the industry. Many insurers save considerable sums on liability insurance once voice recording is employed. For many businesses, owning a voice recording system is not unlike owning a building security system or a home security system. Voice recording systems can pay for themselves in just two years, based solely on liability insurance cost reduction.

Quality Assurance
The demand for quality assurance has fueled significant growth in call centers today. Datamonitor predicts a compound annual growth rate of 60 percent for quality assurance solutions to the year 2003. Not only are corporations recording samples of conversations between agents and customers, they are also looking at agent-PC interaction via desktop screen capture. By providing technology that can replay synchronized voice and screen sessions, today’s quality management systems can recreate the entire agent session. They also provide online evaluation and automated reporting to pinpoint call center training requirements.

How To Buy
Once you have confirmed the need to record by identifying what to record, how do you select the right solution? Different recording techniques satisfy different requirements. Here’s a general breakdown of recording options.

  • Full-time recording (or “logging”) records all the calls, all the time. This method best applies to compliance and verification industries such as banking, trading, insurance, utility, etc.
  • Selective recording, or recording some of the call, some of the time, applies to verifying specific transactions that can be scheduled, but not all consumer interactions. It is also known as “event-based” recording.
  • Recording on demand (ROD) is initiated by the agent or supervisor and applies to verifying specific transactions.
  • Quality monitoring involves gathering a representative sample of call agents’ voice and screen sessions for performance evaluation.

It is also important to know that there are three major options in which a voice recorder can interface with your system for recording.

  • Trunk side means the recorder is directly connected to the trunks leading into the PBX/ACD. It applies best to full-time recording of all agents.
  • Extension side records from the phone extension and can be analog or digital. This application works best with full-time recording of specific extensions.
  • Service observation recording is performed via a dedicated recording connection using the service observation feature. The supervisor typically uses the service observer port to conference into agent calls. This application works best with selective recording and quality monitoring because it permits a small percentage of calls to be recorded and requires fewer channels to record all agents.

The CTI Factor
Computer-telephony integration (CTI) allows voice recorders to make intelligent decisions about when and what to record. With CTI, voice recording systems can “tag” calls with additional information to facilitate location and retrieval. The ACD provides real-time information to the recorder via the CTI server. This includes call details such as dialed number identification service (DNIS) or Caller I.D. (ANI, or automatic number identification), IVR (interactive voice response) activity, agent I.D., position and extension. Any of these can be used as a parameter for initiating voice and/or screen recording, as well as conducting specific queries for retrieval. For example, you can choose to record all calls routed to agent Smith (wherever he may be seated) coming in from a specific toll-free number. One week, one month or even one year later all those calls can be retrieved using the same parameters.

We can think of CTI as the glue that binds a variety of call center applications within the computer-telephony environment. These applications can include IVR (interactive voice response) units, intelligent call routing, screen pop and predictive dialers. CTI also allows these applications to use corporate databases. For example, customer codes from a corporate database can be linked to telephone calls. This allows the user of a CTI voice recording application to search for all calls related to those data, such as customer account numbers or Social Security numbers.

Enough Storage, When You Need It
Another key area to consider when determining your recording solution is storage. You need to determine how much storage is required for online, immediate access, and at what point you start to archive your data. Archived data can take longer to retrieve because the tape may need to be placed in the logger for playback. However, a good archival system will tell you, after you enter your search parameters, exactly which tape to insert into the logger.

You will need to have a good idea of the number of lines and the expected volume of calls the voice logger will be recording. It is also important to determine the time frame of calls you’re most likely going to need to retrieve.

In a full-time recording environment, there are commonly two “peak periods” in which high volumes of recorded calls must to be retrieved and verified. For example, a utility will experience a peak period after the monthly billing is mailed, due to customer inquiries about their bills and the need to verify the original conversation. The second peak period occurs at year-end when, for example, equal-payment billing is reconciled. In this scenario, it would be most efficient to have at least one month of calls online for immediate access and then have a library of archived tapes ready for the year-end peak period.

Depending on the compression ratio, you can have thousands of channel hours online for immediate access. To determine your online requirements, you can use simple math. Multiply the average number of calls per agent times the average length of call, times the number of agents, times the number of days you will require immediate access.

The latest technology has significant capacity for hard disk storage; i.e., up to 105 GB or 38,000 hours online.

One way to increase immediately accessible audio is a multi-DAT auto-changer, which allows a number of DAT tapes to be inserted into the logger. A 6-DAT auto-changer, for example, allows up to 25,000 hours of unattended recording, all accessible without manual intervention.

After defining your online storage requirements, you can then choose your archiving needs.

There are currently two common methods of storage for today’s voice loggers: digital audio tape (DAT) and magneto optical (MO) disk. A typical DDS-2 DAT tape holds about 500 channel hours, while the DDS-3 will hold about 1,500 hours. Proprietary compression techniques offered by independent vendors will allow you to multiply this ratio significantly. Another archiving media option on the market is AIT (advanced intelligence) cassette. The AIT cassette has a capacity of 25 GB per cassette, while the double-sided MO offers 5.2 GB, or 2.6 GB per side.

Recording The Right Calls
Due to the nature of selective recording, fewer channels and less disk space are needed to record specified calls or perform quality monitoring. This is because recording can be scheduled according to various criteria, including specific agents or extensions, CTI events, call direction, length of call, and in the case of quality assurance, number of calls per representative, wrap-up time, etc. Calls that do not meet your criteria are not recorded.

When monitoring for quality, supervisors have a limited amount of time to review agent calls and may record and evaluate between five to ten calls per representative per month. Therefore, since a select number of calls are being recorded, fewer channels are needed for quality assurance recording.

Choosing The Best Screen Capture Technology
The single most important factor when choosing a screen capture technology is the overall impact that screen recording will have on network bandwidth. The second most important factor is detectability. If agents experience screen slow-down due to monitoring, they will be alerted to the monitoring session and may modify their behavior. Screen recording solutions that take continual snapshots of agent desktop activity, known as “screen scrape” technology, require a tremendous amount of network bandwidth and can easily overload most networks and/or slow down agent applications. Screen capture technologies that record only the deltas, or changes to the screen, have a much lower impact on network resources and are undetectable to the agents.

What To Look For In A System
We’ve discussed the need to record and the tremendous growth in the importance of quality assurance recording. We’ve also touched on the various technologies available to meet call center logging needs. Following is a checklist of points to consider when weighing different recording equipment options.

A scalable solution with an open architecture. When you shop for a recording/quality assurance system, look for one that is scalable in both hardware and software so it can grow with your call center. Also, ensure that applications are ODBC-compliant and can be integrated with, as well as upload, your current databases.

Flexible recording platform. As your call center grows, your recording needs will vary and expand, and you will need a vendor that can support full-time, selective, ROD, quality assurance and screen capture recording on one logger platform. In the future, this recording solution should accommodate different types of recordable media such as e-mail, fax, IVR, instant text chat and others.

Integration capabilities with the leading ACDs. Your recording solution should integrate with the leading ACD providers and preferably be built around a technology partnership between the logging/quality assurance provider and the ACD vendor. Equipment grounded in this relationship will help guarantee that any changes to your ACD technology will not impair your ability to perform logging and quality assurance operations. The same holds true in choosing CTI products — choose equipment that will allow for change and growth without sacrificing any logging and quality assurance functions.

Computer-telephony adaptability and migration to different applications. Look for a logging/quality assurance application that has API (application programming interface) capability and will allow integration, now and in the future, to the specialized computer-telephony applications in your call center, such as predictive dialers, IVR and others.

Adaptability of quality assurance solution to existing quality assurance programs. Nearly all call centers are implementing some form of quality management, even if it’s a paper-based, live service observation. For this reason, call center managers and reviewers are likely already comfortable with a certain process. Your quality assurance application should offer the capability to automate these processes and significantly reduce reviewer workload without forcing your quality assurance department to adopt entirely new practices.

Screen capture technique and your LAN. Look for a data capture application that has low impact on network bandwidth and is undetectable by the call agent when a monitoring session begins.

Archiving, redundancy, alarms and security. In mission-critical logging scenarios, look for robust loggers with a high fault tolerance, advanced system alarms and, in the event of failure, either hot-standby or redundancy capability. In environments where data preservation is critical, remote archiving is a must. Also, look for logging applications with sophisticated, multitiered security access — you want system access controlled, but you don’t want this process to be cumbersome.

Future Call Center Technologies
Call centers are rapidly evolving into contact centers, funneling all methods of communication into a single entry point. Voice, e-mail, Internet and chat boards are combined into a single contact record for each individual customer. As bandwidth to the desktop has become broader and more sophisticated, call centers have rapidly deployed single point of contact technology, allowing customers to communicate their requests through any of the media mentioned above. The “single point of contact” trend is also the direction in which recording technologies must evolve. It will involve voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), a purely digital data recording system that allows all communications media to be combined, and it will redefine the purposes of recording.

A Partner For Success
Not surprisingly, the single most important decision is choosing the right partner. While it’s important to be aware of all of the above, your solution provider should be able to walk you through the entire process, determining the right solutions and configurations for your company. When seeking a solution provider, you should look for a proven track record and references to substantiate technical and integration expertise, research and development resources for future applications, training, consulting, support and user services. These factors will point you toward protecting your investment over the long term.

Jackie Wiedner is director of applications for NICE Systems. She is responsible for marketing and development of NICE’s recording and quality management products. NICE Systems is a provider of integrated digital recording and quality management solutions.

Evaluating Logging And Monitoring Solutions


Making the investment in a quality monitoring or logging system for your customer interaction center (CIC) is an important step in establishing and maintaining certain standards for your organization. Your business focus, goals and vision will serve as key indicators as to whether or not you should travel along the quality monitoring or logging path. Both have very specific purposes and address key business objectives. To make the investment in a technology that best caters to your organization’s needs, it is important on the front end to determine exactly what those needs are and the solution that best meets your requirements.

Monitoring and logging technologies can help improve customer relations and enhance skill sets. There are some basic questions management at any organization considering these technologies must ask themselves. Once you record, what do you wish to achieve? What is your business focus? How do you plan to use the customer interactions you capture? Are you focusing on select interactions by analyzing them and evaluating their effectiveness, or are you storing all calls for liability purposes? Your need will help dictate which type of technology to invest in and what questions to ask as you weigh the options and make your selection.

To Monitor Or To Log?
If you’re recording for legal purposes or tracking emergency service interactions, your business requirement is to record 100 percent of your interactions. It is of the utmost importance that your organization has the ability to track all of these calls and store them for later reference as needed. A logging system will enable you to record all of these interactions and save them for later retrieval as necessary.

If your goal is to focus on specific areas of your business to enhance service standards and coach customer sales/service representatives (CSRs) for improved performance, it may not be necessary, or desirable, to log every interaction. What you need in this instance is a customer interaction recording (CIR) system. The term “quality monitoring” is evolving, as call centers become “contact centers” able to respond to new contact entry points preferred by customers, such as e-mail, the Web and IVR selections. Quality monitoring systems enable customers to apply certain business rules, resulting in end-to-end customer interaction solutions.

META Group, an IT research and advisory services firm, reinforces that evolution. In a research Delta titled Customer Interaction Recording: Vendor Selection, the company takes an in-depth look at CIR, stating, “As corporations enable multimedia customer interaction, traditional recording systems must be upgraded to cross-media recording solutions. Users should focus on vendors delivering flexible/modular observation systems.” (Global Networking Strategies, File 586, 4/10/98.)

Features and functionality differ by vendor, so it’s important to do your homework. To proactively inspect your business, look to a vendor that allows you to focus on your organization’s key interactions or the business rules and objectives you’ve defined as most important. By doing so, you can track all calls or communications relating to a specific project — such as an inbound marketing campaign, for example — by establishing a business rule to trigger recording.

A Look At The Technologies, Features And Functionality
Once you have identified the need for either a CIR or logging solution, there are a number of criteria to consider from a technology standpoint. You’ll want to ensure your framework is complemented by the application you select and the vendor with which you partner. Following are some issues to consider.

Is the solution seamless, robust and nonintrusive? Is it a proven voice and data recording application?
Synchronized voice and data recording and playback is an important feature to consider. Smooth playback of customer interactions is reliable only when both the voice and data capture technologies reside on the same server and are developed by a single source provider. The benefits are multifaceted from functionality, reliability and support standpoints. When data capture is brought in through a third-party developer, this “bolt-on” technology requires timely upgrades with enhancements that match their contact center customers’ needs. This creates another layer of support for you and can increases the chance of adverse conditions due to occurrences beyond the control of the contact center manager. Look for a system in which applications are well integrated, preferably one that resides on a single platform. This ensures a one-stop, reliable solution.

Does the system allow you to set your polling rates?
Look for a data capture technology solution that enables you to set the desired rate at which the server polls changed areas of the CSRs’ screens. This empowers you, the user, to select a level that is optimum for your unique network environment. Only by adjusting polling rates can you ensure fluid presentations.

Can you record and store calls selectively based on specific “business drivers?”
To target specific areas of your business by recording just those interactions that meet specified criteria, look for business-driven recording (BDR) capabilities in your solution. By recording only essential customer interactions, you can examine current conditions in your center to identify trends, opportunities and areas for refined tactics. Targeting vital interactions exclusively helps companies maximize revenue and customer satisfaction while controlling costs by capturing the information needed to enhance service delivery and enterprise processes on an ongoing basis. Further, recording specific transactions enables you to inspect key business processes and provide cues for improvement and optimization. Certain solutions let you establish these “business rules” based on a particular DNIS, ANI or customer account number.

Does the solution support your corporate infrastructure?
More and more, contact centers are migrating to a “free seating” environment, in which CSRs are not constrained to the same location day after day. In this environment, you should have the ability to monitor CSRs regardless of where they are seated. Ask about other recording capabilities to meet your needs, such as “call blocking” to disengage interactions unrelated to the “business rules” you’ve established. Also consider agent-initiated monitoring by CSRs to trigger recording of calls already in progress.

What evaluation solutions and criteria are included?
Ensure an evaluation component is part of your monitoring or logging investment. A sophisticated evaluation and report package that features flexible customer-defined form, report, graph and query creation, can help your center capture accurate, meaningful information, calibrate scoring among evaluators and access the critical data needed to make smart decisions. These evaluations are more than agent scoring tools. Depending on which you select, you can extract information to evaluate many different aspects of your business. Also consider checking if the evaluation tool you’re considering facilitates export of data to a data mart for further analysis and inspection?

Does the system integrate with leading ACDs?
Determine if the system is compatible with your automatic call distributor (ACD) set-up. Ensure your recording solution allows for call wrap-up through the ACD. Once customer interaction is complete, CSRs often continue the transaction wrap-ups from a data perspective. It is useful for your recording solution and ACD to be able to track that final portion of the interaction.

Does the system record intelligently?
Intelligent recording means you can trigger monitoring sessions through rich CTI integration to your ACD or predictive dialer. Look for a solution with powerful CTI capabilities so you can customize the events that initiate recordings using open application programming interfaces (APIs). Take special note of those technologies that have the ability to facilitate “random” monitoring. Random monitoring lets you automatically monitor a percentage, or sample size, of calls and record them for future playback.

Does the system integrate well with top-tiered CTI partners?
Being aligned with topnotch CTI partners is critical. Ask for names and explanations of what advantages they deliver. Automated call recording through rich CTI interfaces drives the ability to record complete calls and perform true random monitoring for inbound, outbound and blended environments, while eliminating the need to track last-minute schedule changes and agent seating locations.

Does the system integrate with leading predictive dialer offerings?
Predictive dialers are unique in that when agents log on and off, the dialer recognizes it as a single, ongoing transaction. Your monitoring application should have integration capabilities that can distinguish when a call begins and ends. When you capture interactions from start to finish, they are much more valuable � making better use of your time and capturing the information you set out to record in the first place.

Does the solution offer an open systems approach?
Select a system that is open and scalable — one that can grow as your enterprise grows and can accommodate new, valuable features down the line. Open systems are less costly to maintain and are better able to scale.

Does the system enable you to handle performance analysis?
The ability to take quality monitoring and logging to new levels is paramount — especially once you collect a set of data. The challenge is how to assign meaningful value to it. What does it tell you about your overall performance? What other information could it provide given specific parameters? Certain vendors’ application suites include a performance optimization tool. It allows you to combine your monitoring and evaluation scores with other metrics in your center, such as ACD statistics, workforce management data, human resource information and more. The ability to automatically combine metrics and measure performance against goals, identify trends and target areas for improvement is valuable. In essence, you’re establishing a closed-looped system to inspect the effectiveness of your center’s processes. What you’re doing is taking recording another step further, which can be a true competitive advantage.

Regardless of your purchase decision, it is most important to determine your needs from the beginning. Once you hone in on your reasons for recording and how you plan to use those captured customer interactions, you’ll be well on your way to making an informed decision on a technology that best suits your technical framework and your organizational needs. Along the way, keep these parameters and tips in mind to ensure you’re getting what you’re being sold on and promised.

Kevin Hegebarth serves as director of product management for Witness Systems, Inc., a developer of customer interaction recording and analysis solutions for the contact center market.

Mission-Critical Quality Monitoring For The 21st Century


Customer relationship management is changing the way the world does business and making call centers strategically critical for business success in the 21st century. This is why successful companies are employing customer relationship management (CRM) applications and architecture in their call centers, and digital quality-monitoring is an important component in their CRM plans.

With digital quality monitoring, companies can listen to their customer representatives and customers interact and the intelligence they garner can help them implement ways to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty and one-up the competition.

CRM can be viewed as a business strategy that views the customer as the most valuable asset of an organization and seeks to deliver superior customer service to achieve optimal profitability. Any business that acts otherwise will likely be left behind.

“The customer is king!” is how the META Group sums up the new way of doing business.

Quality Monitoring Is Mission-Critical
So it should be no surprise that for high customer service, quality-monitoring software is “mission critical,” states a recent GartnerGroup report, echoing other industry analysts and experts who say monitoring software needs to be in place now for call centers to compete and succeed.

Why is this so? Complexity. It takes technology to deliver maximum effectiveness and efficiency in customer service quality assurance programs. Also, call centers are becoming the main point of contact for customers.

In Purdue University’s 1999 Call Center Benchmark Report, 57 percent of the respondents in the study reported that their call centers handle 75 percent or more of their organizations’ customer contacts, and that number is growing. The report summarized that call center managers’ primary focus now is ensuring high-quality customer service.

But consider this: The report also found that 46 percent of call center customers are not happy with the way their calls are handled.

Additionally, the Purdue report found that growing numbers of organizations are employing quality-monitoring software to help them achieve higher customer satisfaction. The benchmark report found 14 percent more organizations were using agent monitoring and coaching software in 1998 than the previous year, and the report projected in 1999 that organizations using quality-monitoring software would grow by 17 percent.

Why Quality Monitoring Is Critical To CRM
It’s no surprise that many large American companies such as IBM, Ford Motor Co. and The Associates were among the first to use quality-monitoring and related CRM applications. Following are some reasons why these companies’ large call centers use quality monitoring.

Quality-monitoring software, which can include screen capture and on-demand recording, is mission-critical because it enhances call center performance in numerous ways. Not only does it boost service levels, customer satisfaction and customer loyalty, but it saves time and dollars.

Fewer people can monitor many more sessions, with recordings automatically scheduled and performed, and hold times are compressed so supervisors’ time is not wasted. Monitoring improves first-call resolution by ensuring the job is done right on the first go-round. One major insurance company improved first-call resolution by 30 percent using a quality-monitoring program, and a major credit card company improved account-handling accuracy by 75 percent.

Quality monitoring is also an essential training tool, allowing agents to hear themselves and others and understand the best way to get the job done. It empowers customer service reps and boosts morale by giving them easy access to their monitoring sessions so they can hear for themselves how they are performing.

Additionally, quality monitoring provides the upper management levels with valuable information so they can evaluate customer transactions and be better positioned to make high-level decisions.

Following is GartnerGroup’s list for “critical functional requirements for call center recording products.” Useful systems should be able to:

  • Simultaneously record voice and screen activity,
  • Record agent activity after call termination,
  • Record voice, e-mail, Web and fax communications,
  • Have the capacity to record 100 percent of all calls on all channels,
  • Link call segments across agents and sites to build a complete record of every transaction,
  • Offer powerful management tools to locate and retrieve specific transactions,
  • Have analytical tools to assess QA and trends,
  • Provide highly functional CTI interfaces between recording devices and switching equipment, and
  • Enable tight integration into voice/data infrastructure recording.

Online Evaluation Programs Maximize Monitoring Value
To maximize the benefits of quality-monitoring software, many companies use online evaluation programs to assess the performance of agents’ recorded sessions. The evaluation software is also used to assess multiple aspects of performance enterprisewide.

Customer Surveys Calibrate Quality Monitoring
Surveys are also a critical CRM component and an extension of quality monitoring because they can help you find out what your customers think of your customer service. What your company thinks is good service may be vastly different from what your customers think is good service.

“Measuring customer feedback and perception is one of the few things that has strategic value to the company, and its time has come,” said Paul Cole, national director of Customer Connections Solutions at Ernst & Young. “The business case can be made, and the technology is in place to do it.”

Aetna Retirement has used survey software to poll customers who call into the company’s call center and has made changes in its customer service based on those responses. Survey software can tell you how your customers rate the way their calls are handled in real-time with no delays. These survey products can tell you immediately what your customers are thinking and are increasingly critical for world-class performance.

Companies that put the customer at the heart of their business strategy and employ technologies that ensure customer service excellence are most likely to win the battle for customers and succeed. Those that don’t aren’t likely to be around long in the 21st century, because it’s true: The customer is king.

Michael J. Tamer is president and CEO of Teknekron Infoswitch Corp. He teaches the benefits of quality monitoring to organizations both in the U.S. and abroad, including the United States Senate. He was a charter employee in sales at Teknekron and, after becoming president, led the company to focus on quality technologies and open architecture platforms.

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