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November 1998

The Latest Metamorphosis Of The Predictive Dialer


The Software-Based Dialer
Spurred by call centers seeking more efficient ways to reach customers, predictive dialer technology has undergone several amazing metamorphoses. The first was the shift from legacy to client/server architecture, which ushered in a new software-based dialer offering more robust functionality. The popularity of the software-based dialer has grown rapidly while its stand-alone cousin, the legacy dialer, appears close to extinction. In fact, many analysts predict that by 1999, virtually all predictive dialers will be based on a software-centric solution.

Why such wide adoption of the software-based dialer? Because a software-based dialer significantly leverages other call center resources on the network. For instance, predictive dialers running as networkwide applications aren't tied to a physical location. By running on multiple servers, many more agents can utilize predictive dialing capabilities, hence agent productivity is increased.

Communications Server Technology
But client server architecture isn't the only factor affecting the use of predictive dialers. A recent development in the computer-telephony industry is pushing the dialer envelope even further. This development is known as the all-in-one communications server or comm server. While still in its infancy, communications server technology is enabling call centers to unify all interactions on a single server to fully leverage their resources. Because communications server technology marks a dramatic architectural departure from computer-telephony integration, its impact on predictive dialer technology extends far beyond simple feature enhancements.

The power of the communications server lies in its all-in-one architecture. Traditionally proprietary devices such as the PBX, ACD, IVR, voice mail, fax server, Web server, CTI gateway and, yes, the predictive dialer, are all unified via a single platform. No middleware is required to piece together these devices. No additional resources are needed to run the system. With communications server technology, support and maintenance is greatly simplified and costs go down.

The Communications Server Dialer
A predictive dialer running on communications server technology adds flexibility, scalability, breadth of function and standardization to outbound interactions. Imagine unlimited flexibility for call treatment, callback requests, agent routing of outbound calls, and post-call wrap-up functions. Teleservices agencies that need to respond quickly to client requests can easily change applications, develop new ones and provide virtually unlimited call processing options to their outbound clients. For administrative staff in stand-alone outbound centers, a separate PBX is no longer required. In addition, calls requiring interactive voice response applications don't have to be switched to a separate device. Since management tools such as customized reporting are completely open, communications server dialers can also be easily integrated with third-party applications at both the server and client levels.

In addition to outbound enhancements, communications server technology also provides powerful blended capabilities. A unified system enables outbound calls to be queued with inbound interactions if necessary. Thus, agents don't have to be moved between inbound and outbound processing. Another advantage of a unified system is the application of priority levels to a blended environment. For instance, if the tolerance level of outbound calls is low, meaning the outbound called party will not wait for an agent, then a very high priority can be placed on the outbound interaction. Thus, if there is an outbound call as well as an inbound call in a queue, the outbound call will be directed to the agent first.

Like priority levels, the application of skill levels is also enhanced by a unified system. Let's say on a particular campaign, one agent is better than another at closing a sale or making a collection. Perhaps on an inbound call, another agent is better. On a unified system, the predictive dialer can determine the best call for each scenario and route the outbound and inbound calls as necessary. This maximizes agent skill utilization while increasing revenue generation.

Managing a blended environment is perhaps the biggest challenge for call center supervisors. But with a unified system, real-time viewing of outbound and inbound queues is a reality. A supervisor can view calls in queue and determine if the dialer should be manually slowed down. A supervisor can even intervene by selecting calls from the queue for processing.

A unified system also offers the advantage of a single administrative interface for both inbound and outbound interactions. Separate scripts and screen pops for inbound and outbound calls are all defined in a single administrative interface. From this administrative console, users and trunk lines can be added, agent skills can be defined, reporting formats can be changed, outbound parameters can be modified, etc. These administrative functions can even be accomplished in a multisite implementation across a WAN.

The Interaction Center
Communications server technology - and with it, the communications server dialer - is a key component of today's total customer care strategy. As call centers are increasingly expected to deal with myriad interactions, ranging from traditional modes of communication like calls and faxes, to newer forms such as e-mail, digital pages and Web transactions, the name "interaction center" seems a more suitable title. This new role for call centers implies significant interaction management issues. A component-type mentality may work when you're dealing with only one or two communication media, but as these different forms of communication multiply, interaction management across separate systems becomes virtually impossible. You should expect nothing less than total unification of your predictive dialer, IVR, ACD, Web services, etc.

So how would a unified system work utilizing predictive dialer functionality? Suppose you're running an interaction center providing services for time-share customers. A customer finds your Web site and requests a chat with an agent. The agent is able to lead the customer to a form, which logs time-share specifications required by a given customer. That customer is automatically put on a waiting list until a time-share matching the customer's specifications becomes available. When the requested time-share shows availability, a predictive dialer immediately notifies the customer and connects the customer with the original agent using stored ACD parameters.

As this example illustrates, predictive dialing is no longer a simple telemarketing or collections tool. Communications server technology has made possible a variety of sophisticated predictive dialing applications. If call centers expect to evolve into fully formed interaction centers, this latest metamorphosis of the predictive dialer must too be embraced.

Christine Holley, market communications specialist for Interactive Intelligence, is responsible for the company's media relations in the US, Europe and Asia. Ms. Holley has been writing for the high-tech industry since 1994 and has extensive experience marketing for small, high-growth software development firms.

Interactive Intelligence is a global leader in the Windows NT-based computer-telephony integration market. The company sells Enterprise Interaction Center (EIC), an all-in-one communications server for call centers, enterprises and service providers. EIC functions as PBX, IVR, ACD, voice mail system, fax server, CTI gateway and more.


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