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call center technology solutions
November 1999

PC-PBX And PC-ACD Integration For A Cutting-Edge Call Center


Optimum customer satisfaction depends on a call center's ability to process calls quickly and effectively. The introduction of the next-generation PC-based PBXs, combined with integrated ACD technology, has brought high-end, cutting-edge telecom technology to the mainstream. At greatly reduced cost and complexity, this new-wave solution has enabled enhanced services and increased opportunity to small and medium-sized call centers. By providing the resources previously available only to the Fortune 500 set, the PC-based PBX is able to handle customer calls quickly and effectively at a fraction of the price of traditional, proprietary PBXs.

In particular, ACD technology has played an important role in the enhancement of call center solutions because of its ability to answer, organize, prioritize and route incoming calls automatically to the next available representative, allowing companies to use resources more efficiently. With multiple ACDs, different representatives can handle different requests and still back up one another — something that was not possible before. Until recently, the lack of phone system flexibility and the costs involved with incorporating ACD technology into proprietary phone systems has kept ACD technology from achieving its full potential.

The solution? Open platform technology, which is revolutionizing the integration between PC-PBXs and ACD functionality, enabling seamless interoperability between previously disparate systems. By integrating PC-PBX and PC-ACD systems, call centers are able to fully maximize call processing efficiency by bringing the power of a standards-based desktop platform together with the effectiveness of integrated intelligent call management features in one box.

Why consider a next-generation phone system? Costly proprietary phone systems, by their very nature, do not allow for integration. Each system has its own user interfaces, configuration and maintenance requirements. When possible, the introduction of new and different vendor hardware and software can be extremely time-consuming, unreliable and expensive. Integrating proprietary systems requires extensive training and learning curves. And with multiple wiring systems, troubleshooting becomes more complicated and time-consuming. Furthermore, proprietary systems are not "aware" of each other, and therefore lack interoperability and the ability to leverage one another's capabilities.

With integrated standards-based systems, installation and configuration are ultimately made easier because there is a common look and logic. Integrated diagnostics make troubleshooting easier and reduce downtime. Also, users need only be trained on one system since what is learned in one environment easily translates to the other, thus decreasing the learning curve. Integrating systems also allows for customized volume control and better sound quality, as there is less analog to digital conversion. Additionally, integrated systems are more graphical and user friendly because they were designed to take advantage of standards-based networking technology.

PC-PBX/PC-ACD integration creates a feature-rich solution that can be implemented in a variety of scenarios that enhance day-to-day call center activities. For example, users can create call flow reports, which help track the number of customers waiting in queue, wait times and abandons. Integrated CTI applications enable departments to use pop-up screens displaying customer historical information from a database. For instant customer handling, other features include auto-attendants that ask the caller to press numbers to route them directly to agents serving their specific needs. Other menu levels break down calls into different services and all menu choices are logged. End users can quickly and easily reschedule call flows, modify prompts online or remotely, and modify or rerecord voice messages for daytime, nights and holidays. Furthermore, end users exercise full control over changing extension assignments and warning thresholds based on queue lengths and hold times, so if calls "pile up," an announcement can be sent directly through the company's overhead paging system.

To boost efficiency further, many noncustomer and nonsales calls can now be handled by voice mail and automated attendants, which answer and route incoming calls without the need for a dedicated attendant. Automated attendants ensure that sales representatives handle sales calls while other inquiries go to the appropriate customer service or administrative staff members.

As the number of mobile workers and telecommuters increases, integrated PC-PBX/PC-ACD solutions immediately provide features that make their off-site jobs much easier. For example, a caller can be connected to a mobile worker's home phone, cell phone or even hotel phone, and advanced messaging features can alert telecommuters of voice mail or faxes through e-mail. With the capability to log on to the system from almost any remote location, employees are able to stay well connected. Integrated PBX/ACD systems enable both inbound and outbound marketing efforts, as well as customer service activities, to be handled by employees working from home or at the office.

Ultimately, integration allows the ACD to leverage the PBX capabilities and vice versa, creating a complete solution that helps increase call center responsiveness to customer demands and improve the overall customer experience.

Following are some important factors and buying tips to consider when evaluating integrated PBX/ACD solutions.

  • Conduct a cost comparison. If a phone system is already in place, determine the cost to upgrade to a solution that encompasses ACD functionality, then consider the cost of a next-generation PC-PBX phone system with ACD integration. Integrated systems are priced considerably lower than the cost to upgrade an existing proprietary system.
  • Be sure the PC-PBX and ACD share a centralized database. A centralized database allows users to easily add, move and change system functions. This not only reduces costs, but also the time spent learning system capabilities.
  • Consider call reporting features. With many proprietary phone systems, call reports are difficult to obtain and in most cases require an expensive third-party call reporting package. Integrated systems usually have a reporting package that easily tracks call activity information including call time, date, extension, busy signals, volume, call length, etc. Call reporting features help system administrators make decisions about issues before they become problems.
  • Understand the importance of CTI stations. Integrated solutions should have CTI stations capable of database lookups based on caller I.D. information and also should display ACD status information for immediate customer response time.
  • Check the auto-attendant. Be sure auto-attendants are able to reliably front-end the system, seamlessly routing each call to the ACD queue.

Typically, an integrated system is priced at about $500 to $1,000 per seat, which is significantly lower than installing two separate phone systems. Integrated systems usually provide a quick return on investment due to the ease of management, reduced training costs, simplified maintenance and increased productivity.

Substantive technology changes in the computer-telephony arena can quickly enhance customer satisfaction and your business's bottom line. Employing cutting-edge, standards-based technology gives businesses, their call centers and their customers access to flexible, feature-rich capabilities. The PC-PBX, combined with ACD technology, provides an application-intelligent, interoperable and cost-effective platform upon which a business can grow.

Vince Corning is the product marketing manager for open-application and Windows 2000-based products at Picazo Communications, Inc. Picazo designs, develops and markets business communications solutions, including telephony application software and integrated server-based telephony systems, specializing in integrated standards-based solutions.

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