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November 1999

Is Your Call Center Up-To-Date?
If Not, Here Is Your Opportunity


Recently, I have had the pleasure to visit many call centers around the globe, and in my travels I have come to a startling conclusion: most call centers are obsolete. Although many times I was impressed with what I saw, I found time and again a long gap between the marketplace introduction of new technologies (which are designed to improve customer service, lower costs per customer contact and increase profitability) and their adoption by call centers — and this applied to both in-house call centers and those of outsourced teleservices agencies. I believe that one of the major causes for this is that the most productive call centers are thriving and as a result are blissfully unaware of the eminent and real danger facing them, that they are, essentially, the victims of their own success. In other words, they are so caught up in the successes of today that they are not looking to the future of business, which is now knocking loudly on their doors, anxious to move on.

Most call centers I have seen are not yet Web-enabled, and if they are, it is just on an elementary level, such as blindly answering calls generated by a toll-free number listed on a Web site. They are not doing what they really need to be doing in terms of getting involved with e-business and e-commerce. These call centers need to embrace the new, digital communication channel, because the Internet is here to stay. Consumers are crying out for service when they want it and through the medium of their choice. Call centers need to implement solutions that will give them the means to effectively manage multiple customer access channels, including the phone, Web self-service, e-mail, text chat and interactive voice response (IVR), and in the process build effective electronic customer relationships through the integration of these channels. And to build these electronic customer relationships, call centers need to have effective access to all customer information, no matter in which department it originated. Call center agents need instant access to all relative data regarding customer contact history as well as current information from sales and marketing on new pricing plans or marketing campaigns, so that a consistent, enterprisewide message is given to the consumer, no matter what the contact channel. Providing such information to your front-line agents is the first step in implementing an enterprisewide customer relationship management (CRM) solution.

Web chat and a "call-me" or "talk-to-a-live-agent" button should be de rigueur on any e-commerce Web site, and call centers should be equipped to handle these transactions. Hand in glove with these technologies should be Web collaboration tools that allow the agent to push information to the online customer while maintaining their conversation. What is paramount when implementing these solutions is that agents should have all customer, product, company, etc., information available on their desktops when that customer makes contact with the company. This way, call center agents can not only quickly provide the answers and therefore offer more first-call resolution, but also have the information to offer the customer additional vital information or present upselling or cross-selling opportunities. CTI technologies have made such voice/data convergence a reality.
Also helping to define the call center of the next generation are remote agent technologies that allow flexibility in both the handling of calls and greater opportunities for retaining good agents in this tight employment market. As more multimedia PCs are making their way into homes and onto workplace desktops, and video kiosks are being introduced around the country, the ability for call centers to handle Internet telephony and video capabilities will soon be a must.

If your call center is not seriously investigating these new technologies, but is taking a "wait and see" attitude, you are falling behind technology, which means you will become less and less competitive and eventually may have to go out of business.

Is The Call Center Industry Suffering From Marketing Myopia?
In my opinion, the call center industry is definitely suffering from marketing myopia. If you recall, the railroad industry suffered from the same problem and it lost considerable market share to buses, airplanes, trucks, etc. Railroads somehow did not see these other alternatives as a threat to their business. Unfortunately, I think the bulk of the call center industry is not taking the impact of e-commerce and CRM seriously.

If you recall, in the early ’80s, when this publication was first launched and laid the foundation for what is now the multibillion-dollar call center/CRM industry, most every company ignored our magazine’s message that this industry must become automated. For years, many call centers insisted on manual operation until they started losing significant business to automated call centers. Then, and only then, they decided to adopt automation. This time around, however, the impact of e-commerce will be devastating if the call centers do not get involved and do it immediately. In short, the impact e-commerce will have on the call center industry will be one-hundred times greater than that of automation in the early to mid 1980s. In plain English, e-commerce may lead to your extinction if you don’t act now. Is your call center one of the call centers that is lagging behind without being equipped with cutting-edge technology? If so, help is on the way.

Your Blueprint To Take Your Call Centers To The Next Generation
If you haven’t already planned to attend CTI™ EXPO Fall ’99 in Las Vegas, NV December 7-9, 1999, please plan now to do so. This is not a sales pitch, but a statement of reality. Here is how to get the most from your attendance at CTI™  EXPO Fall ’99 to take your call centers to the next level.

  • First, have the latest techniques and technologies explained to you by leading industry experts in our complete, noncommercial conference courses. Our Call Center Technology track features the following sessions:
  • Web-based Self-Service: Are You Driving In Forward Or Reverse?;
  • Best Practices For Internet Call Centers;
  • Purge Old Outbound Strategies For Real Success;
  • Assembling A First Class Customer-Centric Help Desk; Reach The Core Of CRM Success: A Common Data/Knowledge Base;
  • The Call Center Is The Natural Home For CTI; On The Road To Multimedia; Contact Management: Tips To Get On Base In Today’s Ball Game;
  • IP Telephony Uncenters The Call Center; Taking The Plunge Into E-Sales & E-Service;
  • Say What? Designing A Speech Recognition System That Works;
  • Skills-Based Routing: Better Service With Fewer People.

If you feel you have expertise in any of these topics, we also will feature tracks on CTI Technology, Internet Telephony, Development, Next-Gen Services and Human Resources In The Call Center.

In addition to our complete conference courses, CTI™ EXPO will feature 6 free keynote addresses that will present the insights of industry luminaries representing leading communications vendors. The keynote speakers will be: Kevin Kennedy, senior vice president, Cisco Systems, Inc., Service Provider Line of Business; Alexander Gray, Internet Communications vice president, Lucent Technologies; Mark Christensen, vice president and general manager, Intel, Network Communica-tions Group; John Hart, senior vice president and CTO, 3Com Corporation; Alan Anderson, president and CEO, Quintus Corporation; and Thomas Fitzpatrick, vice president and general manager of Carrier Data Networks, Nortel Networks.

Unsurpassed, Free Educational Opportunities Available On The Show Floor At CTI™ EXPO
I know that this, like many industries, can at times seem top-heavy with hype, but we aim to prove the old maxim, seeing is believing. The exhibit hall at CTI™ EXPO Fall ’99 will present live, fully functioning exhibitions of the technologies I have just discussed, so you can see them in action for yourself. The first stop on your tour of the CTI™ EXPO Fall ’99 exhibit hall should be the Live, Multimedia Blended Call Center sponsored by CellIT and its partners. This working call center was so popular at CTI™ EXPO Spring ’99 that we had to bring it back for the fall show. At our spring show, more than 1,000 attendees observed agents at the Live, Multimedia Blended Call Center easily switch between inbound and outbound calls. All told, they had placed or received more than 11,000 calls (using both ATM and IP networking) in the two days the exhibit hall was open.

Your next stop should be the Office of the Future. The purpose of the Office of the Future is to put several technologies in one booth, in a simulated office environment, to give attendees an idea of what their early 21st-century CTI-enabled office might be like. This event will feature companies representing many industry subsets, such as PC-PBXs, unified messaging, video/data conferencing and collaboration, GUI-based call control, speech recognition, Web callthrough, network faxing, sales force automation, mobile/PDA technology, telecommuting and more. This booth will also feature technical staff from each of the participating vendors, along with TMC™ Labs engineers. We’ve also decided to link the Office of the Future to the CellIT Call Center to further our “see it for yourself” mission.

Now that you have seen the Live, Multimedia Blended Call Center and Office of the Future in action, it’s time to move on to the Live CRM Demonstration. This demonstration, sponsored by Quintus, will feature a link between selected Office of the Future vendors and the CellIT Call Center, with demonstrations of this link being conducted at both ends. Everything you do at work all day is ultimately for your customers, and CRM is one more way to make the customer experience faster, better and more positive. The Live CRM Demonstration will showcase products and technology that enable CRM, with field sales, support and back-office stations working in synergy.

Offering your customers more services is a valuable proposition for all call centers. Leading-edge services like converged billing and Internet fax are made possible through the use of IP telephony networks. Our Next-Gen Telco in a Booth will feature self-paced tours of the building blocks and enhanced services that comprise a next-gen telco. Each participating vendor will offer demonstrations, white papers and interoperability displays. This is your opportunity to see what new services these next-gen telcos have to offer your call center to help you get a leg up on your competition.

After seeing what next-gen telcos will have to offer your call center, you should stop by the Networked Home Pavilion, which is a centralized exhibition of today’s manufacturers and service providers specializing in home networking products and services, including PC telephony solutions providers, home phoneline and wireless network manufacturers and structured wiring option providers. As the traditional call center applications of CTI and Internet telephony technologies become more affordable and applicable to other office settings, more and more companies — even home offices — can benefit from the tremendous cost efficiencies that these innovations make possible. You’ll find these products and services demonstrated in this multivendor booth on the exhibit floor featuring industry products geared toward SOHO (small office/home office) technologies. The Pavilion will be sponsored by CurtCo Freedom Group.

While on the show floor, you will have an opportunity to observe the current state of interoperability among various Internet telephony products as demonstrated through the ConvergeNET network. The primary drawback to voice over IP so far is that many products don’t interoperate well, if they interoperate at all. Industry groups are working on standards, like H.323, MGCP, SIP, RTP, etc., but these could take years to become ubiquitous. Also, some of these standards have various levels of compatibility; for example, some products are “more” H.323 compliant than others. So, ConvergeNET will be an overlay of the same network that runs to vendors’ booths, with any vendor in the Internet telephony business welcome to participate. The network will consist of multiple zones, each featuring a gatekeeper vendor and several gateway and client vendors communicating with each other and with the outside world over a common TCP/IP network. Finally, rather than having one spot of the show floor designated as the ConvergeNET area, participating vendors will be given a sign to display at their main booth that indicates their ConvergeNET participation level (gatekeeper, gateway or client).

Our Fall ’99 show will feature the fourth installment of our Learning Centers run by TMC™Labs engineers. A “Learning Center” is a place on the show floor, populated by a handful of CTI companies in the same subset of the business, where show attendees can go to ask technology-specific questions and receive answers that are guaranteed to be objective and technical, not sales/marketing fluff. Our previous three shows’ Learning Centers were among the busiest parts of the show floor. Our topics for Fall ‘99 include CT Media, Development/Testing, Linux CTI, Next-Generation Call Centers, Network CTI and Wireless CTI.

Also while you are on the show floor, don’t forget to stop by the Demo Theatre. There you’ll see showcased about a dozen unique vendor presentations of the latest products on the market. And speaking of vendors, the exhibit hall will be packed with the widest selection of the latest technologies and services ever to grace a TMC™ exhibition.

After taking advantage of all the free educational opportunities outlined above and seeing the best new products and services the hundreds of vendors on the show floor have to offer, if you still have questions about improving your call center operations, we will provide you with the luxury of one-on-one access to industry experts at our Consultants’ Corner. Here you can take advantage of some of the best minds in the industry to help you with any final questions you may have about the blueprint for your next-generation call center.

I encourage you to attend CTI™EXPO Fall ’99 not only as a self-defense against a very potent, competitive threat, but also to ensure the prosperity of your call center by taking it to the next level based on authoritative, objective information. The next-generation call center is here. I look forward to seeing you in Las Vegas.


Nadji Tehrani
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief

Technology Marketing Corporation

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