TMCnet - The World's Largest Communications and Technology Community
ITEXPO begins in:   New Coverage :  Asterisk  |  Fax Software  |  SIP Phones  |  Small Cells

TMC Labs
April 2001

NiceLog System

NICE Systems
200 Plaza Dr., 4th Fl.
Secaucus, NJ 07094
Ph: 888-577-6423; Fx: 201-617-9898
Web site: www.nice.com

Price: Starts at $60,000 (100-seat contact center) and varies depending on size and configurations. NICE has also recently introduced NiceAdvantage, its under 100-seat contact center solution, with scaled-down capacity and pricing for smaller contact centers.

2001 Editors' Choice Awards

Installation: 5
Documentation: 5
Features: 5
GUI: 4.75
Overall: A

Recording and monitoring systems have almost always had a place within the mid-to-large-sized call center, but certainly today they are an absolute requirement. In the past, recording the voice conversation along with perhaps some CTI information such as Caller ID or account number was all that was required. Today, however, communicating with your customers has evolved to include e-mail, chat and even VoIP. Thus, it is important that newer generation recording and monitoring systems are 'all encompassing' to include these new media types as well architected to allow for future media types. Many of today's advanced products also capture information from an agent's screen and associate it with the voice recording of the call to better capture the experience between the customer and the agent.

Another important trend in recording and monitoring products is to provide not only record-and-playback functionality, but also evaluation tools, analysis and data for coaching agents to improve the customer experience. By capturing calls, followed by evaluating calls, then performing analysis of the evaluations (as well as reports), followed by coaching of agents, and finally capturing future calls for agent re-evaluation, the complete cycle of both the customer experience and the agent's performance can be realized.

In today's highly competitive world, it is very important to not only build customer loyalty, but to keep it. That is why CRM products have become a multibillion-dollar business. Tracking the customer experience 'cradle-to-grave,' even if the call is transferred several times across multiple call centers, helps ensure a happy, loyal customer. Mistakes will surely happen, but with the proper CRM solutions, pinpointing these problems will be possible.

TMC Labs took a test drive of NICE Systems NiceLog System version 8.5, which includes this 'cradle-to-grave' functionality due to its integration with the NICE Analyzer, a data analysis tool that NICE developed through its acquisition of CenterPoint Solutions last year. TMC Labs determined that NICE Systems has a wide breadth of features as well as integration with several third-party software vendors that are leaders in their respective fields. For instance, NICE Systems has an ActiveX control that can be embedded into systems from Siebel, Vantive, Clarify and more, allowing an agent to initiate recording at the touch of a button or even automatically when the agent enters a certain field or screen. NICE Systems also integrates with leading workforce management products, such as Blue Pumpkin, to determine if the recording schedule defined coincides with the agent's work schedule. Since recording technologies have become so mission-critical, NICE Systems has also integrated its product with Computer Associates' Unicenter TNG, a comprehensive system health-monitoring tool, to observe NICE Systems' resources, including servers and databases.

Additionally, in the next release (version 8.7), NICE Systems will integrate with e-mail management systems from companies such as Kana, eGain, Genesys and Lucent. This will allow a supervisor to do a search within the NiceLog System, based on the e-mail address or the subject of an e-mail, and then be able to playback the screen recording of the e-mail response. This will show, in real-time, the typing speed of the agent, typos, grammatical errors and the like, as well as the content of the message ' all of which are important for quality assurance and training purposes. The next release will also have VoIP recording capabilities, supporting up to 24 channels.

Also in the next release will be integration with Astound's training module. As a result, a user will be able to trigger a particular Astound training session if an agent's evaluation scores reach a certain threshold. The particular training session initiated would depend on which task the agent failed.

NICE Systems always installs the server software themselves, so we had no need to perform this step. We did examine the initial configuration of the system, administration, as well as the installation of the client software. Initial configuration required first defining a site with Nice Administrator, and then defining agents, creating groups, servers, as well as the input and output channels. We also configured each agent with certain privileges and assigned them to specific groups. The interface for configuring the system was very well organized and featured the ability to administer multiple sites or systems across an IP network. Overall, installation was a breeze and initial configuration was relatively simple considering the complexity of the system, thus earning a perfect 5 rating.

We found it odd that the Administrator manual didn't discuss the screen recording functionality. Although the screen recording functionality is discussed in the other manuals, we couldn't find a discussion of how to install the client app needed on the agents' PCs to capture the screens.

Other than this minor complaint, we were quite pleased with the documentation. All the manuals were very well organized, contained a plethora of screenshots, and each had a good table of contents and index. Explanations on how to perform certain functions were very detailed and comprehensive.

The NiceLog System features an impressive 38,000 hours of online storage, and will double with the release of version 8.7. NICE Systems licenses several switch manufacturers' proprietary codes in order to support direct digital integration with the switch, eliminating the need for digital-to-analog converters. Support for digital integration includes switches from Aspect, Ericsson, Lucent, NEC, Nortel and Siemens. The system supports extension recording, trunk side recording, as well as direct connection (DS0 card) to the switch. Support for 120 digital channels or 210 E1 trunks is available on this product. For redundancy, an optional 'N+1 Logger' chain is available to automatically re-route recording duties to a standby Logger in the event a Logger fails.

The NiceLog System can capture audio and the screen for a complete 'picture' of the customer experience. In addition, the status of agents can be viewed for monitoring and recording interactions in real-time. During playback of recordings, evaluations can be performed to score the agent's performance. The Audio Logger supports 'no compression' (64Kbps PCM), 2:1 compression (32Kbps), and 4:1 compression (16Kbps). In addition, its best compression algorithm features a compression ratio of 11.4:1 or 5.6Kbps. Other compression formats are also available.

Other features include:

  • Free seating support.
  • Distribution of call recordings via e-mail, including both voice and screen capture.
  • A recording trigger based on scheduling criteria, as well as when a particular software application is launched. Also, a recording can execute once a particular window or data-entry field is clicked.
  • Query recordings using over 50 search criteria.
  • Playback via phone or across LAN using speakers.
  • Synchronized playback of voice and screen.
  • ODBC- and SQL-compliant database.
  • Silence can be ignored to conserve disk space and reduce playback time.
  • Recording can be initiated by detecting sound level, external trigger (radio squelch), human voice detection, as well as by the phone going on/off hook.
  • Optional, automatic label printing with unique media and logger ID for archiving to a DAT/AIT/MO cartridge. A label is printed as a cartridge is ejected from the Logger.

Operational Testing
Other than the installation and administration, there are essentially four main components we examined during our testing process. The components included scheduling calls, querying calls, playback and monitoring of calls and evaluating calls. We looked for usability, as well as the feature set for each of these components.

Scheduling Calls
Defining a new call schedule was surprisingly simple, yet very feature-rich. From the NiceUniverse Scheduler, we could view all the existing schedules, edit a schedule or define a new schedule. We added a schedule called 'Tech Support' and proceeded to define the parameters, such as 'Daily,' the hours, the start date, recording mode (random, sequential or percentage) and various other settings. We liked the graphical user interface for defining schedules very much. We could highlight particular hours to record simply by left-dragging the mouse across the 0-23 hour time block. Within the 'Conditions' tab, we could define the call direction (inbound, outbound, internal or all), the media (voice, screen) and the recording conditions, which included DNIS, ANI, dialed number and Client ID (entered via DTMF or database lookup). Within the third tab (Agents), we could assign certain agents to this particular program schedule. Overall, we found scheduling to be one of the most intuitive and powerful aspects of the NiceLog System.

Querying Calls
We tested the ability to query calls for playback and were very impressed with the system's powerful querying capabilities. From NiceUniverse Evaluator, we could filter based on audio calls only, audio and screen capture calls, locked calls, calls by a specific agent, time or date, duration, CTI information, customer number and much more. One filter capability call center managers will find useful is the ability to query all calls that have not yet been evaluated. A user's most commonly used queries can be stored directly within the NiceUniverse Evaluator GUI for easy future execution.

Playback And Monitoring Calls
Playback of calls is done directly from within NiceUniverse Evaluator, which makes sense since this is where we 'drilled down' to the calls we wished to examine. Recordings with just a speaker icon are audio only, and the recordings that show a speaker overlaid on top of a computer monitor include both audio and screen capture. Also, recordings with a computer monitor icon only are screen captures with no audio. This made it easy to determine the type of recording very quickly. In addition, the fields for each recording show the duration of the recording, the agent's name and extension, whether or not the call has been evaluated and other useful information.

Monitoring an agent was an easy task. A status icon depicts whether an agent is active (on phone) or inactive. We were able to highlight one of the agents, right-click and choose Monitor. Our phone extension then rang and we were able to listen in on the voice conversation. Simultaneously, on our screen, NICE Systems' screen monitoring application popped up and we were able to view the agent's mouse movements and keystrokes in real-time.

In addition, we could have also right-clicked on the agent and chosen 'Record' to initiate a manual recording of that particular call. If at any point we then clicked on the 'Stop' button, we were then prompted with 'Stop Recording,' 'Stop Monitoring' or 'Stop Recording and Monitoring,' which we felt was a nice feature. Another good feature is that this product supports the ability to allow multiple call center managers to monitor the same agent at the same time. Usually, with most monitoring products, you are limited to just one person monitoring a particular agent at any one time.

Evaluating Calls
There are essentially two parts to evaluating calls. One is to evaluate each call using forms created with NICE Systems' form designer. The second part is to run reports based on these evaluation forms to determine meaningful statistics. We tested both parts and were pleased with the results.

First, we needed to design an evaluation form. A form designer wizard guided us step-by-step in creating our first evaluation form. We were able to add questions such as, 'Did the agent state his/her name?' with a yes/no choice to the form. In addition, we could define scoring and weighting formulas, using a check box, scorable list or weighted combo controls. Overall, creating evaluation forms was a snap. Actually using the forms was just as easy. Simply by right-clicking on a call recording and choosing Evaluate, we saw the list of evaluation forms displayed.

Next, we chose which form we wanted. At this point, there is the option of 'scoring' the agent's performance using the evaluation form. However, if we hadn't previously listened to the recording (or watched it, in the case of screen capture), we could actually play back the recording from within the evaluation form. This integration of the evaluation forms with recording playback certainly makes call center managers' jobs less painful and more efficient.

After applying some evaluations to several recordings, we tested the sample reports included in the system. The sample reports are excellent, with useful statistics and in a very readable format. We asked NICE Systems if the reports were designed using Crystal Reports, and they told us 'no,' but that the next version is actually going to be converted to Crystal Reports, which will make it even better. One final note regarding the reports: the reporting can actually compare several evaluations of the same call across multiple evaluators to ensure fairness and establish benchmarks. Call center supervisors will find this particular report an invaluable tool!

Here are some final points we discovered during our tests. First, the product supports field-level security by agent, so certain database fields can be hidden from view. Second, the product supports an 'enterprise view,' so all recorders can be seen even if they are located in separate locations. The recordings will actually store the first or last 48 DTMF digits, which can be useful in troubleshooting an IVR or determining what information the customer needed. Finally, the product supports automatic deletion of the oldest audio after it has been archived, saving a manual process.

Room For Improvement
The query expression builder doesn't allow for parentheses to define nested and more complex queries. Although we believe NICE Systems tried to keep this feature as simple as possible, we would like to see this capability in a future release.

The GUI ratings would have been a perfect 5, except the server contains a plethora of separate applications for monitoring various parameters. Some are just screens displaying scrolling text status messages. We feel these separate programs (which took up a lot of screen real estate) should be combined into a single administration/monitoring interface to make it more manageable.

There is a button on the toolbar to 'Evaluate next call.' Pressing this button automatically highlights the next call on the screen and starts the evaluation process, but we couldn't find an 'Evaluate' button to evaluate the currently highlighted call. We attempted to see if the toolbar could be customized to add this button, but were unsuccessful. Adding this Evaluate button would be a nice plus for those who prefer toolbar buttons to using right-click functionality to evaluate a call. One other minor usability suggestion would be to allow the F2 key (an Explorer function) to rename a folder within NiceUniverse Evaluator.

Selecting the media types to be recorded (voice and screen in version 8.5) is determined by each scheduled program in the Scheduler. Consider, however, the user who may want to record all of a particular department's voice calls, but only some of the agents' screens. As the product stands now, users need to define two separate schedules, assigning one set of agents to 'voice and screen' and the second set to just 'voice.' Thus, we would like the ability to assign default recording media types directly to each agent within the administrator program. In that case, if we assign John Doe to 'default' to both voice and screen recording, then any time John Doe is scheduled to be recorded, both voice and screen will automatically be captured. In essence, the Scheduler would 'inherit' the media type settings assigned to each agent. Of course, an option to 'override' the agent's default media recording settings within the Scheduler should also be available.

There are four key areas any potential buyer of a monitoring and recording system should look for. One, the product needs to allow for total recording of all calls, selective calls (random, percentage, scheduled), recording on demand, as well as real-time monitoring of active calls. Two, the product should not only record the voice conversation, but also the agent's screen to completely capture the customer and agent experience. Three, the product needs to support integration into leading third-party call center applications, such as workforce management, evaluation/reporting modules, system health monitoring utilities and e-mail routing. Last, the product should be simple enough to use so call center managers can easily retrieve call recordings, perform evaluations and run meaningful reports.

TMC Labs is pleased to report that NICE Systems fulfilled our four criteria with flying colors. NICE Systems has designed one of the most, if not the most, comprehensive call recording and monitoring systems on the market today. TMC Labs was very impressed with NICE Systems' extensive list of supported third-party applications, fantastic reporting and its very easy-to-use query and playback system. TMC Labs recommends NICE Systems' product without reservation.

[ Return To The April 2001 Table Of Contents ]

Upcoming Events
ITEXPO West 2012
October 2- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
The World's Premier Managed Services and Cloud Computing Event
Click for Dates and Locations
Mobility Tech Conference & Expo
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
Cloud Communications Summit
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas

Subscribe FREE to all of TMC's monthly magazines. Click here now.