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December 2003

CEO Spotlight This month, for the CEO Spotlight, the editors of Customer Inter@ction Solutions® spoke with Geoffrey Burr, president and chief executive officer of Castel, Inc.

What is your company’s specialty and mission statement?

Castel, Inc. develops, markets and supports call management solutions designed to increase the productivity of outbound and inbound customer contact centers, while improving the customer experience and complying with all outbound calling regulations. We design our modular solutions to integrate with existing contact center environments that support applications such as customer service, teleservicing and collections.

For nearly two decades, Castel has been pioneering software solutions that enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of customer contact operations. We were the first to capitalize on the power of ISDN for communicating directly with the telephone network. We have also implemented a series of call-handling capabilities, such as:

• Host-based predictive dialing and call distribution,
• Skills-based routing,
• Value-added routing,
• Inbound/outbound call blending, and
• Dynamic caller I.D.

Today, our mission is to deliver exceptional CTI-based solutions for business-critical customer contact applications. Driven by a commitment to excellence, we are dedicated to providing superior products and services that enable our customers to meet and exceed their business goals.

What makes your services unique and how can users benefit by using them?

Castel offers an outbound call management solution, which is fundamentally different from traditional predictive dialing systems. Our solution allows businesses to make, and take, more customer calls without the hindrance of dead air, abandoned calls or “unknown” caller I.D. What distinguishes the Castel offering from traditional dialer systems is a patent-pending technology that communicates directly with the public switched telephone network at the command and control layer. This peer-to-peer communications approach to dialing provides answer detection that is 100 percent accurate, 100 percent of the time. In other words, agents are connected to every call in time to hear the called party’s first “hello.”

What does the traditional predictive dialer call sound like? Your phone rings, you answer it and listen to silence. This “dead air” delivered by the dialer forms a barrier between your customers and your representatives, and saps the performance and productivity out of each call. So we feel that hearing the first “hello” is more than a system capability. We see it as a business advantage.

Castel solutions are modular and can include call management software, CTI interface, a softswitching platform and a full suite of productivity-enhancing options. Our solution delivers the capabilities and the capacity needed now and the flexibility to grow as customer-contact requirements change.

What, in your opinion, is the most pressing issue facing our industry today?

Today’s contact centers are trying to balance agent productivity with compliance to government regulations. Global economic pressures are driving centers to produce more with less, while state and federal regulations governing outbound calling are seen as restricting productivity.

What is interesting is that the real impact of these regulations does not come from the do-not-call registry, but from the other “predictive dialer” regulations. The DNC registry affects a relatively small percentage of the nation’s daily outbound call volume, while the other regulations governing agent response time, three percent abandoned call rate and meaningful caller I.D. apply to every outbound call made to an American consumer…no matter where the call originates.

There is no doubt that the impact these regulations will have on our industry is going to be significant. While many people say the new rules will decimate the industry, the truth is the rules will help. Those companies that go out of business as a result of the new regulations will do so out of choice, not government decree.

When predictive dialers first became widely available, a 200 to 300 percent jump in productivity was the norm. Today, contact center managers are searching for ways to ratchet up productivity a few percentage points with every add-on and upgrade. What consumers want is personalized service. They want someone to answer their greeting. Outbound calling businesses have focused on agent performance instead of customer satisfaction. The technology exists to make businesses compliant with the regulations, while improving the customer experience and increasing agent productivity. It’s not the end of the world…but it is the day of reckoning.

What are your recommendations to alleviate such problems?

The most practical method for striking the delicate balance between productivity and compliance is to implement a call management technology that, among other things, provides instantaneous answer detection. Communicating with the telephone network as a true network peer, Castel’s outbound solution receives the “off-hook” message that indicates a connection and routes the call, and its associated data screen, to an agent in time to hear the called party’s first hello. Other answer detection schemes, such as those based on DTMF tones, DSP noise analysis or digital T1 A/B bit signaling, cannot provide 100 percent answer certainty 100 percent of the time. Peer-to-peer signaling can.

Hearing the first “hello” effectively eliminates the dead air consumers have come to associate with nuisance calls. In addition to eliminating dead air, the Castel call management solution can eliminate abandoned calls. The combination of instantaneous answer detection and our unique heuristic call placement algorithm automatically adjusts calling rates to help ensure that there is an agent available for every answered call. The solution monitors the answer rate of each campaign and the time agents spend on calls, then adjusts call placement as needed in real-time. This translates into the kind of person-to-person communication that operations should be giving people, rather than the machine-induced annoyance that has come to exemplify the call center industry.

Eradicating dead air and eliminating abandoned calls are a few of the unique capabilities available with a Castel solution. Other important features include: dynamic caller I.D. on a call-by basis, outbound/ inbound call blending, seamless integration with existing customer-contact applications and a wide array of calling activity monitors and reports.

Castel can help cost-effectively add as many agent positions (outbound or inbound) as wanted. There is virtually no limit to the number of agents that can be supported. It also liberates customer contact applications from the confines of the call center facility. Using in-place voice and data networks, Castel can support any agent at any desk, anywhere in the world. Castel’s server-based architecture is capable of centrally managing a series of distributed calling operations. Together these functions free the user from the sizing and facility restrictions inherent in many conventional call center systems.

Finally, while our solution increases productivity, it also decreases outbound calling costs. With a Castel solution, call center operating expenses for personnel, telephone line usage, add-on systems, wiring, facilities and specialized programming can be reduced. Castel customers have seen their systems pay for themselves in less than a year through cost savings alone.

With a growing number of businesses thinking about eliminating outbound calling from their customer-contact repertoire, those organizations that eliminate nuisance calls with the right technology will rapidly join the ranks of the top companies in their market segment. There is tremendous potential in this industry for those willing to make the necessary technological changes.

What is your vision of the future of the CRM/contact center/teleservices industry?

The simple fact is that the telephone is still the best medium available for contacting your customers. Unfortunately, this valuable tool has been abused to the point that consumers banded together to demand their government set restrictions and strengthen regulations.

Society has spoken, and if you listen to what they are really saying, you’ll see that it is good for our industry. They are fed up with the impersonal attributes of machine-driven calling. The silences. The wrong messages. The abandonment. They don’t mind personal calls or information that is important.

What the industry has to achieve is the sense of personalized communications with its customer base that is intelligently managed by technology. If you can contact the right customer with the right offer and give him or her the impression that the number was dialed personally, then you have established a lasting relationship.
Here’s what I see for the future of this industry: person-to-person contact …at about 20,000 calls an hour.

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