Technology Terminology

For organisations to obtain value from investment in technology, they must break away from ‘silo thinking’ and adopt a customer-wide strategy. Contact centres rely on a wide range of supporting technologies, so the technology and telephony strategy is critical.

Decisions on appropriate technology can be very difficult. This is a highly complex and confusing market and, while the need for technical ‘how it works’ knowledge is minimal, there must be a fundamental understanding of the features, applications and business benefits of each system.


Automatic call distributors (ACDs)

An ACD is at the hub of contact centre systems. It has been developed to manage inbound calls efficiently. It differs from a normal ‘switch’ in that it can be programmed to direct the distribution of calls dynamically to appropriate agents, depending on skills or functions. It supports the equalisation of the workload across the team and employs a form of queuing system, which can be configured to varying thresholds. Business benefits tend to centre on increased agent productivity and service levels. Though ACDs have traditionally suited organisations with large call volumes, new developments make them suitable for smaller centres. As a technology, the ACD is advanced and proven. It should be capable of integrating with the existing switch, rather than replacing it.


Interactive voice response (IVR)

IVR is a telecommunications system that essentially operates as an automated agent. Through either ‘touch tone’ or ‘speech recognition’, it answers calls, does a variety of pre-programmed tasks, prompts callers for information, provides information, takes messages and routes callers through to the appropriate skilled person and/or function. The pressure to deliver greater efficiencies has led many organisations to incorporate IVR into their call handling to automate routine transactional calls, for example address change or information requests. The business benefits of appropriate IVR integration focus on reduced costs of call handling, speed, convenience and quality of the caller’s experience of the contact centre. There has been some public resistance to automation – not surprisingly, as many organisations can be accused of applying it in an inappropriate, cumbersome and non-customer-focused way that results in frustration for the caller. Careful planning and controlled testing with customer feedback are imperative before IVR is introduced.


Workforce management systems

Workforce management systems deliver the required forecasting, monitoring and adherence capabilities to ensure optimal staffing. The benefits of incorporating such systems can be:
• improved accuracy of forecasts;
• more cost-effective and efficient scheduling; and
• better schedules to help reduce queues and abandoned calls. The reliability of the system depends on the accuracy of the data inputted. It is particularly effective in bigger contact centres (more than 100 seats), but can be used in smaller centres. The chosen system needs to integrate with the ACD and, in some cases, the payroll system. Every contact centre is different, so it is important to ensure that the software is compatible with the environment and can produce suitable reports.
Call recording A valuable technological enhancement for contact centres is automatic call recording equipment. This provides a digital transcript of conversations and is a very useful tool in satisfying compliance, managing customer disputes and evaluating conversation quality.


Computer telephony integration (CTI)

With such a reliance on technology, one of the major challenges for contact centres is the integration of telephony with data. CTI is about the integration of computer equipment with telephone and network equipment, so that the two technologies can share information, thus bringing tangible benefits to the business.

From an inbound perspective, CTI can enable pre-identification of the customer through caller line identifier (CLI) or the use of IVR. This offers an automatic means of searching databases and displaying customer records on agents’ computer screens when calls are delivered to them. This is known as screen popping and has offered increased productivity gains to many organisations. From an outbound perspective, CTI enables the application and use of predictive dialler systems. A predictive dialler dials numbers on behalf of the agent and only puts through calls that are answered. The main aim of predictive dialling is to increase a centre’s contacts by eliminating undesirable calls (for example engaged, no answer, telephone answer machine), thus improving agent productivity. CTI delivers enhanced management information and provides a more comprehensive picture of performance.


Customer relationship management systems (CRM)

CRM is all about knowing more about your customers, so that you can service them appropriately. It is about applying a business philosophy and using technology as an enabler to enhance customer service.

A CRM system is designed to support the collection and analysis of customer-relevant information and make it available to the appropriate people within the organisation across all channels. CRM systems work towards delivering a single integrated view of the customer, enabling customer contact rules to be developed that can trigger specific strategies for servicing customers.

There are many vendors operating in the CRM market and the task of selecting one is difficult. Some local authorities have developed their own in-house approaches by using the council tax or electoral registers to provide a corporate database and deliver staff access to the system via the council’s intranet. (Call and contact centres in local Government – getting it right.)


The web and the contact centre

Increasingly, the web is becoming a popular channel and the challenge for many contact centres is the integration of web-based interactions:

• E-mail management: Handling high volume e-mail traffic requires investment in a dedicated e-mail management system designed to provide knowledge bases, key word search, answers to frequently asked questions, automatic receipting and management of service levels.

• ‘Call me’ buttons: Website requests can be made, via ‘call me’ buttons, for telephone connection to an agent. Multiple ‘call me’ buttons can be posted into different sections of the website to direct enquiries to the most appropriate person. Though it is relatively inexpensive, this form of communication has not by any means taken off to the extent that was originally predicted.

• Web page synchronisation: Agents and customers can browse the same page. Agents can share static and dynamic web content with customers, navigate them around the web, help them complete secure web-based forms or transfer downloadable files.

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