Build a Modern Call Center
Elements of the Windows Server System can help support modern, flexible, customer-pleasing call centers.
by Danielle Ruest and Nelson Ruest
January 10, 2005
Managers of today's call centers live a hard life. Call centers carry many burdens. They need to respond to calls in three minutes or less, integrate with the Web to let the support staff know what the customer did with the product before the call, keep a history of customer complaints, calm testy callers, and more. All of these elements must be orchestrated to ensure customers enjoy a courteous, productive, and speedy experience. After all, unhappy customers are not repeat buyers. Such is a call center manager's lot.
Couple these challenges with the integration of complex analog telephony technologies, and you can see that it can sometimes seem overwhelming for new organizations that want to move into this domain. However, with the advent of Voice over IP and IP telephony, call-center technology has shifted from analog to digital modes, making the implementation of a modern call center much simpler and faster than before.
For an IT manager, the major advantage of this shift is that you no longer need to rely so much on telephony experience to implement a call center. Today, the reliance is much more oriented toward IT experience, making telephony systems much more accessible to the average business, especially because this integration level is now at the distributed processing level.
For example, most IT professionals remember that the original versions of Windows included components such as the Telephony Application Programming Interface (TAPI). In those days, TAPI was an exciting protocol that didn't do much but promised a lot. Professionals dreamed of a day when computers would be linked to telephone systems to give users an integrated experience. Today, the dream is becoming reality with integrated fax technologies and integrated IP telephone systems that use the network as a transport mechanism. Even cable providers now offer IP telephones in the home. All come at vastly reduced costs compared to traditional telephone systems.
The integration of call-center functions might be easier, but the interaction with customers has moved to a new level that requires multiple modes of communication. Some customers prefer to interact with businesses over the telephone, but others prefer more efficient means of interaction, such as e-mail, instant messaging, and self service through Web-enabled forms. For this and other reasons, call centers needs to offer "multimodal" transactions.
In addition, call centers require the integration of several other concepts, both specific to customer-relationship management and call-center management. For example, when a call comes in, the call-center system must be able to forward it not only to the first available attendant, but also to the first available attendant that has appropriate knowledge about the requirements of the caller. This is called competency-based call forwarding and is a basic principle of call-center technology that is a must, especially in centers that must deal with various services offered by the business.
Larger organizations also might have multiple locations for their call centers. This is especially useful for call centers that must provide nationwide or even international support. Having multiple centers helps deal with the various time zones covered by the call center. Call-center technology must support multiple locations by creating a virtualization of the call center and redirecting calls based on agent availability, no matter where the agent is located. Of course, modern call centers must support other key concepts as well (see the sidebar, "A Call-Center Glossary"). These concepts must fit together with technology to provide complete call-center feature coverage, as well as growth and future integration with evolving technological standards (see Figure 1).
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