First Contact

Solutions for the contact center beat out hot technologies such as mobility, unified messaging and multimedia collaboration as vendors’ top new applications in 2006, according to analyst firm TelecomTactics. Vendors have addressed a number of contact center functions with an eye toward achieving first-contact resolution. Handling customer requests completely during the initial contact is every contact center manager’s goal. To this end, leading vendors are rolling out new solutions that improve the customer experience by making agent-customer interactions faster and more effective and also by monitoring the performance of individual agents and monitoring the contact center as a whole.

Most vendors offer a selection of contact center solutions based on complexity and the type of customer relationship desired – from the most basic (a simple, single-site call center taking inbound voice calls) to more complex, multisite organizations that require multimedia functionality to highly advanced contact centers with sophisticated tools and processes. Regardless of size and complexity, the goal of any contact center is to efficiently handle all aspects of a customer’s request. Consider the following key elements in meeting this goal.

Intelligent routing: Routing customer calls and other forms of communication (e-mail, fax or Web requests) to the most skilled agent, by time of day, per caller input or other defined factors results in better service for customers. A number of vendors have introduced historical call routing, which sends incoming calls and e-mails back to the last extension or the last agent that handled the customer. If the agent is busy, the customer then can be routed to alternate agents whom the caller has spoken to previously.

Multimedia Blending: Multimedia functionality increasingly is becoming an integral part of all contact center environments, improving the efficiency and productivity of a contact center by enabling agents to interact with customers via multiple channels – voice, video, instant messaging, fax and Web chats – all at the same time in the more advanced solutions. At the very least, most current contact center packages support agent-customer interaction via email in addition to telephone calls. TelecomTactics’ research finds that nearly 60 percent of contact center solutions currently on the market offer Web chat and e-mail automation functionality.

Quality Monitoring: The recording and quality monitoring of agents and agent groups within a call center can ensure that customers receive the best service possible. Quality monitoring encompasses a range of applications, including call recording (all calls or those defined by specific rules), silent monitoring, line tapping or handset tapping, quality scoring, agent self-evaluation, trend reporting and metrics, on-demand recording and screen capture. Some systems automatically can send out caller surveys to evaluate an agent’s performance. Supervisors then can “grade” an agent based on what customers report as important.

Self-Service Applications: A number of telecom providers are addressing the growing trend in voice self-service solutions and speech-enabled applications since enterprises benefit from automating more customer service tasks and using the same databases, application servers and business rules for both Web and voice selfservice interactions. Voice XML technology enables a telephone to perform the same self-service functions that can be performed on the Web. In addition to routine inquiries such as checking account balances and paying bills, customers can use a telephone to fill out forms, place orders and request information. More advanced technology, such as self-service that blends speech recognition and video, or other multimedia technologies, is beginning to emerge.

Virtual Networking: Ideally, a customer always will reach the best qualified agent to address their inquiry. One way to meet this goal is by configuring a virtual environment in which geographically dispersed agents can operate within the same skill groups regardless of their location in the contact center network. Calls are routed throughout the network as needed, and locations share databases and network resources for screen pops, reporting and administration.

Visual Tools: New visual and graphical tools are making it easier for agents to serve customers efficiently and allowing managers to successfully monitor overall contact center performance. For agents, the newest graphical user interfaces feature automatic screen pops with customer information, activity logs, contact directories and more. The more advanced tools deliver presence and collaboration information to agents, so they can connect with knowledge experts to get real-time information or they can click to include the expert on the call. For managers, the latest tools provide real-time, colorcoded data on traffic patterns, customer waiting times, agent utilization and other metrics. These tools can identify bottlenecks so managers can reassign customers if necessary (see sidebar below).

Workforce Management: Workforce management solutions automate contact center staffing and agent scheduling so that an agent is always available to receive customer communication. Workforce management ensures agents are performing their assigned tasks at the appropriate times per a schedule, and can even take into account seasonal effects and promotional campaigns to identify possible shortages or excesses in staff. In addition, by tracking peaks and valleys in customer traffic, a contact center can take advantage of excess agents who can shift their focus to sales activities.

Visual Aids

New visual and graphical tools for agents and managers are making it easier for agents to serve customers efficiently and are enabling managers to successfully monitor contact center performance and reconfigure in real time. Below are a few of the new visual tools announced by leading vendors in 2006.

Alcatel-Lucent’s OmniTouch Contact Center Premium Edition introduces a “user-centric” approach with centralized and graphical or “visual” management. Visual CC (pictured), the “cornerstone” of the solution, provides graphical displays of real-time, color-coded data and pre-defined reports that make it easy for team leaders to visualize and configure the contact center parameters instantly according to traffic patterns, alerts and waiting times.
Avaya’s Interaction Center 7.1 enhances the traditional ACD by incorporating Web Chat, E-mail Response, and Web CallBack. SIP capabilities for the Avaya IP Agent PC application add presence and instant messaging, improving the communication among agents and knowledge experts who can help with customer requests. Avaya’s Operational Analyst consolidates data to present a “360-degree view” of agent-customer interactions and overall contact center performance. Among the real-time operational reports is “Service Class and Queue Performance” (pictured) that compares statistics among service classes and queues.
Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories Inc., an Alcatel- Lucent company, addresses resource optimization with the Genesys 7.5 Customer Interaction Management Platform and the company’s Workforce Management product. Pictured is a WFM Supervisor’s forecast view that publishes information on agent scheduling and the number of agents required to staff a contact center at a given time per specific service levels. A forthcoming new solution, the Dynamic Contact Center Dashboard and Customer Experience Composer will provide visibility into all operations, including inbound and outbound calls, campaigns and calls in queue.
Interactive Intelligence Inc. offers the Interaction Optimizer, a new workforce management module for the company’s Customer Interaction Center (CIC). Interaction Optimizer (pictured) enables forecasting, scheduling and a real-time adherence features for supervisors. The software module helps a contact center improve agent productivity and effectiveness, while ensuring that agents are performing their assigned tasks at the appropriate time per the schedule. Optimizer also provides “demand forecasting” which considers seasonal effects and promotional campaigns to identify possible shortages or excesses in staff.
Mitel addresses excellence in the contact center environment with the Mitel Customer Interaction Solution and the add-on application, Visual Queue (pictured). Managers can take advantage of centralized management and visuals across the entire distributed environment, identifying callers and re-prioritizing them from one queue to another using a simple drag-and-drop operation. Each customer is matched with the best available resource. Presence integration lets agents reach back into the organization and across supply chains to find the right expert to immediately resolve a customer inquiry.

Nortel’s SIP Contact Center 6.0 solution adds a new Supervisor Client that displays tabular and graphical reports with visual or audible alarms (pictured). Supervisors can record and monitor agent communications, not only for voice calls, but also screen information from e-mails and Web chats. A new Agent Desktop combines a telephony toolbar, customer details, a contact toolbar, an activity log (basic, e-mail or Web), current contact details (depending on type of contact – voice, e-mail or Web), a contact timer and status indicator. The new desktop brings together all multimedia contact types and also presents outbound campaign scripts within a single tool.

Sandra M. Gustavsen is an analyst covering enterprise systems for TelecomTactics, , a database publisher and analyst group within Access Intelligence LLC. She can be reached at .

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Access Intelligence LLC
Avaya Inc.
Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories Inc.
Interactive Intelligence Inc.
Mitel Networks Corp.
Nortel Networks

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