Don't miss the other installments in this contact center technology guide:
- Emerging contact center technology trends
- Selecting the right call center technology
- Top 10 call center technology must-haves
- FAQ: Making call center technology decisions
Part of SearchCRM.com's Call Center Trend Watch guide
I'm frequently asked what call center technology is essential to build an effective call center. Of course, the answer to this question depends on many things, including the purpose of the call center, its size, the supported channels (calls, emails, chats, faxes, etc.) and the location(s) of the call center. A call center can be complex and technically sophisticated or a relatively simple operation, depending on the needs of the organization. (See Figure 1.) There's a plethora of sophisticated call center technology, systems, applications and tools available to operate a call center. The challenge is to select the right technology, implement it properly, and then optimize performance on a day-to-day basis. Below are some of the must-have technology options for today's call centers:
1. Automatic call distributors and/or dialers: All call centers need a system to process calls and other interaction types like email and chat, as necessary. Automatic call distributors (ACDs) and/or dialers are core call center systems; all other applications are intended to complement and improve the performance of these two underlying systems. Inbound call centers use an ACD to manage the flow of incoming calls and to route them to the most appropriate agent. Meanwhile, outbound call centers require a dialer to place and complete calls.
2. A CRM application/call center servicing application is the second most important technology in call centers. Agents use the servicing application to respond to customers with an understanding of their relationship and value to the enterprise. Call center agents also use the servicing application to document customer issues or requests and steps that were taken to address those issues. This creates a record of interactions that can be accessed the next time the customer reaches out for help.
3. Campaign management system: Outbound call center organizations require a campaign management system (CMS) to let the dialer know whom to contact, or to produce a list of phone numbers or email contacts. A more sophisticated CMS will allow agents to record how each customer has responded to a given campaign.
4. Call recording systems: All sales contact centers and many customer service environments – inbound or outbound – require recording systems to capture all interactions so that they can be replayed if there is a question about an interaction. Some organizations just capture calls; others capture both the call and related screens used to service the customer. The most sophisticated recording systems capture all interaction types, not just calls.
5. Interactive voice response systems/speech recognition systems are self-service tools that automate the handling of incoming customer calls. Advanced interactive voice response (IVR) systems use speech recognition technology to allow customers to interact with the IVR by speaking instead of pushing buttons on their phones. IVR/speech recognition systems can help companies keep their costs down and often automate the handling of 40 to 85 percent of all incoming customer inquiries in industries, such as retail banking, credit card, brokerage, insurance, health care and utilities. Some enterprises also claim that IVR/speech recognition improves service quality, since an automated system can be available when live agents are not on duty. An increasing number of outbound call centers – particularly those doing collections and sales -- are using IVR systems to increase their effectiveness and productivity.
6. Workforce management software is used to forecast the volume of calls (or other interaction types, like emails and chat sessions). Workforce management (WFM) software can help call center managers schedule the optimal number of agents to meet projected needs, taking into account agent breaks, training classes, planned vacations and unplanned sickness. WFM software can automate the process of determining the number of agents that must be hired to ensure that customer transactions are handled at a specified service level. WFM is considered essential for inbound call centers with 100 or more agents or smaller centers that are complex, operating multiple sites and/or handling a variety of interaction types. Recently, outbound call centers have also started to use WFM.
7. Quality management applications are used to measure how well call center agents adhere to internal policies and procedures. These applications are increasingly considered mission-critical for inbound call centers, as they give management insight into call center performance. Quality management (QM) applications are starting to be used in outbound call centers and will eventually become as valuable in those environments as they are in inbound centers.
8. Computer telephony integration (CTI) connects the ACD to the servicing or CMS application. At the most basic level, it delivers a "screen pop," bringing up the customer's account on the agent desktop when it delivers a call. This saves the agent from wasting time looking up customer information and it saves the customer the aggravation of having to provide redundant identification or account numbers. CTI is a major productivity tool for many call centers.
9 and 10. While they are not actually call center systems, it's essential to mention the two primary mechanisms used to transport call center interactions, Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) and Internet Protocol (IP). TDM is the traditional way of moving calls, and IP has recently replaced TDM as the primary mechanism for transporting call center transactions. IP has two primary advantages; it is agnostic about what it moves (calls, emails, chats, faxes) and it can be carried over the less costly, standard telecom data network rather than the old-fashioned voice network designed for analog signalscommunications.
The systems described above are considered essential and are found in the vast majority of call centers with more than 250 agents. However, there are many other call center solutions – some old and some relatively new – that also add great value to enterprises and their customers. They may not be essential, but they often have a rapid and quantifiable return on investment (ROI), which means they should be seriously considered by call center managers. These applications include the following:
• Call center agent coaching
• Call center agent scripting
• Call center performance management software
• Customer surveying software
• Email response management software
• Knowledge management tools (only for certain types of environments)
• Speech analytics software
• Web self-service software
Call centers are complex operating environments that depend on a wide variety of sophisticated technology to process transactions. While call center technology is essential, it's really the agents who leave a lasting impression on customers and they are the key to retaining clients and enhancing relationships.
About the author
Donna Fluss is the founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC, a firm specializing in customer-focused business strategy, operations and technology services for Global 2000 and emerging companies. Ms. Fluss is a recognized thought leader and innovator in CRM, contact center and real-time analytics. For over 23 years, she has helped end users build world-class differentiated contact centers and vendors develop high-value solutions for the market. She is the author of the book, "The Real-Time Contact Center" and many leading industry reports, including the 2006 Speech Analytics Market Report and the annual Quality Management/Liability Recording Product and Market Report.