Bringing the traditional call centres into the new age of multimedia

Though call centre technology has advanced over the years, it is only recently that communication integration is capable of responding in a coherent fashion to customer queries across a variety of devices. In the days of yore, text chat was non existent, voice mail responded to with some latency and e-mail often went to Web masters instead of the help desk.

Avaya Inc.’s CentreVu Internet Solutions allow call centre representatives to respond to e-mail, voice mail, text chat and traditional live calls, all without having to prioritize. CentreVu does it for them.

“What we are finding is the service levels for e-mail are atrocious…they end up with the webmaster,” explained Keith Smithers, senior solution architect in professional services with Avaya in Toronto.

“The webmaster doesn’t have a clue about the products or the services that the company is offering.”

Calls are handled much the same way as with traditional call centres. They are prioritized and moved to the next representative with the necessary skill set. But during lulls e-mail queries can be answered and if an incoming call arrives, the e-mail will be moved into the background, thus prioritizing live conversation. Representatives can also respond to faxes or carry on simultaneous text chats. According to Alpa Shah, research manager at Frost and Sullivan Inc. in San Jose, Calif., this sort of communication consolidation is a trend in the industry.

The fact the technology evenly and seamlessly distributes the calls and e-mails was a nice touch for Roger McILmoyle, manager, technical services for TLC Laser Eye Centers in Mississauga, but the addition of skills based routing was as important given the variety of calls a surgical centre can receive.

“[We] had agents that were better than others and wanted them to be associated with certain types of calls, so [we] needed skills-based routing,” he said,

Within the system, agents can be rated so a call goes to the best available agent. It can also determine who has been the busiest and route more fairly, not just based on the number of calls an agent receives but also length of the calls, he added.

Internal and external

TLC has both an internal call centre, for IT technical support, and an external one for customers. The move to CentreVu was initially done internally. Prior to the change the internal call centre was just an 800 number attached to a phone.

“It was like a hot seat, who ever got it that day had a bad day,” McILmoyle, said. The average 40 or 50 calls a day, with as many as three active calls.

The company was in the midst of moving its call centre to a new building so a decision was made to establish a proper call centre for the technical helpdesk. TLC wanted IT helpdesk to be able accept input a variety of ways.

“The pilot for the tech help had a massive impact of the perception of the help desk,” he explained.

Prior to its inception employees often decided up front that there was no point in calling the help desk since whom ever was on the phone was invariably having a bad day, he added.

Within about a month there was a shift away from phone calls because employees found that they got a quick response with e-mail, he said.

For external calls, besides the desire to have seamless skills based routing, TLC also wanted to interact with the customer as they saw fit.

“We wanted to be able to interact with the customer on their terms instead of limiting the customer by saying we can only take this type of interaction,” McILmoyle said.

The external desk receives about 400 to 500 calls a day, at up to 20 workstations, and on the day TLC switched buildings and technology not a call was lost, he added.

The learning curve for employees was also not too steep.

“The benefit to [CentreVu] was that the agents didn’t need a lot of additional training, they were using the same tools to deliver the multimedia interaction to the desktop,” Smither explained.

McILmoyle agreed, “I would say it took about a week before everybody was completely comfortable with all the different types of interactions and how to work with them.”

“It was a whole lot smoother and simpler than I expected,” he laughed.

For Shah, this type of solution is a stepping stone for the next generation of call centre technology. Text chat, especially, is an intermediary strategy that most companies will pursue until voice-over-IP call centre technology is good enough, she said.