The reverse call centre

People attempting to get information from the Internet often end up tangled in the Web. With that in mind, an Ottawa-based company has developed a program, which aims to make it easier to navigate at least part of the Web – government sites.

The technology, CallMe, was developed for Industry Canada’s Canada Business Service Centres by Ottawa consulting firm Microburst Internet Technologies.

Clients who run into trouble after logging on to the CBSC web site click an icon that says: “Call Me.” A call centre agent phones within minutes, to direct the client to a Web page that shows him or her how to get the information. A permanent record is left to help the client surf the web more easily.

The government believes there’s a clear need for the service in the age of Government OnLine (GOL). “What we’ve tried to do with all our web sites is to make them just as user friendly and as accessible as they possibly can be,” says Bob Smith, executive director of CBSC. “What we find however is, as much as we try, sometimes you just can’t find the information you’re looking for.”

The CallMe technology addresses that issue.

“We’ve developed this whole model over the last two or three years,” Smith says. “Now it is fully functioning and we really are quite delighted with it – and more to the point, our clients really quite like it. They think it’s a wonderful service.”

The pilot project worked so well that Microburst created a separate company, HumanResolve, to market the system to other government and private-sector customers. HumanResolve uses Intelligent Contact Management technology from Cisco Systems, which can process dozens of call centre telephone contacts. But smaller departments and agencies may not need all that space.

“We can sell you as many agents as you might want or might need, and you can build up or come down as the requirements of your operation dictate,” says HumanResolve CEO Don Henderson. “Now that’s very much more attractive.”

The CallMe system is not only helpful for the outsider trying to navigate the government Web site; it can also mean huge savings for the department. HumanResolve estimates that a call centre agent will read three URLs to a customer during an average phone call. It will take the client one minute and 20 seconds to get the information correct. The agent’s time is priced at $30 an hour.

The company estimates that a department or agency that handles 25,000 calls a year could save 1,667 man hours and $50,000 using CallMe. A larger department processing one million calls could save more than 66,000 person hours and $2 million.

Those figures do not include longer delays that could arise from customers confusing an underscore with a dash, for example, or typing in “.com” rather than “.ca”. Nor does it consider callbacks that arise from inadequate handling of the initial phone call.

HumanResolve’s Henderson is expects to expand the system within Industry Canada and to announce a deal with a Crown corporation soon. Deals with other levels of government could also be in the offing.

The CallMe technology has a twin called MeetMe that works in much the same manner. Several Web site users will set up a time when all will log on to a specific page. They can then navigate the site together, troubleshooting as they go. HumanResolve believes this could help train people on new software systems. Both CallMe and MeetMe have to be tailored to the specific needs of each subscribing ministry or agency. Henderson considers a variety of factors when deploying the system.

“You always have to look at what is the mandate of the department, how far along are they in their GOL activities and how much are they spending on their 1-800 calls, how much do they deal with the public,” he notes. The CBSC reports positive feedback from clients.

“Certainly in government, the more people that use our services in a self-serve mode versus assisted modes like walk-in or telephone, there’s a cost savings to us,” Smith says. “It’s difficult to actually estimate this on the one hand; on the other hand, we do know that both our walk-in and our telephone traffic is declining while our Web traffic is escalating rapidly.”

Paul Park ([email protected]) is an Ottawa-based editor and writer.

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