Better communication Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2007

Technology makes call centers tick. It is natural for a business owner on the North Coast to wonder whether his or her call center vendor has the right technological tools in its toolbox.

Michael White says that having the right tools for the job is an ever-evolving process. “We typically find, or create, four to five new tools every year to keep our call centers agile and able to respond to the challenges of today’s marketplace.”

White and his team are responsible for all of InfoCision’s internal IT infrastructure and call center technology.

Smart Business asked him what technology tools he employs to keep his call centers competitive.

What tools does a call center need to be successful?

These days the most successful call centers take advantage of every opportunity to keep their work force productive. Part of keeping a work force productive is being able to give them different types of work depending on the demand. A true inbound/outbound blending solution gives call centers the ability to present their workers with inbound calls when the volume of incoming callers is high and seam-lessly transition them to placing outbound calls or doing other work when the incoming call traffic is light.

One of the most significant aspects of blending is the ability to receive consolidated reporting to help manage the time spent in each activity and to be able to make informed staffing decisions. The most successful call centers can achieve 45 to 50 minutes of productive time out of every hour.

What other tools might call centers use?

The best way to ensure effective communication is one on one, but oftentimes, there is a need to provide information messaging or to allow customers the opportunity for self-service. E-mail, fax and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technologies all offer effective means of communicating with your customers. IVR technology is a perfect cost-effective solution for giving customers an informational message when they contact your call centers by phone. You can optionally invite them to speak to a live person if their needs are not met in the IVR message. IVR applications can also be much more sophisticated — to the point where they take an entire order and even offer context sensitive promotional offers depending on what products have been selected.

Can you give an example of where an IVR application has been successfully blended with a live operator solution?

Several of our TV ministry clients offer free products during their broadcasts, which can generate thousands of calls in a matter of minutes. To accommodate the influx of calls, we will often employ an IVR application to handle the free product offer. We present the caller with an initial menu of choices. For example: Press 1 for the free product offer that you just heard about; Press 2 for customer service; Press 3 for prayer requests.

Those who are interested in the free product are directed through the IVR application and asked a series of questions, using their touch-tone phone for the response. The first prompt is typically, ‘Please enter your home telephone number.’ With the home telephone number, we are able to reach out to a national database and look for the address that is associated with that phone number. If there is a match, we use text-to-speech technology to speak the address we’ve found, and we ask the caller to confirm whether or not that is the correct address.

The next prompt asks callers to speak and spell their first and last name, which we will either record or use speech recognition to input into a database, along with the rest of the caller’s order. Any time during this process we give the caller the ability to opt out and speak to a live operator. Also, the initial menu options would allow the caller to be sent directly to a person.

We’ve found the use of IVR to be a cost-effective solution for our clients and can help our call centers manage the high call volume situations that may not require one-on-one interaction.

Which tools have helped you to better manage your call centers?

Work force management tools can help to develop staffing models based on the historical trends of incoming calls. These tools work in conjunction with an automated call distributor (ACD) to look at the number of employees who need to be on a given shift, based on the number of calls that are expected that day or a specific hour of the day.

Scripting tools can significantly reduce training time and provide a consistent presentation that the operator can follow, as well as offer answers to FAQs (frequently asked questions) and context-sensitive product information.

Operator performance and productivity reporting tools are essential to successfully manage any call center effectively. Call center managers must constantly manage the need to keep their work force busy, along with the return on investment and performance goals of their clients, to ensure there is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

MICHAEL WHITE is senior vice president of information technology infrastructure and call center technology at InfoCision Management Corp., Akron. Reach him at (330) 668-1400 or mike.white@infocision.com. In business for 25 years, InfoCision Management Corporation is the second largest privately held teleservices company and a leading provider of customer care services, commercial sales and marketing for a variety of Fortune 500 companies and smaller businesses. InfoCision is also a leader of inbound and outbound marketing for nonprofit, religious and political organizations. InfoCision operates 31 call centers at 12 locations throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. For more information, visit www.infocision.com.