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American Drug Stores finds prescription for help desk ills.

Filling a prescription at the local drug store may seem like a simple task, but when multiplied thousands of times per day at hundreds of stores across the country, this simple task takes on major proportions. Recordkeeping, inventory and payroll at a large chain like American Drug Stores, headquartered in Oak Brook, Ill., requires sophisticated computing systems which can, and do, break down.

Norm Jungles manages American's instore System Support group which provides technical support for computer systems in more than 750 American and Save-On drug stores nationwide. These include over 700 pharmacy systems and 350 electronic cash register (POS) systems, as well as the software applications that run on them.

"We're level one support," Jungles says. "We do a lot of diagnostics and trouble-shooting over the phone and determine whether a field technician has to make a service call. Agents can be on the phone with the stores for two minutes or four hours."

When the help desk operation was established four years ago, an enhanced call distributor (ECD), which routes incoming calls to the next available agent, was installed to direct calls to 12 support agents. It became apparent, however, that this arrangement would no longer be adequate.

Callers had a number of complaints. The lines frequently were busy. Jungles suspects many callers gave up because lines were constantly tied up. There was no way to distinguish between pharmacy and POS calls and route them to agents who specialized in one or the other system. This often resulted in calls going to the wrong person.

When callers finally did get through, agents would write down the caller's problem on a pink slip. Problems might be written down incorrectly. It would take from two hours to two days to get back to a store with a solution--even if the store simply had to reset a terminal which had locked up.

Jungles originally believed that only a customized solution would solve his call handling problem. "When I first started looking for a solution, I considered a standalone IVR (interactive voice response) system," he recalls.

After seeing VMX demonstrate its Helpworks Workstation at a trade show in February 1991, the support group manager changed his mind. Today he uses the system to route calls intelligently--something the ECD was not able to do.

"We know up front what the callers want, and handle their calls accordingly," Jungles says. The system frontends the ECD; that is, all incoming calls are answered first by the VMX system, then routed to the ECD depending on the option selected by the caller from an audio menu.

If their call is not urgent, they can push 4 to leave a message. In one recent day, the help desk received 150 calls. Using application controlled messaging (ACM), the system automatically creates a temporary mailbox for the caller. Callers can leave a message and then call back at their convenience to receive a response to their original message. Once the response is listened to, the caller can request additional information. When the mailbox is no longer needed, the system automatically deletes it.

"We get people leaving informational messages, or scheduling something for the next day, or field technicians calling us to update the status of a problem," Jungles says. "They don't really need to talk to an agent immediately. Every message is listened to within 40 minutes."

The system provides callers with a confirmation number and also escalates the call if the agent does not respond within the promised time frame.

On the other hand, if the call is urgent (such as an entire system going down), callers can push 5 and be put through to a "hotline" that is answered immediately. Urgent calls don't have to wait behind routine calls now.

Selecting 6 contacts the caller with a pharmacy system expert, while 7 gets them to an agent specializing in POS systems.

"Our systems and applications are complicated, and one agent can't possibly be an expert in all areas," Jungles says. "By specializing, we can provide much better service to the stores."

When a caller selects 6, for example, the system directs the call to a port on the ECD designated for pharmacy calls. This port is associated with an ECD hunt group that includes all the agents specializing in pharmacy systems. Agents enter an identification number when they log on to the phone, allowing the ECD to keep track of where they are.

Busy signals have been eliminated, response time has improved, urgent calls are being handled in a timely manner, callers are getting on and off the phone more quickly, and everyone is happy with the service.

"We're saving the equivalent of four or five people with this system," Jungles says.

Call volume has risen by 20%, to about 600 calls per day, a result of improved service and a greater level of satisfaction on the part of callers, according to Jungles.

"We're doing a better job, so people who had given up on us are now calling again when they need help," he concludes.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Help Desk Management
Publication:Communications News
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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