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Call centers in cyberspace.

IP technology can Internet-enable existing call centers while providing extra benefits to both customer and operator.

Call center activity is booming, thanks to the spread of on-line television shopping and the more recent proliferation of Internet offerings. In some cases, call center operations have grown so large they are taxing the resources of their operators and even the local labor markets.

The reaction has been a trend away from very large call centers and back toward smaller regional centers networked to provide mutual support. Using incoming call re-direction or overflow schemes, these networked configurations are generally referred to as "virtual call centers."

When many early Web sites were created, the assumption was that the interactive capabilities being provided would tend to reduce the growing load on existing call centers.

Instead, the opposite happened. The Web proved to be not an alternative medium for conducting business, but a new market arising from the growing population of Web users. This market is attuned to using the Web's visual, interactive capabilities, but still requires the availability of a live agent on demand.

There is growing demand not only for greater call center capacity and operating efficiencies, but also for solutions that will allow call center operators to integrate calls from the Internet into the existing infrastructure. And this needs to be done without negatively impacting the embedded investment in either the legacy systems or personnel.

The new IP technology has been evolving rapidly to where it can not only Internet-enable existing call centers, but also provide additional benefits to customer and operator at the same time.

When calls are received from the Internet, the caller is able to stay logged on to the home page of interest without the requirement for a second line. An IP to PSTN gateway provides the translation from the IP world to the PSTN world in which the legacy call center works.

When an agent answers the incoming call, the caller's identification (name, e-mail address, telephone number) are already known, as is the history of the caller's activity since arriving at the home page. Should the caller abandon the call rather than wait the full time in queue, the caller information is still available and can be used to call the customer back.

A caller connecting with an agent can see a live video of the agent during the conversation. The agent has the ability to change Web pages or present forms (push URLs) at the same time.

In some situations--help desk, for instance--it will be possible for the caller and agent to participate in a collaborative computing application while on the same IP connection. The caller needs only a local dial-up connection to an ISP, there is no '800' cost to the operator, and the caller can be anywhere in the world.

This technology also lends itself to the implementation of virtual call centers. For calls originating from the Internet, routing solutions can deliver incoming calls to a specific call center on the basis of geography, time of day, country of origin, skill set, language request, connection Quality of Service, traffic loading of the destination ACD or gateway, or any other measure or combination of criteria desired.

In the case of calls received from the PSTN, where leased facilities are used to provide overflow paths to alternate call center sites, a single gateway from each call center to an IP network (Internet, intranet, or extranet) can replace an expensive full-mesh tie line arrangement whose cost goes up rapidly with the number of nodes.

A truly virtual ACD can be achieved today using IP-technology for distributing calls instead of the circuit switching technologies used by legacy systems. Already developed, this virtual ACD takes advantage of IP technology's independence from geography.

Unlike circuit switching, which identifies a communicating terminal on the basis of its port connection to a physical switch (star topology), the agent can be located anywhere in the world that is reachable on the IP network.

Operating issues become simplified because the agent no longer has two separate terminals, one for voice and one for screen POP and database access. Adding one or more gateways accommodates incoming calls from the PSTN using the same agent structure, except that the agent now handles traffic from both the PSTN and the Internet, with far greater capabilities when the incoming call is from the Internet.

Even in the absence of multiple nodes or the desire for conventional virtual ACDs, the IP approach offers significant benefits to the operator. Among these are the ability to accommodate telecommuters, or to set up temporary remote sites to accommodate peak busy periods such as during a holiday season.

This capability also allows easy administration and cost-effective construction of disaster recovery plans, with multiple or even distributed alternate sites, including work-at-home arrangements for agents, agent supervisors, and systems administrators.

The benefits to the operator from using the IP-based call center technology are compelling, even for systems intended to take calls only from the PSTN. As a result, deployment of these IP based systems can be expected to be rapid and widespread as the technology quickly matures.

The incremental benefits to both the operator and the customer when the calls originate from the Internet (IP world) rather than the PSTN represent a significant incentive for the customer to use the Internet and for the seller to become more creative in using the Web as a medium for doing business.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
COPYRIGHT 1997 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Internet/Web/Online Service Information
Author:Kaufman, Harvey
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jul 1, 1997
Words:905
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