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Machine takes routine calls.


Charleston, S.C., takes great pride in its history. After all, it has genuine cobblestone streets, two centuries worth of architecturally intriguing buildings, and famous sites such as the Battery and Fort Sumter.

History also means business, and the 2200-member Charleston Trident Chamber of Commerce uses call processing internally and to promote the city's history and charm to visitors.

"We had the reputation for being the second worst place to call in Charleston," recalls Marge Grob, manager of internal operations for the chamber. "We started wondering, who are we missing? What new members aren't we attracting because of this?"

Couldn't Keep Up

As call loads grew to 850 to 1000 daily, two receptionists and a call sequencer just couldn't keep up. Callers were frustrated by busy signals. Many calls that did get through were put on unending hold by the call sequencer.

Although it is the oldest Chamber of Commerce in the United States in continuous operation, the chamber didn't want callers to think it was archaic because of its telephone system.

Studies showed many callers were "regulars"--chamber staffers or members calling for specific individuals--with no need to talk to a receptionist.

It may be a big, fascinating structure, but the layout of the chamber's historic 23,000-square-foot building in the historic South Carolina Railway Warehouse made it difficult for the 46 staff members to stay in contact with their own receptionists.

An in/out board near the receptionist forced staffers to walk all the way to the front of the building to note their status, then go out the back of the building to the parking lot.

Consequently, few staff members kept the board up to date, leaving receptionists guessing.

Old Gear Out The Door

Today, the in/out board and call sequencer are retired, along with pink message slips.

The Chamber bought an Executone Infostar/VX and Automated Attendant and an Isoetec digital phone system. Chamber staffers now use an in/out key on their phone to indicate they are away from their desks.

Grob looked at how best to use call processing while still letting the receptionist work with those callers who need personalized attention.

"We want to get people off the phone quickly, but we don't want them to think that," says Grob.

"We found that our calls are not just transfer calls. They are callers who need information; we have to spend some amount of time with every caller.

"You want them to come here, take their vacation here, so that next year they'll move their business here. It's all tied together."

Voice messaging and automated attendant applications let chamber receptionists spend more time with those callers. The chamber set up an information mailbox for members, with three specialized sub-menus.

One sub-menu takes the caller to a calendar detailing two weeks worth of membership events. Reservations can be made at the touch of a button with the second specialized sub-menu.

Third option is a member-to-member hotline for offering offer suggestions, concerns and comments.

Tourists or people interested in moving to Charleston use the chamber's voice mail to request information on attractions, businesses and schools.

The chamber also plans an 800 number for visitors, accessible anytime, providing visitors information on attractions, tours, major events, and hotel information.

Money Makers

Grob is coming to view the attractions/tours and hotel sub-menus as potential money makers.

"I see us selling ad space there," she says.

"Visitors listening to the hotel accommodations sub-menu will be asked where they would like to be located and what type of accommodation would suit them. Lodging establishments could buy 30-second ads.

"At the end of the commercial, the caller will be able to make reservations directly with the hotel's reservation desk--without ever impacting a person's time here at all.

"There is a possibility of having 200 or more properties on there."

Grob also foresees a prospect mailbox for new businesses considering moving into the area.

This would provide a confidential method by which executives could exchange information with the Chamber anytime, regardless of differing time zones and business hours.
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Title Annotation:voice processing in Charleston
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jun 1, 1990
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