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TMC Labs Innovation Awards: Part II.

Each year, TMC Labs handpicks the leading innovative products and services within the call center industry for its TMC Labs Innovation Awards, and each year they have become more popular--this year we received more than 200 applications! This is a good thing, but it is also extraordinarily challenging. While we are honored that more companies than ever have applied for this award, it has made it much more difficult to pick the "distinctive" innovators in our industry, as there were so many innovative products to choose from.

TMC Labs researched each of the applications, checked customer references and eventually arrived at our winners list, the first part of which was presented in our September issue.

So, without further ado, we present Part II of the winners of the TMC Labs Innovation Awards. Congratulations to the winners!


Spectel DataXchange

Spectel DataXchange is a platform-agnostic data conferencing application that enables service providers and large enterprises to host Web meetings on their networks. The Spectel DataXchange application can scale to thousands of Web meeting participants to collaborate in real-time on documents and presentations simply using a browser. What's very unique about this product is its tight voice/data integration, which enables moderators to view icons depicting who is speaking, then place participants on mute or move them into a sub-conference. It also features chat capabilities as well.

In addition, it also includes post-conference reports for statistics and billing and an open architecture to enable seamless integration of data conferencing capabilities into existing or third-party scheduling and billing applications and databases. Spectel DataXchange claims to be the first to deliver an integrated voice and data conferencing application in this deployment model. This integration enhances productivity by allowing presenters to schedule meetings and notify participants through a variety of end user interfaces: Web, Outlook and Notes, Windows applications, as well as service-specific applications through an open API. Meeting hosts can also manage both voice and data aspects of the meeting to manage participation (enable Q&A and polling, mute lines, lock meetings for security, play roll call, and more). The meeting can be recorded and archived for later playback, with both voice and data automatically synchronized.

Another unique feature of Spectel DataXchange is that it uses a client-server vs. T.120 (peer-to-peer) architecture, which enables greater scalability and performance optimization regardless of users' connection speed. The server handles meeting load, not meeting host or any single server, enabling Spectel DataXchange to support large events. By auto-detecting connection rates, the Spectel DataXchange server manages data transfer according to connection speed. This enables low bandwidth connections (dial up and GPRS) to effectively participate in meetings. All in all, TMC Labs was quite impressed with Spectel DataXchange's feature-set, especially its voice and data integration and its open API for easy integration.


StrataDial VC2 - Virtual Contact Center

Any call center worth its salt has invested (or soon will) in a predictive dialer. Newfangled predictive dialers not only perform outbound, but some even have integrated inbound (ACD) routing as well. The even fancier systems can handle not only inbound and outbound calls (blended environment), but they can also route inbound and outbound multimedia interactions, such as Web chat, e-mail, Web callback and more. StataDial's VC2--Virtual Contact Center not only has all of the aforementioned features, but it is one of only a select few that runs on the Windows platform using Windows user interface conventions, which makes for a quick learning curve.

In a nutshell, StrataDial VC2--Virtual Contact Center suite features outbound predictive dialing, inbound automatic call distribution, voice mail and auto-attendant, speech recognition and text-to-speech, Web-based text chatting, e-mail management and routing, fax-on-demand, an interactive voice response (IVR) system and rapid application development (RAD) tools. Speaking of RAD tools, we should mention that StrataDial does not confine you with rigid or static screens. The StrataDial Script and Screen Designer software allows the contact center manager to display any backend data field he or she desires, as well as manipulate, enhance or even completely redesign scripts and screens, all on the fly. The StrataDial Agent software will not only display the screens you designed, but it can also display an embedded browser window at the bottom of your customized screens. Therefore, scripts can be written with any HTML-based software and implemented easily. You can even embed external data into an HTML script and display the information within the browser section of the agent software interface. StrataDial is fully compatible with ODBC data types (i.e., DBF, ACCESS MDB, SQL, etc.). Furthermore, data may be written directly to a client's SQL or Oracle tables from an agent screen.

Besides the plethora of features that StrataDial offers, the company offers a unique and innovative feature called DynaCall. This feature helps cycle through the names in your call lists depending on criteria you select to ensure that your agents are always busy. It provides call center managers with the tools they need to dynamically manage their call lists, as well as increase call list penetration and efficiency. DynaCall features: (1) Intuitive Calling Strategy -- DynaCall allows the user to outline his or her calling strategy by setting up tasks for each campaign. Tasks are used to set start and stop times, select specific leads and recall leads on a predetermined strategy (i.e., recall answering machines after four hours and busies in five minutes); (2) Automatic Time Zone Management -- DynaCall can be set to cycle through a variety of time zones automatically, thus eliminating the risk of calling certain states at inappropriate times of the day. It also allows enhanced list penetration by calling certain time zones at times when prospects are more likely to be there to answer the telephone; (3) Quota-Based Dialing -- Specific call lists can be assigned with up to two different quotas (each based on a specific term code). When these quotas are met, DynaCall will automatically move on to the next call list. Quotas are easily set and determined on a call list basis; (4) Call List Query Management -- With DynaCall, the user is no longer required to create call lists because it does it on its own based on a Task Query Manager. Queries include the term codes to dial as well as any other field parameters set by the user; (5) Real-Time ODBC Connectivity -- DynaCall can also import leads dynamically from any ODBC database and include them in the call list query. This is an excellent feature, saving call center managers the trouble of manually importing call lists.

StrataDial has several other tricks up its sleeve, including excellent language support. It supports any language provided by Microsoft Windows, including DBCS (double byte character sets). A translation table is provided for the user to create an agent interface that translates the contents of the agent screen. Once this is set up, agents can view their campaign screens, scripts and call control buttons in their native language. The system can also detect answering machines, thereby allowing a prerecorded message specific for answering machines to be played. Finally, through partnerships, the company integrates with Gryphon Networks, Call Compliance and DNC Solutions to help comply with the FTC's DNC regulations.

Symon Communications, Inc.

Symon Vista

In any contact center or even a sales department, having access to performance statistics such as number of outbound calls made by an agent, average on-hold times or average talk time is critical for management to ensure quality of service and provide continual motivation to agents or sales personnel.

Symon Vista is specifically designed for the contact center and enterprise and provides the ability to create and edit applets that display real-time and historical information on Web-enabled pages. Users are enabled to consolidate real-time data metrics into customizable browser, real-time views.

One of the most unique aspects of Symon Vista is its ease of development--anyone, even a non-developer, can build Web pages using their development tool. Even more important, Symon Vista claims that using their product you can quickly deploy business dashboards in a matter of days, versus the few months of some competing solutions, essentially making the product a "shrink-wrapped" solution.

The Vista Applet Wizard will guide you through customizing a Vista Applet, which consists of assigning values and display properties to its applet parameters. Applets can be created for management, supervisor and agent views of pertinent ACD information. Vista also reports on other business system and remote data for consolidated, centralized reporting. One other unique capability of Symon Vista is that unlike generic business intelligence products, Vista can extract data from a wide array of telephony sources, not just data-bases or enterprise applications, to provide users with a more complete picture. Importantly, it supports incorporating custom data sources using ODBC, XML or ActiveX.

Another innovative feature is that it supports multicast or unicast data distribution. Users can decide on a per-data-display case whether they want to use unicast or multicast technology based on their IT needs. Multicast saves significant amounts of bandwidth in sending data, especially for real-time data-intensive data sources such as ACDs, which might update some data as often as every few seconds.

We should point out that unlike typical dashboard and scorecard products, Symon Vista can not only display historical data, but real-time data as well. Also, this can be done without relying on the user to have to "refresh" to get the latest data.

TASKE Technology Inc.

TASKE Essential

TASKE Essential makes reporting and monitoring features commonly available in the contact center environment now accessible to any business that requires some level of real-time call monitoring and call reporting. It fills the gap between the traditional call accounting packages and complex, feature-rich call center applications.

TASKE Essential offers a unique combination of real-time monitoring and historical reporting on all trunks and extensions--from a single application. Using the switch platform's CTI link, TASKE Essential monitors all extension activity on the switch. It displays that activity on a manager's desktop in real-time, showing extension details as well as the call state (ringing, on hold, etc.), the called or calling number and the duration of the call. It includes call search capability to isolate individual calls and display call activity in a graphical format, showing call events such as hold times, transfers, conferences, etc. This product also provides extensive extension and trunk reporting capabilities. Also, since TASKE Essential is Web-based and operating-system-independent, users can access the application from any browser.

By using the CTI link for the purpose of monitoring and reporting, we are able to obtain a much more detailed perspective on the call than simply through SMDR records. This enables us to analyze individual calls to assess call flows and call handling issues (frequent holds, transfers, etc.) and do so in real-time.

This product is ideal for any situation in which ensuring good customer service is critical. Since this product allows you to view a call from "cradle to grave," you can ensure that the customer didn't get the "runaround" by being transferred several times or put on hold for too long. Too often, call accounting reports are printed or viewed by a manager, and either the manager gives them only a peripheral look or the reports don't paint a complete picture of what is happening in the call center. In addition, call reports are typically "historical" in nature and not "real-time," therefore you could be viewing a serious problem that occurred in the past. TASKE Essential not only removes some of the complexity of call reports, but also provides real-time analysis to pinpoint problems quickly and paint a much more complete picture to ensure high customer satisfaction.

UpShot Corporation MultiProcess Management

At the risk of showing our age, we still remember the days when if we wanted remote access to our e-mail, we had to do it by connecting to a bank of modems and use Windows RAS (remote access service) to connect to our network. It was a slow, tedious nightmare. We hoped the Outlook client (then Microsoft Exchange) would add an "offline e-mail access" feature so we could download all our e-mail and then write "offline" replies while on an airplane, a train, etc., and then send our responses once we got network connectivity. Indeed, this feature was eventually added and it was a godsend for some of us as we traveled to various tradeshows. Unfortunately, this was merely an "offline e-mail application" and not an "offline CRM/contact database" application. Thus, if we needed to look up a contact in our corporate database, we would need to connect to our corporate network and, as we all know, there is no such thing as "100 percent always on, anywhere connectivity."

UpShot Corporation solves this problem with their hosted, Web-based CRM product called MultiProcess Management, which features offline access to your CRM database with full synchronization capabilities. Not only can you view your data offline, but you can also get the same experience as you would if you were online. More important, not only can you view the data, but you can also change the data or add additional data to the database, which is automatically synchronized once network/Internet connectivity is restored.

This is an extremely rapidly deployable Web-based solution, using XML and .NET technologies, that tightly integrates sales and marketing. It also integrates with back-office systems and popular desktop applications such as Microsoft Outlook e-mail, Word and Excel, MultiProcess Management was specifically designed to meet the complex needs of large organizations and divisions of Fortune 500 companies that require a complete, integrated, online solution that can be deployed quickly across multiple departments or divisions. Too many other CRM solutions take months to roll out, resulting in extra cost. We liked how quickly MultiProcess Management can be deployed.

MultiProcess Management is a fully customizable client-server system. UpShot offers an innovative feature that can display different views and processes to match those used by the various teams, groups or divisions in a large company. Everyone involved in the sales process, from the CEO or VP of sales to an agent, can have a view that matches the processes they use. Each group or division can tailor UpShot to match the processes they use. Multiple views enable different groups to consolidate information into one centralized system without having to sacrifice each group's unique needs. Individual users can use a drag-and-drop interface to design how they want to view, create and update information. For security purposes, companies can designate which users or groups of users have access to a view. In addition, this product also features automated sales process workflow to automate a variety of sales processes. TMC Labs commends UpShot for its offline data access capabilities, usage of open Web-based standards, its extensive customizability (including multiple views) and its ability to be deployed much faster than many competing CRM solutions.

Utopy SpeechMiner Enterprise

There are many good call recording products that record calls for quality monitoring purposes. The problem is that a call center supervisor can never hope to listen to each and every call. That means there can be some irate or dissatisfied customers who slip through the cracks due to improper agent training or other reason of which the supervisor was never aware. This can result in a lost customer, and as we all know, it's much less expensive to keep an existing customer than it is to attain a new one.

We were very intrigued when Utopy applied for this award with their "word spotting" product called SpeechMiner Enterprise, which is based on Utopy's core development of the SpeechMiner Platform. Just think of SpeechMiner Enterprise as "speech recognition on steroids." Essentially, SpeechMiner Enterprise can analyze recorded calls and "spot" particular words in the conversation which will then trigger some sort of action. The people behind this technology have been funded by and have done research for the National Security Agency (NSA), Stanford Research Institute (SRI), UC Berkeley and the Israeli Institute of Technology, which is quite an impressive list! If the private sector has this technology, just imagine how advanced the government's "word spotting" algorithms are.

In any event, the SpeechMiner Platform contains all the algorithms and capabilities to understand and analyze a human-to-human telephone conversations. That is, each call that is processed by the SpeechMiner Platform is associated with all the events that occurred in the call. Examples of these events may include when a customer asks for a supervisor, a customer's mention of a competitor's name, an agent who did not provide the right information, a customer expressing dissatisfaction, a customer citing a certain problem with the product, etc. Most of these "events" are more complex than recognizing a word in the conversation. For example, there are many ways that a customer can ask for a supervisor (manager, boss), express their dissatisfaction, or threaten to litigate ("my friend Sue recommended your service" is not about litigation) and SpeechMiner would recognize the difference. In addition, these "events" can be non-linguistic, such as angry pitch, volume, changes in pitch, quiet time, etc. All in all, SpeechMiner has the capability to accurately recognize what is really occurring in the conversation, and understand the words in their context.

The SpeechMiner Enterprise audio player contains important meta-data information. For example, you can see where the events in the call are, and therefore review only the important sections of the call (no need to spend 30 minutes on irrelevant talk time or music). You can begin to playback the call from when, for example, the agent has provided the wrong information or the customer asked for a manager.

By automatically understanding and analyzing the spoken customer-agent interactions, SpeechMiner Enterprise uncovers hidden business intelligence information, whether it's an irate customer or determining frequent problems or questions customers have. SpeechMiner is enabling call centers to reduce costs by automating the measurement of customer satisfaction and improving agent performance, as well as increasing customer loyalty.

Verint Systems ULTRA IntelliFind

TMC Labs was so impressed with how innovative and unique "word spotting" technology was, that we were shocked to learn that not one but TWO companies applied with products that have this advanced technology. With technology that borders on the bleeding-edge but with real-world business applications, how could we not grant two awards to both applicants?

Verint System's ULTRA IntelliFind is an advanced analytical solution for generating actionable intelligence from free-form speech. IntelliFind enables decision makers to quickly identify calls relevant to specific business objectives based on user-defined criteria, including key words and phrases. Using IntelliFind, decision makers throughout an enterprise can "subscribe" to and automatically receive calls that include specific customer intelligence to help them meet their business objectives. Individual users can also create customized searches based on their unique requirements and save them for repeated use.

ULTRA IntelliFind listens to every call and converts the call to text, creating a searchable database of audio interactions. Then, ULTRA IntelliFind assigns each call to categories mapped to specific business processes; for example, new accounts, competitive references, account terminations, first call resolution, etc. Users can search for calls according to categories, keywords or phrases. Then, simply using a browser-based IntelliFind screen, users can see all calls that meet the search criteria, along with relevance, category, keyword and call-related information, and then playback the calls. You can also view a graphical display charting contacts by date and category. TMC Labs was very impressed with this "word spotting" speech-recognition technology. Though it may be new, we predict this technology will become a mainstay within customer-centric organizations in the foreseeable future.

VoiceGenie Technologies Inc. VoiceGenie VoiceXML Platform

We won't go into the benefits of VoiceXML since its advantages have been extolled many times. We will, however, discuss a company that is leading the way in VoiceXML technologies: VoiceGenie. VoiceGenie's VoiceXML platform allows enterprises and telecom carriers to develop and deploy sophisticated IVR (interactive voice response) applications, speech-enabled services and voice portals. VoiceGenie supports both hosted or a premise-based solution. Engineered using an open standards-based architecture, it provides for excellent scalability, flexibility and performance with simultaneous support for an impressive number of speech recognition and text-to-speech engines. Due to its support for third-party engines, this allows applications to be deployed seamlessly into almost any environment, leveraging investments in existing applications. VoiceGenie claims its platform currently answers millions of calls for customers each day. They also claim to be the first to market, with a 100 percent compliant VoiceXML platform.

VoiceGenie can perform several useful speech applications, such as VAD (voice activated dialing), retrieve Web information, make online transactions and manage e-mail and voice mail quickly and easily, simply by enabling the user to speak into any phone. Using VoiceGenie, users can gain access to Web-based information and services anywhere, any time, from any phone. Using this technology results in increased automation of many transactions which previously required live agents. Not only does this result in increased efficiency and a reduction in costs, but it also frees agents to handle more complex queries rather than dealing with simple inquires that can demoralize your agents and waste their time.

VoiceGenie's VoiceXML platform provides full VoiceXML 2.0 compliance, 225+ advanced extensions and call control capabilities, simultaneous support for VoIP (SIP and H.323) and PSTN, as well as comprehensive real-time operations, administration and management capabilities. Finally, VoiceGenie has excellent application tools to aid in the development of VoiceXML applications.

Vision-X, Inc. VisionPDS

One thing is for certain, with the recent Federal Trade Commission do-not-call legislation, many companies are scrambling to ensure their predictive dialer equipment is in compliance. What this also means is that many companies are upgrading their existing predictive dialer to the latest software revision or even buying and deploying new equipment to ensure compliance.

Vision-X claims their VisionPDS will alleviate their customers' concerns with their ability to ensure compliance. PDS talks to the telephone network directly to get a quick and precise analysis of each call, which allows you to detect and exclude the transfer of certain calls to agents, such as an answering machine, line busy, no answer, SIT tones, etc. It is also very unique in its ability to support multiple digital signals such as SS7, ISDN and R2 to get a precise analysis of each call.

The company claims to provide an average customer waiting time of six-tenths of a second, but in the few instances where there is a delay due to an agent not being available, their system can play a voice message based on a set time limitation (which depends on legal requirements) and connect to an agent as soon as one becomes available.

It fully supports distributed call center environments, including access to SOHO and telecommuting agents. It also supports blended dialing mode: preview, predictive and progressive. Finally, we like that it even supports a VoIP soft phone on a Web page.

VXI Corporation VXI TuffSet Everon

We just hate dealing with headset amplifiers. Why, do you ask? Because they are so proprietary! Since some of our TMC Labs engineers have done IT support in the past, they've had to deal with installing headsets for sales personnel and call center agents. The problem is, our company has a motley collection of various headsets from a plethora of headset manufacturers. We have a mix of headset pieces (over-the-ear and over-the-head) that work only with a specific manufacturer's amplifier. Even worse, sometimes the manufacturer changes the interface on the amplifier so you can't even connect a headset piece labeled "Company XYZ" to an amplifier with the same name. We have a pile of unmatched headset pieces and amplifiers like so many unmatched socks in a box, and we have to guess and try to match them up when installing a new headset. It's enough to give anyone a headache. In fact, considering we have to deal with only 20 or so headsets, we can only imagine the nightmare of managing headset equipment in a large call center. Luckily, our pain (and that of other companies, as well) has not gone unnoticed.

VXI Corporation has designed a universal telephone amplifier called the Tuffset Everon that accepts headsets from all major headset manufacturers including VXI, GN Netcom and Plantronics. The Everon amplifier has great compatibility with basically any telephone system and has superb battery life. VXI Corporation states they are the true "innovator" and the only company to accept multiple manufacturers' headsets. No more digging in our pile of amplifiers, no more guesswork matching components, and no more being stuck using the manufacturers' often overpriced amplifier. What more could we ask? We tip our caps to VXI Corporation.

WebEx Communications, Inc. WebEx Support Center

There are several hosted solutions that offer remote desktop control/collaboration/Web meeting. What distinguishes WebEx from many of its competitors is that in addition to being able to share data (via PowerPoint slides, screen sharing or co-browsing), WebEx offers the unique capability of using VoIP to transmit voice. It fully supports both H. 323 and SIP gateways in its architecture. Not only can you use VoIP technology, but you can also display real-time video for videoconferencing capabilities.

Essentially, WebEx Support Center is a carrier-class solution that offers an all-in-one, Web-based, firewall-friendly solution with integrated data, voice and video, providing users with the ability to share presentations, share documents, co-browse the Web, share applications and remotely control applications and desktops. Since it is a hosted model, Support Center service does not require hardware or software investments, IT resources or firewall reconfiguration. The solution is 100 percent Web-based and is cross-platform compatible, allowing Windows, Mac and Unix users to collaborate on applications running on different platforms. You can also do on-the-fly file transfers, enabling presenters to distribute an edited file to all participants at the end of a collaborative meeting.

Another important feature is permission-based desktop remote control, allowing technical support personne to immediately diagnose and fix customer problems. Additionally, WebEx allows "spontaneous presenter delegation," which enables any attendee in a meeting to instantly become the presenter and share presentations, documents or applications resident only on his/her system. It also features centralized policy administration controls and detailed reporting tools. In addition, users can actually record and edit sessions, which can be a valuable resource for companies that wish to use recorded sessions as training tools.

The most important feature, in our opinion, is actually a new feature. WebEx Support Center now uses the new MediaTone network. Created with a carrier-class information-switching architecture, the MediaTone Network delivers optimal performance by routing communications across several WebEx switching centers. The result is a high-performance network that provides superb levels of service integration, security, personalization and performance.

For security, it offers secure, real-time, transient data exchange, so that presentations and documents need never be uploaded to an external server. In fact, the WebEx MediaTone Network integrates a scalable software and API architecture specifically designed for efficient delivery over their distributed network. The network features globally distributed hubs, 24x7 network load-balancing and 128-bit SSL encryption to ensure confidential online meetings. WebEx claims that all session contents are switched through the MediaTone Network, and are never persistently stored in the WebEx infrastructure, which obviously reduces the chances for theft of any private data. TMC Labs has used WebEx's products and services in the past for press meetings; and we have always been impressed with its feature set. Now, with the addition of integrated VoIP and videoconferencing over a load-balanced global network, TMC Labs has nothing but the highest regard for WebEx for their continual improvement of the breadth of features offered in their solution.

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Tom Keating, Chief Technology Officer & Executive Technology Editor, TMC
COPYRIGHT 2003 Technology Marketing Corporation
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Title Annotation:Call Center/CRM Management Scope
Author:Keating, Tom
Publication:Customer Interaction Solutions
Date:Oct 1, 2003
Previous Article:Sound strategy? Outsourcing in today's economy.
Next Article:Improve operational efficiency of call centers while meeting business strategies.

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