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Two call centers 900 miles apart operate as one.

When United Airlines began its frequent flier pro gram in the early 1980s, it operated out of a house in West Hollywood, Calif. There was virtually no incoming call capability and no expectations of needing any in the future.

Since then, Mileage Plus Inc. (MPI), which administers the frequent flier program, has moved its customer service operations three times to accommodate an ever-growing number of customers and their calls.

Today MPI operates two customer service centers--in Tucson, Ariz., and Rapid City, S.D.--with a total of about 500 agents. Customers call most frequently to ask questions about their statements, to request awards, and to verify that they received mileage credit for flights.

MPI recently upgraded its telecomm system by replacing its AT&T Definity Generic 1 PBXs with Definity G3i systems. The new models are fully integrated and use ISDN features such as call vectoring, alternate destination call redirection and look-ahead interflow.

The PBX setup now allows MPI to operate a strategy that treats the two customer service centers as if they were one.

"This system enables us to provide fast and efficient customer service, increase agent productivity and lower our costs of doing business," says Bev Grear, vice president of customer service for MPI.

"The Definity G3 allows us to look at our entire workplace as one. We like the call management system and reports available to us, as well as the availability to better utilize our people."

MPI's network includes several AT&T Accunet T1.5 circuits to the Rapid City and Tucson centers, along with one dedicated T1 circuit linking the two locations. All can be controlled by the Definity G3, which uses a single ISDN D channel to control as many as 20 T1 links.

The call vectoring feature enables MPI to send each call to the first available agent. Using alternate destination call redirection, the PBXs route calls to the least busy call center.

For example, if a call comes to Rapid City and there are already calls in queue at that location, calls are redirected to Tucson. If Tucson also has calls queued up, the AT&T 4ESS switch in Tucson is alerted that the call has already been redirected. It is then put in line, listening to a recorded announcement.

Still, the PBX's efforts to assure a call is answered as quickly as possible don't stop when the call is queued in Tucson. At this point, MPI's dedicated T1 connecting the two locations uses look-ahead interflow to continually check the status of the PBX in Rapid City.

If conditions improve in Rapid City first, the call travels on the private T1 to be answered there. All this call processing occurs in milliseconds, transparent to the caller.

"This new system will enable us to continue to achieve maximum service levels, which we define as 80% of all calls answered within 20 seconds," says Grear.

The dedicated T1 also serves as a backup for transferring data from the customer service centers to the mainframe computer at United Airlines headquarters in Illinois.

If the T1 linking Tucson to United goes down, for instance, MPI can send data from Tuscon to Rapid City via the dedicated T1 and then to Illinois.

For incoming customer calls, MPI uses 800 service, assigning different 800 members to various types of members. Dialed number identification service (DNIS) identifies which type of customer is calling, and call vectoring allows MPI to give priority to one or more of these customer categories.

DNIS allows MPI's multiple 800 numbers to share the same trunk group while directing calls from different types of customers to the appropriate agent.

MPI has installed automatic number identification features on the new PBX, but isn't yet using ANI to automatically display customer information on agents' terminals. The company is still evaluating the potential savings of this feature, in light of the number of customers who may call from airports, hotels and other locations that wouldn't trigger their phone number-account link.

A recent change to an AT&T Conversant voice response system with 48 ports makes sure each call is answered with a recording tailored to the type of customer.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Mileage Plus Inc. uses AT and T's AT and T Definity G3i public branch exchange
Publication:Communications News
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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