By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
(updated July 2007)
Telemessaging services, call centers that answer calls and process messages for client companies, are by definition a subset of the teleservice and outsource call center industry. However, the greater call center industry has a history spanning more than 30 years while telemessaging has an 80 year history. In the 1920s, and the decades that followed, enterprising entrepreneurs began opening localized telephone answering services around the United States. In those days and until around 1980, calls were largely answered when an operator plugged into a ringing line, client data was in paper form, messages were handwritten, and calls were placed using a rotary dial telephone.
With the advent of affordable computer technology in the late 1970s, a new breed of entrepreneurs, the technologists, began harnessing the nascent microprocessor to automate, control, and organize portions of the call handling process. Thus was born the first-generation Computer Telephone Integration (CTI) systems. Although primitive and basic by today’s standards, they represented a fundamental shift in the call processing mindset. These systems allowed calls to be answered with a single keystroke and a basic repository of client data would be automatically displayed on a computer screen.
Second generation CTI systems allowed messages to be entered into the computer, giving way to a plethora of distribution methods, including alphanumeric paging, faxing, and email. Today’s leading-edge messaging systems are third generation CTI platforms. These systems dominate the telemessaging market, offering labor-saving automation, client conveniences, agent-assisting features, scripted call processing, integration with remote databases, and Internet access to Web-based tools and information.
“The evolution of CTI systems has helped the telemessaging industry grow into a sophisticated industry capable of much more than just answering the phone and taking a message,” stated Linda Osip, Executive Director of CAM-X. “We have so much information at our fingertips that we can now act as a true representation of our clients to their callers.”
Among the benefits afforded by these third generation CTI telemessaging systems, labor savings is a frequent and well appreciated result. Jim Geary, the owner of Complete Answering Service, in Jackson, TN, stated that with his Startel 5700, he “was able to handle the same amount of call traffic with over 50% staff reduction.” He also cited “a massive reduction in errors” as another important benefit.
Tom Gelbach, owner of Answer Connecticut, in Newington, CT concurs with the labor saving aspect. His center uses an Amtelco Infinity system. “We are barely scratching the surface of its capabilities,” he stated. “We have found that in our dispatching operation alone we have been able to reduce the time per call by 31 percent.”
Julie Barr, Call Center System Director at Banner Health is equally enamored. “With the help of Amcom’s Smart Center, we’ve transformed operator services. By combining independent call centers into one centralized center, we’ve improved efficiency, reduced operational expense, and enhanced customer service.”
“It has made such a great difference having the AccuCall system, particularly in our customer service,” added Kathie Edwards, General Manager at Westpark Communications, Inc. “With the ability to view the status of calls and reports from my desk, it has been absolutely fantastic for not only our management team, but also for our clients.”
A reduction in phone costs is also frequently realized when call centers implement newer, more sophisticated equipment. “We saved immediately on telephone charges, cutting that cost in half,” stated Becky White, Owner of Professional Wiregrass Communications, in Dothan, AL; her company uses Morgan Comtec’s A-NET II system. An added bonus is “Caller ID, which is so helpful with callers under duress.”
Call center managers of other telemessaging systems are also quick to applaud the features, efficiencies, and effectiveness of their respective call center technology. See our updated listing of telemessaging vendors and software providers.
Computer Telephony Integration (CTI)
First generation CTI: These early systems used emerging microprocessor technology to automatically display pertinent client data. Although basic, this minimally included the identity of the client and how to answer the call. First generation CTI systems generally provided some call processing functions, such as answer, hold, conference, and dialing. With these systems, however, messages still needed to be hand-written by agents. These systems were common and leading-edge in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Second generation CTI: As computer technology advanced, so did the capabilities of CTI systems. The major advance in this generation was moving message taking from paper-based to paperless, that is, typing messages into the system. Once the messages were in text from, streamlined or automated message distribution became available. Options included sending messages to small desktop printers, alphanumeric pagers, fax machines, and later to email addresses. Hardware was mostly proprietary, as was the software to control it. Second generation systems began emerging in the mid 1980s and were dominant for the next 10 to 15 years. Some continue to be used to this day.
Third generation CTI: Current state-of-the-art systems lean towards being PC-based and boast open-architecture. Though some proprietary hardware may still be required, more and more off-the shelf components can be utilized. These systems have integrated voice mail and often internal switching (alternately other systems control third-party switches.) Internet connectivity is essential, allowing agents to access websites to look up or enter information. Other Internet features include text chat, call-me and talk-to-me buttons, and private Web portals for client message access and database transfers. Call scripting, text-to-voice, and speech recognition are up and coming features of third generation CTI systems.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.
[From Connection Magazine – Jan/Feb 2004]