By Irene Cash
The evolution of technology is sometimes difficult to keep up with. Looking back on the evolution that the traditional answering service has undergone is an eye-opening and educational experience! This evolution has taken us into an unparalleled time of technological advances. From the traditional “answering service,” to the “message center” of the 1980s, to the “call center of the 1990s,” this evolution has been driven by both technology and by customer expectations that spring up from that technology.
The telephone answering service (TAS) client has had a “brick and mortar (BAM)” presence where business was conducted. Adding the call center to that presence extended capabilities, productivity and profitability for that business; however, the new millennium has ushered in an era of technological change that has altered the way our clients look at doing business. Today they not only have that BAM presence, but they are also developing Web-based portals into their traditionally BAM-based businesses.
Tying together the BAM, the Web-based business presence, and the call center into a vital, unified business presence creates the call center of the future–the Web-enabled contact center. But in a world where buzzwords are prevalent and confusing, it’s not always easy to understand what being a Web-enabled contact center entails. Does it mean that you field traditional telephony calls from people who found the phone number on the Internet? Does it mean that your call center has access to the Internet?
The answer to those questions is yes, but it also means much, much more. To truly become a Web-enabled contact center, it becomes important to “integrate” to the Internet, and to provide a contact point above and beyond the traditional telephony means.
Let’s take a look at some of the terms, applications, and functions that go into becoming a full-fledged Web-enabled contact center.
Agent: Terminology traditional to the call center market that refers to operator, or telephone secretary.
Contact Center: or Multimedia call center. This is an evolved call center that provides contact above and beyond traditional telephony. Through integration to the Internet, text chat with Web surfers, email auto-response services, Web callback capabilities, voice over IP, and account information portals that clients can access via the Internet are some of the unique capabilities that go into providing contact center services. Email response: In the Internet-integrated contact center, this involves receiving the client’s email messages, typically through the ACD queue, and providing responses (canned or otherwise), based upon content and criteria supplied by the client.
Portal: A doorway or gateway to information on the Internet. It provides a common “face” to extensive and varying information. Yahoo could be considered a portal. Your website could be considered a portal to your client’s account information, on-call schedule, messages, status, and more, if you provide Internet-integrated client services, extended via the Web.
VPN: Virtual Private Network. This network makes use of the existing Internet infrastructure, but supplies the benefits of security and privacy that you can not get from solely utilizing the public Internet. Web Callback: Web callback provides the ability for a Web surfer to fill out a page on the website, and request that an agent call them back live, using traditional telephony methods. After filling in all of the pertinent information, the request is submitted by the Web surfer, and in an Internet-integrated contact center system, the request is presented to the first eligible agent via the ACD queue. The agent then initiates the callback.
Web Chat: Web chat is text based. It allows a Web surfer to contact an agent while viewing a website. If the Web surfer has a question, or needs further information, they typically click on a “Speak with an Agent” button on the Web page that they are looking at. In an Internet-integrated contact center system, the chat request is presented to the agent from the ACD queue. The agent connects to the call, and chats real time with the surfer, using text.
Web Database: A database that is capable of existing on a Web. This Web could be an intranet, the Internet, or a Virtual Private Network (VPN ). The benefits of utilizing a Web database include the ability to easily deploy at-home agents, the ability to access vital, up-to-date information from a client’s database, as well as update that same database real-time, and the ability to network large accounts with remote offices and co-operative services so that all of the data is being accessed and updated real-time, one time, in one common database source.
Web Push/Collaboration: In an Internet-integrated contact center environment, agents can actually take control of the Web surfer’s browser, and “push” information to the surfer. Product information, frequently asked questions, and applications are just a few examples of information that can be pushed to a Web surfer by an agent.
Web Screen Pop: This is a key element in the integration of the Internet into the contact center. A Web screen pop will automatically present the appropriate Web page to a contact center agent, from the call handling screen. This provides instantaneous access to applicable Internet-based information.
Unified Messaging: Unified messaging is a buzzword that has been used to mean many things to many people. Traditionally, unified messaging indicates the ability to take a message in any form, and deliver it via any other form. For example, delivering a voice mail message to an email account to be played, or translating a text message to voice automatically using “text-to-voice” technology could be considered instances of unified messaging.
Voice Over IP: This is also referred to as VoIP. VoIP is the ability to conduct real time audio conversations utilizing the Internet. You may also hear this referred to as Internet Telephony.
These are just some of the newest terms and technologies that are springing up as technology advances. And as technology advances and your clients become reliant on that technology, it becomes vital that the call center positions itself to become an all important link–the link that ties together the BAM business, the Internet presence, and the call center into a one-contact point. That one-contact point has become known as the multimedia contact center.
[From Connection Magazine – September 2000]