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Friday, May 27, 2022

Call Centers



“A broad, global approach to call center technology is more critical today than ever before–even for so-called “local” businesses…”

Let’s start with some basic questions: What the heck is a call center? What can it do for my business? And what does it have to do with the Internet?

Timely questions, indeed. Call centers are business operations that employ agents to handle large volumes of incoming or outgoing calls. They help businesses provide a whole new level of cost-effective service to their customers. Through call centers, businesses can provide 24-hour a day, seven-day a week service. They can also strengthen relationships with customers by offering highly specialized, personalized attention.

The convergence of computers and telecommunications has unshackled today & #237;s business from the bounds of time, space and distance. Nowhere is this more evident than in today’s high-tech, high-touch, high-service call centers.

Case in point: Today’s financial services industry is a high-stakes game in the midst of sweeping change–changes in rules, regulations and players. Governmental policy, the globalization of markets and the trend toward mergers all make survival a major business challenge for financial institutions worldwide. Today’s most innovative financial companies — banks, brokerages, savings and loans — recognize that success requires a laser-sharp focus on high-quality customer service. Most of these companies are turning to leading-edge communications technology in their call centers to seize a competitive advantage.

Indeed, today’s best customer-service companies, whether in banking, retail, the hospitality industry or manufacturing, understand that, more often than not, their call center is responsible for the customer’s first impression of their business. They know the call center is a key strategic asset, since service and efficiency are essential to meeting the needs of today’s demanding customers. These companies expect — even demand — that their call centers harness the power of the information revolution to meet these changing human needs.

Communications-system companies, like Lucent Technologies, are responding in kind. For instance, the industry has developed new computer-telephony integration technology to match a caller’s phone number with the caller’s account information and deliver the phone call and records simultaneously to a call center agent. Armed with this information, the agent is ready to begin helping the caller immediately.

Today’s call center technology can also automatically route a customer’s call to the next available agent, so customers spend less time on hold. The technology can help balance agent work loads, too. Moreover, today’s systems can be used to route customer calls to a subject expert whose skills match the caller’s needs–providing customized service for the customer inquiring about a special type of purchase, or who prefers to speak in a particular language. Another application gives managers of call centers the average talk time for each call, peak calling times and other useful information.

Some call center specialists can also provide complete integration of the most sophisticated of call center technology, ranging from call management systems, call accounting systems, automatic call distributors, computer-technology links, integrated predictive dialers, interactive voice response systems, and more. This is especially valuable for companies without the time or resources to mix-and-match various vendor’s technologies and systems.

The best communications system companies tie together differing technologies through their call-switching systems. The Definity system at Lucent Technologies, for example, serves as the heart of a call center. It also offers call handling applications in numerous languages and dialects. Recently, the company announced a new generation of call centers that allow customers to browse the Internet and speak to an agent to place orders or ask questions, and do both simultaneously on a single phone line.

Small companies can play, too. For instance, Lucent offers a Compact Call Center solution in 12, 24 and 40-agent packages. The combination of hardware and software lets companies route calls to agents based on customer needs and calling patterns. For instance, calls can be routed by time of day, day of week, an agent’s specialized skills, a caller’s phone number or current conditions in the call center. Lucent also includes capabilities such as interactive voice response and computer-telephony integration to speed response times and improve agent productivity.

For still smaller operations, forward-thinking communications system companies offer call center/help desk features designed specifically for small and mid-sized businesses. Lucent’s version of this system includes specialized call-routing features to get callers to the right person at the right time. It also offers multiple call-answer greetings that can be personalized, and it provides for “screen pops” to deliver calls and customer records to agents simultaneously.

A broad, global approach to call center technology is more critical today than ever before — even for so-called “local” businesses, especially as the Internet begins to make buying from an international company as easy as buying from the corner store.

For businesses looking to improve their customer service through call center technology, they should seek a supplier who continually evolves and improves its technology to meet today’s ever-changing requirements. In the dynamic world of 21st century business, such an eye to the future will clearly differentiate the winners in customer service.

Tom Porter is a Lucent Technologies area general manager overseeing sales of telecommunications equipment for large business customers in Southern

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