Sunday, January 26, 2014

Impact of Cloud Contact Center Services on Inbound Call Routing

Cloud contact center services are a natural progression of distributed computing where both voice and data services are made available through hosted platforms. Cloud-based solutions offer flexibility and benefits where services can be scaled on-demand and does away with the need to implement and maintain, hardware or platforms.

Inbound call routing services benefit most from distributed setup. From a customer service perspective, this provides opportunity for 7x24 operation with employees from different regions and time-zones working normal eight hour shifts to provide a round the clock operation. It is also a convenient way to handle overflows as different time-zone working hours overlap.

Skills and queues are the fundamental to Automatic Call Distribution. Within a contact center ACD (Automatic Call Distributor), every queue should have an assigned priority with associated skills required for handling its calls. The employees of the contact center operation have skills with skill-levels identifying the their proficiency in the skill.  The ACD routes the inbound calls to the appropriate queue based on the dialed number or the IVR selection. If multiple employees are available to handle the call, it will be routed to the highest skilled employee immediately without making the caller wait in the queue. In the case of a tie, the longest waiting employee will handle the call. When no one is available immediately, the calls waits in the queue.

There are functionality available to improve customer service when callers are forced to wait in a queue. An ACD capable of callback capability will permit the caller to either accept a callback based on caller-id or leave a different callback number, while preserving the priority of the call. Another option is setting up multiple queues with same skill requirements but with different priority. This allows preferential treatment to customers who are valued based on a variety of factors. It is also possible to move calls from one queue to another after the lapse of a specified wait time where more employees (like supervisors) are available to handle the call.

With all this in mind, a Cloud contact center solution opens up the possibility for ACD call routing as more employees from different time-zones are included there by enhancing customer service.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Integration to Cloud Contact Center Services using API

Application Program Interfaces (API) are essential for integrating business and third party systems into the contact center solution work-flow. This is an important consideration when selecting a Cloud contact center solution. Mature service providers offer web services API that allow external applications to automate tasks. Almost all contact center software functionality available through a user interface can be exposed through Web API. 

There are four distinct areas of integration associated with contact center solutions: 
  1. Setup, management and operations of the contact center solution
  2. Dialer and contact center ACD data integration 
  3. Integration to third party and back-end business application to manage the work-flow
  4. Reporting data and Analytics to measure contact center performance 
The maturity of a cloud contact center service can be judged by the extent of the availability of Web services API for the solution. Service providers are offering Cloud contact center solutions based on different telephony engines but Asterisk based Cloud services have stolen a march over other telephony platforms by offering a powerful, cost effective, and open solution.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Integrating Phone, Email and Trouble-ticket support through Multi-Channel ACD

Providing good support to existing customers for your products or services will preserve customer loyalty and generate long term support revenue. This is especially true with software and information technology products and services. In the global market place, phone, email and web based support are the norm for offering customer service but they consume significant resources. With so much emphasis on sales, a lot of programs are offered to push sales, resulting in large volumes of customer inquiry. It is useful to look at how phone, email and web inquiries are organized before presenting them to a multi-channel call center software for routing.

Phone support is offered through a voice portal (a dedicated toll free or regular phone number). For email support offered through the organization's web site, the portal may have a web form for the customer to furnish details. Otherwise it might be just be an email address for the customer to send a free form email. For every new email inquiry, an automatic reference identification is inserted in the subject line while generating an auto-reply, acknowledging the inquiry. This reference is used to link all the emails associated with a specific customer request or complaint.

Web based support is an access to report a trouble-ticket. A trouble ticket system is a web based system that is accessible to both your customers and your employees with different privileges. The system saves and organizes all customer requests in its database. For every new request, the system can be made to generate an auto-email answer and reply back to the customer to acknowledge the receipt of the customer inquiry. A ticket number will be generated for every single request. The customer service employees will address these ticket issues and resolve them in some sequence. The customer can view updates to the issue or get email updates depending upon how the system is configured.

A multi-channel contact center ACD for phone, email and web customer support can be used to effectively streamline work flow processes, remove inefficiencies and improve overall productivity. In a typical Help Desk environment, even with long term data from Work Force Management (WFM), the difficulty is in having appropriate staffing level to handle the phone calls within the service standards set by the Service Level Agreement (SLA).

A call center ACD will offer queues with skills based routing where the calls are routed to the the most appropriately skilled employee available to handle the call. A multi-channel ACD will offer skills based routing for queues for phone calls, emails, and web channels. This provides the flexibility to setup as many queues and as many skills as the work-flow demands. Queues can have different priorities levels as well.

Call routing is dictated by skills based routing and queue priority. Multiple queues can be setup to handle customer support from each category, namely phone calls or emails or trouble tickets. These individual queues can have different priority levels, depending on how a business wants to offer support services. When an employee becomes available to handle a customer, the longest waiting customer from the highest priority queue will be offered. If multiple employees are available when a customer inquiry comes in, the most skilled employee will handle it.  Contact center software offering multi-channel ACD provides a wonderful opportunity to introduce efficiency and bring in cost savings.

The availability of Asterisk based multi-tenant systems offering multi-channel ACD solutions for contact centers has created a wonderful opportunity for organizations to bring in greater efficiency without investing heavily in infrastructure and software. Asterisk as the underlying telephony layer, brings in significant technology advantage and considerable cost savings.  Multi-tenant contact center software, capable of scaling to manage multiple Asterisk servers will accommodate large user base and growth. Cloud based service offerings with multi-channel ACD will enable smaller organizations to offer efficient help desk and customer service options.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Visual Call Flow Designer

Call flow management influences the efficiency of service delivery through the voice portal of an inbound contact center. Interactive Voice Responses (IVR) are an important sub-set that open up opportunity for self-service and automation within an multi-channel contact center center operation. A visual call flow designer is a graphical tool to build work-flows for interaction with the caller, perform automated tasks, make decisions on branching based on customer input, and dictate the routing. A sophisticated contact center software will include a call flow building tool with a web Graphical User Interface (GUI) designer capable of drag and drop flow management with revision control. 

Call flows within an IVR can be complex, handling detailed customer interactions driven by the organization's business processes. A powerful visual call flow designer will simplify the task of building, testing, and managing these call flow interactions. Both the IVR functions and the contact center ACD functions should be available from the call flow designer GUI to allow the integration of the IVR capability with call routing functions. Call routing decisions assist in directing the right traffic to queues where skills based employees  can better handle the calls with greater efficiency.

The biggest advantage of a GUI driven visual call flow designer is in empowering the contact center management staff to develop, change and manage call-flows, IVR, and dialplans, without the assistance of a programming staff. Based on visual representations, a call flow designer will allow incorporating capabilities like database interactions, along with mundane tasks like playing audio prompts, collecting responses, and directing calls into queues with the right priority.

Modern dialplan builders with visual call-flow designers unleash the full functionality of a call center software and the underlying Asterisk telephony, by providing a dynamic visual modeling tool for designing the IVR applications. A multi-tenant deployment requires a scalable contact center solution employing a cluster of Asterisk servers controlled by a powerful contact center ACD. A visual call flow design tool with revision control is critical for self-service IVR management in a multi-tenant Cloud offering.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Contact center work-flow changes due to CRM use

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has become vital to marketing. Most organizations have a similar process in converting leads to sales even though their businesses are varied. A CRM software provides insight into the progress of the leads from the time they were generated as a contact record, through their life-cycle, till they reach fruition. Along the way, contact centers are used to increase the effectiveness of reaching out and communicating with current and future customers. 

The contact center solutions follow work-flow processes meant to increase the effectiveness of taking contact records to positive conclusions. The days of the predictive dialer being unleashed on a large cold list is long gone. The process of customer contact has evolved and it has required changes to the work-flow of a call center software to accommodate the lead flow management within the CRM software.

Most contact centers handle inbound, outbound, email, and chat, all in a unified work-flow. Therefore the user interface for the customer call handling representatives should have the inherent flexibility to allow the management to modify the work-flow to suit the initiatives of the organization. This is possible only if the contact center ACD and dialer software has the required flexibility and interfaces.

There are many CRM vendors like Saleforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Netsuite, SugarCRM and Kana. Similarly there are many more contact center software providers. The growth and evolution of Asterisk as a telephony platform has impacted the availability and economics of the contact centers tremendously in a positive sense.

Both the CRM software and the contact center solutions are available as Multi-tenant cloud offering from managed service providers. Work-flow integration should be an important consideration while selecting a service provider. Multi-tenant contact center ACD and Dialer solutions based on Asterisk telephony offer viable back-end integration to CRM software and databases providing the necessary work-flow integration.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

ACD Inter-Operability with PBX switches simplifies remote and at-home agent setup

In many organizational setup, phone system is in place well before anything else. If a decision is made later to add customer service or support operations internally, it involves setting a full function contact center ACD.  This ACD will handle among other things, all the IVR (Interactive Voice Response), Queues, Skills based Routing, time of the day scheduling and associated call center activities for the planned customer service or support. Once an enterprise level call center software is identified based on functionality, its inter-operability with the existing office PBX will determine if the call center agents can also be a part of the same extension schema for uniformity within the organization.

A modern contact center software should provide seamless integration to your existing office PBX. The office phone switch could be any modern PBX like an Avaya, a Shoretel or an Asterisk based Switchvox. The availability of such inter-operability will not only allow easy expansion with the agent phones behind existing office PBX but also keep options open for setting up distributed remote agents who can work out of different office locations within the same organization, all operating out of the same ACD queues.

A good ACD will not distinguish between remote agents and at-home agents. The voice end-points for an ACD agent can be a landline or a mobile phone. The key driver for providing remote and work from home agent capability is the ability of the call center ACD to treat different phone end-points as an integral part of the ACD agent voice end-point. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Visual Tool for Building Sophisticated IVR

In an inbound contact center, calls coming into every DID (or DDI as it is referred in Europe) will typically flow through an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) into the ACD for call routing and distribution. A visual tool greatly simplifies the task of building this IVR especially if it is a sophisticated multi-level IVR.

Asterisk, the a game changing hybrid PBX, comes with a customizable Diaplan that allows control over all facets of inbound and outbound calling. Dialplan, an important functional component within Asterisk, offers an internal mechanism and tool  to introduce, modify and control call-flow through it rich syntax.

Call center solutions for Asterisk will require a full-function ACD to provide essential features like skills based routing, queue prioritization, queue callback, supervisor dashboards, real-time and historical reporting. Larger contact center ACD additionally scale to multiple Asterisk servers in a cluster to handle the maximum concurrent call volume. In this call-flow, the calls will go through an IVR to flow into the different queues of the ACD for skills based routing.

Q-Suite offers a  visual tool for the customers to develop effective and powerful Interactive Voice Response systems. Its Visual Diaplan Builder comes with a large library of functions within an intuitive GUI tool to build call-flows for effective call handling and distribution. This includes the functionality available from the Asterisk Dialaplan as well as the rich call distribution functionality of the ACD. It can be further enhanced with libraries for TTS (Text to Speech) and ASR (Automatic Speech Recognition).