Let’s look at the software that drives call centers and contact centers
As we learned in the last chapter, call centers, and contact centers depend on a wide array of equipment, technology and software to provide service and support. In this chapter, we’ll take a look at the call center software that makes it all happen.
A brief history of call center software
Historically, call centers were deployed on premise using private branch exchange (PBX) equipment purchased and maintained in-house by the call center organization. The PBX performs several key functions including establishing, maintaining, metering and disconnecting calls between phone sets. The term PBX was coined when automatic switching technology replaced human switchboard operators who manually connected calls. As data networks have become increasingly popular, PBX systems now support Voice over IP (VoIP) protocols to carry calls and are now referred to as IP PBX.
Two additional components of the PBX are automatic call distributors (ACD) and interactive voice response (IVR). Automatic call distributors route incoming calls to specific agents based on a set of predetermined rules. For example, an inbound call can be routed based on the phone number of the caller, the number dialed, or information obtained through the caller’s interaction with the IVR.
IVRs enable a caller to receive information and complete self-service transactions by either touch tone (“press 1 to hear your balance”) or speech recognition (“I’d like to transfer $100 from savings to checking”). Most IVRs also give the caller the option of being connected to a live agent. The live agent connection is then made through the ACD.
ACDs also offer skills-based routing. This enables a call center manager to assign agents to various queues based on knowledge or training. The most advanced ACDs take advantage of tight CRM integration, enabling calls to be routed based on any information the organization has about the caller. For example, the business might use caller ID to determine that the customer has an open case and choose to direct the call to the agent who helped the customer in the past. Or they might choose to have VIP callers bypass the IVR entirely and be immediately connected to a premium concierge.
Telephony with a computer backbone
Call centers rely on computer telephony integration or CTI to retrieve information from a database based on information about a phone call. This is used to “pop” screens so that agents can see information about an incoming call or caller. At first, CTI referred to telephony integration with a desktop computer but now includes integration with a server. In addition to screen pops, CTI also controls:
- Dialing – Click-to-call as well as automated dialing
- Phone and Call control – hold, conference, transfer
- Call center agent – Agents can set their state as ready to receive calls or busy
- Call routing – Routing inbound calls to specific agents or teams of agents
- Call reporting – Giving call center managers detailed information about how calls are handled
THE DRAWBACKS OF ON-PREMISES CALL CENTER
Housing all the call center equipment (PBX, ACD, IVR and servers) onsite has been a common approach. However, it’s an approach that is complicated, costly and inflexible. It requires the organization to manage a complicated technology stack that includes telephony, ACD, IVR, agent desktops and more. It also requires the customer to make a substantial up-front investment in software and equipment and fund the ongoing operation of one or more data centers to house all of the call center infrastructure. Some companies use ACD technology that’s old, based on proprietary technology, and may require a telecom engineer to maintain. Upgrades are costly, and even minor changes require IT intervention. Finally, many organizations struggle to keep everything up-to-date with the latest upgrades and most advanced features. Because of this “technical debt”, new solutions, from a variety of vendors, are often bolted on to old equipment as call center software technology evolves. This blend of disconnected systems and processes frequently creates additional complexity.
In rolls the cloud
The proliferation of the cloud and software as a service paved the way for a growing cloud-based call center software industry. CFOs love the cloud as a viable method for incorporating technology without a large financial outlay. IT managers appreciate the fact that business users become more self-sufficient and less reliant on IT to support routine tasks. Service and support teams benefit through higher productivity as they gain access to the latest and most advanced technology.