Enterprise Software

TechRepublic Tutorial: Defining the call center of the future

Get a glimpse of what call centers may look like in the future


The traditional customer service center will soon be a thing of the past. The new model of call center embraces all-media, self-service-support, or what I like to call the "Customer Management Interaction Center" (CMIC).

The change to a CMIC will affect every business unit within a company. As new network technologies become available, customers will demand faster, more accurate business services. Will your business keep up?
ACD: Automated call distributionAPI: Application programming interfaceCMIC: Customer management interaction centerCRM: Customer relationship managementCTI: Computer-to-telephony integration capabilitiesIVR: Interactive voice response
It’s a 24/7 world
Throughout the 1990s, call centers primarily used the telephone for customer service support. Automated Call Distribution (ACD) products have provided much of the “call routing” functionality needed to connect a voice caller with a service agent. Call centers have also leveraged Computer-to-Telephony Integration (CTI) capabilities to give routing functionality more options, such as ready information, intelligent queuing, and customer-programmable features (or APIs).

As more and more people use the Internet for all kinds of purposes, customers are becoming more technology-savvy. This demand for “instant” access to information is forcing businesses to change their customer management support strategies. As a result, business is moving toward the next generation of customer service technology.

Consumers expect 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week, prompt resolution support services that the CMIC will deliver. On top of it all, customer management strategies will derive tier services, workflows, and proactive call-out scripting for the agents in the centers. To handle this demand, the new generation of call centers must address several challenges if the “all-media,” “always-available” customer management interaction center environment is going to succeed.

The redesign of existing business processes, workflows, and operations
To get the most out of their CMICs, companies need to manage transactions in real time, using online updates to ensure operational effectiveness.

In the CMIC, the system automatically routes customer service requests. For example, requests may be sent to:
  • Skilled agents
  • Specialized inquiry-only or full-service systems
  • Third-party applications
  • Customer information marts

The standard for customer service will continue to rise. In order to stay competitive, businesses must design customer management interaction centers to react to customer requests faster and more effectively than earlier-generation call centers.

Review of existing system capabilities vs. availability of new functionality
Figure A illustrates the kind of traditional ACD products already in place in most call centers. These products typically support automated attendant, call queuing, call prioritization, and call routing services. Some implementations include the use of basic CTI and voice-messaging functionality to aid in the processing of calls by providing routing alternatives based on information about individual callers.

Figure A
We’ll compare this traditional call center implementation to the enhanced model of the future.


In the customer management interaction center, CTI functionality must be expanded to ensure customer requests can be processed and completed from an expanded set of services. For instance, notice the new access domain depicted in Figure B. This capability requires the availability of a robust set of data stores with the right information about customers, and the appropriate CTI server components to manage the different media requests. All in all, if an organization is going to achieve its customer management objectives, CMICs will need a larger, more competitive and intelligent business domain than in the past.

CTI services must support a broad set of networking (IP, circuit-switched, etc.), messaging (voice mail, IVR), and telephony platforms to facilitate the prompt identification, routing, completion, and reporting of all service requests. CTI applications must be developed based on open standards so that they are not dependent on a particular operating system's software or hardware. The ability to integrate and interface simultaneously with multiple platforms will provide the optimal benefit in this implementation.

Figure B
Here’s the diagram for the enhanced Customer Management Interaction Center.


The network’s the thing
The enhanced CMIC will be characterized by the integration of Local Area Network (LAN), Wide Area Network (WAN), and telecommunications systems to manage the processing of voice and data traffic in and out of the enterprise. While this concept is not new, the infrastructure of the future differs from existing ones in one element: all media is received, managed, and processed by the same core network, and prioritized according to its content and intended purpose.

For example, voice traffic may be prioritized above video when managing available bandwidth. This prioritization is predefined and automatically applied by the network as the traffic is delivered.

Customer data stores built around a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) approach allow CTI applications to quickly access, select, and use the right information before, during, and after customer requests are received. Through the integration of customer databases with CTI technology, customers and businesses will derive mutual benefits.

Are the benefits worth the cost?
Because implementing advanced CTI services may be costly, a business wanting to embrace this technology will need to weigh the total cost of this implementation against the potential value to both the customer and the company. Figure C describes how an advanced computer-to-telephony integration benefits both the customer and the company.

Figure C
This benefits matrix table describes some of the benefits of implementing advanced computer-to-telephony integration.


Integration of hardware and software components into the existing environment
Once a business has decided to implement a CMIC, its first step is to evaluate the existing systems and technologies used within the company. The setup of the CMIC will likely require the existing telephony, network, and computing services within the organization to be upgraded.

The customer service agents within the CMIC must have the right desktop tools, including fast computer devices, desktop applications (front-end systems, CTI clients, etc.), and communications interfaces. The power of the computing device employed will depend on the types of services that a company will offer its clients.

Because agent computers need to interface with customers in real time, network bandwidth and availability are crucial to an effective CMIC.

Everyone from the help desk manager to the CIO must carefully consider the level of bandwidth that will have to be supported on an ongoing basis. The best products for a CMIC implementation will allow the consolidation and routing of IP, traditional voice, and video traffic in the same network.

Also critical to CMIC implementation is the integration of host systems and applications with network and telephony resources. Businesses that already have CTI installed will need to determine whether their current system functionality can support a self-service strategy, such as call-blending, Internet browsing, and intelligent call routing functions. In addition, companies should determine whether their existing IVR and voice mail systems can handle callback requests, automated “banking”-type functions, and fulfillment options.

Recruitment and retention of the right staff
The most important resource for the future Customer Management Interaction Center is the call center agent. This agent will have to be more technology-capable than in the past and be knowledgeable in the integrated suite of customer functions that will form the future electronic processing character of a company. Agents will be required to interface with customers online (through Internet chat pages, collaboration programs, Web “call-me” pages, etc.), while updating company databases, answering phones, receiving faxes (at the desktop), etc.

To attract and retain a capable call center workforce, companies will need to redesign job positions and offer attractive benefits. In their efforts to hire the best talent, companies may want to consider flexible scheduling, attractive working conditions, work-at-home programs, performance-based compensation and benefits, and education and advancement opportunities.
This CMIC agent position needs to be considered, treated, and marketed as a career, not as a job, if companies expect to hire and keep this select group of people.
By adapting technology into “everyday” business processes, companies will realize significant savings, retain and grow their customer base, and be able to create and market their products and services more effectively. Flexibility, not complexity, will define the call center of the future.

As a Senior Technology Consultant for PINKERTON Scientific, Mr. Trestini is responsible for enterprise network management and call center practice leadership. You can reach him at (860) 521-3100.

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