CTI in the 21st Century

Phil-Reynolds-Oak-July-2014

In the second part of this series of three articles looking at CTI in the 21st Century, Phillip Reynolds, Technology Evangelist & Joint CEO at Oak, looks at how CTI empowers call centre working and uncovers the sales opportunity for formal and informal call centre management and reporting.

In the first article we looked at what CTI is and how it might be used in businesses and call centres. In this article we are going to drill down into how call centres work, what hunt groups and agents are, and what the differences are between a formal call centre and an informal call centre.

This does of course present an interesting challenge as the terminology used by different telephone system manufacturers is not at all consistent and can be quite misleading.

So what is a call centre and where does CTI come in?

Call centres are where a team of specially trained office (business or home) based staff focus on answering or making as many effective calls as possible in the shortest possible time.

The staff in a call centre are often referred to as agents and I must admit 30 years on I can’t help thinking about secret agents and 007 every time the term ‘agent’ is mentioned; a team of would be James Bonds and Miss Moneypennies ready to take your calls …”my name’s Bond, James Bond, how may I help you today?”

The call centre description is more about where calls go to first before being sent to agents. The agents can be located in multiple locations, not just one office location. They could be homeworkers, they could be located in a different country, they could simply be in your normal business premises, and of course they could be located in all three. There is also the perception that all call centres are very big having hundreds if not thousands of people all sitting in huge open plan offices and of course this is partly true. However, a team of perhaps 5 to 10 staff working together could also be considered a call centre and there are many many of these dotted around the UK.

So we have the agents, we have a call centre, what happens next?

Well let’s look at an inbound call centre. You’ve published a phone number, advertised on the TV, radio, or in the press, and potential customers are ringing in to buy your products or services. You’ve got a lot of calls coming in and they have to be routed to individual agents to be answered. We could simply have 200 phones ringing in an office and the first person to pickup gets the call. The implication here of course is that there are 200 people sitting at their desks ready to take calls which would be crazy. What you want is 200 people already on calls and when the next agent becomes free they get the next call. What if you have two agents free, which one should the next call go to? This is where clever software on the telephone system works out who has been idle (not on a call) the longest and presents the call to that agent.

If all the agents are busy the calls need to go into a queue and wait in that queue until an agent becomes free. The queues are often referred to as hunt groups, calls waiting in a queue hunting around till they find a free agent.

Now is probably a good time for me to explain the difference between a formal call centre and an informal call centre. In a formal call centre agents actually log into hunt groups by entering a code on a telephone handset or by using a piece of software on their computer and the magical CTI connection to the telephone system. By logging in the telephone system knows that that agent is available to take calls, and of course when they log out it knows that they can’t take calls. What this means in practice is that if no one is logged in on a handset the telephone system will avoid ringing that handset.

Now if we take an informal call centre which, to be honest, can really be any business at all, you don’t have agents and you don’t have people logging in or out. What you do have however, is a number of phones ringing where people are sat and one of those people answers the call. So in your normal business you set up a group of phones to ring when a call comes in and this effectively becomes your hunt group. It’s not as efficient as using hunt groups and agents but, as it’s normally done for small groups of 5 or 10 staff in the same location, the team themselves become the arbitrators as to who takes the next call.

And what ties all of this together?

Well, it is CTI. CTI allows for all that is going on in a formal or informal call centre to be reported on immediately in real-time just as it happens and this in turn means that any call centre, formal or informal, can benefit from a real-time wallboard, real-time call control and a real-time reporting solution.

This is a great new opportunity for the channel and one that Oak fully supports with its range of CTI based solutions including the new Evolve Business Edition and Evolve Call Centre Edition. As this is a new opportunity for resellers this will support growth in reseller sales going forward.

Next month we’ll look at how to configure hunt groups to get meaningful statistics and how to minimise support when installing call centre telephony solutions.