On the surface, a call center is just that — a central location where calls are made in hopes of corralling business, raising money, or soliciting information. For anyone immersed in the industry, however, it’s clear that call center efficiency depends on so much more. From tracking the right metrics to using a Computer Telephone Integration (CTI) system that has all the functionality required, there are numerous variables in the equation. What ultimately constitutes a successful call center?

Employees who have been involved in the day-to-day operations of a call center know how challenging it can be. Contending with customer emotions, wrath, suggestions, and feedback is enough to exhaust even the most tireless veterans. Call centers have a turnover rate of between 30 and 45 percent (compared to a 15.1 percent turnover rate in all industries combined). From the side of the customers, the feeling appears mutual; with thousands of complaints lodged each month against businesses that violate the Do Not Call Registry, it’s evident that the relationship between callers and customers is tenuous.

Technology Behind CTI

Fortunately, there are effective CTI solutions that reduce this frustration. Such technology not only makes the act of calling much easier but also the process of collecting call analytics much more efficient (a win-win for call service agents and business owners). Being able to do these things with ease not only empowers the call center managers; it also wins over the customer’s hearts and ultimately saves the company money.

There are two main components behind the technology for integrating computers and telephones: call control and voice processing. Here’s a look at both.

Call control vs. voice processing

Call control is the process of establishing and breaking down calls. Examples of call control functions include tasks as basic as making a call, to more complex functions such as merging calls, placing multi-party conference calls, and transferring calls to another person or department. Voice processing is the function of using voice technology in a messaging environment. It utilizes interactive voice response, converting text to speech, and speech recognition algorithms to control and access information.

Call control in CTI

In the past, call control was managed by telecommunication hardware, such as a central office switch or a key system. With these, the actual calling device sat in front of the calling agent. With the advent of CTI, this control shifted to a computer-based operation.

Now, the user clicks on an icon, and the computer sends a signal to the telephony server. An asynchronous communications stream is thereby opened between the agent’s workstation and the telephony server. When combined with a headset, a person doesn’t even have to touch the phone. Instead, they can initiate, transfer, answer, and mute calls with a simple click.

There are two main situations in which call control is useful:

  • Outbound calls: Using the computer system, a call center agent can easily place callers on hold, transfer calls to another extension, and set up conference calls. To place a call, the user simply clicks on a name in the database and then waits for the speakerphone to open so that they can begin a conversation. Using their mouse and keyboard, they can then select options for how to handle the call.
  • Inbound calls: Caller ID information is sent to the receiving private branch exchange (PBX), where it is then delivered to the telephony server and onward to the call center agent’s phone. A data record is then sent to the client workstation. Most programs that offer this service also allow the agent to control the call functioning using a computer, just as they would in an outbound call.

Whenever a call comes in, a notification message appears on the screen, thereby notifying the user of who is calling. With call control, the agent can either answer the call directly or transfer it. A call control system also notifies agents of missed calls and the timing of those calls.

A call control CTI is usually 100 percent web-browser based without the need to install additional software. Some programs allow users to send an automated email to a colleague so that all of the caller’s details pop up immediately when a call is transferred. They also have searchable phone books with click-dial functionality.

The benefits of having a call control system are twofold: (1) increase user efficiency, and (2), reduce costs.

Voice processing in CTI

Voice processing in CTI is a broad term used to describe any functionality that uses a voice. While the umbrella term is vast, some of the technologies that use a voice processor include:

  • Voice messaging: The ability to receive, send, and respond to voice messages
  • Audiotext: The submission of pre-recorded messages to callers who make a request via a telephone keypad
  • Automated attendant: A system that receives and directs calls without human intervention based on a caller’s input via a telephone keypad or voice responses
  • Speech recognition: The ability to recognize voice commands and responses without the use of a telephone keypad
  • Interactive Voice Response: Interacting with a caller by providing specific information in response to a caller’s request

Voice processors allow companies to convey information, such as business hours and directions, without necessitating a human interaction.

While the benefits of a voice processing system are endless, some of the most commonly cited reasons for selecting this technology include:

  • Reduced costs to a company for personnel;
  • Ability to access and respond to messages from nearly anywhere;
  • Freedom to play pre-recorded messages to callers;
  • Ability to forward calls to their desired location without human involvement;
  • Communication between parties without regard for time or location.

Although advanced functionality is available, there are some noteworthy downsides to voice processing systems. For one, accessing the advanced capabilities can be a convoluted process, which leaves most of the functions unused. Additionally, a user who has 40 voice messages must listen to them all in chronological order or reverse chronological order. This may be undesirable when time is limited, or certain messages are urgent.

Another challenge to this technology is the inability to manage the messages easily. It is difficult to fast-forward, rewind, forward, or reply to messages. Doing so usually requires an action that is neither intuitive nor memorized.

Within the realm of CTI, call control and voice processing serve a distinct purpose. Combining a sophisticated call control system with a CTI-based voice messaging system elevates a call center’s overall capabilities immensely.