Almskog + Frydman Communications



The evolution of call center technology can best be understood in terms of traditional role and corporate outlook. Despite the success of early applications, such as service agencies, catalogs, and high-end customer service, call centers were typically compared to other labor intensive, routine back-office functions. Niche markets, unique requirements, and limited integration options meant proprietary technology solutions.

The 1990s have seen consideration of service quality and delivery costs force fundamental changes in priorities. Call centers are increasingly viewed as strategic assets, with critical systems needs.

Call center technology projects are larger and more complicated. While the selection and management of various call center systems was often treated as a departmental function, integration and shared application resources have created a new level of technology overhead. Significant technology initiatives are now reaching smaller centers, even into the 50 to 75 station range, which just several years ago saw very limited integration investments. This trend is particularly true for European start-ups, which are most likely smaller than their U.S. counterparts, but have proven more than willing to invest in technology.

How will the call center of the future change? While the list of most popular GUI (Graphical User Interface) development environments seems to change quite frequently, users are more interested in applications and solutions.

This analysis is intended to provide a look at the most critical areas of call center technology, with a focus on what to expect and how best to manage it.


This section covers five basic categories of call center technology:

Automatic Call Distributors

The primary differences between ACD products involve conditional call routing options, integrated voice processing, reporting, and capacity. This market will continue to be bitterly competitive, but with vendor strategy focused on packaging and frequent upgrades rather than price reductions.

With system prices staying in the $1,500 to $4,000 per station range, combined with new release upgrade costs reaching $100,000+, depending on product and configuration, ACD will continue to be a priority for PBX vendors, such as Lucent Technologies (previously AT&T), Nortel, and Siemens Rolm.

Some predictions to watch for:

Interactive Voice Response

IVR often provides the most significant productivity gains relative to other call center technologies. It is not uncommon to find users with 70% to 80% of calls handled without agent intervention. In fact, some vertical markets, such as consumer financial services and airlines, have made IVR a competitive necessity.

Some predictions to watch for:

Contact Management

Contact management applications can be defined as providing call guides or scripts, event reporting, database functions, strategy for outbound calling, interfaces to other applications, and telephony links.

This part of the call center technology marketplace has experienced the greatest turmoil. While an ACD or IVR can be viewed as a turnkey system with limited architecture impact, contact management is most effective where access to enterprise-wide data is readily available. This means both technical support and end-user flexibility.

Some predictions to watch for:

Rapid change has also brought a new world of technical support issues. Developers with contact management experience are particularly scarce, and most integration firms are small, with many integration projects falling into the often dangerous "one of" category. Along with purely technical requirements, skills needed for user system administrators can be equally challenging.

Computer Telephone Integration

While users and providers of contact management applications have been forced to deal with rapid change, CTI continues to be misunderstood.

Applications can range from simple screen-pops based on DNIS, or Dialed Number Identification Service, to complex voice-data transfers between sites or host control of ACD functions.

The emergence of Microsoft's TAPI and Novell's TSAPI CTI gateways hold the promise of lower costs and easier implementation. As compared to CallPath and a variety of native (specific to each ACD interface) CTI products, software costs are considerably lower, but stability problems and feature gaps have left most high-end users skeptical.

Some predictions to watch for:

Long Distance Networks

Call center users have traditionally taken a somewhat cynical approach to how long-distance -works. Products were essentially generic, network technology difficult to understand, and other carriers followed AT&T's lead when it came to tariffs.

Faced with shrinking margins and the promise of bitter competition in the form of RBOC (Regional Bell Operating Company) entries, the "big three " (AT&T, MCI and Sprint) have worked hard to find alternatives.

Some predictions to watch for:


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