New generation of integrated inbound/outbound telemarketing systems, The

new generation of integrated inbound/outbound telemarketing systems, The

Reece, Roger

Predictive dialers have come a long way during their first decade of development. Today’s advanced systems are combining outbound dialing with inbound ACD functions, host computer screen synchronization, detailed reports and statistics, and computer-telephony interfaces (CTI) with PBX and ACD systems. The term “predictive dialer” is slowly disappearing and is being replaced by more encompassing terms such as “call servers” in order to include both inbound and outbound call processing.

As this new generation of integrated inbound/outbound call servers matures, telemarketing managers will be able to take advantage of new technologies, more features, and a greater level of flexibility than was possible in the older systems. The new systems will provide:

* Client/Server Architecture

* New Industry Standards

* Integrated Dialer/ACD/IVR Functions

* Advanced Reporting

* More Configuration Options

* More Options for Managers

* More Productivity.

Client/Server Architecture

This term is used frequently today, but what does it actually mean? Back in the old days of mainframes and mini-computers, data processing tasks were performed on a single processor. To handle bigger tasks, you had to get a bigger computer. Client/server architectures allow major computing applications, such as predictive dialing, to migrate down from mainframes to PCs by distributing the computing tasks among multiple “task-specific” computers.

In Figure 1, each box is a separate, task-specific computer such as a PC. (Figure 1 omitted) The PCs are connected through a local area network (LAN), and communicate with each other through a common application programming interface (API). This configuration makes predictive dialing applications more efficient and cost-effective.

For example, in a typical predictive dialing configuration, computing tasks are performed in different task-specific computers. The agent’s PC (client) would perform log-in and prompting, sending the log-in request to the application server. The application server then sends a request to the database server for phone numbers to dial and routes the results to the telephony server where the dialing actually takes place. When a phone number is dialed, resulting in a live answer, the result is sent to the application server. The application server sends a request to the telephony server to route the call to a specific agent and sends the record ID for the phone number dialed to the agent’s PC. The agent application then requests the data for the call from the database server, and the information about the caller is displayed on the agent’s screen.

This process may sound complicated, but it actually simplifies the entire process. Each processor is task-specific and either sends a request (client function) to another processor or processes a client request (server function) and returns the result. This architecture eliminates the need to replace your system when you expand–you just add servers and client workstations. The efficiency of the API and the sharing of tasks makes client/server architectures more cost-effective than any other architecture.

New Standards Industry

The computer revolution we are experiencing has come about largely due to the emergence of industry standards. In the past, developers were required to write their own proprietary operating systems and interfaces, making systems expensive and difficult to integrate with other products. But powerful operating systems such as UNIX, OS/2 and NT combined with 486/Pentium PC hardware have provided developers with the perfect platform for client/server architectures. Ethernet and Token Ring LANs provide networking standards, and more recently new client/server API standards have emerged to provide efficient voice/data integration.

Microsoft and Intel’s TAPI (Telephony Application Programming Interface) is the new standard for the integrated voice/data workstation. TAPI support is built into Windows 95 and will eliminate the need for proprietary APIs at the agent workstation. TAPI support in Windows will allow agent applications in PCs to access the PC’s sound card, modems, and “phone card.” Dozens of TAPI-based applications are already available, providing a Windows interface for desktop telephony functions.

Novell and AT&T’s TSAPI (Telephony Services API) is a new standard for LAN-based computer telephony interfaces (CTI). Every PBX vendor has a proprietary CTI protocol, making it very difficult to integrate a predictive dialer, IVR, PBX and host computer into a single system. All major PBX vendors have signed up to develop TSAPI interfaces which will allow multivendor interoperability through a single client/server API. This means that a predictive dialer can control a ROLM, Northern Telecom, AT&T or Mitel PBX with the same set of commands.

TAPI and TSAPI applications can now talk to each other through TMAP, a software module developed by Northern Telecom that maps the TAPI command set to TSAPI commands. Northern Telecom has made TMAP available to developers at no charge in order to promote the standards. TMAP allows TAPI desktop applications to move off the desktop and access or control network telephony servers and PBX/ACD systems through TSAPI.

Several hundred hardware and software developers have joined Dialogic in supporting (and defining) SCSA (signal computing system architecture), a new standard for voice hardware. A new generation of telephony servers and PBXs is emerging based on the SCSA standard. SCSA provides a standard for voice hardware on the PC platform, taking advantage of the power, low cost and flexibility of PC LAN technology for voice integration. The SCSA architecture will provide tremendous flexibility for integrating predictive dialing, IVR, PBX and ACD functions from different vendors into an integrated call services network.

With these new standards, the definitions of PBX, ACD, IVR, and predictive dialing systems will blur. Initially, existing systems will adapt to the standards allowing interoperability in a LAN environment, as illustrated in Figure 2. (Figure 2 omitted) Eventually, general-purpose telephony servers will be driven by application servers running inbound and outbound agent, voice response/messaging, and other applications, as illustrated in Figure 3. (Figure 3 omitted)

What will this new technology mean for inbound/outbound marketing?

Integrated Dialer/ACD/IVR Functions

With an inbound/outbound operation, agents can be designated to receive inbound calls, outbound calls or both, with skill codes for sales, customer service, etc. Managers can set up inbound call groups and outbound calling campaigns by assigning agents with the appropriate skill sets. And IVR applications can be set up for automated self-service. For example, a cable television operator might set up an IVR application to play a greeting to each inbound caller. Caller ID would be captured with each call and would follow the call through each transaction. The greeting would include a voice menu allowing the caller to transfer to a CSR, sales agent, administrative extension, or automated services such as pay-per-view ordering or account balance inquiry.

If the caller selects an automated service such as pay-per-view, he or she can listen to an audio guide, listen to a preview describing a specific movie or event, or place an order. If the caller selects the option to speak to a sales agent, the call is transferred with the appropriate screen display of information on the caller. After handling the sales call, the sales agent asks the caller if he or she would like to be notified of upcoming special promotions and events. After identifying the caller’s interests (rock concerts and boxing events), the agent enters the information on the screen.

Two weeks before the next pay-per-view boxing event, a list is prepared and the application server sends a request to the database server for a list of cable subscribers who have requested notification of boxing events. The IVR application dials each subscriber and plays a prerecorded message describing the event and the special discount price. The subscriber can press 1 to order, 2 to hear about other special promotions, or to speak with a sales agent. If a sales agent is requested, the appropriate PPV order screen for the subscriber is automatically displayed on the agent’s screen.

Since outbound and inbound sales calls require the same skill sets, all sales agents are designated as both inbound and outbound, so when inbound calls are not present, agents are automatically presented with outbound sales calls based on the scheduled campaigns. During inbound peak periods, all sales agents are automatically moved to the inbound mode as are all CSRs designated with the sales skill code. Additionally, all outbound IVR campaigns are suspended, since they generate sales agent calls.

In this scenario, the application server provides inbound and outbound agent and IVR applications, giving the manager the ability to blend campaigns for effective utilization of agents and phone lines.

Advanced Reporting

The utilization of a database server in call server applications provides more comprehensive reporting, in that multiple application servers can utilize a single database for event and call-result logging, statistics and list management. Inbound/outbound call blending, scheduled call backs, and IVR applications provide a challenge for conventional reporting systems. Integrated database servers will provide reports analyzing all activity on a given time period, including payroll and productivity reports by group and agent. Further breakdown will allocate call results to specific campaigns including callbacks from previous campaigns, and inbound calls by classification.

The database will also maintain call histories by phone number, household or account number providing database marketing functions. Expansion of relational tables will provide the ability to append household and lifestyle data to each record.

More Configuration Options

The new generation of inbound/outbound telemarketing systems will provide more flexibility for configurations, including the ability to support any network user as a call services client (agent, call center supervisor, etc.). Telephony servers can be located in different buildings or cities supporting dispersed workforces with centralized control and reporting. Today’s LAN/WAN technology makes it easy to extend networks over wide areas, and wherever the network can go, call services can also go. Telephone lines are local to the telephony servers, so there is no need to network phone lines (See Figure 4). (Figure 4 omitted) Agents working from home will also be easily supported through two standard phone lines: one to dial up the closest telephony server and one to access the LAN/WAN for a data connection.

More Options For Managers

Many new systems support multiple management levels, providing a first-line supervisory level that can access only certain resources and perform only basic supervisory functions, while higher-level managers have more control. Calling campaigns can be scheduled weeks ahead of time, and conflict alerts provide notification of resource conflicts. Various alerts can be set to notify supervisors and managers of low sales-to-contact ratios, error conditions, etc. Alerts can be on-screen and/or alert the supervisor/manager by phone/pager.

Just as agents can work from home, supervisors can monitor from home or remote locations. Audio monitoring can be performed from any phone anywhere by dialing into the telephony server and entering an access number. Monitoring of agent screens and statistics as well as full system management can be performed from any PC with a modem and the appropriate password.

Most important is the ability to “program” the system to combine the resources of inbound/outbound agents and interactive voice response to meet the requirements of any new inbound/outbound campaign. This includes creating/modifying inbound/outbound agent screens, adding database fields/tables, defining branching scripts, defining call flows, creating voice prompts and menus, defining screen pop sequences and designing reports, all with a nonprogrammer user interface.

More Productivity

The goal of new generation call servers is increased productivity, which translates into greater sales volumes. Many of the current generation of inbound/outbound telemarketing systems provide features such as those discussed in this article, but often they are so complex to implement that they aren’t used. Often, to get a large sale, a vendor will incorporate a feature in the fastest way possible, not bothering with user interface, design details or industry standards. The result may be marketed afterwards as a standard feature, but this approach eventually evolves into an unsupportable software architecture prone to major bugs each time the vendor attempts to release a new software version. You can only stuff so many 1990s’ features into a 1980s’ architecture.

You can expect to see every major inbound/outbound telemarketing system vendor release new systems with new client/server architectures over the next few years. Expect to hear more buzzwords such as TAPI, TSAPI and SCSA. Expect to see the emergence of new vendors and new ways to integrate products from different vendors. Perhaps best of all, expect prices to decline as performance and features increase. Does this mean you should wait until it is all here at the lowest price? As soon as that day arrives, something better will be released the next day. More important, assess your needs and work with vendors who have proven their commitment to their customers and to the industry.

Roger Reece is vice president of marketing for Telecorp Systems, Inc., located in Roswell, Georgia. Telecorp was founded in 1981, and provides integrated inbound and outbound call processing systems for call centers.

Copyright Technology Marketing Corporation Mar 1995

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