Understanding the 3 levels of call-blending technology
The integration of inbound and outbound calling functions–or call blending–is one of the newer developments in customer management solutions. And it’s an exciting one. Call blending is one of the most significant productivity enhancement tools since the development of predictive dialing in the mid-1980s.
But it takes more than just purchasing technology to attain optimum productivity and results. It requires commitment and a full partnership between you and the company that provides the technology. It calls for a complete understanding of your specific needs in managing your customer relationships, combined with a consultative approach in developing the right call center solution for your organization.
What exactly is call blending? In it the simplest terms, it is the ability of agents to simultaneously make outbound calls and receive inbound calls on one system–without doing anything such as logging on or off the system. The mechanics are like this: when inbound volume is low, agents are busy placing outbound calls to customers; as volume increases, the system transfers the agents to the inbound work team; then, as volume decreases, it moves them back to the outbound calling job. The system does the work, the agent does the talking, productivity increases and so do customer service levels.
The beauty of this design is that it allows you to capture substantial amounts of agent “ready time”–the time during which an agent stands ready to receive an inbound call–and put that time to use on outbound calling campaigns. Experienced call center managers know that agents on the inbound side can spend a lot of time waiting for calls to come in. They’ll tell you it can be a frustrating sight watching a group of agents doing nothing, standing ready, for a long time. But if these managers are to meet the customer service levels dictated by today’s competitive business environment, they have to staff for those difficult-to-predict peak periods. Call blending allows you to capture that agent ready time and put it to work on outbound calling campaigns. There are a number of outbound campaigns you might consider: follow-up calls on direct mailings; basic telemarketing; preferred customer programs, for example, letting customers know a product they are interested in is on sale; customer service calls, for example, making sure a shipment was received; or even collection calls.
Not all call-blending systems are the same. There presently are three levels of call-blending technology: predictive blend, automatic reactive blend and agent intervention reactive blend.
With predictive call-blending technology, the call-management system incorporates computer-telephony integration (CTI) technology to communicate with the ACD and obtain information. Based on that information, the call-management system can read and forecast–or predict–trends in inbound volume. When inbound volume begins to increase, the system sees the trend and switches operators to the inbound side in anticipation of the additional calls. As volume begins to decrease, it notes this trend as well, forecasting how many agents are required for inbound volume, and quickly transitions the agents back to the outbound job.
There are two types of reactive call blending available. The first, automatic reactive call blending, is based on transferring calls from the ACD to the predictive dialing system. In this situation, based on the ACD hold queue, calls are routed to the predictive dialing system. For example, when the hold queue reaches a certain number, calls will be routed to the predictive dialing system to be answered by “blend” agents on the predictive dialing system. In this situation, the predictive dialing system automatically transitions agents from outbound calls to inbound calls. Although not predictive, this method still represents a considerable enhancement in productivity and customer service levels.
The second type of reactive call blending is based on agent intervention. In this situation, a PC reads the MIS port and when the hold queue reaches a certain level, a message is sent over the network to the agent notifying him or her to log-off of the outbound system on to the inbound system. This system relies on the agent receiving the message and quickly logging off of one system and on to the other. A note of caution: Don’t be fooled that this is full CTI, when, in fact, it is simply reading the MIS port.
There are some key questions to ask when choosing between predictive, automatic reactive and agent intervention reactive blending. First, you must determine what level of customer service you want to provide to your customers. Is it important for you to answer 90 percent of your calls in under 10 seconds? Then decide how much you can spend on labor to meet the 90 percent/10 second goal. Next, look at the size of your operation. If your mandate is to answer every call in less than 4 or 5 seconds, if you don’t have a limitless budget for salaries, and if your operation is large, you should consider predictive blend. If your mandate is less demanding and your operation is a little smaller, then reactive blend is probably the best option for you. When choosing a reactive blending system, you must also look at your agent skill levels. Will your agents quickly log-off of one system and log-on to the next when notified, or do you need an automated system that automatically logs agents from one system to the next?
Another key factor, and I mentioned this earlier, in selecting a system with blend technology is finding a company that is interested in creating a full partnership, consultative approach. The company must be willing to work with you, providing technical expertise and advice, if you are to achieve the highest levels of productivity possible over the lifetime of the product. You also need to look for a flexible system that meets your present needs, but also can expand to meet future requirements. Other features you should be looking for when selecting a system include:
* Automatic adjustments in the pace of outbound calling based on user-specified service standards for inbound calls.
* The management of data for both inbound and outbound statistics, including tracking and reporting results.
Call blending is an exciting new technology that will take telemarketing organizations to the next level in productivity and customer service. Those who are going to benefit the most from call blending are the ones who first determine their goals, learn about the technology that is available, and then find a company that is willing to work with them to build the system that will meet their specific needs. Whether it is predictive or reactive blend, the organizations that learn to use it correctly stand to greatly increase their productivity and revenue-producing capabilities.
Jack Praino is executive director, marketing, for Digital Systems International, Inc. Digital Systems provides global integrated customer management solutions through its open systems, applications software, industry expertise, and skills to meet its customers’ technological and business needs.
Predictive Call Blending
1 ACD agents sign-in to inbound split
2 Call Management System predicts inbound volume and automatically assigns agent to outbound split
3 Dispatch job places calls into outbound split to acquire available agents
4 Outbound job places calls to customers on behalf of acquired agents
Automatic Reactive Call Blending
1 ACD hold queue threshold reached
2 Calls transferred from the ACD to the Call Management System
3 Call Management System automatically transistions agents from outbound to inbound
Agent Intervention Call Blending
1 ACD hold queue threshold reached
2 Message sent to agent to log-off of outbound and inbound on to inbound
3 Agent reaches message on their screen notifying him/her to log-off outbound and on to inbound
4 Agent logs-off outbound and on to inbound
Copyright Technology Marketing Corporation Jan 1995
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