By Gary J. DuPont
The use of remote workers is increasing and often expands the pool of available talent. Recognizing the need to address attrition, load balancing, quality and costs that are problematic to all call centers today, Masco Services Inc. (MSI) took proactive steps utilizing remote workers to change its call center staffing paradigm. It serves as a model and complements a corporate initiative to reduce traffic in Boston’s Longwood Medical Area.
MSI is utilizing two technologies to accomplish the integration of remote workers. The first implementation involves the use of the Teltone Office Link product. It is a flexible, affordable solution that offers seamless connectivity from any location. Two units are required per agent, one at the agent site, the other at the host/automatic call distribution (ACD) location. This technology allows a remote agent to dialup and log into their Avaya ACD. Once logged on, the agent appears to the ACD like any other on-site agent. Agents use 2500 compatible telephone sets with 10-20 programmable speed dial buttons for ACD access codes and frequently called numbers. Staff working on different shifts can share access to the unit. However, agents cannot use the proprietary ACD sets at the remote site.
All connections are made using feature access codes. Several routine call types are sent to these remote agents. A call whisper feature on the PBX/ACD identifies the call type to the agents. The client database is available to the remote worker via high-speed Internet connection and a virtual private network (VPN). The greatest advantage of this application is the ability to build and test the system one agent at a time without significant up front investments.
The second technology that MSI uses is the Avaya Definity Extender unit and a standard Avaya CTI application. This technology permits remote agents to dial up and log into the ACD over standard analog lines, using Avaya proprietary digital ACD telephone sets. The host unit (or Avaya switch) has two ports, one for the ACD and one to the switched line; at the agent end, one port is for the switched line, the other for the digital proprietary set. The telephone interfaces with the PC to provide computer telephony integration (CTI) using Avaya Passageway units. Working closely with Xtend Communications, MSI’s agent console vendor, the remote agent has full functionality to the console features and ACD. Again, high-speed Internet access is required in addition to a VPN. This technology is compatible with Avaya and Nortel ACDs, but there may be restrictions on how far from the central office the agent can be located.
No matter which technology is deployed, toll charges may apply so it is important that the remote agents have a flat-rate long distance price plan. Remember that the technology is only as good as the people using it. MSI recommends that call centers develop a sound interviewing and selection process and establish firm policies and procedures to monitor performance, quality assurance (QA), and communication pathways to the home office.
In the future, MSI plans to change its remote agent platform to Avaya IP Agent, a soft phone application that works through the agent’s personal computer. It is a cost effective solution that will allow them to expand their remote worker program. Avaya IP Agent allows the agent to work from any PC, as long as there is high-speed access via VPN to the corporate network. Remote agents will be able to administer CTI screen pops more easily, eliminating the use of extraneous hardware devices.
Gary J. DuPont is Director of Telecommunications for Masco Services Inc.
[From the Summer 2003 issue of AnswerStat magazine]