Tag Archives: contact center case studies

Case Study: Anatomy of a System Upgrade

By Gary Dupont

Background: The MASCO Services Inc. (MSI) contact center is the hub for many medical institutions in the greater Boston area. It triages thousands of medically related calls each day for hospitals and physician practices and provides paging and answering services for hundreds of health care professionals. MSI is also responsible for the activation, inventory, and billing of over 6,000 pagers.

Additionally, the contact center handles area wide communications for emergency situations in the Longwood Medical Area (LMA) of Boston. The LMA is home to numerous medical, academic, and scientific facilities. The MSI contact center is the focal point of the alert system, linking the LMA medical and academic institutions with the Joint Operations Center (JOC) responders. The JOC emergency command center is manned by teams representing the medical and academic institutions within the LMA. The JOC notifies city and state partners such as the Boston Emergency Management Agency and reports the nature and location of an emergency in the LMA.

The Decision: MSI reviewed the Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) and operator console/paging gateway systems in place and determined that enhanced functionality would allow them to provide additional services to its customers in a more efficient manner. MSI decided to upgrade the existing Avaya PBX/ACD system. This was completed in February 2004.

The focus then shifted to evaluating operator console/paging gateway/telephone answering service integrated systems. MSI sponsored focus groups comprising of Boston area telecommunication managers whose institutions used various systems. This information was invaluable in drafting a comprehensive RFP. Several excellent vendor proposals were received and reviewed carefully. The decision was made to install the Windows-based Xtend Medical™ system to replace the Xtend DOS products that served MASCO Services and its members so well over the past ten years.

Keys to Success: Detailed planning and preparation for this project was paramount to its success and was necessary to limit downtime. MSI worked closely with the Xtend project team and radio-paging vendors to ensure code paging (medical emergency) would not be impacted.

Educating and soliciting feedback from the MSI staff was also a high priority. Xtend and MSI trainers developed detailed training plans and testing to ensure effective knowledge transfer. Each contact center representative received a minimum of ten hours of one-on-one training. Select accounts were ported over to the new system, which ran in concert with the existing DOS application. “Being able to work on the new platform using select accounts gave service representatives the additional “hands-on” training that was key to maintaining service objectives during the transition period” comments Kelly Nollet, customer care representative and one of the project trainers.

“The [MSI] contact center is one of our vital links to each other and to the outside world,” said Sandra Denekamp, Telecommunications Manager at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center-Boston. “We depend on it to keep this institution functioning smoothly and are grateful for the hard work and dedication that went into this recent upgrade.”

As part of their quality assurance program, MSI contacted its customers prior to the upgrade to communicate timelines and changes on the new system. It also followed up through verbal contact with the majority of its customers to ensure they were satisfied with service and to inform them of new services available.

New Features: On May 24, 2004, the Medicall™ system was placed in service. The upgrade provided new, efficient, and enhanced services for paging, web paging, on-call scheduling, and directory. There is also a robust telephone answering service module; Xtend worked with MSI closely to design the custom solution for its telephone answering service. Xtend technical experts also played a pivotal role assisting the company in the design of its new Local Area Network (LAN).

  • Text messaging to most wireless devices.
  • Web access to create and edit on-call schedules.
  • Ability to send email messages as well as fax messages to customers.

Another key feature of the Xtend system is enhanced “Page Assure.” Page Assure allows MSI to receive an alert if a paging vendor has an outage or paging delay. MSI will now be able to update that vendor’s customers of problems via the web and provide a recorded announcement about the service impairment to touch-tone paging end-users.

According to Roland Blair, who oversees telecommunications for MSI client, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, “Although transparent, as it should be, to end-users such as physicians, nurses, and administrators, the new system has already had a significant positive impact at the institutional level. One gain we will see is the ability to isolate various paging vendors when one is experiencing a service problem,” said Blair.

He also noted that MSI and DFCI [Dana-Farber Cancer Institute] purchase pagers from multiple vendors for back up and redundancy.  In the past, when one vendor’s services were malfunctioning, all end-users were affected and re-routed to the page operator. “With the new system that won’t happen…we are able to segregate the paging vendor having the problem and alert specific end-users of that problem.” The potential also exists, in the near future, for integrating the MSI web paging system with other Boston hospitals that work closely with MSI customers.

The Results: The successful outcome of this project is a testament to the hard work of the project teams and to the extraordinary and laudable performances of the MSI customer care representatives whose enthusiasm and contributions were invaluable. As a testament to this, MSI ended its fiscal year with a service level of 91 percent. This exceeded the service objective of having 90 percent of calls answered within that timeframe.

Gary DuPont is Director of Telecommunications and Customer Care at MASCO (Medical Academic and Scientific Community Organization, Inc.).

[From the Fall 2004 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Case Study: Consolidation and Automation at Fairview Health Services

By Shane Burleson

Many hospital-based call centers struggle to implement the latest and greatest technologies in the call center, simply because of their organizational culture. We must recognize that times have changed and caller expectations are higher while we continue to operate with staff shortages, unplanned events resulting in increased volumes, short-term employees, and continued complexities in the services we provide.

In 1995, my company, Fairview Health Services, appointed a staff team whose primary goal was to analyze the various departments within Fairview. The team’s services spanned a multi-site environment, helping us to understand the hard costs associated with managing various departments providing duplicate services. Later that same year, three of our hospital switchboards consolidated into a single campus, resulting in a savings of more than a million dollars over five years. We expected long and tough times ahead as we adapted to the changes.

However, in retrospect, it was one of the most beneficial business decisions that we’d made and it was quite innovative in our industry at the time. In 1997, Fairview purchased the University of Minnesota Hospital and Clinics, which presented us with yet another consolidation challenge in 2001. The successful relocation and consolidation of that call center saved the company $800K over the next three years.

For the first time in Fairview’s history, we will soon be implementing the use of an automated attendant on our main hospital numbers, providing callers with direct access to the most commonly called departments. We expect that caller satisfaction will increase as they will no longer have to wait in queue for routine call routing. We also expect improved productivity by better utilizing our valuable operator resources.

In order to do so, we plan to implement Amtelco’s Just Say It Speech Recognition IVR, allowing internal customers to have access to patient information and department and staff listings without operator intervention when dialing “0.” Proving that your call center will provide more customer-friendly service with reduced wait time and increased financial savings is the key to winning and changing your organizational culture.

I urge those of you working in the hospital/healthcare environment to take a hard look at where you could potentially conserve resources and reduce expenses by automating your call centers. Today’s innovative technologies make it possible to do so while continuing to provide a high level of service to your customers. Let your call center equipment help you change the organizational culture and overcome obstacles facing your call center every day.

[From the Summer 2004 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Case Study: Bolstering Answering Service through Speech Recognition

SwedishAmerican Health System (Rockford, IL) serves 12 counties in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin through a 400-bed regional acute care facility and a network of more than 20 primary and multi-specialty clinics. By implementing speech recognition software, they reduced caller hold times by 50 percent and improved its answering services to healthcare professionals.

The Challenge: The telecommunications department at SwedishAmerican Health System serves both as the health system’s switchboard and as a for-profit answering service for approximately 650 clients. Total call volume had grown to over 130,000 calls per month. Of that, approximately 60,000 were switchboard calls consisting mainly of requests to be connected to SwedishAmerican employees. Because of the increased volume, the level of service had declined. Calls were frequently backing up and hold times were lengthening, both for switchboard callers and for users of the answering service.

“We needed to find a way to improve our customer service by allowing the callers to gain access to the right individual or department in the least amount of time,” says Dick Marsh, Director of Engineering, Biomedical and Telecommunications at SwedishAmerican. “If we couldn’t improve our overall answering speed, we risked losing clients to competing answering services.”

SwedishAmerican’s Objectives:

  • Reduce hold times and improve the average answering speed.
  • Reach and maintain a high service level, allowing the answering service to grow its client base without hiring more staff.
  • Reduce the number of directory transfer requests handled by switchboard operators.
  • Increase the availability of operators to handle answering service calls from physicians and healthcare professionals.
  • Avoid IVR technology that might irritate or confuse callers.

The Solution: The telecommunications department determined that it could significantly reduce hold times by routing internal directory assistance calls through a speech-enabled line, which would bypass operators and free them to take calls for the answering service. Depending on the success of an employee-only speech line, SwedishAmerican would consider rolling out a similar line for external callers dialing into the main hospital number.

After deciding speech technology was the way to improve customer satisfaction, the telecommunications department sought a solution provider. They didn’t have to look far. “We’ve been using Amcom’s computer technology and database software to run our answering service for 15 years,” says Marsh. “When Amcom came out with Smart Speech™ and we saw the ease of use of this system and how it tied into the information we already had, it made sense to use their speech recognition software.” SwedishAmerican elected to use the Amcom speech system not only for directory call routing, but also for speech-enabled paging and meet-me paging.

Immediate Impact: After installing the Amcom speech applications for internal users, SwedishAmerican saw immediate benefits. User acceptance was high and the volume of calls coming to operators began to decrease. The speech system was simple and easy to use; employees dialed the 4-digit extension, said the name of the employee they wanted to reach, and were immediately connected. Anyone who needed an operator could simply say “operator” or dial 0. The vast majority of users, it turned out, didn’t need an operator, and completed the speech-automated transfer.

Phase Two: The internal speech rollout was so effective that SwedishAmerican decided to move to the phase two rollout: Bringing the speech directory line to the public. “We had vowed never to put an auto attendant on our main number,” explains Marsh, “but this was different. We were getting calls by employees telling us how great it was, how much they liked it. It was as easy, if not easier, than calling into a switchboard operator.”

The results of installing Smart Speech on the hospital’s main number were more dramatic than anyone at SwedishAmerican anticipated. “The day our external speech line went on, the operators thought I had actually turned the phone system off!” says Marsh. “There was a noticeable decrease in switchboard call volume.”

The Results

  • The SwedishAmerican telecommunications department is now handling 30,000 of its 60,000 monthly switchboard calls through Smart Speech.
  • Average hold time has decreased by more than 50 percent, with call abandonment declining similarly.
  • Average answering speed at peak calling times is now 20 seconds, compared to 60 seconds before the Smart Speech installation.
  • Operators now have more time to devote to emergency calls and calls for the answering service.

“Smart Speech has allowed us to provide a better level of service to our clients without increasing our staffing,” adds Marsh. “We’re ready to expand to new answering service clients while maintaining a higher quality of service. At the rate we’re going, this system will pay for itself in less than 12 months.”

[From the Summer 2004 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Case Study: Are the Physicians Meeting Your Needs?

Saint Barnabas Management Services (SBMS) has operated an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for 18 years. To be awarded both regional and national contracts, they needed to establish both a vast provider network and a set of quality standards that could be guaranteed to participating members, regardless of location.

“Customers like Schering-Plough and the foundations on Wall Street demand the highest quality for their employees,” says Joe Ferrera, Chief Operating Officer of SBMS. “They want assurance that we know these providers and monitor them closely.”

Therefore, Saint Barnabas implemented a comprehensive tool to evaluate providers and the physical locations in which they deliver care. This assessment tool has been in place for the past five years.

In 2003, Saint Barnabas brought their physician referral and appointment services in house, developing a call center that now serves their nine-hospital network, spanning most of New Jersey. It is no surprise that they are applying this same standards-based approach to their physician referral network. Much work goes into maintaining and furthering their health system’s reputation of quality, extending to the physicians practicing there.

How do the physicians like being evaluated? “There were some issues at first. It was new; they weren’t used to it. But what they love is the feedback!” says Ferrara with a smile. Doctors are hungry for information on what is done at other offices such as the magazines, seating, or lighting and what patients say they like.

Saint Barnabas performs patient satisfaction calls after each new referral and appointment. The reports are given to the evaluation staff who share the details with the physicians. Therefore, the evaluation process becomes an exchange of information. Ferrera adds, “It’s not disciplining; it’s really a tool for education and marketing. That’s what it’s all about. And in turn, it helps Saint Barnabas sell the quality of their doctors.”

Customers feel more comfortable knowing what to expect at a when they visit a Saint Barnabas physician. This helps the call center convert an inquiry into a kept appointment. In addition, patient feedback is heeded. Listening and acting on what they learn helps the physicians of Saint Barnabas stand out from all the others.

[From the Spring 2004 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Case Study: QEII Health Sciences Centre’s Communications System

By Jane Doucet

In 1996 six hospitals in Halifax, Nova Scotia, merged to become the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre. The largest adult academic health sciences center in Atlantic Canada, the QEII Health Sciences Centre occupies 10 buildings on two sites and provides tertiary and quaternary-care services for patients across Nova Scotia. In 2000 it became part of the province’s Capital District Health Authority (CDHA), an integrated health authority that covers a territory that stretches from Windsor to Sheet Harbour.

Before the merger each hospital was site specific. After the merger, the QEII’s staff expanded to 6,500 and administration of the formerly individual hospitals became centralized. As a result, some logistical problems occurred; the amount of information flowing through the system doubled and systems that were operated manually in the past were now “impossible” to handle.

For example, Greg Jeans, the manager of Voice Services at CDHA, his colleague, Betty Bouchie, CDHA’s voice administrator, and call center staff had to manually co-ordinate 200 different on-call schedules for 2,000 medical-staff members. It was a nightmare. According to Jeans, any print information became out of date as soon as a duty roster was posted and staff members inevitably would call in with schedule changes. At one point it took three full-time employees to handle scheduling. Keeping the rosters up to date was a time-consuming task and inaccurate information was often posted to some schedules.

In 1999 Jeans and Bouchie tried to create an internal system and database to address the problems, but soon realized the complexities to create this type of system were well beyond their capabilities. They decided to take serious action researching communication strategies at other Canadian hospitals and examine supplier options in the marketplace.

Bouchie contacted the communications department of every major Canadian hospital and discovered that all of them were experiencing similar, if not worse, problems, as the QEII’s. She made a list of what she wanted a new system to do and began searching for the answer on the Web. That’s when she found an interesting system from a US based manufacturer. After a Web/teleconference presentation, she was very interested. In the spring of 2000, she found a hospital in New Hampshire that was using this product, the 1Call Infinity System produced by Wisconsin-based Amtelco, and paid them a visit. After that, she knew it was exactly what her organization needed.

In October of 2002, 1Call went live at the QEII. Prior to that date Bouchie, with a team of five, spent five months organizing and programming the relevant data into the system. Initially, the transition was tough. One of the biggest challenges was the resistance of the switchboard operators to embrace the new system, but 98% of the staff successfully made the transition to the 1Call Infinity System.

Today, the QEII’s communications system links doctors, nurses, staff, and customers by providing a single source for information and communications from one location. When connected as a call center or switchboard, information is presented to the operator on a PC screen in a consistent and logical manner, allowing operators to handle more calls in less time. The system handles such things as patient and staff directories, on-call scheduling, call priority, distribution, statistical information, appointment scheduling and paging or locating services.

The system has improved efficiency notably. With the old paper-driven system, only one operator could be trained at a time in a process that took approximately four months. Now, two call center attendants or locators, as they are also called, can be instructed simultaneously in just five weeks. Each of the 12 call center locator positions conduct all functions through the PC; answering, dialing, paging, messaging and call recording.

Although the QEII has been using the 1Call Infinity System for eleven months, they are not yet using it to its fullest capability; however its accuracy rate is significantly higher than the old paper system’s rate of 95 percent. Jeans hopes to reach maximum effectiveness in 2004. A year after that, he expects to have received a full payback in operating-cost expenses followed by long-term savings while offering several new or improved messaging/information movement services supporting the Nova Scotia medical community.

Another advantage the system offers is accountability. Since every call that comes in is recorded and monitored, when something goes wrong, it is possible to trace backward in the system to reveal the error. For instance, the QEII’s communications center acts as an internal 911 system, receiving and processing a wide variety of emergency response codes, for such things as fires, chemical spills, external disaster, and patient distress. The system prioritizes all emergency calls, overriding any less urgent calls

Any of the average 6,000 daily incoming calls the locators process can be thoroughly investigated. Administrators find out who called, who answered the call and at what time, and what keystrokes were made in the process. This can identify whether a problem was a communications error or the result of something else, like a pager that wasn’t working.

While there have been some kinks in the system to iron out, the QEII’s communications team hasn’t been left to deal with them alone. In the beginning, Amtelco’s field-service technicians were called on regularly, but now only occasionally. Jeans is impressed with the service the company provides. He cites a hardware problem that was discovered 10 months after commissioning 1Call. Amtelco sent a technician to fix the problem, armed with all new system hardware – at its own expense.

Now that the system has been operating for a year, QEII staffers wonder how they ever managed without it. Many operators initially resisted implementing 1Call. Now they believe a hospital even half the size of the QEII could not work efficiently without this tool.

This article is reprinted with permission from Longwoods Publishing Inc.

[From the Winter 2004 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Case Study: University of Texas, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

By Laura LaLuzerne

The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center has provided care for more than 520,000 people with cancer since 1944. The M. D. Anderson Cancer Center has built a worldwide reputation for excellence in cancer patient care, research, education, and prevention.

During 2002, the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center had more than 60,000 patients, including 22,000 new patients. There were 471,728 outpatient treatments, procedures, and visits. In addition, there were 18,781 inpatient admissions. M. D. Anderson has approximately 13,000 employees, including clinical and research faculty.

A Call Center Challenge: M. D. Anderson had three separate call centers to handle the large call volume for its patients and employees. One call center handled institutional calls, another handled patient information calls, and still another handled new patient referral calls. Combined, these three call centers answered approximately 250,000 calls each month.

Managing and staffing multiple call centers was difficult, so M. D. Anderson began to search for a better alternative, one that would allow them to offer more services. According to Mark De Los Santos, Director of the Welcome Center at M. D. Anderson, “M. D. Anderson had a strategic vision where we wanted to take call processing within the institution. We wanted to be able to do what a normal institutional operator does, which is basically route calls, initiate pages, and everything else, but over and above that, we also wanted to be able to offer true answering service capabilities to our physicians.”

M. D. Anderson Welcome Center: After an extensive search, M. D. Anderson was able to merge their three call centers into one Welcome Center, with the implementation of the 1Call Infinity and eCreator systems in December 2002. De Los Santos said M. D. Anderson chose 1Call because it “offers telephony processing, just as any institution would look for, but also offers more. 1Call offers messaging and the ability to create scripting within the system via eCreator, whereby I can control the quality of the call regardless if you are only on the job one week, or 20 years. And based on the people I talked to, 1Call’s customer service was rated as highest.”

M. D. Anderson’s new Welcome Center Attendants are universal operators that can handle any type of call. Using Infinity and eCreator, they’ve watched their average call time drop from one minute per call to 30 seconds per call. The same amount of information is conveyed, but the calls are handled faster.

Additional Services: The Welcome Center Attendants now also act as Customer Service Representatives for the institution. Employees with telephony problems call in to the call center. Their information is entered and is then automatically faxed to the technicians.

The M. D. Anderson call center now handles Help Desk calls for their Human Resources Department. Operators enter what the person is looking for in the employee’s individual account in the Infinity system. They then use scripted questions to drill down using eCreator’s decision tree to find an answer for the caller.

Future Plans for the M. D. Anderson Welcome Center: M. D. Anderson is looking forward to implementing the Infinity Conference Bridge, which will give them the capability to connect up to 30 callers per conference. With researchers located globally, M. D. Anderson often has 15-20 people from around the world on a single conference call. It is estimated that they will be able to handle 98-99% of their conferencing needs internally, saving about $10,000 for the institution each month. Plans also include using the 1Call Infinity and eCreator systems in all of their business centers (clinics), so that their entire facility is on a single platform.

For more information about 1Call products, call 800-356-9148.

[From the Fall 2003 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Case Study: MASCO Service, From Call Center to Contact Center

By Gary DuPont

MASCO Services Inc. (MSI) has evolved since 1976, when they began providing telecommunications and basic operator services to Boston area hospitals and colleges. The business reached a crossroad in 1991 when the call center had to be relocated to corporate headquarters. The company’s major healthcare customers needed to respond to a changing environment and pressure to become more cost efficient. Those same clients also wanted voice systems services not available with the existing Centrex system. Critical decisions had to be made regarding the selection of new systems to replace major components including the existing Centrex system, a homegrown directory, and radio paging mainframe database.

At that time, MSI was faced with altering the fundamental way of conducting its telecommunications business. The decision was to focus on call center solutions and create an efficient and professional front door to the customers’ organizations.  This was accomplished by shifting from one of the largest shared Centrex systems in the United States to PBX equipment owned by individual institutions. Over the years, MSI has made strategic changes in the “what, who, and how” of service delivery.

With the relocation of the call center to its new facility in January 1993, the three service areas including centralized attendants, paging, and the message center were combined. Integrating the Avaya Definity PBX with a very flexible Local Area Network (LAN) based directory and paging system by Xtend Communications achieved a customer focused, cost efficient solution.

“Our customer service reps (CSRs) are really the front lines of the institutions and clients we serve. In the course of their day, they may be called upon in vital life or death situations to deliver critical service,” said Walter Mont, Contact Center Supervisor. “We recognize how crucial customer service training and product delivery are to performing our function successfully.”

The improved control software in the new call center gave MSI more versatility, better tracking, and general improvement in the paging system due to an equipment upgrade and quicker response time.  Increased standardization with less complexity correlates to improved efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Historically, the MSI call center has been a place where customers’ calls were processed by CSRs using automatic call distribution (ACD) technology. Recently, the MSI call center has evolved into a hub for many different types of interactions using varied technologies, media, and interfaces. These interactions include Computer Telephone Integration (CTI), Web Integration, speech recognition, fax, email, and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol).

MSI recently developed a speech recognition application and desktop web based directory and paging for internal use at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Dana-Faber Cancer Institute. A caller can say the name of the person they are trying to call or page then this technology will route them accordingly. Web-based directory and paging by Xtend Communications provides an efficient tool for accessing extension numbers, text messaging, and on-call information. These technologies off-load routine calls from the operator services staff allowing for additional time with external callers who may require more care.

Today, MSI provides a wide array of contact center solutions to some world-renowned medical and academic facilities in the Boston area such as Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Emmanuel College. Additionally the contact center supports other medical, commercial, and consumer accounts for dispatch, message taking, and order taking. This paradigm shift to multi-channel integration is essential. Technology is certainly one reason but today MSI’s customers require more efficient and cost effective means of conducting business. Often, self-service is not an option for revenue generating calls.

The contact center plays a vital role in the business and maintaining reliability is paramount. “MSI has partnered with us over the years to keep the shared system intact, while creating more flexible processes,” comments Sandra Denekamp, Manager, Telecommunications at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “Updated systems now make it possible for us to more accurately measure our expenses and we believe we benefit from a cost, training, and efficiency perspective, by participating in a shared system.”

Because a significant portion of MSI’s business is medical, all of its systems are redundant. The company is constantly fine-tuning its disaster preparedness plans. Next year, MSI will upgrade all of its voice and data systems as well as its networks. As a result, the company will have the capacity to deploy more home-based agents.

Last year, MSI contracted with an independent marketing research firm to measure the service of call center attendants at six specific hospitals on 11 different days, and at six times throughout the day. According to their report, the two top-ranked hospitals, both MSI clients, “stood above all others because of their efficiency in handling calls, and their professionalism. The attendants were friendly and upbeat, helpful and confident. They made one feel as though they care and enjoyed their job.”

Gary DuPont is Director of Telecommunications and Customer Care at MASCO (Medical Academic and Scientific Community Organization, Inc).

[From the Fall 2003 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Case Study: Remote Call Center Agent Stations

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]