Contact Center Technologies
A contact center is supported by many technologies designed to enhance the customer experience, improve the operating and management efficiency, or lower the overall costs of running a contact center. These technologies are:
- Automatic Call Distributor Systems
- Email Response Management Systems
- Intelligent Call Routing
- Interactive Voice Response Systems
- Knowledge Management Systems
- TTY/TDD Communications
- Toll-Free Telephone Services
- Trunk Circuit Networks
- Web Chat
- Workforce Management Systems
Automatic Call Distributor System
An Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) is a computerized telephony system that analyzes incoming calls and distributes them based on specific instructions that define how the calls are to be handled. It has both a hardware and software component. It is considered the hub of a contact center and the most critical technology component. An ACD can range from a few lines for a small system to hundreds of lines, such as systems used in large contact centers.
When the ACD receives a call, it will recognize certain information transmitted along with the call:
- The phone number that was dialed (Direct Number Identification Service–DNIS), or
- The phone number the call was made from (Automatic Number Identification–ANI)
The ACD can also categorize calls based on the callers’ responses to questions in the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. The ACD looks for specific rule or skills-based routing instructions stored in the ACD’s database for that DNIS or ANI to determine how the call is to be handled.
There are many routing options, including:
- Routing the call to a recorded message or an IVR system
- Routing to the next available agent with a specific skill set
- Placing the call on hold until an agent with a specific skill set is available to receive the call.
In addition to routing calls and interacting with other systems such as IVR, voice messaging, and database systems to facilitate call handling, the ACD continuously tracks, displays, and reports on call activities. By tracking statistics such as the number of incoming calls, calls in queue, call abandons, and talk time on a monitor display in real time, managers can recognize developing problems and quickly take corrective actions to maintain optimum operating efficiency.
Some contact centers perform both inbound and outbound work. An ACD can provide call blending to allow agents to be dynamically allocated to either inbound or outbound functions. Such an arrangement can allow a contact center to maintain acceptable service level by routing incoming calls to outbound agents during peak hours. Other ACD features such as announcement of anticipated hold time, voicemail, and automatic callback, can also be used to improve service level and overall contact center performance.
With the emergence of email and web chat services over the past few years, ACD systems have evolved to integrate the traditional phone-based ACD system with email distribution systems and websites. The latest ACD systems can distribute calls, email, and web chats to universal agents who are trained to handle inquiries through all three channels.
Email Response Management Systems
An email response management system is a computerized system that receives, acknowledges, analyzes, and organizes email inquiries submitted by customers and routes the emails to the appropriate resources for response. The system tracks the status of the inquiries from receipt to completion and provides tools such as auto-responses, auto-suggestions, and response libraries to help contact center staff respond to inquiries more efficiently.
Contact centers are striving to serve their customers using communication channels of the customer’s choice. Offering an email option on your website provides another channel to interact with your customers. It allows your customers to communicate their needs to you at any time via email.
Key Features for Email Response Management Systems
- **Source Filtering—**Ability to accept email only from approved sources (for example, specified domains and sub–domains, specified webforms).
- **Support Large Number of Incoming Mailboxes—**Ability to support large number of mailboxes with disparate routing and business rules.
- **Support Multiple Email Formats—**Ability to accept freeform email as well as email submitted via a webform.
- **Support Multiple Content Formats—**Ability to send and receive email inquiries in ASCII text and rich-text formats.
- **Attachments—**Ability to send and receive email with attachments.
- **Configurable Content Filtering—**Ability to automatically filter out spam, duplicates, tests, and other nuisance or invalid emails based on predefined rules.
- **Blocking—**Ability to block emails from automated submission systems and from specific email addresses and domains.
- **Auto-Acknowledgement—**Ability to send auto acknowledgement immediately upon receipt of an email inquiry.
- **Auto–Forward—**Ability to immediately forward a copy of all incoming email to designated recipient(s).
- **Routing—**Ability to analyze the source, destination, subject, and/or content of the email inquiries and route to the appropriate resources based on agent availability and/or skills, and business rules.
- **Tracking Number—**Ability to automatically generate a tracking number and associate it with each incoming email immediately upon receipt.
- **Status Tracking—**Ability to track status of email inquiries from receipt to completion, including date and time of receipt and completion, response time, and disposition.
- **Response Library—**Ability to create and store a comprehensive library of response templates for common inquiries.
- **Auto-Response—**Ability to analyze email subject and content and automatically respond with a preapproved response that corresponds to the inquiry.
- **Auto-Suggest—**Ability to analyze email subject and content and suggest the most relevant answer(s) for use by the agent to respond.
- **Grammar and Spelling Checks—**Ability to allow email agents to perform grammar and spelling checks on email correspondence before it is prior to sending of email.
- **Bcc—**Ability to send Blind carbon copy(s) or Bcc(s) to designated recipient(s) when an email response is sent.
- **Management Reports—**Ability to provide comprehensive daily reports with weekly, monthly, and annual rollups.
Things to Consider When Adding Email Service
- **Complexity—**Email may not be the most effective channel for supporting your customers if the questions involve diverse or complex subject matters and the response workflow does not allow for back–and–forth probing to clarify questions. The inability for agents to probe the customers to clarify their questions before responding may lead to wrong or incomplete answers, which directly affects customer satisfaction. Decide whether you want to permit or block back–and–forth exchanges between agent and customer. The nature of your program will help you decide whether the possibility of multiple exchanges provides an optimal response and is worth the added cost and complexity, whether it adds little value, or whether it is necessary but cost–prohibitive considering your budget. If the latter is true, email may not be a good fit for your program.
- **Cost—**While much about the email channel makes it a pricey alternative (complexity, time needed to respond), it does offer one cost benefit. Email doesn’t require that your center to be staffed with a large number of agents needed to handle incoming inquiries quickly—often within a timeframe specified in seconds, as is true with phone calls and web chats. Email allows more flexibility in staffing since inquiries don’t need to be answered in real time.
- **Auto-Response/Auto-Suggest or Agent-Answered—**Decide whether the questions your customers will ask can readily be answered without human intervention. If you believe they can be, consider a system that offers an immediate response based on key content in the question. You can combine this feature with the ability to allow a customer to go on to an agent if he or she feels that the auto–response does not satisfy the question.
- **Personalized or Canned Responses—**For agent-answered responses, think again about the questions your customers will ask and how you want to answer them. Customers prefer personalized answers over canned answers but preparing personalized answers is more labor intensive, thus costs more to support. Choosing responses from a library of canned answers is less labor intensive for the agent, but customers may be less satisfied with the impersonal experience.
- **Systems Integration—**To the extent practicable, select a system that can be easily integrated with systems that support other contact center activities, such as phone and web chat, knowledgebase, and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems.
- **Privacy and Security—**Think about your business and what you need from customers in order to answer their email inquiries. If you need customers to include personally identifiable information (PII) in their email, you’ll need to secure the information to guard against unauthorized access and use of sensitive data.
- **Linking to Web Resources—**The URLs of your Web resources can be lengthy and cumbersome for your agents to use when responding to an email or web chat inquiry. If your website is maintained by government employees or a contractor who has access to a government email account, you can use Go.USA.gov to create short .gov URLs from official government domains, such as .gov, .mil, .si.edu, or .fed.us URLs. If your website is maintained by a contractor who doesn’t have access to a government email account, you can use bitly, the Google URL Shortener, or some similar service to shorten a .gov or .mil URL. You can include the short URL in the corresponding resource in your knowledgebase. The agent can then reference the short URL in the email or web chat response when providing a link to that resource.
Intelligent Call Routing
Intelligent Call Routing is the generic term that is often used to describe enhanced call routing capabilities beyond those standard routing features offered on Automatic Call Distributors (ACD). Instead of simply routing the call to the next available agent or to a different resource or destination, Intelligent Call Routing routes the call based on specific instructions that define how the call is to be handled so that the call is routed to the right agent at the right time.
A contact center may handle a variety of call types, each requiring a special skill. The traditional method of manually reassigning agents with multiple skills to different call queues at different times of the day in order make best use of their skills is inefficient. Intelligent Call Routing alleviates this problem and enables the contact center system to automatically route calls to the right agents, at the right time regardless of where the agents are located. The use of Intelligent Call Routing can improve customer service by directing calls to the agents who can best answer the questions at the right time. It can also improve the contact center’s cost performance by increasing agent utilization and productivity.
Types of Intelligent Routing
Intelligent Call Routing can support these common types of instructions:
- **Rules-Based Routing—**Route calls by percent allocation, destination priority, caller or called number, caller phone type (e.g., home phone, pay phone)
- **Time-Based Routing—**Route calls by time of the day, day of the week, day of year
- **Area-Based Routing—**Route calls by NPA (Area Code), NPA-NXX (Area and Exchange Codes), Zip Code
- **Skills-Based Routing—**Route calls by call types and agent skills
- **Menu/Database-Driven Routing—**Route calls by IVR menu selection, caller–entered data
These instruction types can be combined to form customized routing instructions that will define how calls are to be handled to provide the best customer service and to enable the contact center to operate at optimum efficiency.
How To Implement Intelligent Call Routing
There are different approaches for implementing Intelligent Call Routing at your contact center, including:
- as an enhancement or an adjunct to augment the standard ACD call routing function;
- as a network–based call routing service provided by the telecommunications service provider; or
- as a service provided by a third party call routing service provider.
Each of the above approaches has its advantages and disadvantages. Described below are some of the pros and cons of the different implementation approaches. The enhancement or adjunct approach may offer the most functionalities and flexibility for customization. However, it requires higher upfront investment to purchase the enhancement or adjunct package. It also requires in–house expertise or contractor support to integrate the enhancement or adjunct package with the ACD’s routing functionalities.
The network-based approach may require lower upfront capital investment and less in-house expertise to implement and manage than the enhancement or adjunct approach. In addition, it can be seamlessly integrated with telecommunications services to route calls efficiently and economically. The downside of the network-based approach is that changes and new enhancements may require longer lead time to implement and that the range of features supported may be limited and less customizable.
The third party service provider approach is generally associated with virtual contact center implementations where upfront investment and in-house expertise requirement is kept to a minimum. However, implementation options may be limited to only those applications supported by the third party service provider. Before deciding on whether to add Intelligent Call Routing function at your contact center, you should review the overall customer service strategy and the scale and support infrastructure of your contact center operation to see if the benefits justify the additional costs.
The Challenges of Skills-Based Scheduling
Interactive Voice Response Systems
An Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is a computer-based system allowing callers to use their telephone keypad or voice commands to retrieve and/or provide information without assistance from trained specialists. The IVR presents callers with a list of options and questions about the nature of their call, provides answers to frequently asked questions, and directs the calls for further assistance to trained specialists.
Menu options can be made available for specific times-of-the-day, days-of-the-week, holidays, special events or multiple languages. Announcements can be professionally recorded or computer generated from a database using text-to-speech technology.
IVRs can be provided on-premise or hosted by a service provider at a remote location.
Why IVRs are Important
An IVR is an entry point for incoming telephone calls. It directs callers to the appropriate resources to answer calls in the most efficient manner. An IVR can enhance a contact center’s performance by:
- **Increasing operating efficiency and improving the customer experience—**An IVR can answer a large volume of calls automatically without delay. When equipped with sufficient number of ports, an IVR can eliminate the frustrating busy signals so often experienced during periods of high call volume. It can enable callers to obtain recorded information and/or to conduct transactions without the assistance of trained specialists. For calls that require live assistance, the IVR can collect caller information and route the calls expeditiously, without multiple hand-offs.
- **Lowering overall operating costs—**An IVR can reduce the staff needed during business hours by providing information to callers without the help of trained specialists, which in turn lowers the contact center’s operating costs.
- **Extending service hours—**An IVR can operate around-the-clock without human intervention, providing a menu of information and services based on times-of-the-day, days-of-the-week, and holiday schedules.
- **Polling and collecting customer survey and performance data—**An IVR can serve as a customer survey tool to collect feedback on performance of the IVR and trained specialists. It can also log call detail information into its own database for auditing, analysis, and reporting, which can further improve the IVR and contact center performance.
Different Types of IVR
IVRs can be located in the same location as other contact center systems or hosted by a telecommunications service provider or an IVR application service provider at a remote location. These two different types of IVR are described below, along with the advantages and disadvantages for each.
On-premise IVRs are generally located with Automatic Call Distributors (ACDs) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems that support contact center operations.
- Design and operation of on-premise IVRs can be integrated with the ACD and CRM systems to ensure maximum efficiency in call handling. On-premise IVRs offer the most control and systems integration flexibility.
- Call transfers within the system can be more flexible and less costly to implement.
- A premise-based service offers more access control and changes to call flows, recorded announcements, and management reports.
- Recurring costs of operating and maintaining on-premise IVRs are generally lower than hosted IVRs and aren’t call-volume sensitive if the IVR is equipped with sufficient ports.
- System upgrades can be implemented when the need arises.
- On-premise IVRs require a large initial capital investment. An organization must also have in-house technical expertise to procure, implement, and maintain an on-premise IVR. Professional voice talent for recorded messages may need to be arranged separately.
- Call handling capacity of the on-premise IVRs is dependent on the number of ports available in the system. There is limited ability to scale quickly to accommodate unexpected surges in call volume.
- The need to provide for redundancy and disaster recovery will further add to the initial capital investment.
- Call transfers outside the system will be treated as separate calls and will tie-up both incoming and outgoing trunks for the duration of the calls, resulting in higher telecommunications costs.
- Time required for initial implementation is generally longer than that of hosted IVRs.
Hosted IVR services are provided by third-party providers who leverage their technology infrastructure and management expertise to serve many customers. Generally, hosted IVR services provided by established nationwide telecommunications service providers are perceived as more scalable than those provided by IVR application service providers.
- Call-handling capacity can be scaled quickly to take advantage of the system’s unused capacity to respond to unexpected surges in call volume.
- Initial capital investment for a hosted IVR is limited. The start-up cost for a service provider to set-up the service is substantially lower than the initial investment required for an on-premise IVR. A hosted IVR can be scaled up or down quickly with no long-term financial commitment.
- Requires less in-house technical expertise to procure, implement, and maintain than on-premise IVRs.
- Time required for initial implementation is generally shorter than for that of on-premise IVRs.
- If hosted by a telecommunications service provider, call transfers to pre-defined locations outside the system can be done via a take-back-and-transfer feature, thereby eliminating the need to tie up incoming and outgoing trunks.
- Redundancy and 24 x 7 monitoring are generally built-in as part of the hosted IVR solution, thus ensuring high reliability.
- Tight integration between the hosted IVRs and ACD and CRM systems is more difficult to achieve and may require costly third-party integration support.
- Call transfers from the hosted IVR to ACD may be more difficult and cost more to implement than on-premise IVR.
- Hosted services afford less access control and changes to call flows, recorded announcements, and management reports.
- Recurring hosted IVR service cost is generally higher than that of a premise-based system and is call-volume sensitive.
- Little or no control exists over system upgrade schedule.
Where to Buy IVR Equipment and Services
For federal agencies and entities authorized to obtain products and services from the General Services Administration (GSA), IVR equipment and services can be obtained through various Technology and Telecommunications contracts managed by GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service.
Knowledge Management Systems
A Knowledge Management System (KMS) is a computerized system designed to support the creation, storage, and dissemination of information. Such a system contains a central repository of information that is well structured and employs a variety of effective and easy to use search tools that users can use to find answers to questions quickly.
One of the greatest challenges of running a contact center is making sure that customers are getting consistent, accurate, and timely information. KMS are developed to help contact center operators meet this challenge. By having answers to frequently asked questions in a central repository, agents and/or customers can search and retrieve the correct answers quickly and consistently. The concept of “create once, use by many” employed in the knowledge management process greatly increases the operating efficiency of contact centers and reduces overall costs. Other tangible benefits include:
- Greater consistency and accuracy of information to customers
- Improved handling and response times
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Reduced contact volume (when implemented as a self-service tool)
- Reduced training time and costs for new agents
- More effective feedback from users on the quality and usefulness of the knowledge.
Most importantly, a KMS can provide comprehensive reporting to help contact center managers to continuously evaluate and manage the quality and effectiveness of the knowledge and productivity of their staff. Here’s information to help you select a Knowledge Management Tool.
How To Implement a KMS
- Deployed as a premised-based solution or as a hosted service provided by an application service provider.
- Deployed for a wide range of knowledge, ranging from simple to the very complex.
- Configured for use by contact center agents as an answer tool and/or as a self-service tool for use by end-customers on a website (e.g, as FAQs).
- Support multiple languages and be deployed to support all communications channels (calls, email, webchat).
- Integrated with other contact center service components, such as Integrated Voice Response (IVR) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, and other databases to further enhance customer service and increase efficiency.
One note of caution: Establishing a system to support the creation, storage, and dissemination of knowledge is just one aspect of knowledge management. In order to reap the full benefits that a knowledge management system can provide, have an efficient process in place to ensure the right knowledge is captured, managed, and kept up-to-date is vital.
TTY/TDD Communication Services
Text Telephones (TTY), also known as Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD), are used by the deaf, hard-of-hearing, and individuals with speech impairments to communicate. There are more than 6 million deaf individuals in the United States, according to a Gallaudet University estimate.
The process is similar to chat on computers, where one person types text to the other on these devices. Both individuals in the conversation must have a TTY at each end of the telephone line in order to communicate. Some TTYs can be connected to the phone line by placing the telephone handset in an acoustic coupler; others can connect directly to the phone line.
It’s the Law
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794d), as amended, requires that individuals with disabilities, who are seeking information or services from a federal agency, have access to-and use of-information and data that is comparable to that provided to members of the public who do not have disabilities. This requirement may be waived if an agency can demonstrate that the provision of such a service would impose an undue burden on the agency.
The use of TTYs enables the agency to comply with the law by extending its service offerings to people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or speech impaired.
How To Implement TTYs
There are a few ways you can serve people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or speech impaired through the use of TTYs:
You can establish a separate TTY phone number, provide the necessary TTY/TDD equipment, and staff your center with TTY proficient agents to serve these customers. Your call volume and customer service goals will likely dictate whether you’ll answer the calls in real–time or call the callers back at a later time. For low call volume, you can provide a recorded text message informing the callers to leave their phone number for a callback later. For higher call volume, you’ll have to provide sufficient equipment and staff capacity to handle the incoming calls in real-time.
You can educate and encourage your TTY callers to take advantage of the national “711” Telecommunications Relay Service, if your TTY call volume is low or if you don’t have TTY proficient agents. The relay service allows people to dial “711” to access all relay services anywhere in the United States, 24 hours a day, free of any surcharges to all callers within the country. The advantage of this arrangement is that you won’t have to set up and publicize a separate TTY phone number for your center, provide the necessary TTY equipment, and your agents can answer the calls in real-time just like they do for other callers.
Do TTY Numbers Need To Be Listed In Telephone Directories?
It is recommended that you not list your TTY number, unless you serve a large population of deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing-impaired individuals or have some other reasons to list both numbers. Listing the TTY number alongside a regular voice number tends to confuse the non-TTY callers who call the TTY number by mistake. Listing the additional number can also add to telephone directory listing charges that you incur on an ongoing basis. The TTY users can use the 711 relay service and your agents can tell them the direct-dial TTY number to use the next time. There are also other types of relay services.
Toll-Free Telephone Services
Toll-free or “800” service lets your customers call you free of charge. Your agency pays the phone bill for all incoming calls. There are different levels of service, and depending on the package you select, it can accommodate callers from the U.S. and U.S. Territories, and Canada. With special arrangements, it can accommodate callers from other countries.The public doesn’t want to pay long-distance charges to obtain government information and services. Toll-free telephone networks can help your agency manage customer calls more efficiently and effectively. They offer a combination of toll-free telephone service and call routing services to optimize the operation and management of contact centers. You can serve a wide geographic region, with multiple locations and staggered hours of operation across time zones.
Types of Service Levels
There are different levels of service available. Choose the toll-free service provider that works best for your agency, then choose the features you need. Basic toll-free service includes the following routing features:
- **Dialed Number Identification Service (DNIS)—**Identify which toll-free number your caller dialed, so your reps can answer the call with a personalized greeting.
- **Caller ID/Real-time Automatic Number Identification (ANI)—**Also, known as caller ID. Helps reps to easily retrieve customer information from your database. You can handle more calls per day, since this typically shortens each call by 10 to 20 seconds.
- **Route Advance—**Directs overflow calls to another dedicated circuit (On-Net Route Advance) or local lines (Off-Net Route Advance), so callers never get a busy signal.
- **Uniform Call Distribution (UCD)—**Move excessive call traffic on your business lines to a toll-free trunk group. Track and distribute incoming calls evenly.
- **Shared Location Service—**Redirects overflow toll-free calls to other locations, and can serve as a backup/disaster recovery solution.
- **Multi-Carrier Routing—**Manage multiple carriers through a single point of contact.
You can also screen calls based on the following controls:
- **Information Digits—**Block calls based on phone type, to help control pay phone surcharges.
- **Area Code/Exchange—**Offer customers in your geographic market a toll-free local number, to better manage costs.
- **Time of the Day—**Limit toll-free calls to hours of operation.
- **Day of the Week—**Greet callers with a recorded announcement on the days your call center is closed.
- **Day of the Year—**Greet callers with a recorded announcement when your office is closed for a holiday.
Enhanced toll-free service adds even more functionality:
- **Information Digit Control—**Identifies the caller’s phone type, to route calls to designated locations. For example, calls from pay phones can be routed differently than residential phones.
- **Area Code Control—**Offers one toll-free number for all regions, and calls are automatically routed to the closest answer center.
- **Area Code/Exchange Control—**Pinpoints a caller’s exchange to provide toll-free calling to all exchanges within an area code, and calls are routed to the correct answer center.
- **Time-of-Day Routing—**Take advantage of time zone differences to expand your business day, by routing calls to different locations at different times.
- **Day of Week—**Routes calls to different destinations, or deliver a courtesy announcement if your office is closed, depending on the day.
- **Day of Year—**Same as “day of week”, but useful for holidays.
- **Dynamic Network Routing (DNR)—**Includes: call-by-call, skills-based routing, and uses customer-defined business rules (like IVR); designed for sophisticated customer segmentation strategies.
- **Call Allocation—**Distributes calls across different locations, helps match call volume to each location’s capabilities.
Toll-Free Service Providers
For federal agencies and certain entities who are authorized to obtain services from the General Services Administration (GSA), toll-free telephone services can be obtained through the Networx contracts managed by GSA. Requests for services under the Networx contracts are generally handled by trained Authorized Agency Representatives (DARs) within the Telecommunications or IT Department of an agency. Consult the appropriate Department within your agency for assistance in ordering telecommunications services under the Networx contracts.
Trunk Circuit Networks
Used in the context of contact centers, a basic “trunk circuit” is a telephone line connecting the phones at the contact center to the telephone network. Each circuit can handle one phone call at a time. The number of circuits required depends on the number of simultaneous callers the contact center wishes to accommodate. For smaller contact centers, a special trunk circuit known as T-1 is commonly used to connect the contact center system to the telephone network. Each T-1 circuit can accommodate up to 24 simultaneous phone calls at a time. For example, if your contact center wishes to accommodate 36 simultaneous phone calls, you’ll need to put in 2 T-1s.
There are two flavors of T-1s:
- The “plain” T-1 can handle up to 24 simultaneous phone calls at a time.
- The “PRI” (Primary Rate Interface) T-1 can handle 23 phone calls with one channel reserved for data. This data channel is used to convey caller and call status information for the 23 channels so that the calls are only sent to the contact center at the optimum time when resources are available to service the callers. For this reason, PRI circuits are commonly used for contact center installations.
For very large contact center installations, a circuit known as T-3 may be used. Each T-3 can accommodate up to 28 T-1s.
What Trunk Circuits Do
Trunk circuits are the main arteries for a contact center. They carry calls to and from the contact center system and the telephone network to enable customers to transmit/receive information and services. T-1s and T-3s offer the ability to handle more calls simultaneously and can be a more cost effective solution when higher call volume handling capacity is required.
The primary factors that drive the decision to use individual trunk circuits, T-1, or T-3 are:
- The number of simultaneous phone calls the contact center wishes to accommodate.
- The relative costs of the individual trunk circuit, T-1 and T-3 circuits.
Generally, the cost of a T-1 is less expensive than the cost of 24 individual trunk circuits, and the cost of a T-3, including the multiplexing equipment to break out the T-1s, is less expensive than the cost of 28 individual T-1s. Since the circuit costs are dependent on the geographic area the contact center is located, a cost analysis will need to be done on each contact center location to determine the lowest cost solution.
For federal agencies and certain entities who are authorized to obtain services from the General Services Administration (GSA), trunk circuits of various capacities can be obtained through the Networx contracts managed by GSA. Requests for services under the Networx contracts are generally handled by trained Authorized Agency Representatives (DARs) within the Telecommunications or Information Technology (IT) department of an agency. Consult the appropriate department within your agency for assistance in ordering telecommunications services under the Networx contracts.
Web chat is a real-time communications system between your users and contact center that uses a simple, Web interface. Users need browser access in order to use the service. It allows agents to handle multiple chat sessions at the same time. Web chat can be implemented as a hosted service provided by a service provider or as an application on your own server.
Desirable Features for Web Chat
Here are the desirable features to look for in a web chat system:
- **Routing—**Routes chat sessions to agents with specific expertise.
- **Co-Browsing—**Allows agents and users to view the same Web page and enables agents to push active Web pages to guide users through a website or an application.
- **Knowledgebase Access—**Allows users to directly access a knowledgebase to find answers without agent intervention.
- **Canned Messages—**Provides automated greetings, reminders, and pre-written responses for common inquiries, to enhance agent productivity and responsiveness to customers.
- **Session Tracking—**Tracks response and transaction time for each session and exchange.
- **Timestamp—**Displays timestamp (in a government-specified time zone) at the start of the session and subsequent exchanges between agent and user.
- **Session Transcript—**Emails copy of the requested transcript to the user.
- **Copying/Printing Chat Session—**Allows users to copy and/or print part or the entire chat session.
- **Agent/Chat User Identification—**Displays agent identity and user sessions in different color text in the chat box.
- **Automatic Emailing of Chat Transcript—**Emails transcript copy automatically to designated recipient(s) upon completion of each chat for quality-control purposes.
- **Performance Monitoring—**Provides real-time performance monitoring capability.
- **Management Reports—**Provides real-time and historical session and activity management reports, including pre-arranged and customized reports.
- **Accessibility—**Complies with Section 508 requirements.
Before You Get Started
Here are a few more things to consider when adding a web chat service to your website:
- **Systems Integration—**Select a system that can be easily integrated with your phone, email, knowledgebase, and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems.
- **Privacy—**Think about what you need from users to conduct business. If you ask for personal information such as: name, address, Social Security Number (SSN) at sign-in, your application will be more complex, harder to implement, and the chat sessions longer and less appealing to the user. If you are providing referrals, non-sensitive information, and not looking at application status, you could just require a screen name or email address. Don’t ask for anything at sign-in you aren’t going to need.
- **Security—**Ensure all transactions and personal information are secure and can’t be seen by an unauthorized third party.
- **Staffing—**Train your best-performing phone and/or email agents to support web chat, if your contact center already provides these services.
- **Scripting—**Avoid the urge to have agents create big blocks of prepared text. Your representatives should interact with customers as if they are having a phone conversation.
- Accessibility—Section 508 (including 1194.21 and 1194.22) applies to live help software, although many chat applications have not been built with accessibility in mind. WebAIM discusses the different types of chat software, including live help, and links to programs that may be more accessible than others.
- **Linking to Web Resources—**The URLs of your Web resources can be lengthy and cumbersome for your agents to use when responding to an email or web chat inquiry.If your website is maintained by government employees or a contractor who has access to a government email account, you can use Go.USA.gov to create short .gov URLs from official government domains, such as .gov, .mil, .si.edu, or .fed.us URLs. If your website is maintained by a contractor who doesn’t have access to a government email account, you can use bitly, the Google URL Shortener, or some similar service to shorten a .gov or .mil URL. You can include the short URL in the corresponding resource in your knowledgebase. The agent can then reference the short URL in the email or web chat response when providing a link to that resource.
Examples of Federal Web Chat Implementations
- [Answers.USA.gov](https://www.usa.gov/chat “Answers dot USA dot gov “Chat With Us” page”)
- U.S. Census Bureau Question & Answer Center
Workforce Management Systems
A Workforce Management System for contact center applications is a computerized system that automates and simplifies the following tasks:
- Workload forecasting and staffing requirements
- Scheduling agents with the right skills for the right job at the right time
- Tracking the agents’ adherence to their assigned schedules
- Providing management reports and analysis on agents performance in adhering to their assigned schedules.
What Workforce Management Systems Do
Payroll costs represent the biggest single expense for a contact center operation. That being the case, effective workforce management is a must for contact center managers to control payroll costs. The manual tasks of forecasting, scheduling, and tracking adherence to schedule are arduous and prone to errors, resulting in over or under staffing. A Workforce Management System automates and simplifies the process of forecasting workload and staffing requirements. It also schedules the right people at the optimum staffing level at the right time, tracks adherence to the assigned schedules, and provides management reports and analysis to ensure that the contact center is operating at maximum efficiency.
- Workforce Management: From Forecasting to Optimization
- Best Practices in Workforce Management
- Automating Workforce Management – A Guide to Acquisition and Implementation (PDF, 36 KB, 4 pages, October 2009)
- Managing the ACD Interface (PDF, 35 KB, 4 pages, October 2009)