If there was one area that really began to take off last year, it was call center training. In addition to multimedia CD-ROM products, which have become a standard means of providing automated training, a whole new type of training product is emerging that takes into account the way agents work in a real call center.
Among the more notable products in this area weve observed are those that factor in call volumes, so that agents training sessions stop when agents are busy and resume when theyre not. Another training product that caught our attention is one that enables new hires and experienced reps to take simulated calls over the phone while they work at the keyboard.
Weve also seen dramatic change with on-line communications. In 1998, we observed that only some Web call center products were starting to route various types of on-line messages. Now most of them do. Whereas automated responses and suggested replies were something of a novelty in 1998, they became almost standard last year.
We also found that more vendors focus on handling one type of on-line medium, such as e-mail, exceptionally well before they introduce new options, such as routing text chat requests to agents. We predict that e-mail and, to an increasing extent, text chat will become the media of choice for on-line shoppers, whereas IP telephony will gradually make its way into the physical telecom infrastructure that call centers rely on.
Finally, we observed that certain categories of products are expanding the very definition of what they do.
Call monitoring used to refer to recording calls and playing them back. The latest monitoring systems incorporate customers feedback.
With regard to workforce management software, were discovering that it is possible to do more than automate the process of creating schedules; agents can now appeal to a neutral third party a computer if they want to change or swap schedules without involving an already busy colleague or supervisor.
In selecting the products that follow, we focused on quality rather than quantity. Many new products became available in 1999 and we had a lot of noteworthy items to choose from. Those that the editors of Call Center Magazine felt made an major impact last year or made us re-think what you should expect from certain types of call center systems garnered Product of the Year awards. Here are the winners and why we chose them.
Cisco Systems CallManager 2.4
Cisco Systems (San Jose, CA) Call Manager 2.4 is a component of its Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data (AVIID) IP telephony suite. With CallManager, you can route calls to agents through an IP telephony network; agents can hold, transfer or forward incoming calls and can view customer contact information when making outbound calls from their PCs.
Agents can also receive Web callback requests from customers who visit your Web site, and they can view the same Web page that customers are looking at if theyre using H.323-compliant IP telephony software on their end. Although CallManager 2.4 works exclusively with Ciscos IP phones, it sets a new standard for IP-only telephony systems with its call handling and on-line capabilities. 408-526-4000, Cisco Systems.
Clarifys (San Jose, CA) eFrontOffice lets you provide personalized on-line service to customers who visit your Web site. You can display promotional materials to customers based on their purchase histories, initiate service cases for them, process their sales orders and allow them to update their own profiles. If customers need further assistance, they can request a call back by completing an on-line form and immediately view a display from their browsers with the estimated time frame in which agents will contact them.
eFrontOffice also queues and routes e-mail messages, information from on-line forms and phone calls; you can prioritize messages from all of these media by customers requests so that, for example, agents receive sales-oriented messages first. The softwares straightforward approach to e-commerce earns our enthusiastic approval. 888-CLARIFY, Clarify.
eGains eGain Commerce 2000
eGains (Sunnyvale, CA) eGain Commerce 2000 Internet customer service software suite currently consists of two modules, eGain Live and eGain Mail. eGain Live enables agents and customers to communicate by text chat through a Web browser and direct each other to specific pages of your Web site. eGain Mail routes and tracks customers e-mail messages and on-line forms to agents or to employees outside of your call center. This module also allows you to view agents real-time responses to customers and generate reports about the efficiency of agents or groups of agents in answering e-mail messages and live text chat requests.
Three additional modules will be available for eGain Commerce 2000 early this year. eGain Inform enables customers to view their profiles, the status of their on-line orders and their complete communication histories with agents. You can enable visitors to your Web site to reach agents by using voice over IP with eGain Voice. eGain Campaign enables you to automatically send targeted e-mail messages to customers as part of your on-line outbound marketing efforts. eGain Commerce 2000 handles an extensive number of tasks, making it invaluable if you serve a large number of customers on-line. It was also among the first on-line communications products this year to become available as a hosted service. 408-212-3400, eGain.
Kana Communications Kana 4
Kana Communications (Redwood City, CA) Kana 4 software suite routes e-mail messages, information from on-line forms and live text messages to agents at your call center. With e-mail, Kana 4 assigns a confidence value to each incoming message; messages with high values automatically enable the software to look up and send an e-mail reply with the information the customer requested. The software sends messages with lower confidence values to agents along with recommendations for responses.
Kana 4 also allows agents to view each page of your Web site that customers visit. Once customers are ready to buy merchandise, agents can push Web pages to customers to help them make purchases. Agents can also display promotional materials for other products on customers PC screens. Kana 4, which continues to expand its options for managing on-line communications, is available as packaged software or as a hosted service. 650-325-9850, Kana Communications.