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CTI's Role in CRM Solutions
CTI can give your company cutting-edge customer service capability.
For the rest of the September 2000 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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CTI, or Computer Telephony Integration, refers to the linking of computer software and telephone equipment to answer calls, accept and provide data and, in some cases, route calls to agents. At a call center, CTI can provide a screen pop, allowing data about the caller to arrive instantaneously on the agent's PC screen as she answers the customer's call. Such value-added services have become potentially decisive differentiators in today's crowded, complex marketplace where a premium is placed on superior customer support. High-quality service, moreover, inevitably results in highly satisfied customers and high levels of repeat and referral business.

The Role CTI Can Have in CRM Solutions
According to a study done by AT&T, 27 percent of customers who can't get through to a company's 800 number buy elsewhere or skip the transaction entirely. Companies using CTI in conjunction with their 800-number service make sure customers get through.

CTI can have a profound effect on CRM. Today, the majority of CTI applications are being built for call centers. Agents working in call centers place outgoing calls, answer incoming calls, ask callers for information or provide services. While handling calls, agents often use desktop computers to enter or retrieve information. The typical CTI call center makes use of products and services from several different sources: public and private networks; voice switches; automatic call distributors; hardware and software from computer vendors; specialized business applications from software suppliers; and components such as voice response units, voicemail systems, call sequencers, predictive dialers and fax machines.

Some of the major call center CTI Application Functions relevant to CRM are the following:

Intelligent Transfer. If an inquiry is too complex for interactive voice response, the CTI system uses information collected from the caller by the IVR unit to transfer the call to the appropriate group of agents or perhaps to the particular agent who normally handles the caller's account. When the agent answers the call, the customer's data file is already on the agent's computer screen, eliminating the need for the agent to repeat the questions asked by the IVR unit.

Coordinated Voice/Data Transfer. This function forwards onscreen customer information at the same time a customer call is transferred. If the call must be transferred from the original agent to another department or supervisor, the call and the data--including any updated information added by the agent--will be forwarded.

Intelligent Answering. This function uses Automatic Number Identification (ANI) information from the telephone system to bring up an appropriate screen for each incoming call. ANI is a service offered by telephone networks that provides the billing directory number associated with a calling party. Here's how it works in a CTI application: When a customer calls an 800 number to order from a catalog, the call arrives at the call center with the caller's telephone number. The telephone number is passed to a computer. The computer looks up the number in its database and identifies the caller (if it is a person who has placed an order before and is calling from the same number). The computer then accesses the customer's order screen, passes it on to an agent, and the voice call is put through to that agent.

All of this happens in a split second. The agent already sees the customer's name, address and order history on her terminal before picking up the telephone. At a busy call center, such automation can significantly increase productivity by eliminating the time it takes to ask callers for their name, ZIP code or other identification information, to key it in and then retrieve the proper screen before the transaction can begin. It can also increase the level of personal service given a customer. The agent, for example, can ask the caller, "How did you like the sweater you ordered from us last month?"

Organizations that maintain multiple 800 numbers can also use Dialed Number Identification Services (DNIS) offered by carriers to identify what the caller wishes to discuss. A bank, for example, can assign (800) 555-1222 to VISA cards and (800) 555-1333 to VISA Gold cards and use DNIS to bring up automatically on the agent's screen the product script the customer is calling about. Rather than having individual agents serve as product specialists waiting for customers to call about the product on which they have been trained, DNIS used in conjunction with CTI makes it possible for agents to have the information on screen they need to handle inquiries on a wide range of products.

Many call center applications combine the use of ANI and DNIS. For example, Mr. Smith dials the Acme 800 number for its health insurance department. The computer cross-references the incoming caller's number (ANI) with its database to realize that this number belongs to Mr. Smith. Using DNIS, the computer determines that Mr. Smith is calling about a health insurance question. The computer then retrieves Mr. Smith's health policy file (not his life or car insurance file) and delivers it to the screen of the agent answering the call.

Intelligent Call Routing
Calls can be routed to specific department or agents based on the call's ANI or DNIS information. When calls come into a contact lens manufacturer, for example, calls from retail optical customers automatically go to the retail customer department, and calls from eye care practitioners go to agents who service those accounts.

CTI is clearly a powerful tool for highly efficient, call center-based CRM solutions. The overall increase in efficiency and productivity that technology is providing is making it more and more essential for companies to provide unyielding customer service. This unyielding customer service is substantial to the overall success of not only call center divisions, but the success of corporations as a whole. CTI is an important tool that can propel a company above mediocre customer service standards into unyielding and unbeatable customer service practices that can make the difference in today's marketplace.

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