• September 1, 2013
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Philly Zoo Goes Wild for New Call Center Systems

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Every year, the Philadelphia Zoo brings more than 1.2 million visitors into close contact with orangutans, pythons, baby pandas, Amur tigers, and 1,300 other species housed on its 42-acre campus.

For callers looking to get information about the zoo or book group outings, contact with the staff had not been easy.

The problem, according to IT director Gerald Griffin, was that many of the zoo's network systems were outdated. They lacked the tools to manage calls, such as skills-based routing and caller ID, and couldn't provide the reporting or actionable business intelligence needed to guide call center operations.

"We were in dire need of an upgrade," Griffin says. "[The system] was a drain on our resources to maintain, and it was affecting our guest and employee operations."

This was a real problem, especially since the zoo is expecting the number of guests to increase following the recent openings of a children's zoo, parking garage, and entertainment center.

So Griffin worked with the senior leadership team to secure $1 million in funding to replace the technology, starting with the voice infrastructure.

"We knew we wanted to move to an IP-based system, and we didn't want to limit ourselves going forward," he says.

After rigorous review, the zoo selected the Mitel Communications Director and contact center solutions, including MiContact Centre and MiCollab, supported by Mitel partner VoIP Networks. Griffin's team split the implementation into two phases: Front-office workers were transitioned to the new system in June 2011, and the remaining systems were upgraded in early 2012.

The project also included a partial rollout of the AVST CallXpress unified communications platform, which offers call processing, voicemail, unified messaging, presence, and more. That system is integrated into the Mitel automatic call distribution solution, which offers call routing, fair distribution, queue prioritization, and automatic call rerouting or changes to agent availability based on queue conditions.

The zoo's call center isn't very large—four agents handle the bulk of the calls, but two more are brought in during the peak season between April and October. During that time, the call center can handle 4,750 calls a month.

Call center manager Joan Pasquarella says call center operations have significantly improved with the new technology. Using the Mitel Web tools and reporting features, Pasquarella can monitor staff activity and make adjustments where needed.

Based on the reporting she's received so far, Pasquarella changed the call center from a Monday-to-Friday operation to seven days a week during peak season.

"The call center now is ready for overflow. It's simply a matter of plugging someone in and [she's] ready to go," Griffin says. "It's very easy to manage and move people around the zoo as needed."

Pasquarella is using the administrative tools to adjust agent status or move calls between agents based on volume. She can also monitor and record calls for employee reviews and training.

For Griffin, one of the biggest advantages is Mitel's Web-based management. "From an IT perspective, we love it," he says. "The Mitel phone system definitely simplified a lot of our administration and made us much more effective."

Griffin has been most impressed with the strength and reliability of the platform and how easy it was to implement. The biggest challenge with the whole project was replacing the infrastructure. "The rest was a smooth transition," he says.

Employees also love the new technology. "Everyone is very happy with the results," Griffin says. "They had suffered with the old system for such a long time that when the new system went in they were very happy."

Griffin is already assessing additional features and applications, such as Web chat so contact center agents can help potential guests navigate the zoo's Web site and plan their trips. He's also looking to add other unified communications functionality and to install Wi-Fi throughout the campus, giving employees access to voicemail and other calling features without being tethered to their desks.

"Selecting Mitel and its partner VoIP Networks was the right decision for the zoo," Griffin adds. "The products are very easy to use, upgrade, and implement.... As we continue to develop other communications, we know Mitel's world-class platform has the flexibility and functionality needed for us to continue to leverage it."

The Payoff

Since implementing Mitel's MiContact Centre and MiCollab solutions, the Philadelphia Zoo has:

  • expanded calls across four queues that cover membership, group sales, education, and switchboard; and
  • increased call center days of operation from five to seven during peak season.

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