Unification of Call Centers, Web Highlights Expo

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DALLAS -- A customer contact strategy that integrates the telephone, Web, e-mail, faxes, inbound and outbound capabilities and geographically dispersed call centers into a unified system was a recurring theme of the Call Center '99 Conference and Exposition here this week.

"What we need to do is fuse all the customer information throughout the organization [and] build a service environment that supersedes organizational, structural and technical barriers to better serve the customer," said keynote speaker Donna Fluss, a research director of GartnerGroup, Stamford, CT.

On the exhibit floor, vendors validated Fluss' statement by emphasizing the seamlessness with which their products and services could integrate to become one solution. Product announcements included GeoTel's Intelligent CallRouter Version 4, which has a feature that links phone representatives working in home offices or branch offices to a company's enterprisewide call distribution system.

"We are incorporating remote agents into a virtual call center. Everything that was available to agents behind an [automatic call distributor] is now available to remote agents," said John Thibault, president/CEO of GeoTel, Lowell, MA. Development of the feature was driven by queries from customers who wanted to integrate temporary call centers created to handle overflow from short-term campaigns into existing call center systems, he said.

At the end of the second quarter, Davox, Westford, MA, will begin offering, Ensemble, a comprehensive system that will meld outbound call management, inbound queue management, blend management and reporting software. The company, which originally focused on outbound solutions such as predictive and preview dialing, has been offering inbound queue management software since its acquisition of Answersoft. With the new product, the company's existing products will be joined in a way to create efficiencies.

Meanwhile, Web-based customer interaction software companies sought to integrate Web contacts with automatic call distributor systems, allowing questions from Web visitors to be answered by appropriate call center agents through skills-based routing.

Using WebCenter Enterprise from Acuity, Austin, TX, companies can communicate with Web-site visitors through Web chats, screen synchronization or "callbacks," in which customer e-mails and accompanying data such as what part of the site the customer visited are routed to representatives with the appropriate skills who then can return the call. At the show, the company debuted WebCenter Express Version 2.2, a product designed for small businesses that's similar to Enterprise but with less call routing and data transferring accompanying the callback feature.

About 3,000 people attended the show, organizers said.

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