Upgrade Provides Web Chat, Outsourced Services

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Nicholville Telephone Co. Inc. added new technology to its call center that improves its abilities to communicate via the Web with customers and is helping it evolve its fledgling business as a provider of outsourced teleservices.


The Nicholville, NY, company, which has been providing telephone service in the northern reaches of New York state for nearly 100 years, began offering Internet access about four years ago and established a call center to support its customers.


Seeking to leverage the skills it developed and the investments it made to provide the support, the company recently began providing outsourced Web-site hosting and teleservices for other local companies. It revamped its 20-person operation with technology that enables it to handle e-mail and real-time Web chat in addition to traditional teleservices, and it is seeking to use its new technologies to help local businesses add e-commerce to their operations.


The company has been marketing its new call center service, which it has branded DirectCall, to local businesses as a 24-by-7 customer-care solution. The system uses technology from CosmoCom Inc., Hauppauge, NY, that provides prioritized and skills-based routing of incoming communications via e-mail, the telephone and the Web.


The CosmoCom technology also enabled the company to evolve beyond telephone and e-mail communication and into real-time Web chat, which it uses to support its operations as an Internet service provider.


"We're already offering customer service on the Web, so why not offer live care within the Web channel?" said Tom Hardiman, project director at Nicholville.


He also said the company's ability to provide Internet-enabled call center solutions for third-party businesses gives it an advantage over competitors that merely provide Web hosting.


The technology allows Nicholville to establish protocols for message routing for its own operations as well as for each of the businesses for which it provides outsourcing. For example, the company can program the system to give certain types of calls coming into its ISP help desk a higher priority than others, while all phone calls receive a higher priority than e-mail. That allows agents to answer calls promptly during busy periods, while e-mail messages are stored for response as time allows. In addition, the live Web chat messages also can be prioritized within the protocols.


The phone calls are prioritized and routed using interactive voice re-sponse technology. Web-chat inquiries are routed based on indications made by the customer at the Web site.


For example, a customer with a general inquiry would indicate that by clicking a button on the Web site, and that person might get lower priority than someone who has a question about a purchase they are about to make.


CosmoCom also developed the application that prompts the screen pops alerting the agents to incoming messages.


"Instead of being bound to the old telephone technology, everything we do is database driven," said Hardiman.


In addition, he said, the flexibility of the system allows Nicholville to better cater to the whims of the clients for whom it provides third-party services.


"No two customers are alike in what they perceive to be their requirements, and this system is so flexible it can be all things to all people, really," he said. "In any given circumstance, we can meet any individual's needs and requirements. It's very versatile."


Hardiman said Nicholville is providing outsourced teleservices for about 30 diverse clients, ranging from an ambulance dispatch that requires radio broadcasting to a Web-based company called Cryo2000, which provides a cryogenic treatment for golf clubs.


"On the call center side, very few of our customers are Web enabled," he said. "We started out with a conventional base of answering service customers, and we're trying to drag them kicking and screaming into the '90s - or the 2000s." n
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