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Carnival’s Skills-Based Routing Handles Call Overflow

By Mark Hamstra

The Carnival Cruise Lines unit of Carnival Corp., Miami, is enjoying increased productivity and a decreased rate of abandoned calls in its reservations call centers after implementing new routing technologies and other enhancements that allow agents in other departments to handle overflow calls for reservations.

The company said the technologies also reduce costs for long-distance service and other expenses associated with connecting the cruise line’s two call centers, which are located in Miami and Colorado Springs, CO.

The call centers take reservations, book group sales and provide customer service for Carnival cruises, and currently are in the middle of their peak reservations season, which runs from early January to mid-April.

“Our hold times have gone down considerably, and our abandon rate is greatly diminished,” said Ken Eberhardt, director of information systems and telecommunications services for Carnival. Although too early to determine the exact savings from the new systems, he said a preliminary report showed the call-abandon rate had been reduced by about 16 percent during January.

In addition, he said anecdotal reports from department supervisors indicated increased productivity because of the new system’s ability to bring back-up reservations agents into the call rotation automatically.

The call centers use Lucent Technologies’ CentreVu Advocate software to route calls based on the level of training of the available agents. Many sales agents started as reservation agents and thus have the skills necessary to handle the overflow reservation calls. Carnival also recently installed TCS Workforce Management software that facilitates scheduling and enhances the skills-routing benefits of CentreVu Advocate by helping ensure the center is properly staffed to handle call volume.

The two call centers are set up so that when the reservation agents are fully occupied with calls, agents in other departments, including sales, customer service and group bookings, serve as back-ups. Through the use of CentreVu Advocate and other technologies, reservation calls now not only migrate back and forth seamlessly between the two call centers, they are routed automatically to agents from other departments.

Previously, supervisors of other departments had to notify employees that they were going to be switched to reservations. They then had to notify the communications department to switch the phone-system to route reservations calls to those agents.

“Supervisors no longer have to go back and forth putting people on, and sales agents don’t have to go back and forth to being reservations-only,” Eberhardt said. “In the old system, when they switched a sales agent to be a back-up for reservations, that person could no longer handle sales calls. Now they can handle both. They can multitask.”

The technology routes calls based on the number the caller dialed. Customer service calls come in on a different line from reservations, for example.

The call centers handle about 42,000 calls per day during the peak season, and recently set a record by booking 21,000 reservations in a single day. Eberhardt said the company usually has a booking rate of about one for every four to six calls, and he cited the record day as evidence that the new technologies might be boosting Carnival’s booking rates.

“[CentreVu Advocate] impacts almost every metric in a call center,” said Zack Taylor, general manager for Lucent Customer Care Solutions. “Call centers are using it to get out of the reactive mode of customer care.”

At Carnival, the system is programmed with 10 skill sets for the centers’ 400 reservation agents, according to Monica Figueroa, supervisor of communications. Another 180 agents are slated to join the Colorado Springs center next year.

Carnival also has made several other recent investments in call-center technologies, including Lucent’s Call Management System, which Eberhardt said would help analyze call center traffic, and CentreVu Explorer, a query tool that will allow supervisors to track phone calls “from cradle to grave,” he said. The company also plans to make enhancements to its Web site to facilitate Internet-assisted booking of reservations by travel agents.

In addition, Carnival Corp. is eyeing the possibility of melding call centers of its other travel brands, which include the Costa, Holland America, Windstar, Cunard and Seabourn cruise lines, each of which currently operates its own call center. Eberhardt said such a unification would take several years to accomplish because of the technological investment required.

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