Article in January 1999 issue of CallCenter Solutions featuring NTS...   




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January 1999

Interactive Intelligence - Enterprise Interaction Center

NTS Marketing's Implementation Of The EIC System

NTS Marketing, an inbound teleservices agency, originally employed a Teloquent system with ISDN-BRI lines to handle incoming and outgoing calls. The Teloquent system met many of NTS Marketing's needs, however, NTS Marketing began to experience lost calls due to incompatible ISDN signaling with their local carrier (Centrex-based ISDN) and the Teloquent switch. Dropped calls and lack of results remedying the situation were main reasons NTS Marketing decided to look for another switch.

In their search for a new phone system, NTS Marketing had three important criteria. The new system would need to possess:

  1. Absolute flexibility and control,
  2. Plug-in technologies and enhancements/upgrades (no more "forklift upgrades"), and
  3. Industry-standard parts and designs - no more closed boxes and "special cards."

Their search ended after seeing a demonstration of Interactive Intelligence's EIC product at a trade show. NTS personnel in attendance were very impressed with the functionality and flexibility Interactive Intelligence's EIC product possessed. They felt the EIC system met all three criteria, and then some. After returning from the trade show, the employees who saw the demo told some high-level NTS Marketing employees about what they saw. However, the people they told didn't believe that such an open and flexible PBX system existed. Even the employees who actually saw the demo were a bit skeptical about what they saw, so they scheduled a meeting with Interactive Intelligence to see the demo again. After seeing the demo a few times, NTS Marketing told me that it really "sunk in" that this was the solution they were seeking.

Several key features were needed before NTS Marketing decided to use the EIC system. They included: reliability, scalability and flexibility. NTS Marketing knows the value of customer service and the need to have 100 percent uptime if a call center is to be respected and successful. For "reliability," the EIC system features a fault-tolerant Alliance Systems server with inherent "reliability," which features RAID disk arrays, rackmount capabilities and dual redundant power supplies. For additional reliability and uptime, you can connect multiple EIC servers in case one server fails (automatic failover). Normally, "scalability" is scoffed at when people discuss PC-based PBXs (comm servers). However, the EIC system can handle multiple dual-span T1s and many extensions. NTS Marketing also wanted the ability to scale the system to handle 10,000+ calls per day. With their current EIC implementation, they are handling from 10,000 to 12,000 calls per day! How's that for a PC-based PBX solution? (Note: Interactive Intelligence claims they have tested 7,000 calls per hour in their testing facility in Indianapolis.) The final area NTS Marketing felt was extremely important was "flexibility," and certainly the EIC system had this covered with its application generator which allows you to easily create customized applications.

The actual implementation at NTS Marketing consists of seven T1s, which soon will be eight, along with 136 stations, all connecting to a single EIC system running on an Alliance Systems server. NTS Marketing also has a standby EIC system, which they use mostly for development work.

Since NTS Marketing had a legacy application developed in-house for the call center agents using FoxPro, they didn't use the Interactive Client directly for handling calls. Instead, there are open "hooks" into the Interactive Client, which NTS Marketing uses to perform call handling from their legacy application. Thus, NTS Marketing was able to protect their investment in their application while still retaining the capabilities of the EIC system. NTS Marketing does, however, make use of the Interactive Client for the call center managers to monitor and manage the call queues.

The EIC system has extensive security features. One interesting security feature is the ability to apply security rights on each queue such that only authorized personnel can listen in on any particular call in any given queue. NTS Marketing told me that this was an invaluable feature to have, since often their important clients visit their office and want to hear how their customers are being treated by NTS Marketing's call center agents. Since NTS Marketing services many clients, often from competing companies, granting a client access to just their queue with the ability to monitor calls is certainly a powerful feature.

NTS Marketing wrote an interesting handler (as Interactive Intelligence calls the EIC call flow routing programs) which helped reduce their billable telecommunications minutes. Essentially, a customer of NTS Marketing (for confidentiality's sake, we'll call them Acme Insurance) publishes a phone number that, when dialed, is serviced by NTS Marketing's PC-based PBX (the EIC system). Based on DNIS (dialed number identification service), the EIC system can determine how the call should be handled. If the DNIS number happens to match Acme Insurance's published phone number, then the Acme Insurance's auto-attendant greeting is played to the caller. Then, based on the account number entered or other information entered by the caller, the final stage of every call is to transfer the call to one of several 800 numbers owned and operated directly by Acme Insurance.

Now, if the call needs to be transferred to an AT&T 800 number, the handler does a flash hook, followed by DTMF digits "*8" and then the 800 number. The call is then released to AT&T's network. This is great for NTS Marketing since the phone charges then continue from the originating call to the final destination 800 number, and the middleman, NTS Marketing, is not billed for the rest of the call.

NTS Marketing told me they can do many things with the EIC system that they only dreamed about before. According to Charlie Judd, CEO of NTS Marketing, "The sky's the limit…if we wanted to do 'group fax' before - no way - integrated e-mail/voice mail/fax mail - got it now. Most important, before we were dependent on the local exchange carrier, now we have control." NTS Marketing has created several custom applications (handlers) that have improved productivity and customer service. Their handlers:

  • Generate a "hotFAX" and "hotEMail" to the caller, while they are still on the phone, for things like directions to an event, order confirmations, etc.,
  • Schedule reports to run automatically,
  • Route calls based on not only the skill of the agent, but on proficiency and desire to use,
  • Use least-cost routing for outbound, or as needed using specific client-owned trucks,
  • Pass caller-entered information (in the IVR stage of the call) to the agent, eliminating the need to capture information again,
  • Systematically record calls for QA and verification based on parameters for the project - example: every call for queue "A" and every 10th call on queue "B" and "on demand" for Agent "X,"
  • Using lookup services, ANI information can be used to pull information to the agent screen as the call is ringing in,
  • Filter out calls from phone numbers that have been tagged as obscene, and
  • Play client/project-specific greetings or even music-on-hold, based on the day of the week and time of day.

According to NTS, support from Interactive Intelligence has been ongoing after the sale. "They don't sell you and forget you," said NTS Marketing's CIO, Christopher Judd. "We have, as do all EIC customers, the ability to send in ideas and suggestions via their Web site and know that people at Interactive Intelligence look at them and respond - that's important.

"Room for growth and not being locked into current technology was also very important. We wanted to be able to stay ahead of the curve and on the leading edge. We can expand into emerging integration of Web-chat, e-mail and voice calls in the same calling queues. And as new things appear on the scope, we can plug them in, either through EIC or through our own development system and integrate the two as one.

"Being NT-based gives us the ability to do things 'outside the box,' like multiple monitor displays, setting any station to record or listen to a call based on defined (and changeable) security settings, customizing reports with familiar tools we use and using sound editing tools to tweak and fine-tune the recordings used in IVR. With more and more enhancements and features in the upcoming versions, it's an impressive system for sure."

NTS Marketing has a very friendly, family-type atmosphere within their organization, which is probably due to the father-and-son team of Charles and Chris Judd, who are in charge of the company. So, if you are interested in hearing more about NTS Marketing's implementation of the Interactive Intelligence system, give NTS Marketing a call - I'm sure they'd be happy to tell you about it. And don't forget to tell them Tom Keating sent you!

Technology Marketing Corporation, One Technology Plaza, Norwalk, CT 06854 USA
Ph: 800-243-6002, 203-852-6800; Fx: 203-853-2845