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1. What is a Call Center?

A call center is traditionally defined as a physical location where calls are placed, or received, in high volume for the purpose of sales, marketing, customer service, telemarketing, technical support or other specialized business activity. One early definition described a call center as a place of doing business by phone that combined a centralized database with an automatic call distribution system. That's close, but it's really much more than that. It is:

  • Huge telemarketing centers
  • Fundraising and collections organizations
  • Help desks, both internal and external
  • Outsourcers (better known as service bureaus) that use their large capacity to serve lots of companies
  • Reservation centers for airlines and hotels
  • Catalog retailers
  • "E-tailing" centers and e-commerce transaction centers that don't handle calls so much as automated customer interactions.

Call centers are generally set up as large rooms, with workstations that include a computer, a telephone set (or headset) hooked into a large telecom switch and one or more supervisor stations. It may stand by itself, or be linked with other centers. It may also be linked to a corporate data network, including mainframes, microcomputers and LANs. Increasingly, the voice and data pathways into the center are linked through a set of new technologies called CTI, or computer-telephony integration.

Call centers were first recognized as such in their largest incarnations: airline reservation centers, catalog ordering companies, consumer-oriented problem solvers like the GE Answer Center or WordPerfect's customer support services. Until the early 1990s, only the largest centers could afford the investment in technology (the ACD) that allowed them to handle huge volumes. More recently, with the development of LAN-based switches, internet-based transaction processing, client/server software systems, and open phone systems, any call center can have an advanced call handling and customer management system, even down to ten agents or less.

As companies have learned that service is the key to attracting and maintaining customers (and hence, revenue), the common perception of the call center has changed. In some industries (catalog retailing, financial services, hospitality) a call center is the difference between being in business and not being in business. In other industries (cable television, utilities) call centers have been the centerpiece of corporate attempts to quickly overhaul service and improve their image. It's a strategic asset that companies can use to improve their customer relationships, and more important, to learn more about their customers, and therefore serve them better. This improves the bottom line. Call centers have evolved from cost centers to profit centers.

It's a good working hypothesis to assume that any company that sells any product has a call center, or will shortly have one, because it is the most effective way to reach (and be reached by) customers.

2. What is an ACD or Automated Call Distributor and InfoCentrix ACD/CTI?

An automatic call distributor is a type of phone switch designed for high-volume routing of inbound calls. It is generally premise equipment, distinguished from central office equipment.

InfoCentrix ACD/CTI system is an open-architecture call management platform designed to enhance the powerful feature set, easy and flexible call handling options of the telephone systems (PBX) that previously only available on their larger expensive systems. InfoCentrix is PBX-independent. Many people think that ACD/CTI (Automatic Call Distribution/Computer Telephony Integration) is the exclusive domain of the telecom organizations, airline reservation centers, or other large organizations that can justify the development and maintenance of a call center. However, the days of ACD/CTI being available only to those are long gone. Today, InfoCentrix Call Center Solutions bring this advanced functionality to all types of organizations. The solutions are scalable, flexible and support anything from 10 call agents to large call centers.

3. What is an Interactive Voice Response and InfoCentrix IVR/FoD?

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) allows customers to manipulate information in a computer database, such as retrieving an account balance and transferring funds from one account to another. These applications range from Audiotex and Pay-Per-Call information systems that deliver a single audio message or a selection of messages to transaction-based systems that allow callers to access accounts and update information on a LAN-based or host-based database. Audiotex entertainment lines are popular applications in emerging Computer Telephony markets.

InfoCentrix IVR automates the delivery of information from a database or pre-recorded messages to callers and improves customer service, increases employee productivity, builds revenue, and facilitates their entry into new markets.

The InfoCentrix IVR gives you new ways to enhance and streamline your call center operations by offering customers self-service options. And with the latest InfoCentrix IVR release, you have the flexibility and power to provide more responsive and personalized customer service choices than ever before, while increasing productivity and improving your company’s customer satisfaction.

4. What is the InfoCentrix Knowledge Service?

InfoCentrix Knowledge Service is the most comprehensive solution available today for delivering support excellence through your help desk. InfoCentrix Knowledge Service is will known in the service and support industry for its combination of full-featured, Enterprise-level interaction and request management capabilities with multiple, leading-edge problem resolution technologies.

5. What issues and factors should be taken into consideration when one actually thinks about establishing a call center for his/her organization?

While the actual factors are going to depend strongly on the unique needs of the company doing the considering, here are some starting points that every prospective center operator should keep in mind.

  1. Is there an informal infrastructure that exists already that will be superseded by the creation of a formal center? What are these people doing, and what will they do in the new structure? (This would include agents, supervisors, and "casual" call center management—those people who run a department which for one reason or another happens to have an accidental call center on board.)
  2. What telecom and data networking resources are going to be needed to create the center? Presumably these already exist in some form as well, and need to be fitted into the new model of the center (that is, customer history data, product information, web sites, e-mail response procedures, incoming phone numbers, etc.).
  3. Is the center going to be expected to produce revenue? Or reduce costs? A mix? How is success going to be measured? (This is very important.
  4. Do you have upper management buy-in to the goals of the center? Without it you might as well pack up the tent. Does that buy-in extend to a resource commitment in technology? To what extent?
  5. What's the growth path; do you expecting multiple linked centers over time? Expecting to increase staff? Increase in call volume? Increase the center's functions, perhaps to take on outbound calling? You need to plan these things somewhat in advance, at least before you buy equipment and hire staff.

This just scratches the surface, but you get the idea. Focus on big picture issues as readily as you focus on the small issues.

6. Why are call centers constantly called other things, like "contact centers," "customer care centers," "support centers," and ugly constructions like "customer contact zones" or "multimedia access centers"?

These terms are the industry's ongoing attempt to come to grips with changes in what a call center is supposed to do. Now that you have call centers that answer e-mail, engage in live internet chat sessions with customers and sometimes even transmit live video, people are looking for a broader definition to replace "call center" Rest assured, they all mean basically the same thing.

7. What's the difference between inbound and outbound centers?

Literally, an inbound center is one that handles calls coming in from outside, most often through toll free numbers. These calls are primarily service and support calls, and inbound sales.
An outbound center is one that does mainly outgoing telemarketing.
Inbound is the biggest component of call center traffic these days, though perversely, outbound represents the area of largest projected growth in the next few years.
In truth, the majority of centers contain some element of both inbound and outbound.

8. What performance standards are usually measured and what are the standards?

Performance measurement varies greatly depending on the function of the call center, and the industry sector within which that center resides (financial, reservations, catalogs, etc.). So we can't answer the second part of the question, as to what the performance standards actually should be.
We can tell you that the standards usually measured involve call duration, handling time, post-call wrap up time, number of calls handled per unit of time; typically things that can be spit out of an ACD report pretty easily.

Secondarily are the more application specific standards that have to do with what the person is actually doing. These things can have a revenue base (how much did the person sell, or how well did an up-sell or cross-sell offer perform). Or, they can be service related, and for that you usually get into issues of monitoring and human-to-human performance evaluation, which is a whole specialized field unto itself.

9. What does it cost in capital equipment to start a basic call center?

Well, that will depend on a lot of factors, including what you've got to start with, where you're locating it, what kinds of technology you're investing in, which itself flows from the functions you want to take on, inbound or outbound, etc. etc. etc. So we can't give you a number.

10. What do you believe the future of today's call centers to be? What will happen to businesses that try to cope without a call center?

We think the future of the call center is rather like its past—it will continue to be the focal point for corporate efforts to handle customer contact. It will also incrementally add technology to handle different kinds of contacts, like emails and web interactions. These, we think, will turn out to be better handled by satellite groups of people, with specialty training, in the long run. Also, over time there will probably be something of a dilution of the call center's importance within a company, as it becomes more imperative to handle the majority of interactions without human assistance to control costs.

Companies without call centers, though, will be at a distinct disadvantage if their competitors have them. We can think of no comparable method for dealing with a customer base on a large scale than through a call center (or similar institution).

11. Are there any general guidelines on how big or small a call center should be? How big does a call center have to be to take advantage of economies of scale?

In general, companies are and feel free to concoct their own cost/benefit calculations for how big centers should be. Indeed, in this decade we've seen simultaneous trends towards centralization and decentralization in the call center industries, thanks to technologies that allow companies to take their pick. You could put all your eggs into one basket, using switches that allow you to seat hundreds, even thousands in a single site; or, you could spread them out among lots of linked sites, very small, and try to get economies not in the tech, but in the market for labor and real estate. This, thanks to tech that allows you link them together and manage them as one.

If anything, perhaps we're edging toward a consensus that linked centers are better than super-centers, though that's my anecdotal sense and not a fact. We would say a center becomes too big when it a) taps the total labor pool, and becomes vulnerable to the size of the population and the employment rate and b) becomes too stacked with layers of management to manage effectively.

12. What are the different advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing a call center? What is the importance of having a call center nowadays?

Outsourcing is one of those things you do when you either have too much call volume to handle yourself using your own centers, or when you want to try out some new technique or technology without making a hefty capital investment before you're ready.

The key advantage of hiring an outsourcer for all or part of your call center operation is that it spreads the risks around: the risk that any given call won't be answered, primarily, as well as the risk of failure at any one center. Outsourcing can allow you to respond quickly to changing circumstances, like sudden shifts in volume. It can also allow you to gradually extend what you do—extending the hours you offer customer service, for example.
On the downside, there is always a lack of control when someone else is handling your calls for you. Not everyone is comfortable with that. Customers are, after all, the most precious asset of any company. Hiring the wrong outsourcer can put customer-relationships in problem. For that reason, we don't advise anyone to go into an outsourcing relationship lightly.
As to the importance of having a call center, we would say this: if you have customers, and you expect to keep them, you'd better have some mechanism in place to respond to their needs and keep them buying from you. Whether that's a call center or some other form of customer contact channel, you're going to need something.

13. What are the advantages and feasibility of using Internet chat to enhance call center operations?

A lot of new products are out that perform this function, and a lot of companies (particularly dot coms and catalog retailers) are trying it out. It's certainly feasible, as feasible as connecting the web site and/or email system to an agent pool. As far as advantages, a lot will be determined when we and others examine the fallout from this holiday shopping season. I think it's too early to tell. But initial anecdotal reports seem to indicate that customers respond well to it, particularly when its done through an existing Instant Messaging interface (like AOL’s) rather than through a downloaded applet pushed by the company's web site.

14. What is a Database?

The electronic form of data to be stored in the form of files or tables in a systematic manner is called as database. The storage is in a logical order to facilitate easy entering, update and delete the respective files or data. There are 3 kinds of databases network, hieratical and relational. The most used database is Relational database like Oracle, MS SQL Server, and Sybase etc.

15. What is PBX systems and PSTN lines:

The private internal company network/system is called as PBX system. In short it’s a small version of a phone company’s larger central switching office. The phone company system is known as PSTN (public switching transmission network).

16. What do you mean by RFP and TOR ?

Request for proposal is the document published by the company looking to have some IT system to be implemented in the company. The RFP document contains the specs, functionalities, benefits, time frame the proposal to be submitted by the companies for the bidding. And the final announcements will be made after reviewing all the different proposals. TOR (Term of reference) is the same like RFP, the only difference this document is released by any of the govt. enterprise for the same purpose.

17. What are different types of call center technologies?

Legacy systems, it’s the system have the telephone lines coming from PSTN connects to the PBX installed at the company’s premises and then have all the functionalities like CTI/ACD, IVR/FoD, etc. IP systems, is the system which runs on IP (Internet protocol).That means the call is not comes from PSTN /PBX but it comes from thru the Internet and by having certain h/w and s/w the calls is managed properly. Some countries not allow the calls / voice to flow because of the regulations. Hybrid system is a combination of both the above systems to facilitate the flow of calls from an IP to a legacy system. In short it is a combination of both the systems.

18. What is Telephony Server?

Telephony servers are the programs whose functions are to control the calls flowing into and out of the CT system. The yare the heart and intelligence of the CT applications. These functions can run physically on the separate servers. Telephony servers will use information and control functions provided by data links to manage the calls.

19. What is Voice Response Unit?

VRUs are computer that contain voice or fax processing boards and speak or listen to who ate switched to the unit. VRU will answer or originate calls over the attached telephone lines under control of the software resident ether on the VRUs are often placed between the incoming trunks and the local switch.

20. What is FoD ?

This functionality is directly connected to the IVR system of a call center. If the contact center has these options then by pressing the desired numbers after the message from IVR, the person can request the auto fax from the system asking the details from the company to the pre-recorded fax number of his account.

21. What is VoIP?

It’s the technology with allows transmitting Voice, over Internet Protocol. This technology or concept is basically used in the IP contact center environment.

22. What is Web Integration?

When some of our modules is integrated with web is called web integration like web based reports, web chat server etc.

23. What is E-mail Management?

InfoCentrix mail can be integrated with different mail servers like MS Exchange server, Lotus Notes etc. InfoCentrix mail is just used to track the mails, response time etc. So the e-mail is managed in a proper manner by the functionality.

24. What is Chat and Co-Browse?

When a customer request the company to co-browse the web information then this functionality works with the chat server. The customer enters his/or her name, e-mail, telephone number on the web page. And then the agent starts chat and co-browse after getting the request from the customer.

25. What is Call back service?

Here the customer visits the website and enters his personal details like name, telephone number, e-mail and the date and his convenient timings. When the time and day come the agent calls the customer for his questions.

26. Who are Agents and supervisors/managers?

Agent is a person sits in a call center/contact center to serve the customer. They are the front line person who actually receives the calls, e-mails or any other requests. Supervisor of a call center are the person who monitors and control the agents of different skill set or group of agents. Their responsibility to help agents to achieve their customer service levels which is according to the company’s policy.

27. What is Multimedia Queue Management: MQM?

There are 2 separate groups, Live Contact and Non-Live Contact. Live Contact contains the real time media like Phone Call or Chat Request. For example, in the phone call, it’s shown how many calls are in queue. In Chat Request, it’s shown how many chats request are in queue for this agent or the group of this agent. The Chat Request comes to the Contact Center via internet or customer’s web page.

28. What are the types of Dialers?

(Auto Dialer, Preview dialer and Predictive Dialer)

29. What are E1-lines?

The European equivalent of North American 1.544 Mbps T-1, except that E-1 carries information at the rate a capacity of 1.544 Mbps, of 2.048 Mbps. This is the rate used by European CEPT carriers to transmit thirty 64 Kbps digital channels for voice or data calls, plus a 64 Kbps channel for signaling and a 64 Kbps channel for framing and maintenance. CEPT stands for the conference of European Postal and telecommunication Administrations.

30. What are T1 lines?

A digital transmission link with a capacity of 1.544 Mbps, T-1 uses 2 pairs of normal twisted wires, the same as we have in our house. T-1 normally can handle 24 voice conversations, each one digitized at 64 kbps. T-1 is a standard for digital transmission in the US, Canada, HK, and Japan.

31. What do you mean by ISDN lines?

Integrated Services Digital network: is a new set of telephone lines and interfaces targeted. It provides an internationally accepted standard for voice, data, and signaling. It makes all the transmission circuit end-to-end digital. It has significantly more bandwidth.

32. What is Tie Line?

A tie line is a series of physical connecting bus (many wires) through which a PBX communicate with the other PBX. This case is very common when a company has a PBX and wanted to install one more for enhanced call center functionalities, the two PBX communicate with the Tie line.

CT Asia Co. Ltd.

1. Our history, our experience and milestones?

Since 1997, Computer Telephony Asia Co. Ltd. (CT Asia) has presence in the market and by continuous research and development we have a developed a proven world class multimedia contact center solution called 'InfoCentrix' Ver 3.0. We have an excellent infrastructure, lab, people, existing clientele, mature processes, and project management skills to provide the solution in different business domain in your country. We are specialized in developing and implementing Multimedia Contact Center solutions. With years of experience in Systems Integration and R&D designs of contact center applications, CT Asia has obtained a solid track record for implementing optimal Contact Center solutions as well as CRM / Contact Center consultancy.
Milestones: We started with the pure CTI (computer telephony integration) work in 1997, since then year after year our R &D team came with the latest releases and with the advance functionalities. In 2002 we came with InfoCentrix Ver 3.0, a complete multimedia contact center solution with web and e-mail features also. 2003 our plan to make our presence in International market by establishing our partners and value added resellers in the regional market.

2. Our Strategic Business units:

CRM: (Multimedia Contact Center, Call center, Knowledge Management, CRM Consultancy)
IT Services: (Customized software development, Web based applications, Product Demo)

3. Our International Event Participation.

CeBIT 2002, 2003(Germany), COMDEX (US), IndiaSOFT 2003 (India)

4. Our International Presence: In Germany, we have our own office in Stuttgart and partners and resellers in India and US.

5. Our Market Share in Thailand: By volume

Bank, Finance & Insurance (65 %), Telecommunication (45%), Medium- large Enterprises (60%)

6.Our Business Partners:

1- In Mumbai, India (Kale Consultants Ltd.), 1 in US (Ewarenow), coming up some more in the region.

7. Our JV Company (PCC) :

It’s a JV company of Bangkok Broadcasting & TV Co., Ltd. (BB TV Channel 7) and CT Asia to provide 3rd party call center services to Thai customers like BAY insurance, Traffic corner.

8. Our affiliations:

Software Park, Thailand (Ministry of Science, Technology and Industry)
BOI-Thailand Board of Investment, Ministry of Industry,
Department of Export promotion council, Ministry of Commerce

9. Our mission:

“To enable the customer centric transformation of businesses with integrated technology solutions and services which enhances competitive advantage and create value to the enterprise

10. Our Solution:

It's a multimedia contact center solution- InfoCentrix. What ever may the incoming traffic to a company may be e-mail, telephone calls, SMS, co-browse request, Chat request, FoD. All these requests is handled efficiently by our solution and the call / e-mail is routed to the specific group of person called agents, who are experts in handling those enquiries and responding to a request in a very timely and efficient manner. The incoming calls are transferred using caller-ID and from the company's database the details of the person is fetch and displayed on the screen to empower the agents in providing services. The Supervisor module empowers and facilitates the Supervisor of the contact center to monitor and control the contact center/call center efficiently. In short the solution has:

11. CTI (Computer Telephony Integration)

ACD (Automatic Call Distribution), Voice mail, Fax, E-mail, SMS, Web call back, Web Chat, Multimedia Administration Solution, Intelligent Agent, PowerSupervisor (Computer as well as remote monitoring using mobile devices like Palm, O2 etc), Problem tracking and Knowledge Services (CRM)
IVR (Interactive Voice Response) and FoD (Fax on Demand), Various Web Reports generated, helps management for better evaluation of service to customers.

12. Business Domain for our solution:

Telecommunication, Mobile service providers, 3rd party call centers / contact centers service providers, banking / finance, fast food chains, Improve dealer / distributor network, retail industry, Oil companies, ISP's etc