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Call Centers Terms and Technology

Are you new to call centers or thinking of carving a career path for yourself in the industry? Before you head out the door for your first interview, get acquainted with some of the terms and technologies you will be faced with. Call centers employ a wide variety of different technologies. This article covers the most common terms and technologies agents are expected to understand and use.

ACD (Automatic call distribution): Part of the CTI that distributes in-coming calls to a group of agents. They are used in companies that take high volumes of calls, where callers require quick service from non-specific agents. More sophisticated systems may route calls to more skilled agents, depending on the reason for the call.

ACW (After call work): Amount of time an agent spends after the call processing customer requests.

AHT (Average handling time): The average time a call takes, including greeting, conversation, wrap-up, and time the caller spent on hold.

ANI (Automatic number identification): Similar to caller ID, a service which provides the receiver of a call with the number of the calling phone. Used in call centers to forward calls to appropriate agents or geographic areas. Also used by 911 dispatchers.

ASR (Automatic speech recognition): Technology used to provide information and forward calls, which allows callers to speak entries rather than punch numbers on a keypad.

ATT (Average talk time): Average amount of time an agent spends in conversation with a caller.

Call Center: A centralized office used to receive and transmit a large volume of requests by the telephone, usually with some amount of computer automation.

Chatterbot: A program that simulates human conversation. An intelligent virtual agent is an example of a chatterbot program that serves as an online customer service representative.

Collaborative Browsing (co-browsing): A technique used by agents to interact with customers using the customer’s web browser to lead them through a situation. May use email, fax, regular and/ or internet telephone as part of the interaction.

Contact Center: A part of an enterprise’s overall CRM which manages customer contact, including letters, faxes, emails, newsletters, mail catalogues, Web site inquiries, and other gathered information.

CPH/ IPH (Calls/ inquiries per hour): Average number calls or inquiries an agent handles per hour.

CRM (Customer relationship management): A corporate level approach for managing an organization’s relationship with its clients. Generally, three components (operational, analytical, and collaborative) of a company’s program must be in place in order to effectively acquire, provide services for, and retain customers. Also called Sales force automation (SFA).

CTI (Computer telephony integration): The technology that coordinates between telephone and computer systems.

Customer Service Chat: An internet service which allows a customer to communicate with an agent using an IM (instant messaging) application.

DID (Direct inward dialing): A service used by inbound call centers to allow multiple calls to be taken at once. In DID a block of telephone numbers is rented by a company without requiring a physical line for each number. Each agent or workstation has an individual number. When all agents are busy, additional inbound calls get busy signals or the agent’s voice mailbox. This service saves the cost of a switchboard operator and makes calls go through faster.

DNIS (Dialed number identification service): A service used by 800 and 900 lines that tell which number was called. It is useful for directing calls when companies deal with multiple numbers at the same location.

DTMF (Dual tone multi-frequency): Also known as “touchtone” phone (formerly a registered trademark of AT&T), the signals that are generated when a caller presses the touch keys of an ordinary telephone. Each key generates two tones, and cannot be imitated by voice.

Fax: Material (images or text) which is scanned and transmitted over a telephone line and received using a printer or other output device.

FCR (First call resolution): A call which completely resolves the customer’s issue. (A call is considered FCR if the caller does not call back with concerns in a set amount of time, usually 3 months.)

Idle time: Percentage of time agents spend not ready to take calls.

IP telephony (Internet protocol telephony): A general term for the technologies that use the internet protocol’s packet-switched connections to exchange voice, fax, and other forms of information.

ITS (Issue tracking system): A program that follows the progress of every problem a system user identifies until the issue is solved.

IVR (Interactive voice response): A computerized system at the front-end of calling centers which uses prerecorded prompts to identify caller needs, extract necessary information, and direct calls to the appropriate agent. Whereas, callers select options from voice menus using the telephone keypad, the newest technology, or Guided Speech IVR, integrates live agents into the system. In this hybrid model, agents assist in four or more calls at a time by listening and guiding callers through the system. This allows callers to respond to open-ended questions and receive a higher quality of service. Companies see higher rates of call completion and customer satisfaction using the new technology.

LEC (Local exchange carrier): The public telephone company which provides local service in an area.

Media gateway: A device that converts data from one format to another.

Outsourcing: The practice of delegating non-core operations to an external entity.

PBX (Private branch exchange): A cost-efficient system that uses multiple phone lines (called “trunk lines”) and a computer to manage the switching of calls within a company. As the PBX is owned by the company rather than the LEC, it saves the cost of requiring a line for each user to the telephone company’s central office.

Personalization: The process of tailoring internet pages to a customer’s preferences.

Predictive dialer: A computerized system that dials telephone numbers, filtering out unanswered calls, busy signals, disconnected lines, and other unproductive calls. Using an algorithm to predict agent availability, the system saves the time an agent would spend in unproductive dialing. Smart predictive dialers use a prerecorded introductory message before connecting customers to an agent, further increasing productivity by turning over calls only to interested customers.

Predictive technology: Tools that analyze patterns and use discoveries to forecast likely future behavior.

QED (Quality and efficiency driven): Philosophy maintained by call centers that company strategies should be balanced between aims for quality and efficiency.

Queue: A line of people or calls waiting to be handled, usually in sequential order. Real Time: Level of computer responsiveness considered sufficient to the task required.

SL% (Service level percent): Percentage of calls answered within the determined time frame.

Speech/ Voice Recognition: Ability of a program to recognize and carry-out voice commands. More sophisticated software has the ability to accept natural speech, or the speech used in general conversation.

Telemarketing: A registered trademark of Nadji Tehrani, referring to the form of direct marketing using the telephone to sell products and/ or services.

TCA (Total calls abandoned): the number of calls abandoned by callers.

TPV (Third party verification): The legal requirement for some companies (e.g. long distance providers, gas, electric) to have a third party confirm that a customer has requested a change in service. Generally, the customer will be put on a three-way call and the TPV provider will confirm the order. TPV aids in billing disputes by verifying the customer actually requested the change.

TTS (Text to Speech): A system that converts normal language text into speech.

UMS (Unified messaging system): A program that enables voice, fax, and regular text messages to be held in a single mailbox and accessed by a user over email or telephone.

Virtual Call Center: A call center where the agents are geographically dispersed, either working in several small offices, or (more frequently) working from their own homes.

Virtual Queuing: A system used in inbound call centers in which a caller will be informed of the estimated wait time before an agent will be available. Caller can choose to wait on hold, or keep their place in the queue by giving their telephone number. Callers receive a call back when their turn comes up.

Voicemail: System that manages telephone messages for a large group of people.

Voice Portal: A web site or other service that a customer can reach for information such as weather, sport scores, or stock quotes.

VoIP (Voice-over Internet Protocol): The routing of voice conversations over the internet. Using VoIP, agents can work from home, as long as they have a fast and stable internet connection.

Web Analytics: A method of analyzing the behavior of a web site’s visitors to make changes that attract and retain more customers.

Web Self-Service: A computerized system that allows users to perform routine tasks over the internet without requiring live interaction.

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