Call Centre Location Issues

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					Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection
prepared by the Greater Toronto Mark eting Alliance for the GTA EDP Call Cent re Sub -Committee

September 12, 2000
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T ABLE OF CONTENTS                                                      Page

          Introduction                                                    5

          Executive Summary                                               7

                    Key Findings                                                7
                    Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection              9
                    Recommendations                                            11

          Back Office Competitiveness Issues                            13

                    2.1       The Back Office                                  13
                    2.2       Globalization                                    13
                    2.3       Impact Of Technology                             14

          Labour Market Determinants                                    17

                    2.4.1     Wage, Turnover, Unemployment, Currency           17
                    2.4.2     Risks Associated with Lowest Cost Provider       17
                    2.4.3     Selling Productivity                             18
                    2.4.4     Language, Customer Service, Skills               18
                    2.4.5     Training System                                  18

          Occupancy Determinants                                               19

                    2.5.1     Lease, Build, Tax, Utilities, Leasehold Costs    19
                    2.5.2     Lease Terms                                      19
                    2.5.3     Space and Architectural Requirements             19
                    2.5.4     Utilities – Redundancy                           20

          Occupancy Requirements Related to Turnover                    23

                    2.6.1               Transportation Access                  23
                    2.6.2               Proximity to Other Call Centres        23
                    2.6.3               Building Image, Interior Esthetic      24
                    2.6.4               Working Conditions                24
                    2.6.5               Proximity to Amenities                 24
                    2.6.6               Proximity, Convenience to Workforce    24

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Table of Cont ents            continued …

          Technology Determinants                                               25

                    2.7.1               Proximity to Technology Suppliers       25
                    2.7.2               Telecommunications Capacity             25
                       Telecommunications Media                25
                       Public Telephone System Access 26
                       Telephone Equipment                     26
                    2.7.3               Telecom Switches and Protocols 26
                       Switches                                26
                       Direct Inward Dialing (DID)        27
                       Automatic Number Identification (ANI)   27
                       Interactive Voice Response (IVR) 27
                       Bridging                                28
                       Public vs. Private Systems         28
                       Packet vs. Circuit Switching            28
                       TC/IP vs ATM                            29
                    2.7.4               I.T. Systems Hardware and Software      29
                       Computer Telephony Integration          29
                       Call Centre Management Software         29
                       Integration of Voice, Data and Video    30
                       Unified vs. Integrated Merssaging 31
                       User Interfaces                         31
                    2.7.5               Impact of Internet on Call Centres 31
                    2.7.6               Disaster Recovery                       32

          Case Studies                                                   33

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This report was prepared by the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance for the purpose
of assisting the deliberations of the GTA EDP Call Centre Sub-Committee in its
efforts to identify useful literature and resources relevant to call centre location
attraction, development, expansion, retention and investment.


This report consists of three sections:

          1. executive summary with key findings and recommendations
          2. issues related to call centre competitiveness
          3. case studies related to call centre competitiveness


This report was developed by conducting interviews with GTA industry and economic
development leaders and by conducting a literature review of documents identified in
interviews and Internet searches.


The GTMA wishes to thank all of the individuals who contributed time to interviews,
those who forwarded documents and those who referred us to resources.

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The growth and global consolidation of back-office activity including call centre
expansion is an im portant source of employment and wealth creation in the Greater
Toronto Area (GTA). Competition between developers and communities com peting to
capture call centres is fast and brutal. The key findings of this report are:

1.1                 Change of Economic Development Strategy Focus

Econom ic developm ent strategies related to call centres have evolved beyond a focus on
traditional custom er service activity to include all so called ‗back-office‘ activities which
require human intervention between people and com puters, whether facilitated by
telephone or other messaging m edia. In addition to custom er care, back-office activities
include but aren‘t limited to human resources, payroll, employee bene fits, purchasing,
accounts payable, accounts receivable, collections, product inform ation and technical
support. The call centre market is changing into a m arket for ‗back-office‘ consolidation,
presenting a moving target that must be anticipated by economic development

1.2                 Lack of Empirical and Census Data

No em pirical data was identified which aggregates economic data on call centres within
the geo-political boundaries of the GTA. No comprehensive census (directory) of call
centres was identified in any GTA jurisdiction. KPMG conducted studies in 1997 and
1998 on Ontario call centres and call centres in the financial and business services
sectors respectively. Theses studies identified some useful survey information for the
City of Toronto. The City of Oakville has commissioned a call centre study to be
completed this year. Winters & Associates produces a survey of call centre labour rates
for major North American cities including Toronto.

1.3                 Require ment for Lower Labour and Turnover Costs

Some call centre location prospects are attracted by a low Canadian dollar, low cost
labour rates and higher unemployment rates vis-à-vis the U.S. Higher unemployment
rates tend to reduce em ployee turnover. Such prospects m ay prefer locations as f ar from
other call centres as possible, ostensibly to avoid competition for labour which is
perceived to drive up wages and turnover rates. Some such prospects may be attracted
to jurisdictions where they may have a sole or pre-em inent call centre presence in the

1.4                 Require ment for Specialized Skills and Knowledge Workers

Some call centre location prospects are attracted to higher population areas where
unique and specialized skills are in greater supply. Such prospects m ay value
specialized language skills or technical knowledge possessed by students attending post
secondary schools or workers employed in technical occupations.

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1.5       Determinants of Back-Office Location Selection
1.5.1 Labour Market Determinants

     currency valuation
     wage rates, average 2,080 hours per year per agent
     employee benefits costs
     turnover rates
     unemployment rate
     education levels
     language skills
     computer literacy and technology culture
     customer service culture
     public and private training resources

1.5.2 Occupancy Determinants

     occupancy costs usually not to exceed 10% of labour cost
     real estate, lease, taxes, utilities, leaseholds calculated per agent
     right of first refusal on vacated space in building or development
     pre-costed sub-lease or lease termination options
     no requirement to return property to shell (original) condition
     size of space, 125 sq. ft.+ per agent, large centres 50k sq. ft.+
     usually require expansion capacity to 300 agents
     suburban - parking of 7 spaces per 1000 sq. ft
     suitability of space, usually prefer one space, one floor, one floor plate
     presence of columns adds 25% to space requirements/cost
     availability, cost and redundancy of bandwidth
     utilities costs, redundancy, uninterrupted power supply (min. 30 minutes)

1.5.3 Occupancy Determinants Related to Labour Turnover

   proximity to other call centres in building, development and area
   building image, interior esthetic
   work station cubicle size
   air quality, temperature control, lighting, carpeting
   adequate number of washrooms, common space & lounges
   less than 30 minute commute from labour market
   well lit, secure access to subway, bus or rail transit
   transit operation matches hours of work
   well lit, secure access to adequate, affordable parking
   proximity to amenities – food vendors, child care, gym
   if single parent workforce m.o., proximity to day care
   if student m.o., proximity to college & university
1.5.4 Key Technology Determinants

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     proximity to technology suppliers and consultants
     telecommunications capacity
      o telecommunications media
      o telephone equipment
     information systems hardware and software
      o computer - telephony hardware integration
      o call centre management software
      o systems integration of voice, data and video
      o interactive voice response (IVR)
      o automatic number identification (ANI)
      o unified vs. integrated messaging
      o user interfaces
     telecommunications switches and protocols
      o public vs. private systems
      o packet vs. circuit switching
      o TC/IP vs. ATM
     impact of internet
     redundancy and disaster recovery

1.5.5 Key Applications

     customer sales and service
     collections and accounts receivable
     technical support and product information
     distribution, shipping
     payroll, benefits and HR
     purchasing and accounts payable
     training and help desk

1.5.6 Key Sectors

     financial services
     manufacturing
     travel and hospitality
     cultural - publishing, ticketing
     utilities - electric, gas, telecommunications, cable

1.5.7 Top U.S. Jurisdictions for New Call Centre Agents Captured - 1998

1st       Florida             14,509
2nd       Texas                5,730


1.6.1 Conduct a call centre study within the GTA to include:

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               o    census of larger call centres
               o    labour market study, language, computer use, C.S. experience
               o    training system needs analysis
               o    real estate inventory and needs analysis
               o    public policy support needs analysis
               o    competitiveness benchmarking against N.A. clusters
               o    recommendations

1.6.2 In cooperation with real estate developers and public development approval
      agencies, initiate a fast track, build-to-suit call centre development program
      which can provide occupancy in three to five months as has bee n achieved in
      Oklahoma City, OK and Rio Rancho, NM.

1.6.3 Initiate a private-public sector partnership to capture global back-office
      consolidation in the GTA.

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The following pages describe labour market, occupancy and technology issues
influencing call centre location selection.

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The growth and global consolidation of back-office activity including call centre
expansion is an im portant source of employment and wealth creation in the Greater
Toronto Area (GTA). Competition between developers and communities com peting to
capture call centres is fast and brutal.

2.1       The Back-Office

The term ‗back-office‘ refers to activities that support the transfer of information, often
between people and information systems, usually by telephone but increasingly by
other messaging media. The term ‗front-office‘ refers to activities that support the
generation of information, often through design and management functions.

In the new economy, one might begin to differentiate ‗front‘ from ‗back‘ office
activities by noting that front-office activity focuses on generating and sending
information while back-office activity focuses on receivi ng and transferring

Since it is more expensive to generate and send data than it is to receive and transfer
it, front-office activity traditionally costs more to support than back-office activity.
There is a significant difference in labour market compensation for back-office vs.
front-office workers, with back-office workers receiving lower compensation. This is a
significant socio-economic feature of the new economy.

The distinction between front and back-office labour in the new economy results in a
global business outlook that views back-office labour as a commodity which can be
purchased anywhere in the world, provided local communications and information
technology support the affordable transfer of the subject information.

2.2                 Globalization

The consolidation of back-office services is driven by globalization and the rapidly
falling costs of communications and information technology, in particular, the ability to
move voice, data and video information cheaply and securely over national borders
without special regulation or taxation.

Globalization drives corporate mergers, acquisitions and expansions. Companies that
are getting larger and more global in scope are continuously acquiring larger
workforces that are dispersed globally.

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In classical economic theory it was assumed workers moved from low to higher wage
areas. In the new economy, such movement of back-office labour is less necessary
because back-office tasks can be performed from virtually anywhere in the world,
provided they can be supported with appropriate skills and technology.

Facilitated by communications and information technology, the ability of companies to
lower labour costs by consolidating back-office growth into the most cost effective
location creates opportunities for communities to capture jobs that are now or were
formerly dispersed around the globe.

2.3       Impact of Technology Development

The development of communications and information technology will continue to
change the nature and cost of back office activities including call centres. Certainly
communities looking to increase back office activity will require access to technology
options at competitive costs but one can‘t assume that today‘s technologies are what
will be required five years from now. Some of the following issues may emerge.

While the availability of black fiber from a call center to its long distance
telecommunications service provider may present a technology advantage today,
digital wireless telecommunications services are rapidly providing options to
communities which don‘t have black fiber to offer new call centers.

The development of cheaper, faster, smarter telecommunications switches and call
management software will make smaller call centres more cost competitive. The re -
introduction of mechanical switching facilitated by micro mechanical devices will
increase the capacity of switches significantly.

The rapid development of data compression driven by breakthroughs in mathematics
(algorithms) will allow more data to flow through existing wires, fiber and airwaves.

Increasing consumer use of the Internet, rapidly changing internet application
technology and the introduction of faster, higher capacity Internet service will drive
change at back office service providers. Call centres will increasingly diversify,
becoming e-commerce service centres.

In addition to the use of telephone, agents will respond to email, voicemail and even
videophone as the Internet becomes increasingly capable of providing faster data
speeds to consumers on demand.

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The convergence of the television and the personal computer into a single appliance
or integrated appliances may soon converge television and internet content
provision. Access to the Internet through the television appliance is going to increase
the importance of the Internet to advertisers including the traditional direct marketing
advertisers who depend on call centres for customer service and fulfillment.

It is not difficult to foresee the eventual emergence of video customer service as
video transmissions offered by cable, satellite and telephone companies become
more interactive. These technologies are not restrained by the less dependable
supply of bandwidth on the Internet. At the same time however, the speed, capacity
and dependability of the Internet is improving.

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2.4.1 Wage, Turnover, Unemployment and Currency Rates

The low Canadian dollar and a relatively high unemployment rate vis-à-vis the U.S.
make Canadian labour cheaper than in some competing U.S. jurisdictions. In
Canada, our currency rate is a significant cost savings to U.S. investors, not only with
respect to wages but also with respect to occupancy costs. The most important
determinant of back-office location selection is labour cost. The second most
important determinant of site selection is the employee turnover rate which
significantly affects labour cost. Turnover rates tend to be inversely proportionate to
unemployment rates.

A call centre employee is often referred to as an ‗agent‘ or ‗customer service
representative (CSR)‘. Call centre developers generally make cost comparison
calculations on the assumption that one agent or CSR will work two thousand, eighty
(2,080) hours per year.

Employee turnover rates are a significant determinant of site location. Employee
turnover in call centres is traditionally high. The cost of call centre employee
attraction, recruitment, training, orientation and human resource management
represents a high proportion of the total cost of operating a call centre.

Higher unemployment rates are perceived by call centre location specialists to
moderate wage rates. For example, U.S. call centre watcher Brendan Read wrote in
the September 1, 1999 edition of CallCentre Magazine, “Dalfen has properties in
New Bruns wick and Quebec, both hot call centre destinations because of their high
unemployment …” (Dalfen American is a call centre property developer).

2.4.2 Risks Associated With Lowest Cost Providers

There are risks associated with being a lowest cost provider of any service, including
back-office services. If having the lowest labour cost were the sole determinant of call
centre success, with the highest average incomes in Canada, the GTA would not
now be as competitive as it is for call centre location compared to other Canadian
cities, remote communities and developing nations which are rapidly acquiring
competitive telecommunications infrastructure.

No prospering community is likely to remain the lowest cost back-office labour
provider for very long. It may therefore be prudent to exercise caution when
advertising the dubious distinction of having high unemployment and low wages
when there may be other consequences to such pronouncements. None-the-less,
wage rates will remain the most significant call centre location determinant.

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2.4.3 Selling Productivity – Unit Cost vs. Labour Rate

Productivity is based on total activity based value delivered, not just one isolated cost
such as the labour rate. For example, a productivity measure might be the ‗total unit
cost of completing one successful customer technical support intervention‘.
Promoting productivity measures and the unique value of the GTA back -office labour
force, including our education levels, language skills and technical skills, is a
competitive imperative because ultimately it will be the uniqueness of the service we
provide and its total unit value that will determine call centre competitiveness.

2.4.4 Language, Customer Service Culture, Computer Skills, Internet Use

The GTA labour force, numbering over 2.5 million, speaks over eighty languages and
remains one of the most multilingual work forces in the world. The GTA labour force
has a positive cultural orientation toward customer service. Technology comfort
levels within the back-office work force are high. GTA computer and internet use per
capita, per home and in the work place are assumed to be among the highest in the

2.4.5 Training System

A significant amount of call centre agent training is provided on-the-job by call centre
managers. Call centres utilizing the lowest cost labour are least likely to provide
formal in-house or outsourced training programs. Increasingly, public and post
secondary education institutions are developing call centre and back-office certificate

In the Niagara Region of Ontario, in addition to the regional community college, the
continuing education department of the Niagara South Board of Education is a
supplier of training programs to call centres in Welland, Ontario and the surrounding

In the GTA, call centre training programs were identified at:

    Centennial College
    Durham College
    Sheridan College

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2.5.1 Lease, Build, Tax, Utility and Leasehold Costs

Occupancy costs for call centres are generally expected to remain under ten percent
(10%) of labour costs. Occupancy costs include lease or carrying costs, realty and
occupancy taxes, electricity, gas, water, sewer, maintenance and cleaning costs.
Generally these costs are estimated and expressed for comparison purposes as a
‗cost per agent‘.

2.5.2 Lease Terms

While call centre building lease terms tend to be three, five and seven years, call
centres can be less stable in their tenancy. The most common risk to call centre
tenancy is corporate takeover. This can occur when a company acquires or merges
with another and decides to consolidate all of its back office activity. Takeover can
also occur when a call centre service bureau loses a contract to a competitor, either
during a contract bidding war or when one of its clients has been the subject of a
merger or acquisition.

Due to tenancy risk, call centres often seek to negotiate exit clauses in their leases.
Exit arrangements may include sub-lease options or termination clauses which
specify penalties. Whatever the mechanism, the objective of negotiating such
agreements is to limit closure costs. For the same reason, call centres prefer not to
agree to lease terms which require them to return premises to shell (original)
condition upon vacating.

Call centres often negotiate future rights or first refusal rights to lease newly vacated
space inside a building or development site. Increased space requirements can pose
a risk to call centres. If growth can‘t be accommodated at the primary site, the costs
of duplicating telecommunications switching, computer networking, supervisory and
other infrastructure at a non-adjacent location can eliminate savings that have been
achieved in the primary location. Smaller call centres often look for sites which can
provide space for up to three hundred (300) agents if required.

2.5.3 Space and Architectural Requirements

Call centre location specialists often calculate space requirements at one hundred,
fifty (150) sq. ft. or more per agent. In the U.S. market, call centres are considered to
be large if they require over fifty thousand (50,000) sq. ft. Some quick math will tell
you that U.S. call centres with three hundred, thirty (330) or fewer agents are not
considered to be large. The Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade
has had enquiries for space requirements as large as one hundred forty thousand
(140,000) sq. ft. (almost a thousand agents)
Call centres may prefer different floor plans depending on the nature of the
application and the building image or interior esthetic required. Occupancy costs are

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generally considered to be lower if a call centre is located on one floor of a building
and if possible, on a single floor plate. Locating on multiple floor plates may reduce
space utilization flexibility and increase costs of telecommunications and computer
network cabling, washrooms and common areas. Call centres often prefer to locate in
single floor or low rise buildings on the ground level or lowest level possible so that
elevator use is reduced and less likely to be affected by other building tenants.

The presence of columns in older buildings reduces usable floor space and space
utilization flexibility. The presence of columns is generally estimated to increase
space requirements by twenty five to thirty percent (25% – 30%) with a proportionate
increase in occupancy cost.

If an uninterrupted power supply unit is required (see section 2.4.4 Utilities), such
units may weigh as much as three thousand pounds (3,000 lbs.) or four hundred
pounds (400 lbs.) per sq. ft. Care must be taken to review architectural specifications,
local building codes and occupancy permits as above -grade space permits may
regulate maximum weights as low as forty-five pounds per sq. ft.

2.5.3 Utilities - Redundancy

Electrical, telephone and computer network failure in call centres can be very costly.
Up to a thousand employees can be idled by a power failure or computer network
disruption while still on the payroll. Therefore, the ke y feature call centres require
from utilities is redundancy. This refers to the practice of having two or more sources
of everything from electricity and natural gas to telephone and wide area data
network service.

Call centres processing in-bound telephone traffic are at greater risk to loss from
power and network failure than call centres that provide outbound services because
an interruption of inbound traffic may result in the loss of an order to a competitor, for
example, in the case of a large global courier service.

In-bound call centres often require telecommunications services linked to two
separate telephone exchanges and electricity feeds from two separate sub-stations.
An interruption of any one source still allows the call centre to function.

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Call centres may reduce the cost of having duplicate power supplies by installing an
uninterrupted power supply (UPS). Such units consist of large batteries which provide
stand-by power to a call centre for a prescribed period of time in the event of a power
failure, usually for thirty minutes as power failures are seldom longer than thirty

When electricity supply fails, the call centre‘s computer system usually has priority
access to the UPS and begins to backup and transfer its data to an alternate call
centre or to a disaster recovery storage facility, just in case the power interruption is
more serious and requires a longer call centre closure.

Call centres are often installed in converted retail or industrial buildings. Some utilities
have special contracts with large industrial and commercial electricity users which
provide power at discounted rates in exchange for the utility‘s right to reduce or
disrupt supply during peak consumer usage times or as may be required in special
circumstances. It is important that call centre developers check with subject utilities to
ascertain when, under what conditions and for how long power disruptions may
occur. Most electric utilities are required by law to record the incidence and frequency
of power failures and provide such information to the public as requested.

2.5.4 Fast and Brutal Selection Process for Call Centre Location

Call centre developers compete against time and each other to capture lucrative
consulting contracts and prime locations. The selection process is therefore fast and
brutal. Developers may make one request only for information and they may make
one visit only to communities which end up on the short list.

Communities wishing to capture call centre development must react to developer
inquiries with timely, complete information and they must be prepared to show all
competing sites on one visit. There is unlikely to be a second request for information
or a second site visit from call centre developers.

Communities must coordinate their responses to call centre developer inquiries. Lack
of coordination, duplication and lack of timelness on the part of responding agencies
may confuse and frustrate call centre developers or increase the cost of site selection
in an ill prepared community. Like any commercial enterprise, it takes many
successful repetitions of good service to build a reputation and only one unfortunate
incident which is not followed up promptly to tarnish it.

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2.6.1 Transportation Access

Transportation access to a call centre is the most significant of the determinants
discussed in this section of the report. Transportation access affects labour supply,
cost and turnover. It is a general rule of thumb that a call centre should be located no
further than a thirty minute commute from its targeted labour force. Commuting time
is going to have a significant impact on attraction and retention for both agents and
managers, although managers may commute longer distances because their
compensation levels allow for automobile ownership and otherwise justify the extra

Call centres using lower cost labour should be well serviced by public transit during
the call centre‘s hours of operation. For example, if such a call centre operates
twenty-four hours a day, it may be more expensive to recruit and retain agents for a
late night shift if transit service is not available during such hours.

Parking requirements at call centres employing agents likely to own automobiles
usually require six to eight (6 – 8) parking spaces per one thousand square feet
(1000 sq. ft.) of call centre space. Parking should be free or affordable.

Access to public transit stops and parking lots must be well lit a nd safe.

2.6.2 Proximity to Other Call Centres

The proximity of one call centre to another, whether in the same building,
development or geographical area can be perceived by call centre developers as a
factor that might tend to increase turnover rates and labour costs through

The turnover threat in such cases depends on the skills and compensation required
at adjacent call centers. For example, a software technical support call centre might
pay substantially higher compensation than an adjacent exercise machine order desk
call centre, making it unlikely that technical support staff would seek employment as
order takers. The order desk workers are unlikely to possess the specialized skills of
the technical support workers and therefore would be unlikely to obtain employment
at the technical support call centre.

Even if adjacent call centres do not seem to threaten each other, there‘s always a
risk that a centre could close and be reoccupied by operators who may be disposed
to poaching labour from their neighbour.

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2.6.3 Building Image, Interior Esthetic

Some call centres require an upscale building image and interior design to attract
agents. This has been the case in the securities industry where upscale esthetics
have been used extensively to attract and retain labour.

While converted supermarkets, warehouses and industrial buildings may provide
some of the cheapest space, the image of such facilities may not be compatible with
recruitment strategies which can be quite costly if not effective.

2.6.4 Working Conditions

Working condition variables such as work station cubicle size and esthetic, air quality,
temperature control, lighting, carpeting and chair design are important facilities
management features which affect employee turnover. Other features which attract
and retain employees include adequate washrooms and common space, perhaps
even employee lounges with video gaming and other recreation.

2.6.5 Proximity to Amenities

Proximity of a call centre to a variety of food vendors, child care, health club facilities,
shopping or jogging and bicycle trails can also be retention tools. In some cases such
amenities are provided by the call centre.

2.6.6 Proximity and Convenience to Workforce

If a call centre prefers to hire part-time university students, closer proximity to a
university will assist in attraction and retention. If single parents are a common
source of labour for a call centre, child care facilities should be close.

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2.7.1             Proximity to Technology Suppliers and Consultants

Cost efficient maintenance of telecommunications, information technology and
training systems requires the proximity of suppliers who can service the technology
selected. Suppliers costs increase if there is less selection and competition or if
suppliers must incur travel and accommodation costs.

2.7.2               Telecommunications Capacity             Telecommunications Media

Telecommunications signals travel through a medium of electrons which vibrate at
specific frequencies and move at specific speeds. Telecommunications capacity is
referred to as ‗bandwidth‘, which implies a rate at which information can be shipped
over a wire, coaxial cable, optic fiber or radio frequency. When call centres say they
need broader, greater, more or higher bandwidth, it means they need to send more
voice and data information in less time at lower cost.

The result of sending more information in less time may be to lower the cost of
shipping information, whether that information represents a banking transaction, a
telephone conversation, a television program or any other kind of information.
Broader bandwidth improves data transmission speeds in addition to voice and
image quality. Here is one way of classifying telecommunications speeds:

     Phone Rate              75 bps                 (bytes per second)
     Sub-Rate                56 kbps to 1.5 mbps    (megabytes per second)
     Narrowband              1.5 mbps to 45 mbps
     Wideband                45 mbps and greater
     Broadband               1.5 mbps to 45 mbps

One popular telecommunications service provided by GTA access providers is called
T1. The term T1, refers to a telephone line which can send a million and a half bytes
of data in one second. You would have to simultaneously hum into 2,000 telephone
receivers for 10 minutes to send the same amount of information on regular
telephone lines. A T3 service is faster than T1 etc.

The presence in a community of an affordable supply of telecommunications
bandwidth is critical to call centre location selection. Available infrastructure may
include telephone wire, television coaxial cable, fiber optic cable, powerline carrier
and wireless services. Such technologies change rapidly and it can‘t be assumed that
one technology will be faster or cheaper than another for very long. Fiber optic cable
has been a very popular telecommunications medium. There is a case study of fiber
optic networking on page 281 of this report.

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                     6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   25             Public Telephone System Access

Call centres and back office facilities require access to the public telephone system of
the market they serve. Security of supply is achieved through redundancy, i.e.
connecting the call centre to two different sources of telecommunications services,
for example, telephone exchanges. If a connection to one source is broken, the other
connection keeps the call centre in operation until all service is restored.

If a call centre serves the local market, adequate voice communications bandwidth
on the local telephone system must be secured through local access providers. In
some communities there is only one local access provider, in other communities
there is a choice depending on the type of service desired.

Where local markets are not served, call centres may use telecommunications
services other than those provided by a local access provider to connect to a public
telephone exchange in a distant market served. For example, a long distance service
can connect a call centre‘s telecommunications switch directly to a telephone
exchange in a distant city.             Telephone Equipment

Telephony equipment includes telephones, headsets, telecommunications switches,
multiplexors, relays and numerous other appliances, many of which are now
integrated into information systems so that computers and telephones function
almost as a single appliance.

2.7.3 Telecommunications Switches and Protocols Switches

A telecommunications switch is a computer which routes telephone calls from one
telephone line to another. 100 telephone lines from a telephone exchange might
terminate on a switch which routes calls to and from 300 call centre age nts. The cost
of switches has been dropping while their capacity and capabilities have been
increasing. They generate reports which assist management decision making. There
are descriptions of many well known switches in the case study section of this report
starting on page 242.

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                    6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   26             Direct Inward Dialing (DID)

Direct inward dialing is a call processing technology. A switch operator acquires local
telephone numbers which differ from regular telephone numbers in that, rather than
terminating on a telephone line, they are identified with a specific telecom switch.
When a caller dials a DID, the call is routed to the designated telecom switch. The
switch recognizes the unique DID number and depending on how the switch is
programmed, the call can be processed in a number of ways.

A DID call can be auto-routed to a call centre agent or to another telecom switch. If
programmed to go to a switch, the switch may recognize a DID as a computer
command and execute a specific routine, for example, the switch may route the
incoming call to a call centre in a distant city.             Automatic Number Identification (ANI)

Most telephone users are familiar with a telephone feature known as ‗caller ID‘ which
allows a telephone user to read a display indicating the name or number of a caller.
This technology is called Automatic Number Identification (ANI).

In call centres, ANI allows telecommunications switches to route known callers to
their designated agents or for example, to route all calls from Spain to Spanish
speaking agents.             Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is the technology used to enter touch tone
commands from a telephone into a computer. IVR services are commonly used for
banking, course registration or various scheduling applications. IVR services are
interfaced with audio recordings which provide menus, prompting the caller to enter
the number of the desired selection.

IVR has revolutionized the way call centres handle customer service selection and
information requests. IVR systems can send faxes, route calls and capture data.

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                    6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   27             Bridging

Telecom switches have made local and national long distance barriers almost
transparent. The ability of telecom switches to recognize touch tone sounds
generated by callers allows clients to enter unique account numbers, passwords and
coded commands. Switches can use ANI to identify telephone numbers as computer
commands causing telecom switches to execute unique tasks.

One task a telecom switch can execute is called 'bridging'. Using bridging, a switch
may automatically receive a call and route it to another switch or through a series of
switches to eliminate or reduce long distance charges. For example, at a certain time
of day, all calls being received by one call ce ntre might be re-routed to another call
centre to save long distance or other costs.             Public vs. Private Systems

Sometimes, public telephone companies offer publicly switched services to call
centres. In the GTA, a product known as ‗Centrex‘ provides a telephone service
whereby the telecommunications switch is physically located in a telephone company
facility. This service may provide some of the advantages of a telecommunications
switch without having to buy one.

In many instances, call centres purchase their own telecommunications switches to
provide themselves with a Private Branch Exchange (PBX). The PBX acts as a
private telephone exchange with cost efficiencies for large volume users and more
convenient integration of call centre management software.             Packet vs. Circuit Switching

Some telecommunications switches keep a line open all the time for each call. This
technology is called ‗circuit switching‘.

Packet switches take advantage of unused telecommunications capacity caused b y
call routing and the dead space in conversations. With packet switching, voice
communications are broken up into small packets of information. These packets are
numbered and addressed much like a letter. They are sent to their destination and
reassembled in their original numbered order transparent to the callers. In this
manner, many callers and computers can use the same long distance circuit at a
lower cost.

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                    6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   28             TC/IP vs. ATM

A telecommunications protocol is a standard by which computers arra nge data to be
moved from one place to another. Metaphorically, some protocols require computers
to open the egg at the little end and other protocols require computers to open the
egg at the big end. There are many hundreds of proprietary protocols used b y
different systems.

The Internet has provided a public standard protocol for data transmission referred to
as TC/IP. Before the Internet became such a widely used protocol, certain industries
were gearing up to use a protocol standard called ATM.

TC/IP offers a very affordable, widely used way to move data and even voice
communications. To secure the speed and quality of TC/IP data and voice
transmissions between their own offices however, companies must use private
telecommunications lines they can control because public internet sites can become
very slow and undependable at times.

When companies find they have enough private demand for secure voice and data
transfer, especially if they transfer graphics, video, animation or audio files, it may
become more cost efficient to use ATM. The ATM protocol will make more efficient
use of telecommunications capacity. The drawback of ATM is that its not a widely
used protocol and therefore, more computers and people are accessible using TC/IP.

2.7.4               Information Systems Hardware and Software             Computer Telephony Hardware Integration

As it has in the past, the integration of telephone and computer equipment will
continue to influence the productivity of call centres. With computer and telephone
increasingly functioning as one integrated appliance, new equipment is emerging
every few months to replace older, less efficient equipment.             Call Centre Management Software

A telecom switch captures data such as the number of calls routed to each call centre
agent, the duration of each call, the name of each caller and the results of each call.
Call management software interfaces with telecommunications switching software to
route and monitor telephone traffic in the call centre.

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                   6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   29
Using telecom switch reports, supervisors can move call volume from busier staff
members to those who are less busy. Managers can identify trends in worker
productivity which may be related to different projects, allocating employees to
projects on which they excel. Managers may identify employees who need
motivation, specialized training or just a refreshing change in their work routine.
Smart telecom switches improve employee satisfaction, customer service and human
resource productivity.

Like all computers, telecom switches are becoming more friendly to operate. Easy to
use graphical interfaces are reducing the technical barriers which prevent managers
and employees from creating their own reports and routing their own call streams.
The cost of programming and maintaining telecom switches is dropping so that
telecom switch programmers need not be highly trained technicians or expensive
outsourced services. The real wealth created by call centre management software
comes from the enabling effect it has on human resource productivity and its ability to
give individuals and teams of employees more power over their own objectives and
customer service strategies. There are references to many well known call centre
management software systems in the case study section of this report.             Systems Integration of Voice, Data and Video

Information systems generally use protocols and equipment capable of transmitting
not only data but also voice, video and graphics information. The call centre agents
workstation integrates a computer appliance with a telephone appliance.

Since computers are capable of processing not only data but also voice, video and
graphics information, increasingly these tasks will be performed by a single appliance
as they are now for example in state-of-the-art air traffic control facilities.

Within the not too distant future, video images will become common methods of
communication in the back office as they have been in the front-office for many
years. Consumers who use the Internet already have access to video imaging tools
such as Microsoft NetMeeting and other software applications which support audio
and video correspondence over the Internet. The use of such applications is hindered
by the instability and uncertainty of speeds available through public Internet sites,
however, service is improving.

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                   6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   30            Messaging: Unified vs. Integrated

Call centres generally process email and voicemail as well as computer data. Some
call centres also store recordings of customer orders as would for example, a bond
trading call centre. In such a case, data captured may consist of customer records,
email, voicemail, recordings of customers placing buy and sell orders and comments
entered into the computer system by agents. All of this data must be available to any
agent or manager in the call centre therefore it must be stored.

Integrated messaging refers to the practice of storing each different kind of
information, whether data, audio or video on a separate information system and then
using the call centre‘s workstation management software to locate data on these
information systems as needed. When requested, any type of information must be
routed to the agent‘s computer and headset. This can be a slow process if three
hundred or more agents are requesting information.

Unified messaging refers to the practice of capturing and storing all forms of data on
the same information system and in the same customer file. Unified messaging
systems store email and audio recordings in one customer file so they are easily a nd
quickly accessed. Unified messaging can improve customer service by reducing file
delivery times. It can also reduce cost by cutting down on the number of different
information systems required in a call centre.             User Interfaces

Microsoft Windows is an example of a user interface. If you remember what it was
like working with computers before Apple and Microsoft released graphical user
interfaces, you can appreciate how important user interfaces are. User interfaces can
be the difference between life and death in an air traffic control facility, which is
basically a call centre serving airline pilots.

The appropriate design of a call centre agent‘s user interface can reduce complexity,
save time, enhance customer service and improve employee productivity and

2.7.5 Impact of the Internet and E-commerce on Call Centres

The primary impact of the Internet on call centres is related to cost savings attained
by using Internet email and web servers to reach the public. The Internet is low cost,
public and global. Call centre services often support web sites or use web sites to
provide services to customers.

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                   6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   31
Some call centre activity, for example those performing software distribution, are
being partially supplanted by web sites because the target market is internet users
who may prefer the instant gratification of downloading software.

As e-commerce conducted on web sites slowly grows in acceptance, some call
centre activity will be replaced, however, at this time, e-commerce growth is slower
than anticipated and many customers will continue to prefer personal transaction
service. Since web sites can‘t generate outbound sales solicitations, outbound
telemarketing to any market is going to continue to be the domain of call centres,
notwithstanding the introduction of automated dialing computers in the nineteen
eighties, which are effective at delivering notices but little else.

There is a case study describing the impact of the Internet on a call centre starting on
page 211 of this report.

2.7.5      Disaster Recovery

Call centre developers need access to a selection of disaster recovery consultants
and suppliers. The requirement for data backup and uninterrupted power supply was
described in sections 2.5.2 and 2.5.3 herein. There are two case studies describing
disaster recovery requirements starting on page 289

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                    6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   32

The case studies which appear in this report were selected for their descriptions of a
broad selection of call centre applications, industry sectors a nd technology issues.

Case studies were also selected for their currency. Many of the case studies have
been published in the last six months and almost all have been published in the last

Case studies were selected from periodicals and appear here courtesy of Call Centre
Magazine, Computer Telephony Magazine, Network Magazine and Teleconnect
Magazine. Authors names and dates of publication are specified for each case study.

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                   6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   33
Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3   6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   34
Index of Case Histories

By Industry Activity or Application

Cable and Satellite Television                             129
Catalog Services                                           149
Customer Service                                            93
Financial Services                                          37
Manufacturing                                               75
Tourism, Travel, Hospitality, Entertainment                113
Training                                                   167
Freight Transportation                                     204
Utilities                                                  177

By Technology Requirement

Automatic Number Identification                      239
Call Centre Management Software                            219
Disaster Recovery                                          289
Fiber Optic Networking                                     281
Impact of Internet on Call Centres                   211
Integration of Call Centre Locations                       207
Integration of Voice Data and Video                        227
Interactive Voice Response (IVR)                     223
Packet vs. Circuit Switching                               267
RS-232 Alternatives                                  221
TC/IP vs ATM                                               271
Telecommunications Switches                                242
       Comdial              243
       Ericsson             245
       Executone            246
       Intecom              247
       Intertel             249
       Lucent               250
       Mitel                252
       NEC                  253
       Nortel Networks      254
       Telrad               256

Unified Messaging                                          259
User Interfaces                                            235

Index of Case Studies continued …

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3               6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   35
By Company Name

American Automobile Association                       61
A vomark Auto Insurance                               65
Beneficial Life Insurance                            107
Crown Casino                                         227
CCB Financial Corporation                             51
Chas e Manhattan                                     101
Chas eMellon Bank                                     53
Cocoa Cola                                           250
Crucial Technology                                   105                                           39
EMC                                                   89
Fortis Health                                         99
Get                                        214
Gulf State Credit                                    246
Harleys ville Group                                   73
Hawks Cay Resort                                     220
K‘NE X Industries                                     81
Levelor Home Fashions                                 79
Lollytogs                                            256
LR Nelson                                             87
Los Angeles, City of                                 223
Mercedes-Benz                                        292
Merrill Ly nch                                        41
Nort hwest Mutual Life                                69
Pagemart Wireless                                    207
Perrier                                               85
Park Place Entertainment                             253
Partech                                               97
Pennsylvania, University of                          248
PNC Bank                                              45
Prudential Insurance                                  43
Rolls Royce Allison                                  264
Safec o Insurance                                     67
Strategic Claims Services                            243
TALX                                                 103
Telesis Credit Union                                 249
Tulsa, City of                                       286
Universal Pensions                                   235
Volvo                                                 77
                                                           Additional Case Study Information
Volvo                                                245
Vendors lists at the end of each application section                      52, 74, 91, 201
Opportunities From Mergers of Financial Institutions                      47
Insuranc e Agencies                                                       57
What‘s next For Insurance Call Centres                            73
What Makes Customer Service Work                                        109

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                                          6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   36

Financial Services

Banking and Financial Institutions Profit From Call Centers

by Lee Hollman

CallCenter Magazine, 02/01/00

Banks and other financial businesses implement call centers for one simple reason:
profits. Call centers automate the most basic exchanges, like requesting an account
balance or making a deposit, so that agents can devote more time to making sales or
providing customers with more personalized service. This helps to secure customers‘
loyalty, ensuring that their individual needs are met by an automated system or a live
agent as quickly as possible.

Maintaining customer loyalty is vital to banks and financial institutions, especially as
the continued trend toward mergers in the finance industry and the rise of new
businesses on the Internet diminishes the available customer base. Since most
financial firms provide teleservices
, it is often at the call center where customers decide how much money they‘ll spend
at a given company or if they will continue to buy anything at all. Agents are under
increased pressure to sharpen their job performance and need to operate within the
best possible work environment.

Toward that end, companies in the finance industry are collectively spending more
money to improve their call centers with additional staff and with new hardware and
software. Datamonitor, a research and management consulting firm, estimates that
the number of agents working at call centers for banks and for retail financial
businesses will rise from an estimated 183,000 agents in 1998 to 215,000 by 2003.
Datamonitor estimates that labor accounts for 64% of the cost of running a call
center, leaving managers with only the remaining 36% to work with when purchasing
new equipment and meeting any additional overhead costs.

As financial businesses expand their call centers, they must work within their budgets
to create the most reliable systems possible. ―There‘s a number of strategic issues in
designing a call center,‖ says Alison C. Hills, an analyst at Datamonitor. ―First and
foremost is cost-effectiveness, then improving the quality of customer interactions.‖
Hills confirms that more bank and financial call centers are going beyond customer
service to introduce a more sales-oriented approach. ―

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                     6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   37
The more banks know about customers, the more profitable each exchange can be.
[Banks] can immediately identify more high-profile customers, take them off the
queue and introduce a new sales opportunity.‖

But setting up a low-cost call center is a challenge in itself, let alone designing one
that enables agents to make sales effectively. ―Typically, the startup cost banks pay
for a very basic call center is about $2 million,‖ estimates Brad Adrian, a financial
research analyst for GartnerGroup, an IT research and advisory firm. The basic call
center that Adrian describes accommodates ten to 12 agents and only has the
capacity to receive and route calls. Most retail financial businesses necessarily pay
more than this for their call centers to assist large numbers of customers each day
and fulfill their requests.

Adrian projects that banks will have spent a total of $835 million on call center
products and services by the end of 1999. He predicts that they will spend $1.07
billion this year and $1.35 billion in 2001; he also sees parallel trends in other
financial services sectors like insurance and brokerage firms. Although these
estimates indicate a rapid rise in call center budgets for the financial industry, Adrian
suggests that spending wasn‘t accelerating as much as it could due to Y2K concerns.
He still remains optimistic and adds that banks won‘t regard efforts toward
guaranteeing Y2K compliance as a long-term obstacle in upgrading their call centers.

―Half of the banks we contacted said that [their call center technology] spending was
affected,‖ says Adrian. ―Instead of implementing new things, they validated current
systems or spent the money on their IT budgets.‖ He notes that the amount banks
spent on optimizing their call centers diminished during the final months of 1999 and
will rise again after the first few months of the year 2000. During that transitional
period, Adrian predicts an increased demand for staffing at these call centers;
customers will be more wary of receiving automated responses and will want
reassurance from a live person that their funds are in order.

Banks spend increasing amounts of money on call centers to keep pace with
businesses in other fields. Financial service providers like brokerage firms or credit
unions are under the same pressure that banks are to improve their own call centers.
Customers who are used to live service on the phone now demand that ordering
stocks or mutual funds should be as painless as ordering a pizza. This is no small
challenge, but it is one that banks and the finance industry on the whole must accept.

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                     6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   38’s On-line Customer Service Operation

The latest trend that call centers are following to ensure rapid customer service is to
route and answer e-mail messages along with phone calls. As on-line trade becomes
increasingly popular, you can expect more centers to follow the direction that San
Diego, CA-based has already taken. The company brokered mortgages
for consumers directly from its Web site under the former corporate name,
AltusMortgage, before it began to focus on serving business customers in 1998. e -
closer currently assists banks with securing mortgages for their customers. ―The
company evolved as an Internet-only option,‖ explains Tom Deutsch, president of e-

Agents at‘s call center help most customers from the company‘s Web
site, but they also receive calls if customers request live service over the phone for
detailed transactions.

Establishing a call center for was no easy task at first. ―We started in
May 1997 with an internally-developed e-mail system that I designed and I very
quickly realized that [programming] was not my calling in life,‖ recalls Deutsch. ―The
issues we faced were keeping up with customer demands and our quality of service;
we needed an industrial-strength system to help us do this.‖

He eventually decided to use Silknet Software‘s (Manchester, NH) eService. The
software places incoming e-mail messages in a queue and prioritizes them by each
customer‘s request. Agents who receive e -mail messages also view customers‘
histories from pop-up screens. Deutsch says that he hasn‘t needed to implement a
formal training regimen at the call center because eService is easy for agents to use
and it provides them with the information they need to assist customers.

The staff at‘s call center consists of 11 agents, one of whom also acts
as a supervisor and sometimes coaches the other agents or monitors their e -mail
correspondence. Agents answer an average of 200 to 300 e -mail messages a day or
as many as 1,000 during April and May, when more people are buying houses. The
center operates from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm Pacific Standard Time.

Customers who send e-mail during off-hours receive an automated response to
confirm that their messages arrived at the call center successfully and that agents will
help them by the next business day. Deutsch asserts that despite the size of the
center‘s staff, employee burnout hasn‘t been a problem and that ―turnover has been
remarkably light.‖ He says that because the company has saved money by offering
on-line customer service, it can afford to hire qualified employees at a very
competitive rate.

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                     6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   39
Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3   6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   40
Merrill Lynch Uses Speech Recognition to Provide Efficient Customer Service

Although not all companies will make a complete transition to on-line operations,
many are investing in new types of systems at their call centers. One example is
Merrill Lynch, a Manhattan-based titan of the international financial management
trade; the firm assists customers with personal fiscal planning and provides a
multitude of services that include banking, money lending, securities underwriting and
brokering stocks and commodities.

Merrill Lynch opened its first call center at New York City in 1982 before expanding
its customer service operation and moving it to Somerset, NJ in 1986. The company
opened two more centers at Denver, CO in 1996 and Jacksonville, FL in 1998.
Agents at all three call centers now answer an estimated 50 million calls each year.

To handle such a large number of incoming calls, Merrill Lynch uses speech
recognition software to handle the more basic requests. The company recently
upgraded the speech recognition system at all three of its call centers to Nuance
Communications‘ (Menlo Park, CA) Nuance 6. The company also par tnered with
Nuance to test Nuance Voyager, which is software that enables customers to select
options from an IVR menu with spoken commands.

―We worked with them in the lab on it,‖ says Mike Adornetto, VP, client contact
technologies at Merrill Lynch. ―B ut we don‘t expect to deploy it [at our call centers]
until the middle of the year 2000 at the earliest.‖

Adornetto eventually hopes to use speech recognition software for all automated
customer service. He says that Merrill Lynch‘s call centers currently make extensive
use of an IVR system. ―Our IVR platform has been evolving over the past 15 years so
that we now [use it to] handle 80% of our call volume for inbound calls,‖ he explains.

Judy Nelson, Merrill Lynch‘s director, direct and interactive fina ncial services,
elaborates on what types of calls Adornetto refers to. ―We offer a lot of banking-
based products and investment accounts, and some of these requests can be easily
handled by an IVR system,‖ she explains. Basic account management requests li ke
making deposits or withdrawals are simple enough for an IVR system to take care of,
but Nelson concedes that many customers still want live service.

That‘s why agents must meet rigorous training and customer services standards. ―We
require all of our agents to get Series 7 certification to support trading activities,‖ says
Nelson, referring to a securities licensing requirement.

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                       6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   41
Adornetto explains that Merrill Lynch‘s agents must have a broad knowledge of the
financial services industry to assess customers‘ needs and refer them to the right
product, service or to another agent if necessary.

Merrill Lynch relies on a third-party vendor to assess how well agents are meeting
specific goals. In addition, supervisors at each call center also monitor random calls.
The company mails surveys to customers and encourages them to evaluate the
phone service they received.

―Third-party vendors provide an unbiased view of how agents handle calls,‖ says
Nelson. ―We‘ve developed a report card [for agents] based on technical competency,
service skills, communication ability, demeanor and level of call control.‖ Supervisors
and agents meet each month to discuss the results and to focus on areas of

Merrill Lynch also offers Web-based service to its customers and plans to install
predictive dialers at its call centers by the middle of this year. ―We‘ve been accepting
e-mail from customers for over two years,‖ says Nelson. ―The same agents who
handle e-mail answer calls.‖

Regarding the upcoming purchase o f predictive dialers, Adornetto explains that
Merrill Lynch initially chose not to use them because the company doesn‘t run many
outbound campaigns from its call centers. ―Outbound sales come from our retail
branch offices,‖ he says.

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                     6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   42
Prudential Insurance: Multi-Site Call Center

Other large firms find that selecting sites for their call centers is just as important as
deciding on the best technical strategy for their call centers. This is certainly true of
Prudential, a multi-faceted financial firm based in Newark, NJ that offers investment,
securities, insurance and real estate services. Prudential established a network of 20
call centers to accommodate its expansive customer base in the US and currently
employs more than 4,000 agents, who handled appro ximately 20 million inbound and
outbound calls in 1999.

Given the high volume of calls and the variety of services the company provides, the
logistics of managing one unified call center could be difficult. A center of this size
may not necessarily find enough qualified labor in one location alone and it would
also be expensive to operate.

Prudential maintains an average of two or three call centers for each of its divisions.
Dennis Marine, the company‘s VP of information services, describes the advantages
of managing multiple call centers. ―We found that with geographic diversity, you can
take advantage of the different time zones. When the East Coast closes, we can
route customers to the Midwest or to the West Coast.‖

Marine also affirms that running more than one center can safeguard against
technical problems or emergency situations. He cites one particularly memorable

―When Hurricane Floyd hit Florida, we closed our Jacksonville center,‖ Marine recalls.
―We then moved calls to locations in Fort Washington, PA and Minneapolis, MN. As
Hurricane Floyd moved up, we closed those centers and Jacksonville was back in
action. Customers kept calling and we didn‘t miss a beat.‖

To transfer calls between disparate call centers, Prudential implemented what used
to be known as GeoTel‘s Intelligent CallRouter software. (San Jose, CA-based Cisco
Systems), which acquired GeoTel in June 1999, renamed Intelligent CallRouter Cisco
ICM Software.) The software receives continuous real-time information from a Lucent
(Murray Hill, NJ) Definity G3 phone switch at each call center and routes calls to
specific centers and agents depending on agents‘ skills.

Nine of Prudential‘s call centers work with a Lucent Conversant IVR system to
eliminate the need for answering and routing certain types of calls. Prudential intends
to gradually implement Conversant at all of them. ―For basic services like finding out
what your balance is or when you cashed your last check, IVR plays very well,‖ says
Warren Leary, Prudential‘s VP of information services.

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                      6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   43
―When you want to find out what the values of different insurance policies are, it‘s a
little trickier.‖

Leary reports that the Conversant system, which Prudential‘s call centers have used
for three years, have been able to manage 80% of investment calls and 60% of
securities calls through its IVR system.

Prudential also implemented Davox‘s (Westford, MA) SmartRoute and Sixth Sense
software at each of its call centers. SmartRoute identifies callers by capturing the
phone numbers they are calling from before routing calls to agents. Customers can
also enter data from touchtone phones to indicate who they are by keying in account
numbers or social security numbers. The software then routes calls to agents based
on their skills and their availability. Sixth Sense receives data from the IVR system
and the Lucent Definity switch, and then displays screen pops on agents‘ PCs with
customers‘ histories and other relevant information.

Leary is quick to point out that the company o nly purchases hardware and software
necessary for serving its extensive client base. ―We‘re proud to say it‘s all been for
the sake of the customer,‖ he says. ―We‘ve never bought technology for it‘s own
sake, but only to create a better customer experience .‖ Marine concurs and adds that
since Prudential consists of many different business units, each of the company‘s call
centers are set up as focal points for customers to receive all of the information and
services that they might request.

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                     6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   44
PNC Bank: Consolidated Call Center

Site selection and technical innovations are not the only factors that affect call center
development for the financial sector. Mergers have been just as influential,
particularly among banks. PNC Bank set up headquarters in Pittsburgh, PA and
opened eight separate call centers. The company then consolidated them into one
center that is officially known as the National Financial Services Center (NFSC). A
series of mergers prompted the decision at PNC Bank to create a unified customer
service organization.

With one large call center, agents can work together to assist customers. ―We try to
put like people together. That was hard to do because we used to be divided by
geography, and we have customers [in different states] because of a ll the banks
we‘ve bought over the years,‖ says Roger DuBois, senior VP at PNC Bank. DuBois
explains that PNC Bank previously created separate call centers to accommodate the
specific laws and regulations of the six states where it has offices.

The NFSC occupies four floors of a high-rise building near the bank‘s main office in
Pittsburgh and provides service to a growing number of individual customers as well
as to other businesses and organizations, including a bank for military personnel and
the American Automobile Association (AAA). PNC Bank divides agents into teams
that handle inbound sales, outbound telemarketing campaigns and inbound service;
the inbound service team is the largest. In addition, the center also includes a group
of internal consultants who handle specific questions about products or services,
agents who address AAA-related concerns and a customer support team.

The NFSC receives about 130,000 calls each day. Agents answer 20% of these calls
and an IVR system from InterVoice-Brite (Dallas, TX) handles the remaining calls.
Callers can enter their account numbers to the IVR system, which informs agents that
the callers are current customers and generates onscreen scripts that prompt agents
to ask questions to help them identify customers. If they choose, they can also
authenticate themselves through the IVR system by entering PIN codes. By doing so,
they enable agents to view information onscreen.
―If customers identify and authenticate themselves, we save 30 seconds per call. If
they just identify themselves [with account numbers], we save 15 seconds per call,‖
says DuBois.

NFSC uses Genesys‘ (San Francisco, CA) Genesys Enterprise Routing Solution so
that agents can view screen pops with customer histories and any relevant
information. If they see an opportunity to sell a product or service, they can also
transfer the calls to the agents in the sales team and transfer the screen pops to their

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―We have a philosophy of transferring calls as a positive thing,‖ explains DuBois. He
asserts that the sales agent who receives a call from the first agent the customer
speaks with has all the information necessary to satisfy customers. But he prefers
that agents not transfer callers more than two times or require them to repeat the
same information to different agents during the same call.

As many as 50 to 75 agents make outbound calls to existing and prospective
customers using a predictive dialer. Four agents at the call center respond to the
estimated daily average of 500 e-mail messages that the call center receives from
customers, and DuBois plans to expand on-line customer service with Genesys‘
Genesys Internet Suite.

―By the end of the year 2000, we expect to route e-mail just like we route calls,‖ he
says. Genesys Internet Suite automatically responds to customer e -mail or suggests
responses. It also enables agents to engage in live on-line chat sessions with
customers and speak with them through voice over IP.
The NFSC also implemented a training program and incentives to keep the turnover
rate manageable. New agents enroll in a 19-day program of classroom and on-the-
job training led by a full-time team of instructors. As of the end of 1999, agent
turnover reached an impressively low rate of 26%. Ten percent of the employees who
left the call center were promoted to other positions within PNC Bank.

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Mergers Drive Financial Firms to Upgrade Call Centers

By contrast, one of PNC Bank‘s subsidiaries follows an opposite call center
organizational strategy. PFPC, a Wilmington, DE-based global mutual funds service
firm known by the former corporate name of First Data Investor Services Group
before PNC Bank acquired it, maintains three separate call centers. In addition to a
call center near the head office in Wilmington, PFPC operates one in Westboro, MA
and the other in King of Prussia, PA. The Westboro and King of Prussia centers can
transfer calls to each other; the center in Wilmington operates independently, but the
company intends to connect it to the other two.
―All of our centers are redundant centers,‖ explains Mike DeNofrio, director of
management, call center services. ―We don‘t want a single mega-site. If one site
goes down, the others are still working.‖ DeNofrio also notes that opening call centers
in several locations helps PFPC to ―source call center labor candidates in diverse
labor markets.‖

The company enjoyed success in September 1998 with the opening of its call center
in King of Prussia, where PFPC found plenty of qualified applicants from the local
population and now employs 250 agents. The call center in King of Prussia is so
successful that DeNofrio estimates PFPC will hire 150 more agents there before the
end of the year. He expects that the company will expand the two other facilities.

PFPC offers 24-hour service at its call centers in Westboro and King of Prussia to
keep up with customer demand. The Wilmington call center operates from 8 am to 6
pm, and the company plans to extend its hours. At every center, agents work within
teams that answer calls from specific clients. Smaller teams can handle more than
one client, and larger groups dedicate themselves to one customer.

Each team consists of eight to 12 agents who report to a unit manager. The unit
manager makes certain that agents meet service goals and monitors calls for quality
assurance. Section managers then review the progress that unit managers make in
enabling agents to properly serve particular clients.

Each center receives as many as 10,000 to 12,000 calls per day. To keep up with
this volume, DeNofrio employs a unique strategy that doesn‘t require agents to meet
pre-set customer service objectives. Instead, managers produce call volume
forecasts with workforce management software and schedule three to four weeks in
advance to ensure that enough agents are available during the center‘s busiest
hours. ―We don‘t ask agents to take 100 calls daily,‖ elaborates DeNofrio. ―We ask
that they adhere to our schedule and be prepared to take the projected number of

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Because PFPC handles a large number of corporate clients with unique sales needs,
each of the company‘s call centers also runs telemarketing campaigns. Three to four
companies regularly run outbound campaigns each year; PFPC‘s call centers handle
each of these campaign one month at a time. DeNofrio estimates that as many as
10% to 15% of all agents make outbound calls exclusively, but he adds that they
don‘t always use a predictive dialer.

―[Agents make] manual calls to personalize each call when appropriate,‖ he says,
referring to less extensive outbound campaigns that PFPC runs on behalf of smaller
businesses. ―For larger campaigns that require about 15,000 to 20,000 calls, we use
a predictive dialer.‖

PFPC also equips its call centers with an IVR system that manages 35% to 40% of
incoming calls. ―Only a handful of shareholders make purchases via e-mail,‖ says
DeNofrio. ―People are still using the phone the majority of times when they have a
servicing issue or want information.‖

Lauren Glammer, PFPC‘s VP, customer services, speculates that customers still
have an ―unsure feeling about the security of e -mail and Internet purchases,‖ but she
adds that the company would by no means rule out expanding its e -commerce

Call centers in other businesses within the finance industry have also been affected
by a rising trend toward mergers. One of them is Wescom Credit Union, a not-for-
profit firm in Pasadena, CA that provides services to a variety of businesses.
Wescom first opened a small center with ten agents at its headquarters in 1989. The
company, which grew during the last two years, now employs 36 full-time and ten
part-time agents who moved to a larger space at the company‘s headquarters.

―We had three mergers in three years,‖ says Malinda Zielinski, Wescom‘s telephone
service manager. ―That really forced us to pick up the pace. We began providing
more services; prior to that, we just transferred calls to [different] branches.‖

To accommodate its growing number of customers as a result of the mergers, the
company hopes to hire six more agents by the end of the year, and it has already re-
designed the center with completely new hardware.

―Everyone used to have dumb terminals and printers at their desks,‖ says Zielinski.
―When agents assisted customers with monetary transactions, a receipt automatically
printed. Everyone also had a book at their desks that they had to flip through to find
information. Now that we have PCs, what used to be a five-minute transaction takes
less than two minutes.‖

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This is no idle boast; Zieli nski went as far as to time an actual call from a customer
after the center installed the new hardware to make an accurate comparison. The
company also installed a Lucent Definity G3 switch in December 1998, enabling
supervisors to track calls, measure call lengths and monitor agents.

Wescom‘s call center has an intensive two-week training program conducted by two
supervisors, who instruct newly-hired agents in customer service and provide them
with an overview of how financial institutions operate. Wescom assigns fully-trained
agents to their own cubicles. A total of three supervisors at the call center, including
the two who train new agents, wear cordless headsets so that they can approach any
agent at any time and take calls in the event of call overflow.

The center also employs three remote agents who work on laptop computers and 17-
inch monitors that Wescom provides for them; these computers run Teltone‘s
(Bothell, WA) Office Link 2000, telecommuting software that routes calls and tracks
them from the call center‘s server. Remote agents visit the office every Wednesday
and can also contact their supervisors from home through a dedicated number they
can dial in case they need any kind of assistance. Wescom has no immediate plans
to hire more remote agents at its call center, but wouldn‘t rule out the possibility as its
staffing needs continue to increase.

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CCB Financial Reduces Turnover at its Growing Call Center

Other companies with smaller call centers have also expanded them to
accommodate a growing customer base. This is certainly true of the CCB Financial
Corporation, a bank holding company with two principal subsidiaries: the Central
Carolina Bank and Trust Company in Durham, NC and the American Federal Bank in
Greenville, SC. The firm first opened its call center in May 1996 in Durham, which
offers technical and procedural assistance for employees at each branch, including
tech support for automated teller machines. Since it opened the center in Durham,
the center hired a total of 64 agents, 58 of whom work full-time. The call center
implemented an IVR system that handles 25,000 calls each day. Agents answer
2,000 calls a day.

―Our biggest problem was that our voice recognition unit wasn‘t given enough
information to assist customers, so we [upgraded it] in 1998 to transfer funds, place
stop payments and order checks,‖ says Michael Haddow, CCB Financial‘s
telebanking manager. ―Prior to that, 70% of customer transactions were handled [with
an IVR system]; now 90% to 91% are.‖

The layout of the call center ensures that agents don‘t feel isolated. The center
comprises five teams, and each team consists of ten agents who sit in four cubicle
clusters in the center of the office. Supervisors sit near agents so that they‘re readily
available to offer help or advice when necessary. ―Smaller groups enable agents to
receive enough individual attention to help them develop their service or sales skills,‖
asserts Haddow.

Apart from the supervisors and agents, a manager for the call center designs a dai ly
schedule to meet staffing requirements. This schedule divides each workday into 15-
minute increments; supervisors and agents review the schedule to make sure that
the center has enough staff during peak times. Supervisors also hold monthly
meetings with agents to resolve any scheduling issues, as well as to devise sales

CCB Financial offers numerous incentives for agents. Those who achieve at least a
10% sales rate, or roughly ten sales for every 100 calls they answer per month,
receive a bonus with their paychecks. Continued good service can also lead to new
careers; of the call center‘s 30% turnover rate, about 10% of it results from agents‘
promotions within the company. Like many businesses in the financial sector, Central
Carolina Bank improved its call center by providing agents with the promise of
advancement and with an up-to-date system to work with.

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Within the next few years, you can expect call centers in the finance and banking
industry to continue automating their customer service procedures. Although they will
rely more on IVR systems and on e-mail than in the past, there is no great danger of
fewer job opportunities or layoffs for agents.

Technical advances aren‘t intended to make live phone service obsolete, but rather
to enable agents to work more efficiently. Customers don‘t always mind working with
an IVR system‘s menu-driven format or waiting for an e-mail response for a simple
matter like requesting an account balance, and they are more likely to speak to
agents only about more complex transactions.

Call centers that serve financial markets are also expanding their outbound dialing
capabilities, which enables them to fulfill customer service and marketing duties from
the same location. The growing popularity of sales campaigns among these centers
also increases their staffing needs; a predictive dialer can contact customers, but
only agents can win them over and close a sale. By typically hiring one group of
agents to act as a sales force and another to fulfill traditional customer service duties,
call centers for banks and financial businesses create more jobs and raise profits for
their respective companies at the same time.

Ultimately, call centers are helping the finance industry as a whole to strike a balance
between what is good for the company and the customer. The hardware and
software that the centers use enable them to maintain this vital balance so that
companies increase their revenue and customers receive more efficient service.
Everyone involved benefits and can anticipate even greater rewards as call centers
optimize their customer service operations and employ a growing variety of

Determinants of Call Centre Location Selection v.3                      6/26/11 2:09:27 PM   52

by Adam Throne

The Company: ChaseMellon Shareholder Services, founded in 1995 as a 50/50 joint
venture between Chase Manhattan and Mellon Bank, provides stock transfer and
other shareholder services to publicly held companies. With more than 2,000
corporate clients and 15 million shareholder accounts, ChaseMellon is the largest
shareholder services company in the US.

ChaseMellon is headquartered in Ridgefield Park, NJ, and it has branch offices in
Dallas, TX; Hartford, CT; Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; Pittsburgh, PA; St. Louis,
MO; San Francisco, CA; and Seattle, WA. The company has two call centers in
Ridgefield Park that take calls from 8 am to 7 pm during weekdays.

The larger of the two call centers has 165 seats and assists a variety of individual
shareholders and corporate clients. Agents at ChaseMellon assist callers with finding
out account balances; buying, selling and transferring stock; exercising stock options;
obtaining proceeds; and arranging for payments of dividends. Agents also answer
questions about lost securities and certificates.

The smaller of the two centers has 125 seats and assists callers who own shares of
one particular corporate client of ChaseMellon, a large insurance company that
recently underwent a demutualization. (ChaseMellon declined to identify the client.)

Frank Madonna, a vice president at ChaseMellon who oversees the day-to-day
operations of the main call center, says that ChaseMellon located its original
headquarters in New York City but moved to New Jersey in 1997 to accommodate its
expansion. "We're near the metro area, but [the New Jersey location] affords us more
space, is accessible to mass transit, and allows us to take advantage of the suburban
community and the city," says Madonna.

Between its two call centers, ChaseMellon handles more than 4 million calls a year;
95% of the calls are inbound. "We're outbound for proxy solicitations," Madonna
explains. "Shareholders vote on an action in a corporation, such as a new CEO or
any major corporate event. The proxy events start with a mailing of literature
explaining what it is about."

Madonna says that agents usually call individual clients to verify that they received
the mailings and that they understand the information the mailings contain. To handle
overflow, ChaseMellon forwards calls to Georgeson Shareholder Communications, a
proxy solicitation and investor relations firm in New York City, and Precision
Response (Miami, FL), a service bureau.

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The Systems ChaseMellon Uses: Chase-Mellon's call centers use phone switches
and an IVR system from Lucent Technologies (Murray Hill, NJ). Madonna says that
the IVR system handles more than 25% of the calls ChaseMellon's centers receive
each year. To route calls to agents and display screen pops on agents' PCs, the call
centers use Davox's (Westford, MA) Sixth Sense. Madonna credits the call routing
system with enabling the two centers to achieve a first-call resolution rate of 90%,
and his goal is to increase this rate to 95%.

To help ChaseMellon achieve this goal, the call centers are using proprietary
software to keep track of clients' communication with the company. The centers also
use proprietary software to maintain up-to-date information about the clients
themselves. Madonna says that the software enables agents to remain
knowledgeable about clients and expects the software will reduce the number of
follow-up calls from customers.

To schedule agents, ChaseMellon uses workforce management software from
Aspect Communications (San Jose, CA). "There are 15 different [services] offered on
any given day," explains Madonna. "The traffic department uses this [information] to
project models to make sure that we break the call volume down for each skill, and
then runs system modeling to [make sure we have] the right number of agents

Besides contacting the call center, ChaseMellon's clients can also visit the company's
Web site to receive many of the services that are available through the IVR system,
such as finding out account balances. ChaseMellon also has a correspondence
center that receives and replies to all incoming e-mail. Both call centers conduct
customer satisfaction surveys, and ChaseMellon is in the process of researching
predictive dialers to generate calls for transactional surveys.

How ChaseMellon Recruits, Trains and Evaluates Agents: The company hires 10%
of applicants for jobs as agents at the two call centers and typically recruits agents by
placing ads in trade journals. These ads list a toll-free number. Callers who dial this
number reach an IVR system and key in their contact information from their phones.
Jobseekers who recei ve return calls from ChaseMellon go through a series of
interviews and aptitude tests.

New hires participate in an intensive nine-week training program to learn how to
handle most types of calls. The program consists of a six-week class followed by a
skills check.

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"If many agents are found to be struggling, then something has probably not been
delivered properly, and we retrain the whole class," says Madonna. Trainees must
score 95% or higher on six weekly tests to graduate from the training program.

The last three weeks of the program include a learning lab where all agents listen to
live calls and then share their experiences with each other. By participating in this
lab, agents develop the skills they need to answer between 40% and 50% of the
number of calls that full-time agents receive. As soon as new hires start answering
calls from clients, ChaseMellon assigns quality assurance staff to monitor these calls.

ChaseMellon uses Nice Systems' (Secaucus, NJ) NiceLog call monitoring system to
record 2% of all incoming calls. "So if we get 10,000 calls a month, [we monitor] 200
of those, both randomly and by a schedule," he says.

Assessment Solutions (New York, NY), a recruitment and training firm, remotely
monitors calls for ChaseMellon and evaluates a random selection of eight calls per
agent per month. "We try to put ourselves into the position of the shareholder," says
Madonna. "Do they walk away with a positive experience? Were they served well,
with the proper empathy?"

Besides relying on evaluations from Assessment Solutions, ChaseMellon also
analyzes feedback about calls from agents' supervisors, who each monitor 20 agents
a week and forward evaluations to Madonna. Supervisors also take part in calibration
sessions with Assessment Solutions to ensure that evaluations are consistent.

Unlike the staff at Assessment Solutions, supervisors at ChaseMellon sit next to
agents and counsel them on incoming calls. "They take calls together and talk about
them so that an agent feels better prepared to handle calls," Madonna explains.

To determine if agents are handling calls efficiently, supervisors use Lucent's
CentreVu software to measure the number of calls in queue and the number of
callers who abandon, among other statistics.

ChaseMellon offers agents financial incentives and rewards, such as T-shirts and
movie tickets, for outstanding service over the phone. Madonna says that agents
demonstrate good performance by understanding clients' requests, setting
appropriate expectations, answering ques tions accurately and serving callers

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Results and Future Plans: Madonna says that the call centers are now able to
answer calls more efficiently during tax season, the busiest time of the year for

"We were struggling in the past to maintain service levels during tax season," he
says. "As a result of everything we implemented last year, this year was our most
successful. Our average speed of answer (ASA) throughout all of tax season was 40
to 45 seconds."

Madonna is proud that Shareholder Service Optimizer, an investor relations
newsletter, recognized ChaseMellon for maintaining the lowest ASA among five
leading competitors, including American Stock Transfer, The Bank of New York,
Equiserve and Harris Trust.

"We accomplished this through a combination of better technology, strong
operational initiatives and a means to measure quality," says Madonna.
He acknowledges that ChaseMellon's training efforts have enabled the company to
retain agents. "Since we instituted the new trai ning program, turnover during training
and three months after training has been 2%," he says. "Before we implemented this,
the turnover was 20% to 30%. There was [previously] not as much screening, and we
were losing people after we put them in training. Now we see a return on our

Madonna has several goals in mind for ChaseMellon's call centers. "One is to gain
routing and staffing efficiencies," he says. "We want to route calls to anyone at any
given time and measure quality and the operatio ns to manage and enhance them.
We also want to learn from clients and find out what serves them the best.

"It's challenging, but we've been able to improve because of all we've worked out and
because of our very strong initiatives," adds Madonna. "During the first half of the
year and at the end of last year in preparation for the tax season, managers and
supervisors had call handling action plans. Along with all of this, we have day-to-day
floor maintenance, with each supervisor hitting all the basics, i ncluding adherence to
schedules, coaching, counseling and proper meetings. This, coupled with our strong
communications center management team, allows us to deliver the highest customer
service levels in the industry.

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Insurance Agencies

by Lee Hollman

CallCenter, 03/01/00

No doubt you've seen at least one advertisement for an insurance company where
someone says, "we've got you covered." It's a comforting phrase, almost enough to
make you think that taking out a policy is like sliding beneath a warm down blanket to
protect yourself from the cold. Although protecting your well-being, home or financial
assets is more complex than savoring a good night's rest, insurers are relying more
on call centers to make finding and purchasing the right policy just as satisfying for
their customers.

A call center within an insurance company should enable customers to receive any
information they need, buy policies or receive their payments promptly without even
having to get out of bed. Call centers can help agents complete transactions more
quickly by providing them with screen pops containing customers' histories and by
automating simple exchanges through an IVR system, but insurers must still be
prepared to handle a potential surge in call volume at any moment. For example, a
natural disaster like a flood or earthquake can generate a sudden influx of calls from
policyholders who won't want to be put on hold for very long.

Since customers might need to file claims at any time, insurance firms need to keep
their call centers open longer than most other businesses do. Dr. Jon Anton, director,
Purdue University Center for Customer-Driven Quality, estimates that 46% of call
centers provide 24-hour service; those that don't typically depend on outsourcers to
help answer calls or set business hours that surpass the standard eight-hour
workday. But as more insurance call centers stay open longer, their budgets rise to
meet additional overhead costs.

According to Dr. Anton, call center budgets within the insurance industr y rose 18% in
1999 and are expected to rise another 15% this year. He calculates that insurance
call centers spend an average of eight dollars to handle each incoming call; given the
high call volumes that these centers work with, it's no surprise that their budgets are
steadily escalating.

Insurance companies face the challenge of attempting to design call centers that
provide extensive customer service and that are also reasonably cost-efficient. These
goals are difficult, but they aren't mutually exclusive. As a growing number of
policyholders go to their phones rather than insurance companies' branch offices to
take care of their coverage needs, insurers continue to pursue different strategies for
designing their ideal call centers.

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Mutual of Omaha's Call Center Stays Home And Increases IVR Capacity
Many insurance companies maintain call centers at their corporate headquarters to
save the cost of building separate facilities for them. Mutual of Omaha, a health, life,
business and property insurance provider, runs three main call centers from its
Omaha-based head office. Although each center is separate from the others, all three
occupy the same floor. Agents at these centers usually answer questions about
claims, with the exception of administrative agents, who assist callers with general
inquiries and enter customers' changes to their own or their beneficiaries' information.

Mutual of Omaha may eventually move its call centers to a new location depending
on staffing needs, but the company hasn't co mmitted to any immediate plans yet. "As
long as we're able to attract staff here, there's no reason to relocate [the call
centers]," says Elizabeth Powell, VP of the company's customer service operation.
Yet Powell concedes that Mutual of Omaha's satellite offices in Charlotte, NC or
Woodward, OK could also provide suitable sites for its call centers.

"We continually evaluate the labor market in Omaha, which is tight," admits Powell.
"We would consider moving call centers to a more fertile labor market like

Yet Powell has had little difficulty hiring and keeping a skilled call center workforce.
Mutual of Omaha employs a total of 180 agents; 70 of them comprise the group
claims team, 60 of them handle individual claims and the remaining 50 are
administrative agents. The three centers receive an estimated total of 12,500 calls
daily routed from a Lucent Technologies (Murray Hill, NJ) Definity switch, and agents
are expected to answer 80% of all incoming calls within 30 seconds. A quality
assurance team within the company helps to ensure that agents meet this goal.

The quality assurance team listens to random calls with e-talk's (Irving, TX; formerly
known as Teknekron Infoswitch's) AutoQuality call monitoring software. The
insurance company contacts between 20 and 25 customers each month immediately
after they've spoken with agents. Mutual of Omaha asks customers to review the
service they receive and factors customers' responses into agents' evaluations. At
the end of each month, agents receive report cards with percentage scores for areas
of competency like assurance, empathy and accuracy. Agents who do especially well
receive bonuses.

To help reduce agents' workloads, Mutual of Omaha plans to rely more on IVR
systems. "[They're] primarily available right now for our sales agents," Powell
explains, adding that these insurance agents travel often and need to review
customers' records at all hours.

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"Sales agents can phone to get information about their customers [by dialing] a
special line that gets them into our IVR system." Customers can only use the IVR
system to check their cash values for selected policies, but Powell says they will be
able to review their complete payment histories and information about any policy
before the end of this year.

Each call center will gradually convert to Lucent's Conversant IVR system, but Powell
doesn't want to implement any additional upgrades. Although Mutual of Omaha does
have its own Web site, the company's call centers won't be Web-enabled in the
immediate future. Powell estimates that each team of agents receives only 15 to 20
e-mail messages per week, explaining that customers like to be able to ask as many
questions as they need to over the phone before buying policies.

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American Automobile Association - Amenities

Despite most companies' efforts to keep costs down, there are a few insurance firms
that spare no expense in building call centers from the ground up to meet specific
customer service goals. The California State division of the American Automobile
Association established its main office in San Francisco, CA, but it built its own
customized Claims Direct Access (CDA) call center in Las Vegas, NV for handling
auto and home insurance claims.

The CDA center is a 56,000-square foot facility containing a cafeteria with outdoor
patio, a quiet room where agents can take breaks in a relaxing atmosphere and a
wellness center with exercise equipment and two full-time directors. These
impressive amenities help to attract agents in a city where call centers are prevalent
and the demand for available labor continues to grow.

The CDA call center sets rigorous customer service standards in addition to providing
plush facilities. "We've been in business for only 16 months, and Las Vegas is a
competitive environment with lots of other call centers," admits Glen Scott, site
manager for the CDA call center. "So we must make and meet aggressive targets."

Scott set a goal to answer 90% of all incoming calls within ten seconds; in 1999,
agents at the CDA center achieved a 95% service level. In the same year, agents
also set an average abandonment rate of 0.7% and answered all incoming calls
within an estimated three seconds.

This accomplishment is particularly impressive given that the call center answers one
million calls each year and provides 24-hour support. A total of 196 agents answer all
incoming calls; the center also employs 20 supervisors, eight claims specialists and
five analysts who forecast call volumes and prepare agents' schedules. All of them
work on the second floor of the building in a completely open area separated only by
cubicles. A training center with 52 workstations and a technical support team is
immediately accessible on the floor below, along with the cafeteria and wellness

Agents at the CDA center handle claims from AAA members who need quick service
concerning their vehicles or homes after an emergency. They're responsible for
obtaining all of the necessary information from customers, assigning them to the
closest repair shops, scheduling rental cars until their own vehicles are fixed and
giving them the name of the adjuster who contacts them within the two hours after
the policyholder's initial call.

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For homeowners' policy issues, agents find home repair contacts or arrange
temporary housing if necessary; otherwise, the same claims filing procedure applies.
Scott estimates that it takes agents seven and a half minutes to complete each type
of claim.

When handling claims, agents enter customers' information into an o nscreen form
and forward it to a server running Siebel's (San Mateo, CA) software. The software
forwards each completed form to an Oracle database and routes information to
agents regarding repair shops, rental car agencies and available adjusters so that
they can complete the transaction. "Agents walk customers through the complete
claims process, no matter how involved the claim may be," says Scott. "We can
handle anything from a rock hitting a windshield to multiple-car collisions."

It seems contradictory that CDA agents can offer such thorough service in such a
short time, but Scott has taken measures to assist them with high call volumes. He
uses AT&T's (Basking Ridge, NJ) Software Defined Network system at the call
center, a remote IVR service that e nables customers to obtain basic policy
information from touchtone menus, relieving agents of some of their workload. The
center's five analysts keep agents informed of expected call volumes with the help of
IEX's (Richardson, TX) TotalView workforce management software for producing call
forecasts and scheduling agents' shifts.

To help call center supervisors ensure that agents are meeting service goals, Scott
chose Aspect Communications' (San Jose, CA) CustomView Director ACD software.
"We've partnered with Aspect from day one, and tailored CustomView to meet our
service levels," he explains.

CustomView Director enables supervisors to monitor agents' performance and
provides them with data such as the duration of each call, the number of calls on hold
and the number of agents on the phone. After supervisors receive call statistics, they
can broadcast them to agents from 25 monitors attached to the ceiling throughout the
main work area. Scott explains that it is easier for agents to study call statistics from
monitors rather than from readerboards and that they can be used to present a
greater variety of data. "If we have heavy rains in the California area, we'll transmit
information on weather conditions and where most calls will be coming from," says
Scott. "We'll also use them for fun things, like recognizing good performances and
agents' birthdays."

Scott is especially careful to make certain that agents are having fun and feel wanted.
He believes that the "family-type atmosphere" he seeks to maintain at the CDA call
center is crucial to its success. "We ask and encourage agents to be involved with
management and with making decisions," says Scott, who points out that he's
personally met with every agent himself.

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 He estimates that agents offer a minimum of 20 to 30 suggestions each month and
that AAA implements 90% of them.

Suggestions include how to improve customer service or the working conditions for
the agents themselves. Scott most recently instituted a tuition reimbursement
program to allow agents to register for job-related courses.
Electric Insurance Creates Customized Software For Call Center Agents
Some insurance companies focus more on software than on physical architecture
when designing their call centers. It's less expensive to design software for your
center than build a brand-new facility. The Electric Insurance Company, a Beverly,
MA-based firm that specializes in home, auto, boat and liability insurance, came to
this conclusion after redesigning its call center more than ten years ago.

Before 1989, Electric Insurance consisted of five offices throughout the US that each
had its own call center. Since then, the company decided to conduct all business
from the Beverly, MA office and created a unified center that employs 120 agents,
20% of whom work part-time. During a typical workday, they field about 3,200 calls;
the workday lasts from 7 am to 8 pm, but customers who need to file a claim after
hours receive assistance from agents at a local service bureau.

Agents at Electric Insurance's call center work in one of three teams. There are 60
agents who respond to customers' questions, 40 who handle sales and 20 who take
claims information. The teams work independently of each other in separate rooms, a
deliberate arrangement. "Their individual and team goals are different," explains
Laura Bourque, a call center trainer at Electric. She says that sales agents, for
example, focus on earning a certain figure each month, whereas customer service
agents focus on answering a set number of calls. Bourque also concedes that state
laws regarding insurance also affect how each distinct team operates.

Electric Insurance asked its systems development team to design customized
software for each group of agents. "The software had to be very user-friendly to
agents because we sell insurance in 48 states," says Bourque. "The rules and
regulations differ in each state, so we wanted a system that could easily
accommodate each state's laws." Taking on this challenge, the systems development
team completed the creation of in-house software that allows sales agents to get
quotations for different policies.

The systems development team then created two more software systems. The
developers premiered Screen Pop for the customer service team in 1996 and CMS
Plus for the claims service team in 1998.

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Screen Pop enables customers to enter their social security or policy numbers into
the call center's InterVoice-Brite (Dallas, TX) IVR system so that agents receive
customers' account information before helping them. CMS Plus allows claim service
agents to automatically route completed claims to the adjusters who handle them.
The Electric Insurance Company's call center also recently hired ten agents, who
answer an estimated daily average of 100 e-mail messages that come from the
company's Web site. They provide quotes for prospective customers and answer
questions about Electric's products. Bourque says that she would like to Web-enable
the other teams at the call center so that agents from each team receive e -mail
messages that are relevant to their skills and duties, but she says that the company
will wait until e-mail volume rises significantly.

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Avomark Furthers Software Upgrades At Its Call Center

Building your own software tools from scratch can be time -consuming, which is why
many insurance companies prefer to rely on a combination of products from
established vendors. Avomark, an auto insurance firm and a subsidiary of the Ohio
Casualty Group, is an example of such a company. Its main office is based in
Hamilton, OH, but its call center is located in Denver, CO. Ohio Casualty set up an
office in Denver and used some of the building's available space to house Avomark's
call center; employees from both companies share the same ACD to save costs.

The center comprised seven sales agents before Avomark hired nine customer care
agents in November 1998 to answer customers' questions and help them with their
policies. The center currently has 95 employees, including 40 insurance sales
agents, 25 customer care agents, a group of systems administrators and a business
engineering team for handling quality control and testing new programs and systems.

The sales and service teams work with supervisors, or team leads, who mentor and
coach individual agents or groups of agents. Team leads report to managers, who set
agents' schedules and establish internal procedures at the center. Each team works
apart from the other and has its own toll-free number to allow customers to dial them
directly to purchase policies or to ask questions. Agents answer a total of 12,000
calls each month and collectively work from 6 am to 10 pm Central time on weekdays
and 8 am to 4 pm on Saturdays. If customers have questions about billing, agents
route their calls to Avomark's Ohio office through an Aspect phone switch.

Helen Lauck, Avomark's director of operations, confirms that the company's call
center continues to install new hardware to accommodate its growing staff. The
company purchased the Mosaix Predictive Dialing System from Lucent Technologies.
The center has since initiated outbound sales campaigns, but Lauck admits that the
company still needs to resolve compatibility issues regarding the dialer.

"We use Aspect Communications' Aspect Workforce Management Release 4.4
software, but since we put in the Mosaix dialer, they're not talking to each other,"
Lauck acknowledges, adding that agents still manage to do their jobs without any
significant problems. "We finished a shift in mid-December and we went very closely
to the schedules we had before.

It worked pretty well, and our call volumes didn't change a lot from our original
predictions." Lauck anticipates that Avomark will resolve the issue within the next few

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Agents at Avomark's call center also use imaging software to keep a record of all
relevant documents. "Everything is imaged, [like] applications from customers, all of
their correspondence with us and motor vehicle record reports so that all documents
are attached to every policy," says Lauck. Avomark also requires that customers
send photos of older vehicles to verify each vehicle's condition before it is insured.

The insurance company scans the photos into the system so that agents can view
them along with the policy that applies to them.
Avomark most recently purchased Lucent Technologies' Chronicle and Concur
software, and Lauck projects that the center will fully install these products this
month. Chronicle enables supervisors to listen to customers' calls and capture
agents' screens. Agents use Concur to record their own conversations with
customers for sales verification purposes or to evaluate their performance. Until the
software is completely installed, supervisors and the business engineering team will
continue handling quality control through live monitoring of random calls.

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Safeco Provides Specialized Support For Sales Agents

Insurance companies don't necessarily serve only policyholders from their call
centers. They sometimes serve their sales force as well. Safeco, a property, casualty
and life insurance firm in Seattle, WA, provides service to customers and to sales
agents from its nine call centers, which are located throughout the US. These centers
offer information about property and casualty policies; a separate division of the
company handles life insurance. The company intends to consolidate its centers into
four locations by next year.
"We considered Safeco's upcoming products and marketing strategies and also
worked with a consulting firm when looking at center locations," says Suzanne
Rapier, an assistant director at Safeco. She says that the company plans to maintain
its call center in nearby Redmond, WA and Spokane, WA; the centers in Indianapolis,
IN and Denver, CO will also remain in place.

Rapier asserts that this new location strategy won't affect Safeco's call center
operations, particularly with regard to the company's independent insurance agents.
She explains that each center will still work with national and local toll-free numbers.
Customers can dial the national numbers to make credit card payments or to receive
24-hour claims support. The local numbers are individual extensions that sales
agents pay a fee to use. They refer their customers to these numbers so that they
can ask questions about different policies, receive billing support or report claims
themselves. Sales agents can also call the local extensions to request specific
information about customers.

"If independent sales agents use our customer services unit, we service policies only
on their behalf," says Rapier. "The [sales] agent is still the intermediary, and the
service that we provide is customized based on agents' preferences. [For example,] if
agents want to be notified of a change of risk on a given policy, we can do that." All
nine of Safeco's call centers provide a combined total of over 1,000 toll-free numbers,
primarily to accommodate sales personnel. This figure also includes customer
service lines. The centers receive an aggregate daily average of 25,000 calls from
sales agents, customers and medical practitioners.

To help route this many incoming calls to an extensive selection of phone numbers,
Safeco created the Customers Connection Center (C3). C3 consists of 15 employees
at the head office in Seattle who primarily handle forecasting, scheduling and call
monitoring for each center. They occasionally route calls manually whenever call
volumes exceed the predicted expectations by using AT&T's AT&T Interactive

Interactive Advantage is software that works with AT&T's long -distance service to
enable call center managers to view information about calls through Web browsers.

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Managers generally use this information to route, track and monitor calls. C3 staff
members in particular rely on it to review the service levels at every center and route
calls to the center with the most available agents. Safeco plans to supplement C3's
routing capability with Lucent Technologies' Best Services Routing, software that
automatically forwards calls to each center based on criteria like call volumes and
expected wait times.

To forecast call volumes, C3 depends on IEX's TotalView. "We've been using
[TotalView] to do our entire forecasting for the year 2000 and to help us determine
our staffing needs at all of our [call center] sites," says Rapier. She confirms that
Safeco first purchased TotalView for the C3 as a pilot and confirms that the company
has since implemented it at every call center; the software enables supervisors to
schedule agents based on the skills they possess or the groups they belong to.

Nick Callahan, Safeco's project manager for contact center technologies, says the
company will continue to upgrade its call centers after consolidating them. By 2001,
each center will feature an IVR system created with Edify's (Santa Clara, CA)
Electronic Workforce software to automatically handle calls from customers and sales
agents. Safeco's centers will also work with Lucent Technologies' Best Service
Routing and additional routing software that profiles each individual agent, collects
touchtone data from the IVR system and matches incoming calls to agents based on
their skills.

The company will also implement Clarify's (San Jose, CA) eFrontOffice, specifically
the ClearSupport module, so that agents receive screen pops with customers'

Safeco doesn't intend to Web-enable its call centers in the immediate future. But the
company does anticipate a gradual rise in e-mail volume and chose eFrontOffice in
part to prepare for this possibility.

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Northwestern Mutual Follows Stage-By-Stage Phone Service Strategy

The Milwaukee, WI-based life insurance firm Northwestern Mutual Life employs a
similar approach to Safeco's, albeit a less complex one. Northwestern Mutual's call
center offers two toll-free numbers, one for customers and the other for sales agents
at the company's general agencies across the US. "Anyone who wanted to call us
[used to dial] our direct line and speak to the operator," recalls Karen Niessing,
director, policy owner services department. "We decided that our sales age nts
shouldn't have to pay for the call." Northwestern Mutual Life introduced the customer
service line as its first toll-free number in 1998. Instead of publicizing the new number
immediately, the company chose to phase it in gradually.

"We did a cross-section of customers throughout the country," says Niessing, who
explains that customers in the targeted regions received policy statements with the
toll-free number printed on them. They comprised a focus group that enabled
Niessing to gauge what policy service questions customers would ask and to
estimate call volumes. She used this information to train agents before passing the
toll-free number along to the next group of customers.

By 1999, all of Northwestern Mutual's customers were able to use the toll-free
number. The company is currently introducing the toll-free sales support number to
its agencies nationwide, following the same strategy of gradual implementation. "We
picked certain agencies to implement toll-free numbers and measured how often they
called, what they called about and more efficient ways to help them. Now half of all
our agencies use the toll-free number." Niessing anticipates that every agency will
have access to the number by May 2000.

Agents at Northwestern Mutual's call center receive a total of 4,000 calls each day.
Although the sales support number is active from 7 am to 6 pm Central time, the
customer support line stays open as late as 8 pm to allow customers extra time for
filing claims. The center staffs a total of 120 agents, 90% of whom work full-time.
Agents work on the fourth and fifth floor of the company's office in Milwaukee and are
divided into seven teams with their own managers. All the teams handle customer
service and sales support calls.

Agents at Northwestern Mutual Life's call center currently work with Pegasystems'
(Cambridge, MA) PegaCall software to receive screen pops with customer histories.
Two of the team managers work with Aspect SeriesFive workforce management
software to set agents' schedules. Northwestern Mutual also recently installed
Siebel's Service Enterprise at its center to measure work volumes for sales agents
and to track every call that each of them receives. Niessing also plans to use Service
Enterprise for the customer support number, and she says the company will
implement the software in stages so that agents can become accustomed to working
with it.

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Harleysville Group Unites Call Center Agents

Some insurance call centers that work with several toll-free numbers for different
services, like those for Safeco and Northwestern Mutual, consolidate agents rather
than dividing them into teams. This way, agents can work together and still carry out
their own specific duties. The Harleysville Group chose this option for its call center,
which is based within the company's home office in Harleysville, PA. The center
works with independent sales agents to sell home, auto, business and life insurance
policies, and it also answers questions from policyholders and files their claims.

Agents at Harleysville Group's center formerly comprised two distinct teams working
apart from each other. The agency services team assisted outside agents with sales
or business concerns and the customer services team answered billing questions.
This structure was highly specialized, but was ultimately inefficient. "The work wasn't
being handled smoothly," recalls Jesse Nelson, the company's assistant VP,
operational services. "One group would be overwhelmed, and the other would be
underwhelmed." When both groups we re relocated to the same site in June 1999 so
that they could help each other, the company's new call center was born.

The Harleysville Group call center currently has a staff of 28 agents who respond to
an average of 90 calls per agent each day. Because the company's center is
relatively new, the center only has one supervisor but plans to hire another one. The
call center operates from 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays. Nelson expects to extend
weekday business hours to 8 pm and to open the center on Saturdays from 8 am to 2
pm. He also anticipates employing a total of 40 to 50 agents before the year 2001
and is intent on upgrading the center's equipment.

"We have a basic IVR system set up, a [computer] network and PCs for agents. That
needs to change," says Nelson. He explains that the PCs at Harleysville Group's call
center use a mainframe for policy writing and claims, making it difficult to find
compatible software for tracking calls or providing agents with information about
customers. The first priority is to replace the mainframe, but Nelson confirms that
he's already planning other changes to the center right now.

Since the agent and customer services teams began to work at one call center only
several months ago, each team still has its own toll-free number. Other departments
at the Harleysville Group headquarters that aren't located within the center also have
their own extensions, like those that handle premium audits or nonstandard auto
insurance. "Ten toll-free numbers come into this office through the same switch so
[touchtone] menus makes [answering calls] a little easier,"

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says Nelson. The company intends to consolidate all separate lines into one number
for every service, but for now, it uses the IVR system to help customers with their
billing questions.

Yet Nelson soon expects to replace the IVR system with a more advanced
alternative. "We want to be able to use speech recognition to eliminate each step
you'd take with the menus," he says, concerned that customers might grow impatient
with entering different sets of touchtone data for each department and team. Nelson
speculates that the call center will be speech-enabled by the middle of this year. He
says that Harleysville Group is looking to use speech recognition software that can
integrate with its existing mainframe system and is currently researching prospective

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What's Next For Insurance Call Centers

Given that most policyholders favor live service, insurance call centers continue to
hire more agents and to have all of them work as a unified team. Many of these
centers place agents within the same area so that they can learn from each other
how to handle different types of calls. Insurers with call centers where agents work
within individual teams or sites are consolidating their operations. The idea is that
agents should be able to answer any question that customers ask. Within the next
few years you can expect insurance companies to focus on creating one main call
center for all inbound calls, or at least to reduce the number of remote centers that
they work with.

You will most likely need to wait a few years before insurance call centers rely more
on the Internet to answer customers' questions or to sell policies. Although all of the
insurance companies we spoke with have corporate Web sites and receive e-mail
messages from customers, all of them admit that most of their customers still prefer
to speak to agents. Some customers may still be concerned about the security of e-
commerce, but the majority of them simply have many concerns regarding their
coverage and want immediate answers.

Customers who want to review their billing status, file claims or buy policies are likely
to ask a series of questions and can receive all of their answers at once by speaking
to agents rather than by exchanging e-mail with them.

Yet although insurance companies currently emphasize direct phone contact at their
call centers, they're also far from adverse to automating customer service within
certain limits. Many of these centers rely on IVR systems to help manage high call
volumes. Insurers haven't ruled out Web-enabling their call centers, but they are still
waiting for a greater demand from customers for Internet service before making the
investment. For now, insurance companies find that customers feel most reassured
when it's a call center agent who tells them, "we've got you covered."

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Finance and Banking Sector Call Center Vendors

Cisco Systems




Lucent Technologies

Nuance Communications

Silknet Software


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3.1.2               Manufacturers

The Foundations of a Satisfied Customer Base

by Jennifer O‘Herron

CallCenter, 08/05/00

Whether companies manufacture consumer goods, children's toys, sprinkler
systems, vehicles, heavy machinery or computer hardware, the focus is ultimately on
serving customers.

All of the manufacturers we spoke with for this story also provide consumers with on-
line information about their products and services. Many of these companies either
use or plan to use systems that allow customers to look up information about
products from a knowledge base or manage their accounts from Web sites.

According to a June 7, 1999 report from the research firm Jupiter Communications
(New York, NY), entitled ―Develop Direct Customer Relationships via Emerging
Technologies,‖ a manufacturer satisfies customers when it gives them easy access to
the status of their requests for repairs or to any other previous communication they
have had with the company.

―Manufacturers must not surrender their role as service data aggregators,‖ the report
said. ―Intelligent on-line service technologies and service history databases are the
keys to converting product consumers into loyal customers who have direct

In this article, we describe how eight manufacturers manage their call centers and
make sure agents have the information they need to serve customers on the phone
and on the Web.

Makino is a Japanese manufacturer of machine tools for companies in the
automotive, die, mold and aerospace industries. Makino manufactures machines that
Boeing, Caterpillar, General Motors and John Deere use in their factories to produce
parts for their products, which include engine blocks, water pumps and structural
components for aircraft. Makino's North and South American headquarters is in
Mason, OH.

―Our call center is open 24x7 to support our product lines,‖ says Michael Albondante,
Makino's IT training team leader. ―Our machinery is vital to many of our customer's

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Our customers are running production lines, which feed assembly lines. This means
that if a machine goes down, production goes down and assembly goes down. We
are literally talking millions of dollars lost per an hour. It's crucial to our partnership
with our customers that we have 24x7 support, 365 days a year.‖

About 30 agents work in the facility in Mason, and six agents answer calls from
home. In addition, 80 field service engineers answer calls remotely when they are not
working at customer sites.

The center receives at least 800 calls a week. It uses automatic number identification
(ANI) to identify callers and uses a phone switch from Siemens Information and
Communication Networks (Boca Raton, FL) to route calls. Callers reach an IVR
system from InterVoice-Brite (Dallas, TX) and select from a menu of Makino
products. Depending on the menu item that the customer chooses, the caller reaches
an agent who is most knowledgeable about the product. Screen pops provide agents
with the caller's information Teltone's (Bothell, WA) OfficeLink 2000 routes calls to
remote agents and field service engineers. ―We want our customers to reach a
person directly rather than a machine,‖ says Albondante. ―Originally, our goal was to
have 60% of incoming calls reach direct. Within one year we were able to accomplish

The company also uses Metrix's (Waukesha, WI) customer relationship management
(CRM) software. ―The CRM acronym just came about in the past five years, but we
have been using the Metrix system for the past eight years,‖ says Albondante.
―We've found that having information at our fingertips while on the phone with
customers is very valuable. We can immediately see if the customer's problem has
occurred before and what we did to fix it.‖

Because of the high level of support that Makino's customers need, the company
places a high emphasis on recruiting and training. The company hires agents with a
minimum of a two-year technical degree or equivalent. ―We also look for people with
mechanical and electrical backgrounds,‖ he says.

Albondante heads Makino's training for agents, which includes visits to customer
sites. ―When troubleshooting over the phone, you don't have the machine in front of
you, so you must know the machine well and have a good picture of it in your head,‖
he says.

On Makino's Web site, customers can order parts and look up their order histories.
The company is currently working on making a database available on-line so that
customers can obtain information about their accounts from the Web site.

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Volvo's Action Service is the call center for Volvo Parts, which supports Volvo's
trucks, buses, boats and construction equipment. The call center assists customers
with ordering parts, as well as providing technical support and repair services to

Volvo has two call centers in Europe and two in North America. The company's main
call center in North America is located in Greensboro, NC, and the secondary call
center is located in Mississauga, ON, Canada. Volvo's European customers are
served by a center in Kent, England, and another in Rugby, England.

Volvo routes calls between the Greensboro and the Mississauga centers using
Ericsson's (Research Triangle Park, NC) phone switch. The Greensboro center
operates 24x7 with a staff of 80 agents, although the parts order department only
takes calls during normal business hours, Monday through Friday, and during limited
hours on Saturdays. The Mississauga center has eight agents who answer calls from
8 am to 12 am on weekdays and during 12-hour shifts on Saturdays. The two centers
receive nearly 2 million calls a year.

Agents assist customers by dispatching roadside assistance, by dispatching tow
trucks or by helping customers locate the nearest repair shops. Agents at the
Greensboro center also handle insurance claims.

―We route calls between North Carolina and Canada, so if the call is from an English-
speaking customer whose vehicle has just broken down, the first available agent in
either center will get the call,‖ says Sam Bays, network planning analyst for Volvo
Action Service. The center divides agents into different groups. Among the groups
are those that assist callers with ordering parts, technical support and emergency

―We also measure every skill group in real time,‖ says Bays. ―We know how many
calls are abandoned, the average pick-up time for certain groups and individual
agents' performances. We track this daily and produce reports weekly. Measurement
criteria are among the most important things for us.‖

Based on the options that customers choose within the IVR s ystem, agents view
screen pops with information retrieved from Industri-Matematik's (Mt. Laurel, NJ)
Vivaldi CRM software. ―The Vivaldi suite is everything from supply-side management
to CRM,‖ says Bays. ―It's an e-business package, a warehouse tracking package and
a vendor tracking package.‖

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Volvo Action Parts also monitors agents' live conversations and records calls. ―We
can randomly check agents' calls by supervisors,‖ says Bays. ―The number of calls
per rep that we monitor varies depending on the supervisor and the team.‖

The call center also spends a lot of time training agents. Senior agents act as
mentors to the company's new hires. After learning how to use the center's software,
new hires listen to calls next to experienced agents.

Customers can also go on-line to track the status of their cases. ―E-mail routes to a
group box,‖ says Bays. ―The Web site traffic isn't very heavy yet, but people are
starting to embrace it so we are making the necessary preparations to handle it.‖

Volvo recently begun including transponders in all of its vehicles so that if a truck
breaks down, the transponders send signals back to the call center that let agents
know where the truck broke down and which company owns the truck. Bays plans to
determine relationships between data about calls, such as the number of calls and
average call length, and data about particular cases, like the number of times a
particular truck has broken down, the fleet to which the truck belongs and the cost of
the repair.

―We already have the database in place; we just need to integrate it with the CRM
software,‖ says Bays, ―so I can take my data from Vivaldi and marry it with my data
from the call center and report on it.‖

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Levolor Home Fashions

Levolor Home Fashions, based in High Point, NC, is well known for its window
treatments, which include blinds and shades. The company has been in business
since 1914.

The company has five call centers located throughout the US, each of which serves
different types of customers. Levolor's call center in Rockaway, NJ, handles contract
sales and the company's call center in Athens, GA, deals with distributors and
fabricators. The company has three call centers that answer calls from retail stores
and large businesses. Located in High Point, NC; Sturgis, MI; and Westminster, CA,
the three centers take calls from customers closest to them. For example, the center
in Westminster answers calls for all of Levolor's customers in California.

―Ninety-nine percent of calls come from retail stores,‖ sa ys Warren Lettsome,
customer service manager for Levolor's center in Sturgis.

The center answers calls from 8 am to 8 pm Eastern time on weekdays. Sixty agents
answer an average of 2,500 calls a day. The call center uses an ACD from Lucent
Technologies (Murray Hill, NJ) to route calls to two different groups of agents. ―Calls
are either sent to the order entry group or the more advanced problem-solving
group,‖ says Lettsome. ―We are also experimenting with IVR in our other centers.‖

An important part of the Sturgis center is the hosted version of ISC's (New York, NY)
Irene workforce management software. ―We use the Internet application of Irene, so
we didn't have to purchase any hardware or software,‖ says Lettsome. ―It probably
saved us anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 in start-up costs. It was much easier for
me to sell the low investment, plus the fact that by forecasting call volumes and better
utilizing our labor force through scheduling, we could see a payback of $40,000 to
$50,000 this year.‖

Besides making sure agents follow their schedules, the center records all incoming
calls using Dictaphone's (Stratford, CT) call monitoring system.
―We're in a custom business and our products are made exactly to the customer's
specifications,‖ says Lettsome. ―If we make something that doesn't fit right, it's
useless to both the customer and us. Recording calls lets us see where the mistake
happened and whether it was on our side or the customer's side.‖

Agents receive four weeks of training on Levolor's products and the center's
hardware and software. Agents then spend two weeks answering calls next to
trainers or senior agents before they receive calls from the floor.

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Levolor also provides ongoing training for reps. ―We have partnered with a
community college to allow [agents] to attend customer skills and listening training,‖
says Lettsome. The company also provides training about new product lines every
three or four months.

The center is looking into software to help the company better manage the
information about Levolor that is available to agents. ―Because of the very nature of
our business and our product lines, the job is very knowledge-intensive,‖ says
Lettsome. ―Each product line has multiple products within it and the products have
multiple parts within them. It's very difficult for reps, even after six weeks of training,
to know everything. It takes anywhere from three to six months before people
become productive.‖

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K'NEX Industries

K'NEX Industries manufactures children's construction to ys. ―There are three
representatives taking phone calls, including myself,‖ says Mary Stevens, consumer
relations manager for K'NEX, which is based in Hatfield, PA.

The center answers calls from parents and children who have questions about
K'NEX's toys, which include Lincoln Logs. Stevens says that half the callers are
children, who range in age between eight and 15 years old. Agents are available
between 8 am and 5 pm Eastern time on weekdays. During the first quarter of this
year, the center handled approximately 8,500 calls.

―Our toll-free number is listed on all of the boxes and the instruction booklets,‖ says
Stevens. ―Parents and children usually call us with questions about missing, lost or
damaged pieces. Our customers also call for building help, and these calls can be
fairly extensive.

―If you have a child on the phone sometimes it can take up to half an hour. Children
will call to tell us how they've created their own fantastic models. They even call and
ask us how they can work for K'NEX when they grow up.‖
The center uses Lucent's Merlin Legend key system to route calls to the first
available agent. Through an IVR system, customers can also find out the nearest
retailers who sell K'NEX products. ―We always give our callers the option to speak
with us at any time by pressing zero,‖ says Stevens.

The center usually receives the most calls during the last week of December and
during the month of January. ―We bring in college students part-time to help us
handle the calls,‖ says Stevens. ―We also have an alert light that lets other people in
the building know to pick up the phone when callers are on hold. This system works
well for us. There is rarely ever a caller on hold.‖

Using Stone Software's (Templeton, CA) Sales Navigator database, agents can enter
and keep track of customers' problems and feedback. This helps the company
incorporate feedback back into the products.

K'NEX also serves on-line customers. The company's Web site displays information
about products and includes answers to customers' most frequent questions. In the
last quarter of 1999, K'NEX received about 2,500 e-mail messages. During the first
quarter of 2000, the company received about 1,500 e-mail messages. ―We get a high
volume of e-mail requests in November and
December from people inquiring about our products,‖ says Stevens. ―In January,
customers send lots of e-mails with questions about the products they've purchased.‖

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K'NEX automatically sends responses to all e-mail messages that indicate when
customers can expect to receive answers from agents. ―We are usually able to
respond within one and two business days,‖ says Stevens.

Agents regularly receive training about new products; they meet with the designers of
the products and even build new toys so they are familiar with what the model looks
like and how it works. ―We look at the toy from the child's perspective,‖ says Stevens.
―We try to build it and make it work; this way we see what kind of questions we
encounter along the way. We sit down with parents and children and see what kind of
questions they come up with. This prepares us to answer any questions that
customers call with.‖

Yamaha makes musical instruments, which range from grand pianos to electronic
synthesizers. The company also manufactures concert speakers and CD recording
systems. To receive support for these products, customers call Yamha's Customer
Support Division in Buena Park, CA.

The call center answers calls from 8:30 am to 5 pm Pacific time during weekdays.
Agents assist customers with requests for product manuals and literature. They also
help customers locate local dealers.

The center uses Nortel Networks' (Richardson, TX) Meridian phone switch to route
calls to the appropriate agent depending on the product that the custome r is calling

Yamaha uses Siebel Systems' (San Mateo, CA) CRM software to create, manage
and track customer support requests. If agents aren't able to fulfill a request for
support, the agent refers the caller to a member of the center's backline s taff, a group
of agents who have expertise with specific Yamaha products.

In addition to calling agents, customers can also find answers to their questions
about Yamaha's products by visiting the company's Web site. ―We started building
our Web site two years ago, and it has been growing gradually ever since,‖ says Don
Morris, department manager for the customer support division of Yamaha. ―We have
now evolved to the point where we are supporting over 400 products on the Internet.‖

In September 1999, Yamaha implemented ServiceWare's (Oakmont, PA) eService
Suite to provide customers with an on-line knowledge base, known as the Yamaha
Solutions Network. The center regularly schedules agents for time off the phones to
update Yamaha's knowledge base. If agents observe that a lot of customers are
calling with the same questions, they can usually make the solution available to
customers on the Web site within the same day.

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―Our backline staff are our product experts and author the knowledge base daily,‖
says Morris. ―The authoring responsibility is actually in their job descriptions, and it's
a part of what their performance is evaluated on.‖
Many of Yamaha's customers are finding answers to their questions on-line. ―In
March 2000, we received over 44,000 hits just for our CD recording products,‖ says
Morris. ―In April 2000, we received 141,000 hits and by May, we received up to
174,000 hits. These are people who actually drilled down to find solutions.‖

If customers can't find the answers that they need from the knowledge base, they can
send e-mail messages to agents from the Web pages they are viewing.
The company received fewer calls during the most recent winter holiday season than
it received during the same period in previous years. Morris attributes the decrease in
calls to the on-line knowledge base. ―In past years, from October to February, we've
seen call volume increases of 20% to 30%,‖ he says. ―This past season our call
volume actually decreased by 10% but our Web hits increased. Although we can't
directly measure it, the correlation is there.‖

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The Perrier Group of America

To keep its thirsty customers happy, Perrier, the bottled-water company, has three
centers to handle calls from residential and business customers about its water and
coffee products. The company is headquartered in Greenwich, CT. Aside from
Perrier, the company also offers other brands of water, including Arrowhead,
Calistoga, Deer Park, Ozarka, Poland Spring and Zephyrhills.
Perrier's call centers are located in Brea, CA; Irving, TX; and Raynham, MA. The
centers in Brea and Irving each employ between 100 and 120 agents; the center in
Raynham has about 160 agents. The centers are open from 7 am to 6 pm in each of
their respective time zones.

Agents typically receive calls from customers who want to schedule deliveries of
water or coffee to their homes or businesses. They also handle general questions
about account balances and payments received. Agents are in groups that serve
residential and corporate customers, as well as groups that handle calls related to
sales, marketing or collections.

―We are in the middle of a huge project to implement our enterprisewide routing
strategy,‖ says Robert Arce, Perrier's national customer service technology
applications process improvement manager. ―We've purchased IEX's (Richardson,
TX) TotalNet product for enterprise routing.‖ TotalNet enables Perrier to determine
which of the three centers each call should go to.
Perrier used to route calls to centers that were closest to the callers. For example,
since Arrowhead water is only available on the West Coast, Perrier used to direct
calls about Arrowhead to the center in Brea. Perrier still plans to route calls based on
the caller's location, but if all agents at the nearest center are busy, the caller reaches
the first center where agents are available. ―All this is done within less than 250
milliseconds,‖ says Arce.

―We bought IEX's TotalView [for workforce management] first and then we looked at
TotalNet,‖ says Arce. ―We were headed in a completely different direction before we
looked at TotalNet. Originally, we were looking at the traditional way of networking
our PBXs over T-1 trunks. With TotalNet, we only ended up spending 20% of the
allotted budget. There was a one-time fee of $30,000 for gaining access to and
interfacing with the network and routing servers of MCI, our toll-free number service

―We rely on ANI and [software from] Davox (Westford, MA) to identify incoming
callers and provide agents with informative screen pops,‖ Arce adds. The centers
also use an IVR system from Aspect (San Jose, CA) to allow callers to find out
account balances and place orders for additional products from their touchtone
phones. If a customer chooses to speak with an agent, Perrier routes the caller to the
most qualified group of agents.

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The sales department goes even further to identify incoming callers. If the caller is
not an existing customer and the caller's phone number is not recognized in the
company's customer database, Perrier searches a directory assistance database so
reps still have some information about the call ahead of time.
The center also uses this information to identify the status of the accounts of callers
who are existing customers. A caller who is behind in payments bypasses the regular
IVR menu and reaches an agent in the collections group.
The center uses Davox's Unison dialer to generate calls to customers. ―We make
outbound calls for collections, marketing and to enhance our relationship with our
customers,‖ says Arce. ―We use preview dialing so that agents have 20 to 30
seconds to review customers' accounts before speaking with them.‖
Arce credits the dialer with making collections more efficient, and he points out that
the dialer helps agents notify customers in advance when salespeople from Perrier
are visiting them.

―Sometimes customers will call to order products for delivery after the Perrier sales
person has already left their area,‖ he says. ―But now, we call customers before they
can call us. We'll remind them that a salesperson will be in their area tomorrow and
[ask] if there is anything that they need. This is really appreciated by our field sales
group, as it helps make their life easier.‖

The centers use e-talk's (Irving, TX) e-talk Recorder to record and monitor agents'
calls. The center schedules at least four random recordings per agent per month. A
member of the quality group reviews these calls with agents. ―This helps us to identify
both the strengths and weaknesses of our front-line agents,‖ says Arce. It also gives
us the opportunity to provide individual agents with any additional training.‖

New hires spend four weeks in training, and veterans attend training sessions every
month. ―At first I questioned this because there's a big cost factor involved when you
take a bunch of agents off the phone,‖ says Arce. ―[The company] responded by
saying that they are willing to absorb the expense. That really impressed me and
shows how dedicated this company is to training our front-line employees.‖ Perrier is
also updating its Web site, which will allow customers to pay their bills and reach
agents on-line. ―I believe that the only path to successfully evolving into a contact
center is in making sure our e-mail and chat requests that come from our Web site
are queued up and processed with the same quality and efficiency as our regular
voice calls,‖ says Arce.

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LR Nelson

LR Nelson is a manufacturer of lawn, garden and turf irrigation systems. Some of
these products include water sprinklers, valves, water timers and hose nozzles.
LR Nelson's call center is located at its corporate headquarters in Peoria, IL. Ten
agents at the call center answer calls from 8 am to 5 pm Central time on Mondays
through Fridays. Since the call center operates on a seasonal basis, LR Nelson
employs nine temporary agents. Temporary workers usually answer calls from April
to October, depending on the year's call volume, which usually peaks during the
summer. Daily call volume starts to increase at around 8 am and reaches its peak at
10 am.

The center receives around 360 calls a day. Customers often call to request catalogs,
place orders, report damaged products or request refunds or replacement parts. The
center also frequently receives requests for assistance with programming electronic

LR Nelson uses a phone switch from Lucent to route each call to the first available
agent. Each agent has training to answer any type of call. ―The director of the call
center is a reference for any special questions that arise,‖ says Brian Phillips, Lotus
Notes administrator for LR Nelson.

LR Nelson also uses its CAREBase system, which is a set of Lotus Notes databases
from Lotus (Cambridge, MA) that the center relies on to keep track of calls and create
order forms.

―In its present state, the CAREBase system lets us track the kinds of calls that we
receive and specifically, what products are having quality issues, what the issues are
and when the products were manufactured,‖ says Phillips. Engineers at LR Nelson
use this data to determine where design changes might be necessary.

Agents also have access to a Lotus TechNotes database, which contains lists of
common questions and answers related to specific products. When a call comes in,
agents can look up product information that is related to the particular product that
the customer is calling about.

Agents also access databases that LR Nelson refers to as ―electronic solutions
pyramids‖ (ESPs). These databases provide agents with scripts for answering calls.
During a call, an agent views a series of multiple-choice questions. Based on the
customer's response to each question, the agent drills down to more questions until
he or she locates possible answers from the ESPs.

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LR Nelson trains new hires in small groups of between two and three people. The
agents receive four hours of training three days a week during a period of two weeks.
Phillips says that the training is informal but it includes product knowledge, customer
service and training on the CAREBase system. He also says that the TechNotes
database and the ESPs help to reduce the amount of time that agents need for

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EMC, headquartered in Hopkinton, MA, develops software and manufactures data
storage systems. Airlines use EMC's systems to store data from their reservations
systems, and banks use EMC to store information from their automated teller

―Due to the nature of our products and what customers use it for, which is the storage
of very mission-critical data, it mandates that we have 24x7 coverage, 365 days a
year,‖ says Leo Colborne, EMC's vice president of worldwide technical support. ―We
have built into our call center the philosophy that minutes equal millions. In other
words, a minute of downtime to any one of our customers co uld potentially have an
impact of millions of dollars.‖

The company has two main call centers that provide remote diagnostic support. The
primary call center for remote support is located in Hopkinton. EMC also has a
secondary call center for remote support in Cork, Ireland. In addition, EMC has two
call centers in Japan and Australia.

EMC also has call centers in Hopkinton and Cork that support its software products.
EMC employs about 250 agents among the software support call centers and the
remote support call centers.

EMC's storage products include Symmetrix, which has the ability to detect errors in
its system and automatically generate a call to the center. The order in which agents
receive these automated calls depends on the severity of the problems. The first
available agent at either the center in Hopkinton or Cork dials back into the system
and performs remote diagnostics over the phone.

―We have internal goals, based on the level of severity of the error, of the time frame
to dial back,‖ says Colborne. ―We can do a lot of work remotely, just short of
replacing a component part. If it's a case when a service engineer is dispatched, the
call center and the engineer work in conjunction.‖

When customers call EMC's toll-free customer service number, an IVR menu guides
them through a list of the company's products. An ACD from Aspect and Cisco's (San
Jose, CA) Intelligent Call Management (ICM) software routes calls to agents based
on products callers need help with and on agents' knowledge of EMC's different
products. Agents receive screen pops with incoming calls so they can identify callers.

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―EMC is different from other centers because our centers are structured as
investment centers, rather than profit and loss centers,‖ says Colborne. ―The number
one metric that everyone is measured on is customer satisfaction. So there is no
second thought about going the extra mile.

―The learning curve is quite high based on the complexity of the software and the
hardware,‖ adds Colborne. ―We have a full training facility in which our new hires go
through a 16-week training course before they answer calls on their own. This
requires more than knowledge of EMC's products but also knowledge of the
customer's environment. Agents need to know the various operating systems that our
storage products attach to.‖

The company aims to ensure that each agent participates in 100 hours of additional
training during the year. ―On the software side, it's important that you have a lab
available where agents can utilize the software,‖ he says. ―Otherwise, you're going to
have a situation where your callers know more about the products than agents do.‖

EMC also uses Primus' (Seattle, WA) knowledge base, which allows the centers'
technicians to look up solutions to problems immediately.
―We are making significant progress for customer self-help on the Web,‖ says
Colborne. ―Essentially, we believe that as we push this information out to customers it
will help to reduce the volume of calls that we receive.‖

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Vendors for Manufacturing Call Centers

Aspect Communications

Cisco Systems









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Lucent Technologies


Nortel Networks



Siebel Systems

Siemens Information and Communication Networks

Stone Software


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Customer Service, Product Information and Technical Support

by Lee Hollman

CallCenter Magazine 08/05/00

Your customers aren't satisfied. Most of them need to ask questions about your
products. Those with complaints don't want to be put on hold. They want immediate
assistance from friendly and knowledgeable agents.

But you don't have to hire a large number of agents to provide customers the support
they need. Customers judge support centers by the quality of support that they
provide, and not by the number of agents they emp loy. The Help Desk Institute (HDI),
an organization based in Colorado Springs, CO, that provides certification for
customer support operations, recently surveyed more than 700 companies with
technical support departments, and found that the majority of the respondents to the
survey employ 50 agents or fewer. Twenty-five percent of respondents employ
between five and ten agents and 17% employ fewer than five agents.

The survey also noted that 84% of the respondents have Internet access and 36%
use automated e-mail response systems. Forty-six percent of the respondents
provide agents with knowledge bases to help them find information for customers,
and 36% of respondents said they plan to implement knowledge bases.

Like the respondents to HDI's survey, the companies featured in this article vary in
size and use different products and procedures at their call centers to help their
customers. But they all demonstrate that there's more than one way to offer support

IBM Replaces Homemade Software at Its Customer Support Call Centers
IBM, based in Armonk, NY, provides support to customers worldwide who purchase
PCs through the company's call centers. Four of IBM's centers receive calls from
customers in the US.

In 1996, the company built its first support center in Raleigh, NC, to serve customers
who have IBM PCs. That same year, the company began to direct some calls to an
IBM call center in Dublin, Ireland, to handle the rising number of support calls from
the US. In November 1998, IBM opened a call center in Toronto, Canada and
another in Fort Lauderdale, FL, in October 1996. All four centers receive an average
of 2.3 million calls from US customers.

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―We used the Raleigh center as the model [for IBM's other customer support] call
centers,‖ says Dermot O'Loughlin, the program director for US services and support
at IBM. The center in Raleigh uses a G3 phone switch from Lucent Technologies
(Murray Hill, NJ) to route calls. The company uses its in-house software to provide
agents with customers' profiles. IBM also uses a G3 switch and the same in-house
software at its other centers that serve US customers.

―We took the same software and consolidated [it] into two call centers in Greenock,
Scotland, and in Dublin, Ireland,‖ O'Loughlin says. ―That allowed us to look at what
information was available, how fast we got that information to agents and what
[issues] customers called about most often.‖ All of IBM's call centers currently use
Leading Edge Network Architecture (LENA), which a team of IBM programmers
developed in 1996. LENA enables agents to identify callers based on the phone
numbers from where they dial. The software also updates customer' profiles and
displays information about customers within screen pops on agents' PCs.

O'Loughlin says that IBM also created an in-house knowledge base in 1997, naming
it Online Assistant. With Online Assistant, agents enter customers' questions and
receive lists of possible answers. The most likely answers appear at the top of the
lists. ―It [then] saves the answers that agents write [to customers], captures the data
and everything to do with that transaction,‖ he explains.

But by 2001, IBM will replace all the homegrown software it currently uses at its
support centers with software it purchased from a vendor. (O'Loughlin declined to
reveal the vendor at press time.)

―LENA is very specifically designed for technical support,‖ O'Loughlin points out,
adding that agents at IBM's customer support centers also need software to keep
track of callers and on-line customers who purchase and return PCs. ―We have the
capability to send e-mail straight to [agents' computers], but we're not [doing that]
today. We're still learning the best way to answer [customers' e-mail messages], and
we want to understand the best way before we can generally roll it out.‖

For now, customers send e-mail messages from the company's Web site to one e-
mail address. The company employs 50 agents among all four call centers who
answer e-mail from US customers. Each center has a three- or four-member quality
control group that reviews each e-mail message and forwards it to the most
appropriate agent.

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O'Loughlin believes that customers who make purchases on-line are typically
knowledgeable about computers, and that they usually don' t need to ask as many
questions on the phone. ―We're reducing the number of agents in Dublin because
we'll probably handle 800,000 fewer calls this year than last year,‖ he says. ―We sold
more on the Web and less in retail spaces in the US [than in the pre vious year]. You
would expect that to raise call volumes, but you find people with more [technical]
experience willing to buy on-line.‖

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Partech: Fast Support to Fast-Food Giants

Partech sells computer systems and software to leading fast-food chains like
McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell. Employees at these restaurants
use Partech's products to take customers' orders and managers use these products
to keep track of profits and inventory. The company previously offered technical
support to its customers from a call center at its headquarters in New Hartford, NY. In
1991, the company acquired a service bureau from a rival firm in Boulder, CO.
Partech then opened its second center in Boulder, which currently employs 93 agents
who answer an estimated 750 calls each day.

By 1992, Partech had moved all its call center operations to Colorado. ―We ran two
call centers for a while,‖ says Brad Winne, director of customer service operations for
Partech. ―We slowly migrated as many agents as we could that would take jobs from
the New Hartford area to Boulder.‖
Winne explains that each of the two centers served specific customers, and that the
call center in Boulder originally hired half the number of agents it now employs. Since
Partech now assists more than 20,000 customers in 90 different countries, Winne
had to hire additional agents to keep up with the growing demand for technical
support. Like some of the company's customers, the call center is open 24 hours a

Besides adding more staff after relocating the call center to Boulder, Partech also
upgraded the call center. The company installed Clarify's (San Jose, CA)
eFrontOffice software suite in April 1999. ―When the first screen comes to them as
they open a case, there's a tab they can click on to view [a customer's] 30-day
history,‖ Winne explains. ―With our previous system, agents needed to do quite a bit
of keystrokes and screen changes to get that information. We saved about four to
five minutes per each case.‖

Winne also uses eFrontOffice to provide agents with a knowledge base with the
information that they need to help customers. ―The products that we support are
more complex now that we're able to support other [companies'] software,‖ says
Winne. ―So it would be too much to expect one agent to accurately support all of our

Agents at Partech's call center receive classroom training to learn about the
company's products, and they work within one of three different teams depending on
their technical skills. The largest team comprises 65 agents who answer general
questions about any product. The second-largest team comprises ten agents who
have expertise on specific products. The smallest team has eight agents who offer
technical support to Partech's field representatives.

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A separate customer service team with ten agents provides information about the
company's services and answers customers' questions about their contracts with the

The customer service team also answers technical support calls if all reps in the
technical support team are unavailable. During the call center's peak hours, customer
service reps gather customers' information and use eFrontOffice to forward it to
agents in the technical support group. Winne says that agents in the technical
support group take an average of 25 minutes to call back customers after they
receive this information from customer service reps.
Partech also installed Blue Pumpkin's (Sunnyvale, CA) PrimeTime workforce
management software at its call center in December 1999. Wi nne says that he uses
the software with the PrimeTime Skills module to ensure that there are always
enough agents who can support each of Partech's products.

―We have about 20 different skill sets relating to different hardware, software and
peripheral products,‖ he says. Winne also uses PrimeTime Skills to gather call
statistics from the center's ACD, and he uses eFrontOffice to determine how many
calls initially reach customer support reps. Based on this data, he knows how many
technical support agents have to be available at the center at any given time.

Since most of Partech's customers prefer to reach live agents, the company doesn't
intend to emphasize Web-based customer service in the near future. ―We have e -
mail capability, but our customers don't generally contact us by e-mail for support,‖
says Winne. ―The users need to get on the phone quickly and work with somebody
for quite a bit of time. Each call lasts a half hour on average, so e-mail isn't ideal for a
support request.‖ He adds that Partech does plan to use ClearExpress, a module of
eFrontOffice, to enable customers to view histories of their interactions with the
company through Web browsers.

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Fortis Health

Fortis Health, a health insurance company based in Milwaukee, WI, has two call
centers that help customers file claims and answer questions about claims. The
company opened its first center in July 1998 after acquiring the John Alden Insurance
Company. The John Alden Insurance Company's office in St. Louis Park, MN, had a
call center where Fortis Health now employs 100 agents. In January 1999, Fortis
Health built another call center at its headquarters; this center employs 170 agents
and occupies a section of one floor of the building.
Agents at Fortis Health's call centers in St. Louis Park and Milwaukee belong to one
of two teams. One team answers calls about individual insurance plans and another
team answers calls about group insurance plans. Each team has two separate
subgroups. Some agents answer customers' questions about claims and other
agents help customers with questions about deductibles, coverage and billing.

Fortis Health's call center in Milwaukee receives an estimated 7,000 calls each day.
The company had considered an alternative to handling customers' calls itself.
Before opening its call centers, Fortis Health provided more than 60 toll-free numbers
for its customers and relied on small groups of employees to answer calls.

―We had 20 teams spread out between three different floors,‖ says Barbara Lefebvre,
manager of voice systems at Fortis Health. ―There was no [call] traffic management,
no scheduling or skills-based routing to speak of. We were approached by some
outsourcers and looked at that option, and decided to keep customer service

Today, full-time agents at Fortis Health's call centers train for one month to answer
specific calls depending on what team they're assigned to. They can then receive
additional training to handle other types of calls after six to eight weeks. The
company now has fewer than 40 toll-free numbers.

In March, Fortis Health also upgraded its call center in Milwaukee with several
products from Lucent Technologies. The company purchased a Definity Enterprise
Communication Server G3r switch for routing calls to the most qualified agents on
each team. Supervisors at the Milwaukee center work with Lucent's CentreVu
Supervisor software to view statistics, including average handle times and call

The Milwaukee call center also uses Edify's (Santa Clara, CA) Electronic Workforce
IVR system. Customers indicate the type of policy they have and the service they
want by keying in digits from their touchtone phones. The center uses Quintus'
(Fremont, CA) CustomerQ software to display screen pops containing information
about customers.

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The call center in St. Louis Park also uses a Definity G3r phone switch. But to view
information about customers, agents have to navigate among different screens.
Lefebvre says that Fortis Health plans to implement the same hardware and software
at the two call centers.

A resource center team at each call center manages scheduling for every agent. This
team in Milwaukee uses Aspect's (San Jose, CA) SeriesFour workforce management
software to generate intra-day forecasts for call volumes and create schedules based
on these forecasts. They also work directly with agents to assign them their preferred
hours whenever possible. The resource center team at St. Louis Park handles
scheduling manually based on ACD statistics. Both centers will upgrade to Aspect's
SeriesFive software this year.

The Milwaukee center also hired a full-time technical support rep in January 2000 to
help agents in case they experience difficulties with their phone lines. ―At first the rest
of the company said, 'Why does the call center need special treatment?'‖ says Karen
Stodola, vice president of the customer management center at Fortis Health. ―But I
once had two agents who couldn't take calls because their phones were dead, and
that was a big deal to us. [We needed] other departments in the company to realize
that we can't wait until tomorrow.
We have to help customers now.‖

Stodola explains that opening a call center at Fortis Health's head office created a
culture shock within the company, and that the management and other employees at
Fortis Health are still learning how to accommodate agents. She recalls one week
when the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF) held a membership drive at Fortis
Health's Milwaukee office. The drive included free talent shows that employees could
attend during their lunch hours. Agents wanted to enjoy the entertainment as much
as everyone else at the company, but they couldn't abandon their phones.

Stodola explained the situation to executives at Fortis Health and to the UPAF. ―We
slipped around some [agents'] lunch hours and asked [the UPAF] to vary some of the
times that these shows went on, [so that] some agents could go on certain days,‖ she
says. ―We even had them do some of these [shows] again after-hours for agents.‖

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Chase Manhattan

Chase Manhattan is a banking and financial services firm based in Jericho, NY that
currently has offices in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The company also
maintains Chase Texas branches. After interstate banking laws changed in 1994 and
allowed banks to open branch offices in different states, Chase Manhattan renamed
all of its Texas-based offices from Chase Texas to Chase Manhattan. The company
then created a network of call centers to help customers across the US.

A total of 500 agents work at Chase Manhattan's first call center, which the bank
opened at its corporate headquarters more than a decade ago. In May 1998, the
company opened a center in Houston within an existing facility to serve customers in
Texas. This June, Chase built another center in Arlington. Each call center offers
specific services to customers, based on the types of accounts they have and on the
transactions they request.

Each of the call centers in Texas employs 1,000 agents. The company plans to hire
500 more agents between its Houston and Arlington centers before the end of the

―We handle 16 to 20 different types of calls,‖ says Raymond Grams, vice president of
resource management at Chase Manhattan. ―Some are center-specific and some
flow between call centers.‖ Grams explains that every center has a team of agents
who respond to basic inquiries, like requests for account balances. Other teams
comprise licensed bankers and brokers who specialize in helping customers with
questions about mortgages, loans and stocks, among other items.

Chase Manhattan uses Lucent Technologies' Best Services Routing software to
direct calls among the centers. ―When one of our calls leaves our voice response
units, Best Services Routing looks at each of our sites and determines which one can
handle the call the most quickly,‖ says Grams. ―It checks each center hundreds of
times per second for every incoming call.‖

If customers ask for services that agents in a given team aren't qualified to provide,
agents can transfer customers' calls to a center where agents are available to help
them. Agents also use Genesys' (San Francisco, CA) Intelligent Call Routing
software to transfer screen pops containing customers' information to other agents as
they transfer calls.

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A resource management group based in the Houston call center generates
schedules for all three of Chase Manhattan's centers. They use Aspect's SeriesFive
workforce management software to forecast call volumes and assign agents to shifts
based on these forecasts.

―We can't create a schedule that will blow our budget, so we can't exceed a certain
number of full-time agents working at each call center,‖ says Grams. The resource
management team aims to meet the company's service level of answering 80% of all
incoming calls within 20 seconds, although it adjusts shifts to accommodate agents'
individual schedules as much as possible.
The call center in Houston also employs a ten-member operations support team that
uses Aspect's Real-Time Adherence software to determine if agents follow their
schedules. The operations support team also monitors call volumes and average
handle times at each center to make certain that the centers have enough agents
available to meet Chase's service level at all times.

Grams recalls an incident when the operations support team alerted him to a sudden
increase in call volumes and acted immediately. ―About a year and a half ago, Oprah
Winfrey went on her show and told her viewers to call their banks and check on their
accounts,‖ he says. ―We had scheduled a lot of off-phone work that day, like training.
The operations support team noticed that call volumes were over 20% of the forecast
for that afternoon, so they postponed training to get agents on the phone.‖

Chase Manhattan also offers automated customer support through its Web site.
Customers enter their IDs and passwords to view information about their accounts,
and they can contact agents on Chase's Internet service provider team if they
experience technical difficulties. Grams says that the Internet service provider team
helps customers who have problems understanding the format of one of the Web
pages or displaying Web pages on their computers. ―We can even troubleshoot
modems,‖ he points out. ―But they aren't licensed to offer [financial] advice for
different accounts. [They must] refer customers to the right agents.‖

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Talx develops and sells software for human resources, payroll and employee
services departments within large companies. Talx's customer support call center at
its head office in St. Louis, MO, employs nine agents who answer approximately 30
calls each day. These agents help customers with questions about or difficulties with
Talx's software products. Although the call center is open from 6 am to 6 pm Central
time each day, agents take turns answering calls after hours from home so that the
center can provide 24-hour support. The company receives a weekly average of
between eight and ten customer support calls after hours.

Talx decided to emphasize technical support at its call center after streamlining it in
1998. ―We used to handle both [software] upgrades and maintenance, so we had a
much larger staff,‖ says Lewis Lucarelli, manager of client services for Talx. He
explains that Talx's call center formerly employed 15 agents, and adds that the
company currently relies on its systems enhancement team to visit customers and
assist them with upgrading their software.

Since technical support calls can be time -consuming for agents to handle, Talx
reduced its customers' wait times by not requiring agents to handle as many software
upgrade requests as they did before 1998. That was especially necessary because
customers work with different PCs, software and network systems.

―We're different from [most] call centers in that we can't have a script that agents
follow,‖ he says. ―Each problem and client differs so much.‖
Although the nine agents at Talx's call center had technical experience before they
joined the company, every agent underwent six weeks of training to learn about
Talx's products and about the basics of phone etiquette.
Agents at the call center also work with a senior technical support analyst. ―The
senior analyst is a technical person dealing with technical issues,‖ says Lucarelli.

―He's very well-versed on all versions of Talx products.‖ If agents can't help a
customer with a particular problem, they direct the customer to the senior analyst.
Lucarelli adds that agents don't need close supervision and that they can handle the
majority of customers' calls on their own.

To help keep track of customers and provide them with the answers they need, Talx
purchased GWI Software's (Vancouver, WA) c.Service for its call center and started
using the software in September 1999. With c.Service, agents open a file on their
PCs for every problem that customers report, enter information about the problem
and assign one of four different priority levels to the problem.

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When agents work from home, the software enables them to view and update
information about customers through a Web browser. Agents route each customer
with a high-priority case to the senior technical support analyst, who assists the
customer, lowers the priority level of the case and transfers the customer back to the
agent who originally forwarded the ca ll to him. The agent then resolves any
remaining technical issues with the customer.

Lucarelli and the senior technical support analyst also installed Siemens Information
and Communication Networks' (Boca Raton, FL) BusinessView Observer and
BusinessView Composer software on their PCs. BusinessView Observer enables
agents to view customers' calls in queue, and the software generates audio and
visual alerts if agents exceed specific thresholds, such as hold times that are beyond
a certain number of minutes. BusinessView

Composer displays ACD data and enables Lucarelli and the senior technical support
analyst to generate reports with information like agents' average handle times or the
number of calls they answer during a given time frame.
The company usually receives only one technical support request by e -mail each
day. ―[Customers] still see that it's easier for them to pick up the phone and ask for
help,‖ Lucarelli says. ―We don't want them to open an emergency ticket on the Web.
We'd rather have them talk to an agent immediately.‖

Talx does offer an on-line knowledge base for its customers and created the
knowledge base using c.Service. Customers enter their IDs and passwords to view
Web pages that display answers to frequently-asked questions. Lucarelli plans to
expand the scope of the knowledge base by the end of the year, noting that ―instead
of making our call center larger, the trend seems to be toward helping customers to
help themselves by putting information [on-line].‖

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Crucial Technology – Small Call Center

Crucial Technology manufactures and distributes memory for PCs. The company is a
subsidiary of Micron Technology, a firm based in Boise, ID, that manufactures
memory chips. Micron Technology also owns Micron PC, a company that
manufactures PCs located in the adjacent town of Meridian, ID. Crucial Technology's
headquarters are also in Meridian, and it contains a customer support center that
employs nine full-time agents.

Agents typically help customers track the status of their orders, return products and
check on their accounts with the company. As part of their training, agents learn
about the company's products firsthand so that they're comfortable with the technical
terms and issues that customers use in conversation.

―We pride ourselves on being the memory experts, so we have a technical training
program that all of our staff goes through,‖ says Sharie Monteferrante, customer
service manager at Crucial Technology. ―Everyone learns to install memory modules
into PCs [from] hands-on experience so that they have an understanding of what
customers experience.‖

Monteferrante points out that she doesn't expect customer support reps to solve
customers' technical problems. Agents typically work with Crucial Technology's
technical support team in addition to people from other departments in the company.

Agents at Crucial Technology answer between 300 and 500 calls a day. Although the
center is still small, Monteferrante prefers working with agents in a close and highly
personalized environment. She sits near them at the center to offer advice when
necessary. ―Because of the small number of agents and close proximity, I hear
what's going on if they're having a problem,‖ she says. ―Every day, I take some calls
and answer a few e-mails. I want to know what's happening.‖

Monteferrante also uses Lucent's CentreVu software to collect real-time data from
the center's Lucent Definity switch. CentreVu provides her with information including
the number of calls in queue, the number of agents who are helping customers and
the number of available agents. Crucial Technology also purchased SAP's (Newtown
Square, PA) SAP software for its call center in April 2000. SAP enables agents to
view and update customers' histories from their PCs, generate orders for
replacement parts and keep an inventory of products that are in stock.

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If agents can't answer a customer's question, they contact someone else at Crucial
Technology to participate in a conference call. ―Customer support [reps] and
technical support work on the same calls,‖ says Monteferrante. ―We may also
conference in staff from our credit department if [customers have] questions
regarding a credit situation or about the status of an order.‖

Monteferrante estimates that customer support reps conference one third of all of the
calls they receive. She adds that since the call center is located on the same floor as
the technical support and credit departments, agents can also visit them in person to
ask for help.

Two of the nine agents at Crucial Technology's call center regularly respond to
customers' e-mail messages. Monteferrante sometimes allows other agents to
answer e-mail so that all agents have the opportunity to learn how to help customers

Although the company's Web site includes the e-mail addresses for each
department, customers aren't always certain whom to contact with a specific concern.
Customer support reps often receive e -mail messages from customers that do not
concern their accounts or the status of their orders. Reps occasionally refer an e-mail
message about a technical issue to technical support agents and they refer a request
about purchasing a particular product to the company's sales team.

―If [customers] don't know where to send an e-mail, they know that customer support
[reps] will know,‖ she says. ―But we still [receive] anywhere from 100 to 200 e -mails a
day that are just ours.‖

Monteferrante estimates that 90% of the company's customers place their orders
from the company's Web site, but she doesn't expect that the steady increase in e-
mail volume will make the call center obsolete.
―It may impact future growth for [the center], but we don't anticipate reducing staff by
any means,‖ she says. ―We want options available by e-mail or phone.‖

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Beneficial Life

The Beneficial Life Insurance Company based its customer support call center at its
headquarters in Salt Lake City, UT, in 1998. Beneficial's center employs 60 agents
who answer customers' questions about their policies. Agents inform customers
about matters like the cash value of a given policy and how they can change
ownership or beneficiaries for each policy.

Although most of the agents at Beneficial's call center aren't licensed insurance
salespeople, they do receive ongoing education about insurance policies and
practices. Mike Morris, senior manager of strategic products at Beneficial, says that
agents undergo a continuous training program and that they average 90 minutes of
classroom time each week. All agents attend a class whenever the company
introduces a new product and learn how to calculate cash values for each policy.
They also learn phone etiquette and communication skills. If customers ask questions
that agents aren't able to answer, the agents consult other employees at Beneficial
for assistance.

Morris explains that the center comprises three teams of between 15 and 20 agents,
each with its own manager. He adds that setting up small groups of agents with their
own managers enables agents to receive the personal attention that they need if they
experience any difficulties.

To bolster agents' efficiency, Beneficial also purchased Oracle's (Redwood Shores,
CA) Customer Care 3i for its call center in April 1999. Beneficial tested the beta
version of the software and made it available to age nts in October 1999, the same
time that Oracle officially released the product. Customer Care 3i provides agents
with information about customers at their PCs. Morris says that before agents used
the software, they had to leave the center to find printed copies of their individual

―We were able to answer one out of three questions [on the first call] and had to do
research and call customers back,‖ says Morris. ―Right now, we're up to 65% of calls
answered [once]. We answer with whatever information we have and do whatever
research is necessary.‖ Morris' long-term goal for the center is to resolve 80% of
customers' questions during the first call.

The call center receives 5,000 calls each week, and between 20% and 30% of these
calls come from Beneficial's sales staff. The company provides one toll-free number
to its customers and four toll-free numbers to sales staff so that they can reach
support reps directly.

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―From [their] standpoint, if you're dealing with a company, you usually call the home
office and get transferred to customer service,‖ he says. ―We want to come to a point
where if [they] have a question, there's one person to contact.‖ Morris adds that he
eventually hopes to provide personalized service to sales reps by assigning specifi c
agents to work with them.

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What Makes Customer Support Work

If you're considering building your own customer support call center, your primary
concern should be your center's average response time. Customers call your
company because they have difficulties and need help with particular products or
services. You don't want to increase their frustration by making them wait too long on

You also have to ensure that agents at your call center have the information they
need to help customers. For smaller companies with limited budgets, a thorough in-
house training program can be the best way to prepare agents to answer any
questions that customers are likely to ask. You can also consider software that
provides agents with on-line knowledge bases, as well as systems that provide
agents with information about customers and their support requests. All of the
companies in this article rely on a combination of these options.

Finally, it's important to assess your call volumes and hire the appropriate number of
agents for your call center. Even the most informed and skilled agents can't provide
your customers with the immediate help that they need if they're overwhelmed with
incoming calls. If you only have the resources to hire a limited number of agents, then
it's a good policy to have a supervisor or manager sit next to them in case they need
help with customers' calls. With enough planning, you'll find that providing good
customer support can be simple for customers and agents alike.

Causes of Dissatisfaction Among On-line Customers

On-line survey firm polled 10,000 on-line consumers and more than 50
companies on behalf of the Chicago-based International Customer Service
Association (ICSA), 800-360-4272, , and noted that only 36% of
respondents said they were satisfied with transactions they conducted on Web sites.
More than half of the consumers who responded to the survey mentioned that they
had to follow up their transactions with phone calls or other actions to ensure that the
companies they dealt with fulfilled their initial on-line requests. The survey also found

Forty-two percent of respondents said they received confirmations of their on-line
messages within 24 hours;

Nearly 40% of respondents never received final resolution of their on-line requests;

Poor handling of on-line communication decreased a company's retention of
customers by between 30% and 48%.

An E-mail Blizzard

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An estimated 101 million adults in the US, or about half the US adult population, use
the Internet. This number represents an increase from the approximately 84 million
adults in the US who were using the Internet as of the end of 1998. The average
Internet user sends 6.4 e-mail messages a day. Source: Internet User Trends: Mid-
Year 1999, a study by The Strategis Group, 202-530-7500,

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Customer Service Call Center Service Vendors Referenced in Case Studies

Aspect Communications

Blue Pumpkin




GWI Software

Lucent Technologies




Siemens Information and Communication Networks

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Travel, Hospitality and Tourism

by Jennifer O'Herron

CallCenter Magazine 07/14/00

Uniglobe is an on-line travel agency that allows customers to book air flights,
hotel rooms, cruises and rental cars. The company is a division of Uniglobe
International, a travel franchise company with locations throughout the US. went on-line in 1997. Agents at first handled calls from
the company's ten-year-old call center, located about ten miles south of Seattle in
Renton, WA. Shortly thereafter, opened its own separa te call center
within the same facility to handle its Internet business.
Seventy-five agents work in the center's two divisions. The air travel, car and hotel
division operates 24x7, and the cruise division operates approximately 12 hours a

The call center has different toll-free numbers for its air travel, car and hotel division
and for its cruise division that deals with business partners such as Expedia, for
which provides cruise fulfillment. uses Lucent Technologies' (Murray Hill, NJ) Definity G3 to route phone
calls. A greeting prompts customers to indicate whether they are calling about
cruises, flights, car rentals or hotel reservations.

Twenty-five agents work in's cruise department. If customers call about
cruises, a secondary menu asks whether they are calling about new reservations.
The Definity switch routes calls to agents with the appropriate skills. Customers who
are interested in cruises can also receive assistance on-line by sending e-mail
messages or by filling out forms from the Web site to request calls from agents.
Lucent's CentreVu Internet Solutions software allows the company to route e -mail,
text chat and Web callback requests to agents with appropriate skills.

The software routes customers' on-line inquiries directly to agents who are
knowledgeable about the specific travel services that customers view on-line from the
Web site as they make their requests. ―For example, Seabourn Cruises are very
high-end and only a few agents are specialized in Seabourn, so the software will
route the chat, Web callback request or e-mail to those agents,‖ says Michael
Dauberman, senior VP of business development for

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Text chat and Web callback are only available to customers interested in cruises. plans to offer text chat and Web callback to customers of the air travel,
car and hotel division by the third quarter of this year.

―We decided to provide the Web technology to our cruise division first because
cruises really need the assistance of a sales agent,‖ says Dauberman. ―Most of our
air, car and hotel [transactions] are completely fulfilled without the use of the call
center. We focused on the part of the business that we feel needed it the most.

―The main reason that we want to have the technology available on the air, car and
hotel side is for collaborative forms, so agents and customers can simultaneously fill
out forms. We don't feel that the chat and Web callback functions will be as popular
as they are for the cruise division.

―Because of the ability to integrate all of the different customer contacts into one
single system, we are now able to get back to e -mail customers instantaneously. All
of a sudden we went from having e-mail back times of 24 hours to 20 mi nutes. The
ability to reach customers while they are still browsing the Web site and are still
interested greatly increases the chances of them booking.‖

Dauberman believes that text chat is also valuable for customers who are not
completely ready to make a purchase. ―Cruises are a hard sell and often people are
pressured into the purchase,‖ he says. ―Web chat takes a lot of pressure off the
customer because they can get all of their questions answered,‖ he says.'s customers also appreciate the Web site's Web callback feature.
―Most of the time people are browsing the Web site while they are in the middle of
doing something else,‖ he says. ―Web callback lets them enter their phone number
and receive a call back within five minutes.‖

But Dauberman also points out that customers most often choose Web callback
when the call center's on-hold times are long. ―Usually, Web callback is most popular
when we are doing our worst job. We like to think that our Web callback feature is
under-utilized because our hold times tend to be pretty short,‖ he says. has also developed its own customer relationship management
system. The system integrates all of the center's different databases. ―We've
developed the system to let agents immediately know who they are interacting with,‖
says Dauberman. ―The system also lets agents view a customer's transaction
history.‖ The system attempts to identify customers based on the numbers they
dialed or from their e-mail addresses. ―E-mail is the best identifier because each
person's e-mail address is unique,‖ he says.
Royal Caribbean

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To ensure that callers experience smooth sailing, Royal Caribbean operates two call
centers located in Miami, FL and Wichita, KS.

―Travel agencies are our primary business partners,‖ says Clark Bowman, call center
operations manager for Royal Caribbean. ―They account for approximately between
90% and 95% of our incoming calls. We also answer calls from the general public.
However, we encourage them to work with travel agents because they are able to
provide that extra value-added service,‖ he says.

The centers operate on Eastern time and take calls from 8 am to 11 pm on Mondays
through Fridays and from 9 am to 9 pm on weekends. About 400 agents work in the
cruise line's center in Miami and approximately 300 agents work in the Wichita
center. The company expects the Wichita center to expand to 400 agents within the
near future.

Agents handle calls that include general reservations for Royal Caribbean cruises,
general reservations for Celebrity Cruises and special services for priority travel
agencies. The Miami center also has a department that assists large groups of
people with booking cruises.

―Currently, agents are trained to handle specific calls but as we move forward most of
our agents in Miami and Wichita will be skilled to answer all calls,‖ says Bowman.

Bowman also believes that cross-training agents will help the company with disaster
recovery. ―In situations like Miami's hurricanes and Wichita's tornadoes, we've found
that having two call centers has been extremely helpful by allowing us to recover
quickly,‖ says Bowman.

The company uses Lucent's Definity phone switch and CentreVu Call Management
System (CMS) for skills-based routing. Lucent's CentreVu Supervisor gives Royal
Caribbean's supervisors access to real-time and historical reports.

The company's IVR system prompts callers to provide their reservation numbers,
which contain information related to the travel agency that they are calling from. The
IVR system uses this information to route calls to agents with the most appropriate
skills. ―For example, if a travel agency calls our general toll-free number, but they are
really a top producer, we ensure that their call is routed to an agent with the proper
skills to handle their inquiry,‖ says Bowman.

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The cruise line also uses Kronos' (Chelmsford, MA) payroll software. ―We have
integrated the Kronos system with the Definity switch to automate our payroll
system,‖ says Bowman. ―This truly converts our telephone system into our time clock.
It lets us accurately track over- and under-time automatically without human error.
This system eliminates 99% of manual input.‖

Royal Caribbean also uses Aspect's (San Jose, CA) workforce management
software to help maintain its schedules for nearly 800 agents. It also uses Aspect's
Real-Time Adherence software to make sure agents follow their schedules, which
becomes especially important during Royal Caribbean's peak season in January and

New hires attend five weeks of training led by dedicated trainers. The company
combines classroom and computer-based training that the company developed in-
house. The computer-based training teaches agents how to use all of Royal
Caribbean's systems and software and shows them how to maneuver among all of
the different screens. The main focus throughout training is customer service and
product knowledge.

The cruise line also gives customers the option of accessing information and booking
cruises from the Web site. There is also a special section of the Web site for travel

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JetBlue Airlines

JetBlue is a start-up airline that launched in February 2000. Based in John F.
Kennedy airport in Queens, NY, the airline flies to Buffalo, NY; Ft. Lauderdale, FL;
and Tampa, FL. At press time, JetBlue had plans to fly to Orlando, FL by the end of

JetBlue offers passengers amenities such as individual access to satellite TV from
every seat. By the end of 2000, the airline plans to fly to ten cities from JFK and it
intends to serve 30 cities within the next three years. ―Basically, our business plan is
to provide the same great service to every person that travels with us,‖ says Frankie
Littleford, JetBlue's director of reservations.
JetBlue's reservations center is located in Salt Lake City, UT. What makes the center
unique is that most agents work from home.

―The methodology behind this is the fact that Salt Lake City is a call center city and
our CEO, David Neeleman, has a background in working with home agents, so we
knew it works,‖ says Littleford. Neeleman was the president of Morris Air until it was
acquired by Southwest Airlines, and he worked with remote agents at Southwest
Airlines before joining JetBlue.

―It is incredible how much more efficient it is and ho w much greater agents'
productivity is [with at-home agents],‖ says Littleford. ―We currently have 150 agents
working from home, and we project that within three years we may have between 700
and 1,000 remote agents and the call center won't have to expand.‖

A portion of the call center's staff, including the customer commitment department,
works in the reservations center full time. This department handles customers'
suggestions, compliments and complaints. Littleford estimates that at any given time
there are about 15 to 20 people working in the center.

The company uses Lucent's Definity G3 phone switch and Definity IP Solutions and
CentreVu IP Agent to allow agents to work from home. The software provides agents
with a soft phone on their desktops. ―Right now we are using two analog lines, one
for voice and one for data,‖ says Littleford. ―We are waiting to see what happens with
the technology over the next year. In about a year we should be able to go to one
phone line and actually use true voice over IP.‖

JetBlue provides remote agents with computers, phones and headsets. ―We even
give agents pagers so that we can page them during peak call times,‖ says Littleford.

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―Right now all of the agents are in the Salt Lake City area. But once the technolog y
improves and we don't have to worry about voice degradation issues, we will be able
to employ agents that are not within the local calling area,‖ she says.

New agents come into the reservations center for three weeks of training. These
agents remain in the center for an additional three to five weeks until they are
comfortable working from home. JetBlue requires that agents come into the center
once a month to meet with their supervisors and receive more training.
JetBlue operates 24x7 and most agents work part time. To help schedule agents to
answer between 4,000 and 5,000 calls daily, the airline uses Blue Pumpkin's
(Sunnyvale, CA) PrimeTime Enterprise workforce management software.

―Blue Pumpkin has been working really well for us,‖ says Littleford . ―The forecasting
package is really robust and since we don't have any historical information to draw
from, we are pretty much building our own as we go along.‖

The airline also uses Nice Systems' (Secaucus, NJ) call recording software to record
and monitor agents' conversations. JetBlue's quality commitment supervisors monitor
five calls per agent per month. Supervisors evaluate an agent's call within the same
or the next day by conferencing the agent on the phone as they listen to the call

JetBlue's Web site enables customers to purchase their tickets on-line. Agents in the
customer commitment group answer between 100 and 150 e-mail messages per day.
Kana Communications' (Redwood City, CA) Kana Response enables agents to
select pre-written responses to e-mail. ―Kana does provide auto-response but we
didn't want to go that far with it yet,‖ says Littleford. ―We have agents look at each e-
mail and personalize it before it goes out, which at this point we still have the capacity
to do.‖

The call center will likely add new systems in the near future. ―An IVR system based
on Lucent's Conversant platform is in our plans for next year,‖ says Littleford. JetBlue
is looking into purchasing speech recognition software that will allow customers to
obtain flight departure and arrival information. The airline also intends to implement
computer telephony software to display customers' profiles on agents' screens as
calls come in.

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Ritz-Carlton hotels and resorts are known for luxury nationally and internationally.
The company is also known for customer service. In 1999, it received the Malcolm
Baldrige National Quality Service Award, which Congress established in 1987 to
recognize quality and performance achievements of US businesses.

When guests in the United States or Canada want to make reservations or have
questions about any of Ritz-Carlton's hotels, they call the company's reservations
center in Salt Lake City, UT.

―The calls that come into the center fall under two categories, reservations or
customer service,‖ says Kristy Merrill, manager of central reservations for Ritz-
Carlton. The center routes each call to the first available agent and strives to answer
all calls within 20 seconds. The center doesn't use an IVR system. ―Our business is
relationship-driven. Our customers want to hear a live voice and I don't think that we
will ever use an IVR system,‖ says Merrill.

The company has two toll-free numbers for reservations and gift certificates. The
center averages between 3,000 and 3,500 calls to the two numbers during
weekdays. Call volume is about half that number on weekends. The center operates
on Mountain time, and it answers calls from 5:30 am to 12 am on weekdays and 6
am to 12 am on weekends.

The company recently redesigned its Web site. Customers can view the Web site for
information about any of Ritz-Carlton's properties. The company routes all incoming
e-mail messages to its corporate office. If an e-mail message is about a reservation,
Merrill personally responds to it.

Ritz-Carlton places a heavy emphasis on selecting and training agents. Since the
center opened four years ago, it has used Talent+'s (Lincoln, NE) Quality Selection
Process (QSP), a methodology that helped Ritz-Carlton develop a way to identify job
candidates with the skills and abilities the company looks for. ―We hire about 3% of
the candidates that we interview,‖ says Merrill. ―About one year ago, Talent+ came
back into the center and re-interviewed our top performers to help us fine-tune the
process. Since that time we have seen a decrease in turnover.‖

The center also has a comprehensive training program. ―Agents spend the first three
weeks learning our systems and technologies,‖ says Merrill. For the next two weeks,
agents learn about the company, engage in role-playing exercises and practice
taking calls. ―We want reservations consultants to be completely comfortable on the
phones before they start handling phone calls,‖ says Merrill.

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The company also provides ongoing training to agents, including travel to give agents
the chance to learn about the company's hotels and destinations firsthand. ―Agents
really appreciate the opportunity to learn more,‖ says Merrill.
Besides making reservations, most callers have questions about the amenities and
recreational activities that Ritz-Carlton hotels offer. ―A great deal of information is
available at [agents'] fingertips,‖ says Merrill. ―We have hotel information categorized
into recreation, spa and local activities. We can tell guests what voltage the y need if
they are going to Cancun. When you combine this with ongoing training and the
training that [agents] receive before they even start, they are well-prepared to answer
any question that guests can throw at them.‖

The center focuses on a different training topic each day, based on a common theme
that Ritz-Carlton discusses with staff throughout the company. ―We highlight the
particular issue for the day and have a sit-down discussion of the topic and how it
applies to agents' jobs and how it applies to them personally,‖ says Merrill. ―This
constant ongoing training is part of our search for quality.‖

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New Jersey Transit

Need to know how to get around using public transportation in New Jersey? If so,
agents in the Transit Information Centers are ready to assist you. The state operates
two call centers, located in Maplewood, NJ and Camden, NJ, which usually answer a
total of about 350,000 calls per month.

The Maplewood center operates every day from 6 am to 12 am Eastern time. Sixty
full-time agents and 19 part-time agents assist customers in reaching their
destinations. The Camden center employs nine full-time agents and one part-time
agent. The center operates every day from 6 am to 10 pm. Information about bus and
rail routes is also available from NJ Transit's Web site.

The centers in Camden and Maplewood each have separate toll-free numbers. The
Camden center provides riders with information about public transportation in the
southern portion of New Jersey, which includes the areas of Camden, Trenton and
Atlantic City. The Maplewood center concentrates on serving customers in northern
New Jersey. Agents at the Maplewood center also answer calls about transportation
in southern New Jersey.

The Camden center is using Fujitsu's (Anaheim, CA) IntelliCenter ACD. ―Within the
next two to three months we will install a Fujitsu ACD in Maplewood,‖ says Lou
Wassong, director of NJ Transit's information center. ―With the new ACD, we will be
able to flow calls between Camden and Maplewood if one of the sites start to get
overloaded with calls.‖

Since the Maplewood center is open two hours later than the Camden center, calls
that come into Camden after hours will automatically reach Maplewood. For now,
when people call the center in Camden after hours, a recorded greeting instructs
them to call the toll-free number for the center in Maplewood.
This April, New Jersey officially launched the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system in
Jersey City. The system spans seven and a half miles and is projected to carry
14,800 passengers. The state expects to expand service to carry 18,400 passengers
by fall 2000.

When NJ Transit first began to promote the Light Rail system, the Maplewood center
received about 1,100 calls a day. The center's IVR system, which lets customers
automatically receive bus, rail and light rail information, handled most of these calls.

―The majority of the rail questions are answered automatically,‖ says Wassong.
―About one third of our total call volume is handled through the IVR system. The other
two thirds of calls are agent-assisted.‖

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The Maplewood center is currently looking to purchase a new IVR system. ―We want
to expand our IVR menu for bus queries and we also want to get more sophisticated
with the light rail options,‖ he says.

In the case of a major disruption in service, an emergency hotline updates riders
about the situation so that the centers' lines aren't tied up.
Agents in the Transit Information Centers receive extensive training, which includes
ten weeks of classroom training. ―Training covers rules and regulations, rail
schedules, bus routes and all key transfer points between lines,‖ says Wassong. ―We
are currently testing an Automatic Traveler Information System (ATIS) that will allow
agents to enter in the caller's address and destination and the computer will tell us
the correct route information.

―Agents also go on field visits where they go to some of the more complicated
transfer sites. This gives them a first hand view of what the station and transfer area
looks like. We also have them ride some of the more difficult lines where you have a
lot of transfers.‖

Agents also receive additional training about four times a year on subjects like
changes in bus or rail schedules. Visitors to NJ Transit's Web site can look up routes,
schedules and fares. ―We also maintain a travel advisory page to let riders know if
trains and buses are running on schedule,‖ says Wassong. ―The page is updated
every half hour with information pertaining to construction delays or detours.‖

Agents in NJ Transit's customer service center in Newark answer all e-mail
messages and respond to customers' complaints and suggestions. If an e-mail
message is related to a service that the Transit Information Center provides, the
customer service center forwards the message to the center in Maplewood.

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Amadeus provides travel agencies with a computer system for accessing the
databases of airlines, hotels and car rental companies and for booking reservations
on behalf of their customers.

The company's 110-seat call center in Miami, FL provides support for travel agents
who have questions about the Amadeus system. For example, travel agents typically
call with questions about processing tickets or making changes to a customer's

The call center uses Lucent's Definity switch to route calls to agents. Callers hear
prompts to enter information that identifies which travel agency they are calling from.
The phone switch uses this information to route the call to an agent. Amadeus also
uses computer telephony software to provide agents with screen pops.

The center is open from 7 am to 3 am on Mondays through Thursdays and during
fewer hours from Fridays through Sundays. Hours vary for the center, which also
serves customers in the US, Caribbean and the Pacific Rim. ―Our call volume usually
peaks between 10 am and 11 am and then again between 2 pm and 3 pm, Eastern
time,‖ says Shannon Barrow, Amadeus' program and project manager for customer
support operations.

The center uses Pipkins' (St. Louis, MO) Maxima Advantage workforce management
software to create and forecast agents' schedules. The company installed the
software in December 1999.

―What's good about the system is the fact that we have all of our data in one place
and it's easier for us to access,‖ says Barrow. Amadeus has plans to integrate the
software with the phone switch so that the company can use Maxima Advantage
Real Time Adherence, an optional module that determines if agents stay within their

Amadeus places a great emphasis on training. ―We provide eight weeks of intensive
training because the Amadeus system is complex and the center receives a lot of
wide-ranging questions, so we have to be prepared,‖ says Barrow. ―Our reps also
receive ongoing training about once a month as we introduce new products.‖

Travel agents can also reach the center from its Web site. Several agents answer e-
mail messages with the goal of responding to each customer within one business
day. ―We are planning to integrate our e-mail [routing] with the ACD,‖ says Barrow.
―Once we do this we expect that our e-mail turnaround time will go down greatly.‖

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Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival Cruise Lines operates two call centers to handle as many as 40,000 calls a
day during the peak season from January through May. ―Ninety-five percent of our
callers are travel agencies and only 5% are direct bookings,‖ says Ken Eberhardt,
director of MIS, telephony and administrative services for Carnival.

Carnival's main call center is based in Miami, FL. The company also operates a
satellite call center in Colorado Springs, CO. The Miami center operates from 7 am to
11 pm Eastern time and the Colorado Springs center operates from 10 am to 9 pm
Mountain time.

The Miami center employs 380 agents who assist callers with individual and group
reservations, as well as agents who help callers book air and sea packages. The 150
agents in Colorado Springs primarily handle individual reservations.

All new hires first take calls for individual reservations. Training for agents in this
group lasts between five and six weeks. As agents gain more experience, they can
move on to other specialized groups.

The center uses Lucent Technologies' CenterVu Advocate to route calls. ―If a high-
volume travel agency calls, CentreVu routes the call to special accounts,‖ says
Monica Figueroa, supervisor of communications for Carnival. ―These agents
specialize in dealing with high-volume travel agencies. Even if a caller looks in the
phone book and calls the first number they see, they are ensured that their call will be
answered by a properly-skilled agent.

―Our goal is to answer 80% of calls within 20 seconds, and we usually answer all
calls within five seconds. This is our primary reason for not using an IVR system. We
definitely have the agents available to answer calls.‖

The company uses e-talk's (Irving, TX) e-talk Recorder to schedule call recordings
and to monitor agents' conversations. There is a full-time staff at the center that
monitors agents.

―We also have a fairly new area within the company - personal vacation planners -
whose primary job is to make follow-up outbound calls,‖ says Figueroa. ―For
example, if a consumer calls to get information about a cruise and they don't book,
we follow up to see if they need more information,‖ she says.
Customers can also visit Carnival's Web site for cruise information or to book directly.
If consumers need assistance, they can send e-mail messages. The company has a
group of agents within the reservations group dedicated to handling e-mail.

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Travel agencies worldwide use Sabre's computer reservations system to book flights,
hotel reservations and car rentals. The company's call center in the Dallas/Ft. Worth,
TX area also provides support to corporate customers, which include airline, hotel
and car rental companies.

Two hundred agents answer more than one million calls a year. Calls usually include
questions about how to exchange an airline ticket using the Sabre system or how to
resolve similar difficulties that travel agents may have with the fare rules systems.
When airlines, hotel and car rental firms call the center with questions about
reservations, the center directs callers to agents who specialize in assisting these
particular customers. The call center operates 24x7, although the groups typically
operate during regular business hours.

The center also employs agents who specialize in Sabre's travel-related products,
including its Planet Sabre, Turbo Sabre, and Sabre Net Platform. Using Genesys'
(San Francisco, CA) T-Server, Sabre recognizes whether a caller is from a travel
agency or from another type of company, and an Aspect ACD allows Sabre to route
calls to agents who serve different types of travel companies. Sabre also uses a call
tracking system it developed in-house.

Callers hear a greeting from an Edify's (Santa Clara, CA) IVR system. ―We are able
to identify approximately 30% of the incoming calls,‖ says Wendell Stinnett, Sabre's
project manager of call center automation. If T-Server is unable to match the phone
number the caller is dialing from to a specific travel agency, the IVR system prompts
the caller to enter a sequence of digits that identifies the particular travel agency.
When agents receive calls, T-Server enables them to see callers' information on their

The company's high-volume customers can also reach agents on-line through Cisco
Systems' (San Jose, CA) text chat software. The center plans to make the software
available to all of its customers in the near future.

―We are absolutely seeing an increase in the Internet contacts and our users are
repeat users, so they really like it,‖ says Stinnett. ―We've decided to implement chat
first because our customers need an answer immediately and e -mail by its very
nature is not immediate. Even the better-managed [programs] average a 24-hour

The center uses Witness Systems' (Atlanta, GA) eQuality suite of call monitoring
software. The center monitors calls and corresponding screens on agents' PCs using
the eQuality Balance module. Some of the agents in the center also have the ability
to initiate recordings from their desktops.

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―We like to give agents the ability to record obscure or very complex calls,‖ says
Stinnett. The company's quality control group encourages agents to record
challenging calls so that they can use them as examples for future training sessions.
If agents receive calls concerning problems with a particular product, they can e-mail
recordings as .wav files to Sabre's product managers. The center also uses the
eQuality Evaluation module, which lets supervisors score agents' phone calls based
on their technical expertise and customer service skills.

―I'm hoping that at some point we will be able to institute a program of self-monitoring
and self-evaluation,‖ says Stinnett. ―Agents tend to be a lot harder on themselves
than even the quality control folks. We are also in the middle of piloting a telework

Aspect's WinSet software lets the company route calls to agents working from home.
―We currently have two agents working from home but we will increase that number
to five by the end of the summer,‖ he says. Sabre is also looking to implement a
speech recognition system to integrate with its IVR system

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Cable Television and Satellite Services


People pay big bucks so they can stay at home to watch the cable networks, satellite
broadcasts and pay-per-view events of their choice. Here‘s how some high-class call
centers dish out great service and ensure that their customers tune in for more.


CallCenter Magazine, 10/01/99

A call center within a cable or satellite company must find a way to distinguish the
service it provides from that of its competitors. Routing calls from customers to
agents is a crucial aspect of offering good service. But it isn‘t enough.
Companies in the cable and satellite industry have to push hard on the outbound
side, too, performing proactive courtesy calls to verify that they have installed cable
service correctly and on time.

For this article, we spoke with several big-name cable TV and satellite companies
and discussed the call center system they use. Not surprisingly, most rely on a
combination of traditional call center systems, including computer telephony software,
monitoring systems, IVR systems and electronic displays.
Some centers have made notable enhancements to their internal operations. One
call center manager, for example, describes how grateful she is for the new
workforce management software and the amount o f time it saves her in creating and
forecasting agents‘ schedules. Another manager credits his company‘s home-grown
knowledge base with helping agents provide accurate, up-to-date information to

And what makes an impression on Call Center Maga zine is the extent to which some
of these centers go to train and monitor agents so that they develop the skills they
need to provide the best customer service possible.

The cable and satellite TV industry is expanding its services to include entertainment
and Internet access. According to a January 1999 report by Datacomm Research,
the cable TV and wireless industries will acquire a large segment of the market for
high-speed Internet access. More than 11 million US homes will receive their primary
TV from a digital broadcast satellite (DBS) dish in 1999, with the worldwide total
exceeding 22 million, says Lloyd Covens of DBS News. Covens adds that the most
exciting developments for the industry are yet to come. He expects that DBS will
serve as a platform for services like business TV, high-definition TV, distance
learning, narrowcasting and high-speed Internet access.
The day is not far off when many consumers will point and click on their TV screens
to choose programs and purchase products. But as these types of services change
and evolve, one universal law stays the same: great customer service means loyal

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customers. Read on to hear about what keeps this concept alive at call centers within
cable and satellite TV companies.

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Charter Communications

Charter Communications (Fond du Lac, WI), a cable TV provider with approximately
6.2 million customers across the country, is launching digital TV services, high-speed
Internet access and movies on demand.

Charter Communications‘ Regional Customer Care Center is open 7x24 and handles
all inbound customer service, repair and acquisition calls for nearly 300,000 cable TV
and data customers. Agents also make regular follow-up calls to more than 400,000
customers to verify appointments, up-sell them on new services, conduct satisfaction
surveys or request customers‘ feedback.

―This call center is the result of a $2.5 million commitment to provide the finest
customer service possible,‖ says Bill Sievers, regional manager of Charter
Communications. ―We made this investment because we were not providing the level
of service needed to become competitive in the marketplace. The center started up in
1998 and now implements call center technology to help it run full speed ahead. We
answer 90% of our telephone calls in 30 seconds or less.‖

There are 110 agents at the center who answer about 1.6 million calls per year.
Charter uses Teknekron Infoswitch‘s (Fort Worth, TX) AutoQuality to silently monitor
a random sample of 1,000 calls (that is, between 10 and 12 calls per agent) each
month. Supervisors can dial in from their homes or offices to evaluate calls and
discuss the results with agents. Sievers says that the center currently uses the
system only to record voice conversations. For phone calls, agents at the center earn
an average score of 3.2 out of a possible 4.0. The company plans to start monitoring
agents‘ screens this fall.

Charter Communications handles calls for 400 different towns throughout Wisconsin,
Illinois and Minnesota. Each town has its own rates and cable subscribers may use
different types of converter boxes depending on where they live. As with the major
networks, cable stations often have different channels in different towns or states. To
enable agents to view detailed information about customers, including rates,
channels and converter boxes, Charter built its own intranet, which it named MOM
(My Online Manual) . The intranet is an internal on-line knowledge base. It uses a
SQL database that resides on a Windows NT server that Charter purchased from
Norstan Communications (Waukesha, WI).

―Our intranet system houses all of this type of information at the agent‘s fingertips,‖
says Sievers. ―If a caller says ‗I can‘t work my converter box,‘ we know, based on
what is in the database, what they use and how to answer the call. Based on the
[computer telephony software], the customer‘s location and what prompts they place
in the IVR system, the proper intranet screen appears.‖

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―We plug in relevant info and work to maintain it,‖ Sievers adds. ―This intranet system
eliminated a 2,000-page manual and is updated in real time. It has improved
information handling [significantly] overnight. For example, with the manual system
we used, agents were not able to give customers accurate information. We tracked
all inaccuracies and reduced problems 100-fold overnight. There were wrong rates,
wrong information on how to fix converter boxes [and] wrong addresses of payment

―From the start, it has been our intranet that has brought all of the information t hat
agents need to deliver great service to our customers immediately. There is no way
we could deliver service of this magnitude without it. An agent may have a question,
and we say, ‗Go ask MOM. She‘ll tell you.‘‖

Charter cross-trains some agents to handle inbound and outbound calls. Agents work
on one of two floors; one consists of agents who only answer calls and the other
consists of agents who make or take calls.

The center uses an ACD from Aspect Communications (San Jose, CA). When calls
come in, the ACD retrieves each caller‘s ANI and DNIS information. If it recognizes a
caller, it informs an agent that the caller is a customer through a recorded whisper
tone in the agent‘s headset. Agents use Encore binaural headsets from Plantronics
(Santa Cruz, CA).

Agents also see information about callers through a digital display on their Aspect
3190 Telesets telephones. They receive screen pops on their PCs that the center
generates through the use of Aspect‘s Aspect CTI software. Charter‘s use of CT
software has shaved an average of 20 to 30 seconds off its average call handling

A VocalPoint IVR system from Syntellect (Phoenix, AZ) ties into Charter‘s billing
system to let customers access their account balance information. Callers don‘t
typically encounter the IVR system when they first reach the center. But if the system
recognizes that a customer is calling from an area where there is an outage or
construction, it automatically directs the customer to the IVR system and plays a
recorded message that informs the customer about the availability of local cable

A predictive dialer from Melita International (Norcross, GA) helps agents follow up
with customers after service and installation calls. ―Call blending is a key to increased
sales while attaining world-class service levels,‖ says Sievers.
Five PaceCom Technologies (San Diego, CA) readerboards hang throughout the
center and display the current service level, the number of calls waiting, the number
of agents who are making outbound calls and the number of agents who are
wrapping up calls.

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Charter‘s call center also uses workforce management software from TCS
Management Group (Brentwood, TN) to track past call volumes and to predict future
call volumes. ―The system ensures a great service level for customers. If the system
tells us we need 25 people within a certain scheduled hour, we can lay agents‘
schedules on top of that hour. We also schedule training sessions, overtime,
vacations and days off with the TCS system.

―All agents are budgeted to receive 16 hours a month of phone training time. This
has resulted in lower attrition rates. We have a lower rate of people leaving the
company because they feel knowledgeable and more valuable to the company.‖

Sievers is pleased with the call center systems that Charter is using. ―[The]
technologies [we use], along with continuous coaching, feedback and a healthy dose
of optimism, help to create a pleasant and fun work environment,‖ he says.

―At Charter, there are always fun activities for agents to enjoy, such as contests,
incentives and recognition programs. We use the team concept, where each
supervisor manages and is responsible for the total performance of his or her agent
team. This allows for friendly team competition and for creative concepts in building
team spirit.

―Though technology helps maintain our competitive edge, we are also proud of our
commitment to training. Training is one thing that should be continuous. We have
found that if we educate the workforce, they will enjo y their jobs more.

Every agent is invited to a meeting each week to hear the latest changes, both here
and in the cable industry. There are two trainers on staff. Each agent has one hour
per week dedicated to [continuous] training, such as product knowledge and other
customized programs.‖

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Time Warner Communications

Time Warner Communications‘ cable division operates four call centers in Florida
that serve customers throughout the Tampa Bay region in Pinellas, Hillsboro,
Polk/Pasco County and Bradenton. The two largest centers are located in Clearwater
and Tampa. The smaller centers are respectively in Sarasota and Tri County.

The Clearwater center, which serves approximately 350,000 customers, employs 82
agents who answer billing and repair calls and 26 agents who handle inbound sales.

―We have had peak volumes all year, but it is usually from January to April when the
heaviest call volume hits,‖ explains Jerri Bronson, director of customer service at the
Clearwater center, which received 1.1 million telephone calls in 1998. ―So far this
year we have received an average of 80,000 calls per month. We easily hit the million
mark for the year.‖

Customers often call the Clearwater center with questions about bills. Some contact
the center to find out why the totals on their monthly statements are different from
those from previous months. Time Warner occasionally sends out bills with
promotional inserts that prompt questions from customers about upcoming events
and services. Sometimes, Bronson observes, subscribers even call to say they have
not yet received their bills.

The call center and the marketing department work together as a team. For example,
when the company launches a new marketing campaign and sends out flyers, Time
Warner makes agents aware of the information on the flyers and instructs agents on
how to receive calls about them.

Time Warner also trains agents to handle calls related to billing questions and ad
campaigns. ―They all learn the same information,‖ says Bronson. ―As their lea rning
grows, they handle different tasks. The only separation between agents is an office
next door that houses agents dealing specifically with billing, repair and sales. There
are special published numbers that send calls directly to these agents.‖

One of the more recent and welcome additions to this center‘s list of call center
systems is workforce management software from TCS Management Group. ―I love
it,‖ says Bronson. ―We started the installation in late 1997. Before we started using
the TCS system, it was a manual process. It would take one person the better part of
three days to complete an eight-hour schedule for a couple of months. Vacations and
appointments would come up, so we needed to further manipulate the schedule. We
were only implementing three shifts — not a lot.

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―Now I have 15 or 20 different shifts. After determining the estimated call volume, the
system sets the shifts required and bases it on what the service level objective is. If
you schedule from 12 midnight one day to 12 midnight the next, you end up with lots
of shifts, but you can limit the number of shifts the system provides for you.

―The workforce management system is very important because of the nature of the
business. If we have agents ready to handle incoming calls for the customers, we are
doing our job. I know I am expected to answer 90% of calls within 30 seconds. I need
to be able to schedule based on these parameters. We are getting ready to dig more
into some of the system‘s other capabilities this year. We are now ready to use it for
budgeting and a few other things.‖

When callers dial Time Warner‘s customer service number, their calls go through an
Aspect switch. Callers hear a recording that requests their phone numbers and gives
them options. If they are calling for an account balance or pay-per-view ticket, the
switch directs them to a Syntellect IVR system. If the system does not recognize the
number the customer is calling from, it asks the customer to key in his or her home

―We are currently trying to figure out exactly what [percentage] of callers are going to
the Syntellect system,‖ says Bronson. ―After looking at 130,000 calls that hit the
system during the course of one month, we broke the numbers down to discover that
about 6,000 or 7,000 went in to find out their account balance. This means, of all the
calls into the center, approximately 17% or 18% may go into the IVR system during
one month.‖

Bronson says that the center will make greater use of computer telephony in
conjunction with predictive dialing next year. ―Right now, through our Aspect system,
we can see through the ANI display where that call is coming from. This gives the
agent a jump on the customer. But with outbound calling, the target customer is not
always picking up the phone.‖

The center currently uses one readerboard, which it ordered through Aspect, but
Bronson is ready for another. ―Agents say to me, ‗I can only see it if I stand up,‘‖ she
says. The information displayed on the readerboard includes the number of calls in
queue and the amount of time customers have been in queue. ―I always try and put
up a message that says ‗Have a Good Day,‘ or something uplifting, like ‗Stand up,
Suzy. Suzy just made a sale.‘ Then everybody cheers for her. These positive types of
messages are better, instead of always something like, ‗We have 30 calls holding.‘‖

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Bronson frequently monitors agents‘ calls herself. Every weekend Bronson dials an
agent‘s number and listens to calls as though she is in the office. ―I like to play the
mystery caller,‖ she says. ―I will call in and become a customer. I always think of
myself as a customer. So if I hear something that irritates me or is not correct, I know
that this is what the customer [hears]. I will usually talk to a few agents for 15 minutes
each, then leave them a message with feedback.

After I call those people, the word spreads throughout the office.‖ Bronson says the
center currently uses monitoring software that is provided with its switch from Aspect.
She hopes to get a standalone system that will let her listen to and record agents‘
conversations with customers.

Besides conducting regular call monitoring, Time Warner gives agents a lot of
training. New hires initially receive three weeks of training to answer repair calls.
They also visit the repair department and ride along with technicians during their
visits to customers. ―Agents need to realize that if they are not speaking with the
customer correctly about certain technical issues, it effects both the caller and the
technician,‖ says Bronson.

Time Warner‘s call center in Tampa, the second-largest of its four Tampa Bay-area
centers, has 95 agents and receives around 140,000 calls per month.
―We don‘t have workforce management software,‖ says Michelle Stewart, manager of
the Tampa center. ―We figure out schedules on a simple, PC-based calculator. We
enter in the data and it gives us the right numbers.‖ Stewart expects that Time
Warner will enable the Tampa center to use TCS‘ workforce management system
when the four Tampa Bay-area centers merge into a virtual center by next year. ―If
we could share the load, it would certainly help,‖ she says.

Although Time Warner‘s cable division conducts all its outbound activities in the
Tampa Bay area through its center in Clearwater, the Tampa center does have its
own group of inbound sales agents whom it trains to up-sell or cross-sell customers
on specialty services. The Tampa center also has a group that is trained to diagnose
technical problems with customers‘ cable service.
Calls come to the center through a switch from Nortel Networks (Richardson, TX).
―We use an IVR system right now, but will be upgrading to [an IVR system with voice
boards from] Dialogic [Parsippany, NJ],‖ says Stewart. ―When callers comes in on a
sales queue, they can choose from a menu as to whether they want to be directed to
customer service, billing, sales or the technical department.

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―We also have an upgraded version of our billing software that provides agents with a
graphical user interface. After we co llect data, we get reports that use this information
to better serve callers. We want to know what they need once they get to the agent.
An agent will key in if they need to follow up with a customer at a later date. I can get
a report telling me whether it was a service- or product-related question and what the
conversation involved.‖

The Tampa center manually monitors calls through its phone switch. ―We go through
observation mode to listen to the calls and perform silent monitoring,‖ says Stewart.
―It is manual in so far as [we record] the agent, which we do twice a month. We also
shoot to answer 90% of calls within 30 seconds.

―We have a lot of plans for the near future involving both upgraded IVR and
monitoring programs. There are a lot of technology options that this center is looking
at. We will have screen pops on agents‘ PCs by the end of the year. We are getting

―We are working towards a virtual call center,‖ adds Bronson. ―That is where we
would like to be by the year 2000. We are making the plans for it, and know we are
going to accomplish this goal. This center loves to be on the cutting edge and we are
moving in the direction that we want to go. We always keep in mind the customer‘s
needs — after all, if not for the customer, we would not be here.‖

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Superstar Satellite Entertainment

Founded in 1986, Superstar Satellite Entertainment (Tulsa, OK) is one of five
principal operating companies in the TV Guide-owned United Video Satellite Group.
Additionally, the company provides business services through its TV Guide
Enterprise Solutions division.

Superstar Satellite Entertainment‘s has one main call center in Tulsa, OK that serves
the company‘s residential customers and corporate clients, which include TCI Cable
and Time Warner Cable. Its center operates 7x24 on every day of the year. The
company operates a second center in Bluefield, WV for its cable programming
services; the company acquired this center through a merger. The two centers share
calls through one network.

To help process calls more quickly, Superstar Satellite uses Davox‘s (Westford, MA)
Unison and Unison SCALE (Seamless Call and Agent Load Equalization) call
management systems in both its satellite and cable departments. A total of 520
agents in both centers handle calls for customers who receive satellite services and a
total of 170 agents at both centers handle calls for customers who receive cable

The company uses Unison for collections, subscription renewals and notifications
about specials. ―We use Unison SCALE for customer services purposes,‖ says Greg
Schrader, senior VP of operations for Superstar‘s Satellite and Business Services.
―The system provides two main functions. It gives us inbound screen pops. A critical
part of our [use of computer telephony] is to deliver both voice and data to the
inbound agent. We [also] want to keep track of why the caller called and what the
result was. We use this disposition code for reporting.

―Within the screen pop, ANI and DNIS determine who has called us and what number
they called us on. The DNIS is used to determine which application to do the screen
pop to. In reality, the agent is logged onto multiple projects, and the DNIS value
accesses the correct application. When the system performs the screen pop, it pulls
the correct application up.‖

―We previously used another vendor‘s predictive dialer, but switched to the Unison
system in 1994,‖ adds Schrader. ―At that time, it was strictly outbound. In 1996, we
used it for screen pops. Agents now get calls thro ughout the day without having to
switch from inbound to outbound. On the inbound side, screen pops reduce phone
time, which saves money.‖

Superstar uses Unison to randomly select the agents who work on retention
campaigns, during which agents make an effort to persuade subscribers to remain
customers. Unison also randomly selects agents to work on up-selling campaigns.

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―For outbound, we have campaigns that are not the most popular to work on,‖
Schrader points out. ―We used to have to switch agents, physically, from one
campaign call list to another. The advantages now are that we can use our agents
more efficiently on multiple campaigns. If an agent is logged on to multiple
campaigns at the same time, the system randomly selects the campaign he or she
will be on. Renewal and up-sell campaigns are all done randomly, which helps us to
process campaigns. It also tracks breaks time.‖

―We have a lot of agents that are able to handle more than one project at a time,‖
agrees Tamara Hillman, call center manager. ―We have some that handle up to three
different campaigns. The system helps the outbound agents automatically swing into
inbound. We never have a large amount of agents not handling calls.

―Including our outbound contacts both here and at Bluefield, o n the satellite side it
looks like we averaged about 180,000 contacts per month — ‗contact‘ meaning we
spoke to an actual decision-maker. We have no doubt that the predictive dialer is an
essential part of the outbound process and very important [to reduci ng] our churn.

―The number–one thing we use the system for is in customer renewal processing. We
renew our satellite customers‘ subscriptions, which are offered monthly, annually and
quarterly. It is important that we put a strong effort into our outbound processes. The
system also helps us greatly in up-selling, where we try to get customers to upgrade
to a larger programming package, a service with higher revenue to us. We also try
and go back to contact some of our former subscribers and try and get them back
into our business.‖

The company has about 300 toll-free numbers that its customers can call to find out
about satellite services. These numbers are critical in keeping track of who makes
calls based on specific direct mail pieces. The center uses a Meridian switch from
Nortel Networks to bring calls into the center. The center also uses the Davox system
to route callers to certain toll-free numbers to agents.

―This is how we control what agent groups receive certain types of phone calls,‖ says
Rodney Bynum, the Unison administrator at Superstar Satellite. ―We log agents into
our training queues and only send them certain types of calls based on [a toll-free]
number, project or customer.‖

For cable customers, Superstar focuses solely on sales. ―If a customer service call
comes in, we transfer,‖ explains Bynum. ―For example, if a TCI customer calls in and
ends up at our location with a customer service issue, we transfer them back to the
TCI customer service call center.

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On the sales side, our main focus is digital cable and bundled services [including
cable, long distance and Internet services]. We are looking at telephony and video.
As it all comes together, we are looking to provide service for these offers.‖

The center uses TCS‘ workforce management software to schedule staff. A call
monitoring system from Witness Systems (Alpharetta, GA) randomly records agents‘
calls and their onscreen activities. ―We bought the Witness system this year,‖ says
Schrader. ―It is a lot more efficient than usi ng tape recorders and it makes the [quality
assurance] process run more smoothly. One of the big advantages is that we can use
it as a training tool.

―Also, we have an internally developed database application that uses information
from Davox, TCS, Witness Systems, the PBX and our subscriber management
system. This application ties all the information together to provide us with a central
database of the agent performance measurements, including coaching sessions,
quality call grading, phone and sales statistics, and schedule adherence reporting

Superstar has set up seven INOVA (Charlottesville, VA) readerboards in its main
center. Some of them display statistics only for satellite customers and some display
stats only for cable customers.

Superstar Satellite aims to answer 90% of calls from cable customers within 30
seconds and it aims to answer 90% of calls from satellite customers within 100

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Staten Island Cable

Staten Island Cable‘s (Staten Island, NY) outbound call cente r is a busy place. It
makes several hundred thousand calls per month, says Doug Fall, director of sales
and collections. The center employs 24 part-time agents who work in three different
shifts, from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm; 1:30 pm to 5:30 pm; and 6 pm to 9 pm. The center
manually creates schedules for agents.

The cable company contacts customers for a number of reasons. For example, it
places calls to customers to determine whether their cable installations were
successful, to inform them about upgrades to their cable service, to sell them on new
services and to promote pay-per-view events. ―We are currently going through an
upgrade for customers‘ converter boxes. To follow up, we call all of our customers
after the technician is there. We actually contact about 94% to 95% of the people to
make sure technicians are doing their job,‖ says Fall.

Staten Island has used several different types of predictive dialers in the past. It is
now in the process of installing a new system from TeleDirect International
(Scottsdale, AZ).

―Our main concern, when the system was installed and we had a problem, is
[whether] someone [would] be there when we call,‖ Fall says. ―Price was also a big
factor. Plus, TeleDirect International was really willing to customize our agents‘
screens. Those are really the three big factors that made things happen with us.

―With our old system, the software was not Y2K compliant. We only bought the [older]
system two years ago. The new one is. And it also lets us divvy up the assignments,
in terms of which agents make what types of calls. We can split the group up
however we want.‖

The TeleDirect system includes both a dialer and a monitoring system. ―From a home
PC or supervisor position, we can look silently and pull the agent‘s screen up to our
own screen,‖ Fall explains. ―The supervisor can write and erase over the agent‘s
screen. It is an excellent training tool. You can also send agents messages, which is
one of the best training tools with the dialer, on both our new and existing systems.

―We do not place calls through the switch. There are T-1 lines running right into the
building. There is a real significant cost involved in putting inbound lines to a
predictive dialer, due to the hardware and the interface with the phone switch.‖
Before implementing a predictive dialer, Staten Island Cable would generate reports
from its billing system.

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If customers were not in the database, the center would call them. ―It took a lot to get
that work done,‖ says Fall. ―We went from the manual environment of 64 agents
down to an automated system of 24 agents. So, slowly, we weaned our call center
down to the best agents. The dialer lets us be five times as productive with a third of
the staff. Our goal is to sell as much as possible with as much q uality assurance as
possible.‖ *

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S ome cable and direct broadcast satellite operators offer pay-per-view (PPV) TV.
Syntellect Interactive Services‘ (Atlanta, GA) Home Ticket Express PPV order
processing service helps to make order processing easier. When a customer picks
up the phone to order a PPV program, Syntellect‘s transaction center receives the
number is customer is calling from. Then, using a high-speed link, the cable or
satellite TV company instantly activates the PPV program on the caller‘s TV.

Home Ticket Express automatically confirms the program‘s title, date, start time, price
and the channel number with each customer. Customers can also set up their own
personal information numbers for extra security.

The service‘s Home Number Prompt option lets customers request PPV service at a
location that‘s different from where they usually place their orders. The prompt asks
callers to enter their home phone numbers before activating PPV service on their TV
sets at home.

Home Ticket Express‘ Single Number Ordering feature lets the cable company refer
customers to one toll-free number for all PPV ordering. After customers call the toll-
free number to request PPV service, they simply enter the channel number of the
movie or event that they wish to view.

Syntellect‘s other IVR service for PPV providers, Home Ticket , requires that a cable
or satellite company provide a list of programs and the channels on which they will
appear. But Home Ticket Express, which links Syntellect‘s IVR service directly to a
cable or satellite company‘s billing system, does not require such a list and therefore
eliminates a lot of paperwork.

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Aspect Communications




Melita International

Norstan Communications, Call Center Technology Group

Nortel Networks

PaceCom Technologies



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Syntellect Interactive Services (SIS)

TCS Management Group

Teknekron Infoswitch

TeleDirect International

Witness Systems

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Catalog Sales Services

by Lee Hollman

CallCenter Magazine 05/01/00

Mail-order catalog companies can look forward to rising profits for the next few years,
according to research from the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). The DMA
predicts that catalog sales will grow by 6.1% annually between now and the year
2004, and it expects that sales for consumer and business-to-business catalog
companies will climb to a combined total of approximately $93 billion by the end of
this year. By 2004, the DMA calculates, that total will peak at about $125 billion.

Catalog companies use call centers for more than securing sales. In its 1999 State of
The Catalog Industry Report, the DMA estimated that 87% of agents at call centers
within catalog companies handled calls involving customer service and sales in 1998.
During that same year, roughly 60% of all incoming calls were for orders, 22% of all
incoming calls were inquiries from customers and the remainder of the calls
concerned complaints or other issues. Catalog companies usually train agents to
handle more than one type of call, although some divide agents into separate teams
to answer incoming sales and customer service calls.
Most catalog companies apparently hire outsourcers. The DMA estimated that 82%
of call centers within catalog companies work with outsourcers to answer calls after
business hours, compared with 19% in 1997. The DMA will publish an updated
version of its report by October.

As catalog companies seek a skilled workforce and outsourcers for their call centers,
they create more jobs in the process. Although many of them also sell products and
provide customer service from the Internet, it's unlikely they will ever eliminate their
call centers. Each company we feature in this article has a Web site, but each Web
site displays a toll-free number that you can call to speak with an agent. Customers
still appreciate live service, particularly if they need to ask questions or register
complaints. Here's how some catalog companies are adapting their call centers to
assist on-line customers.

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Hammacher Schlemmer

Hammacher Schlemmer, based in Chicago, IL, is one of the oldest and largest mail-
order gift companies. The company includes numerous high-tech novelty items in its
catalog, yet it only recently decided to replace the dumb terminals at its call center in
Fairfield, OH with PCs. John Pennebaker, the call center operations manager at
Hammacher Schlemmer, says that the company intends to stock the center with
Pentium PCs within the next two months.

―Our terminals are connected to an HP 3000 mainframe through a straight two-wire
connection. We don't have a local area network in place,‖ says Pennebaker. He adds
that besides himself, only supervisors, the order processing staff and the six agents
who respond to customers' e-mail messages have PCs with

Internet access. Pennebaker explains that Hammacher Schlemmer didn't decide to
install PCs sooner because of the expense and effort involved. ―We'll need to re-wire
our entire facility to [accommodate] PCs. There's [also] not a rush to upgrade to them
because the current setup works adequately,‖ he says.

Growth in on-line commerce also contributed to Hammacher Schlemmer's decision to
upgrade its call center. The company is planning to use eGain Communications'
(Sunnyvale, CA) Email Management System so that agents can answer e -mail
inquiries from home. Pennebaker does point out that the number of e-mail messages
the company receives is currently low enough that it doesn't have to use e-mail
management software. Hammacher Schlemmer's call center currently receives an
average of 80 e-mail messages a day and can receive as many as 250 to 270 e-mail
messages between October to December, when customers take care of most of their
holiday shopping.

The center also receives an estimated 9,000 phone calls each week, but that figure
skyrockets during the company's peak season. In 1999, the center received 21,000
calls per week in October, 45,000 calls per week in November and 70,000 calls per
week in December. The call center usually employs 70 agents, 60% of whom work
full time. Hammacher Schlemmer hires temporary employees during its peak season,
when it has a total of 250 agents. To create schedules for agents, the company
purchased Blue Pumpkin's (Sunnyvale, CA) PrimeTime workforce management
software last April.

PrimeTime helps Hammacher Schlemmer maximize agents' efficiency by forecasting
call volumes and scheduling enough agents to work during the busiest hours. ―By
July 1999, the amount of time agents spent on the phone with customers went up
7%, while the time they spent waiting to make a call dropped by 5%,‖ says
Pennebaker. He explains that before the company purchased PrimeTime,
supervisors simply logged agents' hours on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.

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In addition to handling incoming calls, supervisors and agents at Hammacher
Schlemmer's call center also help with shipping products. The center is attached to
the company's warehouse, which agents frequently visit to ensure that customers
receive the items they request. ―Sometimes to help customers, [agents] walk out to
the warehouse, pull items off of the shelf, and have them packed, labeled and mailed
off,‖ says Pennebaker.

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Eddie Bauer

Eddie Bauer offers an extensive product line that includes men's and women's
clothing and shoes, luggage, furniture, linens and other home products. The
company operated a call center near its head office in Redmond, WA before
relocating the center to Bothell, WA in 1998. ―Before that, we leased another building
and remodeled the office space,‖ says Susan Knight, Eddie Bauer's VP of customer
satisfaction. ―As we grew and needed a larger space, we decided to build a facility to
accommodate our call center.‖

The new facility is a more comfortable working environment for agents and enables
managers to view everything that happens within the call center. ―What agents like
best [about the new building] are the high ceilings, better ventilation and the amount
of natural light,‖ says Knight. ―We have windows all around the building, with agents
seated next to the windows.‖ Knight explains that the new facility helps her train
agents more effectively. ―It wasn't possible to put everybody together in the old
building due to the physical limitations,‖ she recalls. ―So we had one group of agents
fulfilling orders and another group handling customer service calls. We tried to cross -
train agents, but [it was difficult] because they were physically separated.‖ Now that
all agents share the same space, cross-training is standard practice at Eddie Bauer's
call center.

Eddie Bauer also needed a larger space for its call center to hire more agents.
Although 900 agents currently work at the center during most of the year, the
company employs as many as 1,300 agents between late November and December.
The cataloger relies on temporary agents to answer calls during the holiday rush, and
the company encourages agents who perform well to become part of the center's
regular staff.

―When we hire agents, we want them to stay with us,‖ says Knight. ―We have enough
business to keep them. We'd like to see every agent achieve regular-employee
status within 60 days so that they're eligible for all benefits,‖ says Knight.

Agents work in teams of between 30 and 40 people. Supervisors use the reporting
feature of Aspect Communications' (San Jose, CA) SeriesFour workforce
management software and reporting software that comes with the center's Aspect
phone switch to gather statistics like average call handling times and up -sell figures
for each agent. The supervisors also work one on one with new hires by sitting next
to them during the first day on the job. Besides offering guidance, they also discuss
the outcomes of calls with the new hires.

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After Eddie Bauer set up its new call center, the company began using Servicesoft
Technologies' (Natick, MA) eCenter in October 1999. Knight explains that the
software enables customers to look up information about Eddie Bauer from the
company's Web site. Customers type in questions about the company's services or
products on the ―Ask Eddie‖ Web page and can view a list of links to possible

Servicesoft's eCenter also enables Eddie Bauer to manage customers' e-mail
messages and to direct live text messages to agents. eCenter generates reports
about the topic of every e-mail message over a period of days or weeks so that
supervisors know how many of them address a specific issue. ―We can then address
why they're sending e-mails and make the knowledge base more robust to eliminate
the need for sending that particular e-mail message,‖ says Knight. Eddie Bauer
added the live text messaging feature to its Web site in November 1999, offering
customers another way to contact agents just in time for last year's holiday rush.

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Newport News

Eddie Bauer is one of three catalog companies that are part of The Spiegel Group,
which also includes Spiegel Catalog and Newport News. Spiegel Catalog sells a
range of products that includes women's apparel, home furnishings and consumer
electronics. Newport News mostly sells casual women's clothing. The call centers for
all three companies handle each other's phone calls if all of the agents at a particular
center are busy. At each center, some of the more experienced agents receive cross-
training to take orders and answer customers' questions on behalf of the company
they work for directly and for at least one other company within The Spiegel Group.

The Newport News call center employs 800 agents; 235 of them work full-time and
the others work part-time shifts. Out of the total number of agents, 55% of them also
help customers of Eddie Bauer or Spiegel Catalog in addition to customers of
Newport News. The center relies on a Spectrum phone switch from Rockwell
Electronic Commerce (Wood Dale, IL).

The Spiegel Group operates a call traffic command center facility in Trevose, PA
where a server runs Cisco Systems' (San Jose, CA) Intelligent Contact Management,
which is software that routes calls among multiple sites. This server connects to a PC
at each call center and it monitors call activity from each ACD. The server constantly
checks to see which center is the least busy and routes calls to the center with the
most available agents. Intelligent Contact Management enables all of The Spiegel
Group's companies to help each other during their separate peak seasons.

―[Newport News has] a strong call volume in spring and Eddie Bauer has a strong call
volume in the fall,‖ says Tim Jaspers, call center director for Newport News. ―So
Eddie Bauer helps us answer calls during our peak season, and [Newport News]
helps them during theirs. We don't have to do as much seasonal hiring, and that
helps us retain our current employees and promote them,‖ he says.

To determine schedules for all 800 agents, Jaspers uses Aspect SeriesFour to
assess his staffing needs. He plans to upgrade to SeriesFive before the end of the
year. Like Eddie Bauer and Spiegel Catalog, Newport News also recently purchased
Servicesoft's eCenter for its call center. Newport News uses eCenter to offer an on-
line knowledge base to customers and to route customers' e-mail messages to

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Based in Southborough, MA, sells vitamins, nutritional
supplements, exercise equipment and other fitness products through its Web site.
The company mails 750 print catalogues to customers each day. The company
receives 1,000 e-mail messages and between 75 and 100 phone calls daily.
Customers who visit the Web site often call the center to speak to an agent directly,
disproving the myth that Web-based shopping and customer service could render call
centers obsolete. ―The Web site is driving all of the calls to our call center,‖ says Nick
Chunias, CEO of ―In addition to sales, we get a significant
number of qualified leads. So we still recognize a need to offer live customer support.
I don't see us backing down from that approach. We'll continue to offer the [print]
catalog and to extend our call center if necessary to meet customer demand.‖

Chunias recalls how quickly expanded its call center shortly after
he founded the company in January 1998. ―We put the center in place as of
September 1999 and moved to a 7,000-square-foot office and warehouse that we
designed and built for our particular purposes,‖ he says. ―Before that, we only had
two agents and two phone lines. We were working out of my basement as a true dot
com company with very humble beginnings.‖ He explains that many customers
insisted on speaking with agents early on, motivating his decision to improve's call center.

The four agents at the call center work closely with each other and with the rest of the
staff at, and even with Chunias. ―We're all in the same space,
with the agents in a cluster working together,‖ Chunias says. ―If one agent isn't an
expert on a particular product, they have two or three people they can call on to ask
questions.‖ The center is open on weekdays from 7 am to 7 pm, but agents and other
employees of typically answer calls as late as 10 pm. Chunias
plans to hire four more full-time agents before the end of the year and to eventually
provide 24-hour service from the center.

In addition to hiring more agents, Chunias needed to find the right hardware for's call center. ―As a small start-up, our biggest challenge was
selecting a phone system that would handle our volume and projected future
volumes, but was still cost-effective,‖ he says. After researching options from several
vendors, he purchased Comdial's (Charlottesville, VA) DSUII phone system to route
incoming calls.

―What I love the best is that fact that when customers call, they reach someone within
two rings,‖ says Chunias. ―That's the primary reason I made the investment in the
phone system. Previously, they'd get kicked to a voice mailbox or an answering
service.‖ Agents at now answer 98% of all calls by the third ring.

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Chunias plans on making more improvements to the company's call center, and, at
press time, he was in the process of trying to find an outsourcer to help out with
taking calls until he could hire enough agents to provide 24-hour service.

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Archie McPhee's

Archie McPhee, a novelty company, sells merchandise such as cookie jars shaped
like Sumo wrestlers, chairs shaped like catchers' mitts and complete collections of
Star Wars Pez dispensers. The company sells these and other items from its main
office in Mukilteo, WA and from a retail store in Seattle, WA.

Archie McPhee's call center comprises four agents who answer between 100 and
150 calls every day. Call volumes double from November 15 to December 15 as the
holiday season approaches. But the company reduced the size of its call center after
launching its Web site in August 1996 and now handles most of its business through
the Internet. The company has managed to reduce the size of its call center without
sacrificing any of its efficiency. ―Before we had the Web site, we used to have seven
full-time agents,‖ says David Wahl, the Web and catalog manager at Archie McPhee.
―That was in 1997. We've been diminishing our call center ever since.‖

Wahl explains that although customers still call the company, agents don't sell many
products over the phone. As more customers browse the Web site, they request
fewer catalogs. With fewer catalog requests to fill out, agents have more time to
focus on services like handling returns or complaints. ―Right now, 70% of our orders
come in through the Internet,‖ says Wahl. ―Most of the calls that we get aren't actually
orders. They're customer service calls asking about the Web page or about items for
sale on the Web page.‖

In addition to orders by e-mail, the center receives between 30 and 50 e-mail
inquiries each day. Agents at the call center, including Wahl, respond to them
directly. ―E-mail messages are easier to manage than phone calls because you have
time to research your responses,‖ he says. ―For instance, you can walk out to the
warehouse to check out a product without having to put the customer on hold.‖ Wahl
insists that agents respond to customers' e-mail messages within no more than an
hour if customers send messages on weekdays. Agents answer e -mail messages
that customers send on weekends by the following Monday.

Yet Wahl doesn't believe that Archie McPhee's Web site will completely eliminate the
catalog company's need for a call center. ―It really makes people more confident in a
[Web-based] business if they can actually contact the company,‖ he says. Wahl and
his colleagues still frequently answer customers' questions and sometimes provide
them with some information that the Web site doesn't include. For example, agents
can direct customers to other companies if they are unable to find the product they're
looking for in Archie McPhee's catalog.

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―If we don't have a tub of plastic teeth, we might know someone who does. Our
customers remember us for making the referral,‖ says Wahl.

Wahl adds that the Web site enables Archie McPhee to rely less on mail-order
catalogs for making sales. ―It costs a lot of money to send catalogs, and the overhead
[for the Web site] is a lot less,‖ he points out. ―In 1999, we mailed out less than one
third of the catalogs than we did in 1998. We'll mail out less this year.‖

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Wearguard manufactures a wide variety of clothing that includes boots and jackets
for construction workers, as well as business casual wear for executives. The
company's headquarters in Norwell, MA contains a call center with between 50 and
60 agents who work within separate teams but handle calls together in the same
room. Christina Shortall, an operations manager at Wearguard, explains that each
team works toward a specific goal each month, such as meeting sales quotas.

―Agents actually form teams on their own and decide on a team leader,‖ says
Shortall. ―Teams aren't based on function but [consist of] groups of people who work
well together. We may have ten teams with five folks in each team, all working
together to take calls.‖

Shortall explains that the center's team structure creates a positive work
environment. ―They work well when there's a little competition involved,‖ she says,
adding that individual agents or agents within a team who meet or exceed service
goals receive rewards such as free lunches or clothing.

―Performance goals include ad-sell conversion, [which is their] ability to add items
onto customer orders and advertised specials not available in the catalog,‖ says
Shortall. Other quantitative criteria for evaluating agents' performance include
average handle times. To monitor calls, Wearguard uses CSI-Data

Collection Resources' (East Hartford, CT) Agent Monitoring System, which is
software that schedules recordings of agents' calls and stores the recordings as .wav
files on servers or on supervisors' PCs.

The company also upgraded to the Windows-based version of Pipkins' (St. Louis,
MO) Maxima Advantage from the DOS-based version in May 1998. Maxima
Advantage enables Shortall to predict call volumes and ha ndle staffing needs. She
says that the software particularly helps her when sales peak between October and
December. During that time, Wearguard hires temporary agents and employs a total
of more than 100 agents. The company directly screens and hires agents to work
during its busiest season, and it's not uncommon for some of them to join the
permanent staff if they perform well.

Call volumes are lower during the summer, and in keeping with the center's team
spirit, agents help out other parts of the compa ny during this period. ―We assist the
returns department with taking returns in, and we help the credit and accounts
receivable departments collect payments for orders,‖ says Shortall. The company
also gives working mothers the option of taking summers off and lets them resume
their jobs in September when call volumes climb again.

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Vermont Teddy Bear

The Vermont Teddy Bear Company is famous for its Bear-Grams, packages that
include teddy bears, customized greeting cards and candy. The company's call
center at its Shelburne, VT factory and headquarters takes orders and answers
customers' questions. There are 25 full-time agents at the center who receive an
average of between 2,000 and 3,000 phone calls each day.

The average daily call volumes swing dramatically upward just before Christmas,
Mother's Day and especially Valentine's Day, the holidays around which The
Vermont Teddy Bear Company puts out its catalogs. This year, for example, The
Vermont Teddy Bear Company received 17,500 orders in only one day during the
week of Valentine's Day. It received 36,000 calls during that same day.

To handle call volumes during all three peak periods, the company works with
temporary agents and outsourcers. ―We can have up to 125 agents in our building
and rely on outsourcers to handle the rest of our call volume,‖ says Chris Powell, the
call center manager for The Vermont Teddy Bear Company. In 1997, the company
first decided to work with LiveBridge, a service bureau based in Portland, OR. It also
recently hired Canicom, a service bureau based in Denver, CO, to provide additional

Agents at the center usually work from 7 am to 11 pm on weekdays and 8 am to 5
pm on weekends, but the center is open for 24 hours a day during the week of
Valentine's Day. Most of the agents handle sales calls, but Powell also maintains a
customer service team of five agents who have special training to handle customer
service issues. The Vermont Teddy Bear Company refers customers to two toll-free
numbers so that they can reach agents in either of the two teams. The two teams
work in separate rooms across the hall from one another. All agents also help out
other areas of the company if the need arises.

―Team managers determine [how many agents] can help other departments,‖ says
Powell, who also acknowledges that agents sometimes have to respond to
emergency situations. ―[If] all packages need to leave this facility, [agents might
receive] an ad-hoc announcement that we have 7,000 packages to get out tonight,
and that everyone must please go to the shipping floor,‖ he says. Likewise,
employees from other departments help answer calls. On a particularly busy day,
Powell relies on people from the company's marketing, administration, design and
accounting departments to help answer calls.

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Agents have answered customers' on-line requests since The Vermont Teddy Bear
Company introduced its Web site in 1997. The rise in the number of on-line orders is
already having an impact on call volumes. ―We've already seen some reduction [in
call volume]. Internet traffic went from 1% of our orders three years ago to as much
as 30% now,‖ says Powell. ―Just because an order comes in from the Internet doesn't
completely reduce the phone calls. We may get inquiry calls for the same order. Our
call volumes haven't dropped at the same level that the Internet orders have come

The company generates most of its sales from radio ads and it plans to increase the
response to its print catalogs. ―About 10% of our sales are catalog-based,‖ says
Powell. ―But the return on our catalog has been getting better over the last few

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Stash Tea

Stash Tea sells teas, tea accessories and baked goods from its head office in Tigard,
OR. The company operates a small and efficient call center from this office, which
has four agents who answer an average of 100 phone calls each day. Agents at the
center take orders for merchandise and handle all customer service issues from 8 am
to 5 pm Pacific Time.

Agents at the call center also share duties other than answering calls. Michelle Mann,
customer services manager at Stash Tea, says that agents handle at least one extra
task each week in addition to speaking with customers. They update reports detailing
the company's inventory, keep records of the dates when orders ship, fulfill credit
card orders and respond to customers' e-mail messages.
Agents rotate these tasks at the beginning of every week so that they can take turns
performing each task.

To enter data for customers' orders and to see what merchandise is in stock, agents
work with dumb terminals connected to a mainframe. They keep track of on-line
orders and queries from two PCs within walking distance of their cubicles. ―Our
Internet sales have been averaging a 200% increase every month for the last two
years,‖ says Mann. ―We get the agents on the Internet, let them see what our Web
site is like, and we go over the basics of responding to e-mail so that they always
sound positive and helpful.‖ The center receives as many as 400 e-mail orders each
day between September and January.

Mann adds that during that same timeframe, the call center receives as many as 125
calls each day and that agents take 9,000 orders each month. To accommodate the
rise in call volumes, Mann hires four additional temporary agents to work during
Stash Tea's peak season. The company also works with Advantage Line, an
outsourcer based in Williston, ND, to handle calls after business hours. Mann
estimates that Advantage Line receives 50 calls on weeknights and 100 calls on

Although Stash Tea's call center does rely on outside assistance with handling call
volumes, Mann says that managing a smaller center has its advantages. Because
she can focus on each agent individually, all agents undergo rigorous training and
learn a lot more than basic customer service skills. ―The formal training before agents
answer calls is two to three weeks long,‖ says Mann. In addition to learning how to
find information about Stash Tea's products and how to fulfill customers' orders,
agents participate in seminars where they learn the history of tea, the history of the
company and about the flavors of the teas that Stash Tea offers.

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Mann proudly adds that the call center applies the same personalized approach to
customer service that it does to training agents. She hasn't hesitated in the past to
speak to customers directly and recalls one incident after Stash Tea relocated to a
larger office in December 1999. ―When we moved, the phone company decided we
didn't need our lines up right away,‖ says Mann. ―We were down five days and had
lots of upset customers, so I spoke to a lot of people directly.‖ She personally made
sure each customer received credit toward merchandise to compensate for the

Future Trends For Catalog Call Centers

Catalog companies that sell products from Web sites still need to depend on agents
for situations like complaints and returns, given that customers who want immediate
assistance don't always have the patience to consult lists of answers to questions on
a Web site or send e-mail messages. Catalog firms also need call centers to help
customers who don't have access to the Internet.
For most customers, the most convenient way to place orders or ask questions is to
pick up the phone. That's why most catalog companies can't afford to diminish their
call centers. Many of them will at least keep their centers at their current sizes or will
expand them within the next few years. Since catalog companies need to
communicate effectively with as many customers as possible, they recognize that call
centers are vital to their continued success.

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Few call centers, particularly outsourcers, market their training expertise. Few
training firms have call centers. Here‘s how Centralized Marketing Company (CMC)
combines both facets to enhance the synergy between its outsourcing and training

by Brendan B. Read

CallCenter, 12/01/99

When Amtrak, the nation‘s government-owned rail passenger company, needed a
training firm to turn aroundits call centers, it turned to Centralized Marketing
Company (CMC) . CMC‘s trainers overcame a strong ―this is the way we always did
it‖ mentality to make Amtrak‘s call centers perform more efficiently. In only one year,
from 1996 to 1997, CMC‘s methods, which emphasize and measure how each agent
can contribute more to the bottom line, helped Amtrak‘s call centers increase their
sales per hour by 35% and their revenues by 15%.

In her office at CMC‘s headquarters in Cordova, TN, a suburb of Memphis, president
and founder Teresa Hartsaw proudly displays a model of an F9 diesel locomotive as
a memento of CMC‘s partnership with Amtrak.

―Amtrak sent out a request for proposals in 1996 to training companies,‖ says
Hartsaw. ―The carrier selected us because we were the only training firm that had call
center experience. There were a lot of training firms that had not had the reality of
running a call center, as we do.‖

CMC‘s training improved the performance of Amtrak‘s call center and led Call Center
Magazine , in its January 1999 issue, to honor Amtrak among the winners of its Call
Center of the Year award.

This experience — how CMC came by it, and how both its training and call center
services interact and develop each other in refining and improving performance —
exemplifies what makes the firm unique among training and outsourcing companies.

Hartsaw, a former FedEx marketing director, founded CMC in 1988 as a marketing
firm. Her business partner was Jay Walker, who, after he was later bought out, went
on to found At the time Hartsaw and Walker started CMC, the
outsourcer was located in Memphis, TN, the same city where FedEx, its first client,
was headquartered.

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For FedEx, CMC successfully sold the mail order catalog companies on offering
overnight delivery as an option to their customers. Although this practice is now old
hat 11 years after its introduction, catalogers‘ use of next-day delivery was
considered revolutionary at the time.

In addition to devising and implementing marketing campaigns, CMC soon found
itself training and motivating agents at catalog companies to sell FedEx‘s premium
service. CMC later expanded its services to include training and, eventually,

―When we approached the catalog companies we had management buy-in,‖ recalls
Hartsaw. ―They understood that if they wanted to compete with retail that they should
offer quick delivery. Instead, the biggest challenge came from their call center agents.
The agents were unconsciously undoing the effort management was putting in.

―They perceived that their customers wanted to save money when in reality their
customers wanted speed and convenience from fast delivery. We then had to
educate the agents, showing them how offering and selling the service would
increase their sales and their performance.‖

As a result of this training, CMC engineered a new $400 million revenue stream for
FedEx. Catalogers began to double or, in many cases, quadruple the number of
FedEx packages they shipped. The catalogers themselves won new revenue
because most of these FedEx orders were incremental purchases that customers
otherwise would have made at retail stores.

This experience and bottom-line training approach opened the door to many new
clients for the firm. But clients also had other needs. The company‘s business-to-
business clients were complaining that they could not find outsourcers who could
deliver quality leads. Without good leads, these sales teams spent more time than
they desired on qualifying leads and less time on selling and closing leads. The lack
of good leads made these companies less efficient and it increased their costs per
call. CMC‘s response to its clients‘ concerns was to create its own call center.

―We went looking for qualified performance -oriented outsourcers, but the ones we
found were marketing themselves on cost per call rather than profit per call,‖ says
Hartsaw. ―They did not focus on the end results of these calls. So we decided to do it

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CMC opened a 50-seat center at its old Memphis area location in 1993. It moved to
larger quarters in Cordova, TN in 1994, where it gradually expanded its center to 200
seats on two floors. Besides answering calls for CMC‘s clients, agents make calls to
consumers and businesses to pre-qualify and sell clients‘ products and services to

The outsourcer plans to continue growing in size; it will soon have a total of 300
seats. CMC also plans to increase the number of services it offers. Beginning in
January 2000, CMC will offer staff to respond to e-mail messages, answer live text
messages and push Web pages to its clients‘ on-line customers.

CMC‘s clients primarily include financial services firms that serve consumers and
businesses. The outsourcer bases its fees on agents‘ performance and it usually
requires about four months to effectively train agents and institute performance
measurements. That‘s one reason CMC prefers contracts that last at least two years.

―We‘re seeking true, effective partnerships with companies,‖ explains Hartsaw. ―Our
goal is to become part of your sales program.‖

CMC assists clients with list analysis and list management, and it coordinates its
activities with its clients‘ in-house sales forces. By doing so, the outsourcer identifies
high-quality leads and prospects to generate the level of performance it negotiates
with each client.

CMC assigns dedicated agents to each of its clients and trains them so that they
become part of the front line that communicates with clients‘ customers and
prospects. To ensure the outsourcing relationship is transparent to the customers
they deal with, agents at CMC refer to themselves as the clients‘ employees. They
also wear clients‘ T-shirts and sit in dedicated bays that display the clients‘ logos and

On occasion, agents visit clients to learn more about them. Hartsaw cites a recent
example where CMC sent agents to a client‘s Memphis branch to observe how the
branch operated and to gain a better understanding of how the client would benefit
from CMC‘s services.

CMC‘s work has paid off for its outsourcing clients. To cite one example, agents at
CMC generated more than a million leads for a mortgage services client in the past
four years. These leads produced over $4 billion in loans.

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With regard to training, CMC offers three -day workshops on coaching and managing
agents at its center and, occasionally, at its clients‘ sites. It also markets on-line and
video training tools. The company has trained agents at over 500 call centers,
including those at Amtrak‘s center and at centers run by other outsourcers. All told,
CMC has generated more than $20 million from its outsourcing and training services.

―We began as a $10 million dollar training company and since opening our call
center, we‘ve doubled our annual revenue,‖ says Hartsaw. ―Our call center clients
enjoy a level of training not available with most other outsourcers because it‘s
virtually unaffordable for a standalone center to make that type of investment in
ongoing training and development.‖
CMC‘s Performance Maximization Model

At the heart of CMC‘s outsourcing and training services is its Performance
Maximization (PM) model. PM is a comprehensive, step-by-step, standards-based
approach. It relates measurements of performance and management to the bottom

At its call center, CMC deploys PM in three phases: implementation, optimization and
maximization. CMC defines each step based on the performance improvement goals
it sets for each client.

The implementation phase usually takes four to six weeks, depending on the scope
of the program. CMC performs initial list analysis and tweaks operational
requirements based on each contract. The firm recruits agents according to profiles
designed for each program. These profiles reflect the needs of specific clients and
refer to skills and practices that enabled similar projects to be successful. It is during
this phase that CMC expects its clients to improve leads per hour and conversion
rates to an agreed-upon standard.

CMC implements certification and re-certification programs to keep agents‘ skills up
to the standards their jobs require, which, in turn, ensures clients meet their PM
goals. Agents at CMC interview and qualify to work with clients whose needs match
their skills and experience.

―When we partner with a new client, we usually have several agents on staff who
want to apply for and contribute to the implementation process,‖ explains Sara
Hansen, VP, Performance Maximization. ―They ramp up the new program. Based on
that we tweak the hiring profile. We then hire new agents from the outside to backfill
the program.‖

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CMC puts together a customized foundation sales training curriculum that agents go
through before they take and make calls; the company does not charge clients for
setting up this curriculum. The company sets aside a room with video training tools,
on-line training tools and phones from which agents answer and make simulated
calls. Agents neither make nor take live calls during their training.

Unlike in many other call centers, where training occurs in some distant corner or
basement, CMC locates its training room on the same floor as one of its call center‘s
floors. The training room is separated from the call center only by a glass wall. The
phones and computers in the training room are identical to those tha t agents use.

Agents who successfully finish the foundation training move into CMC‘s Academy
Bay, a special section of the call center floor. Here there is a ratio of three agents to
every manager; agents receive close supervision as they take and make calls.
Agents who meet CMC‘s standards move from Academy Bay to handle live calls
from the main floor.

Hansen explains that the open training environment reinforces the fact that training at
CMC is continuous and a part of the firm‘s culture. It also fosters mentoring between
experienced and new agents.

―This also ensures a smoother transition from training to live production,‖ says

After completing the implementation phase, CMC embarks on the optimization
phase. In this two- to four-month process, the outsourcer and the client refine the
program. A key part of it is a performance gap analysis, which includes as
operational performance assessment, list analysis and sales analysis.

After the optimization phase, the company and client begin the maximization phase,
during which they find ways to expand the program, such as broadening a client‘s
market, adding new products and services the client can sell or developing and
implementing new marketing approaches. CMC continuously uses its performance
maximization tools to fine-tune the program and adjust it in line with market
conditions, product line enhancements, marketing refinements and competitive

CMC monitors agents both directly and remotely to ensure that they meet and remain
at performance levels. CMC has developed software to grade, evaluate and track
agents‘ performance. The software also identifies trends and, after supervisors speak
to agents about their evaluations, records outcomes. CMC also periodically re-
certifies agents, as defined in each contract with a client.

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CMC conducts lead audits to evaluate calls accurately and ensure agents continually
do quality work. During lead audits, CMC matches print leads with recordings of
conversations between agents and customers who are following up on print leads.
The company also sets up focus groups with clients‘ marketing managers and sales
executives to review the leads it receives. It often conducts customer satisfaction
surveys to find out what customers think of the sales process.

―The agents like the assessment system because this way they see their
performance, which is evaluated objectively and fairly,‖ says Hansen. ―Their pay is
partly based on their performance and they want to improve it.‖

For call centers, CMC offers three training programs that it respectively customizes
for managers, coaches and agents. CMC‘s Managing for Performance Maximization
program teaches clients how to conduct performance assessments. It also shows
them how to evaluate their call centers‘ standards and expectations; agents‘ and
supervisors‘ skills and knowledge; incentives for agents; and their centers‘
measurement and feedback systems.

The program teaches clients how to establish performance development plans.
CMC‘s Performance Assessment Model identifies strengths and weaknesses in
clients‘ performance and its Performance Maximization Model serves as a guide to
help clients develop organizational improvement plans.

The company‘s Coaching for Performance Maximization program educates
supervisors and coaches about how to improve the way they communicate and
observe agents‘ skills. It also shows clients how to analyze the performance of
individual agents and teams of agents to determine whether performance gaps exist
within their call centers. The program advises clients about methods they can use to
improve agents‘ performance levels, ensure these levels remain high and hold
agents accountable for their work.

CMC‘s coaching tools comprise the Performance Gap Analysis Model , which
identifies performance problems and suggests corrective action; the Performance
Development Planner , which guides supervisors in coaching agents; and the
Performance Development System , which organizes supervisors‘ plans of action to
ensure follow-up.

For agents, CMC‘s Performance Maximization Training for Reps helps them improve
their listening skills and it shows them how to politely and effectively take control of
calls, including those from irate customers. It also teaches them how to refer to the
features and benefits of a product or service for cross-selling and up-selling

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CMC assists trainers, too. In addition to training workshops, the firm sells products
that include outlines for facilitators and videos that feature the troupe Genie and the
Phone Phanatics.

There has been strong synergy in developing performance maximization between
CMC‘s training and outsourced services. Before the company owned a call center,
CMC‘s training focused exclusively on sales skills. The company soon rea lized that
its training had to demonstrate to agents and front-line management that there need
not be a trade-off, for example, between average handle time and sales.

After it opened its center, CMC revised its curriculum to reflect clients‘ business
objectives and it incorporated productivity and quality into its training programs. The
company introduced a new curriculum in 1997 after several months of developing,
testing and refining its new courses.

The company‘s training services now educate agents about how to sell features and
benefits, in addition to showing them how to handle calls. The firm also offers
courses for supervisors and managers.

―We found there was little of management‘s objectives getting down to the agent
level,‖ explains Hansen. ―While they were implied, there was nothing concrete. Also
we found that what made a good agent did not necessarily translate into a good
supervisor. Supervisors must have the ability to translate management‘s goals to the
agent level.‖

The modified training program had a significant impact on CMC‘s clients. Before
CMC implemented the PM approach with one of its clients, a sub-prime lender, the
client‘s telemarketing division represented less than 1% of its overall marketing
strategy. After CMC‘s training, the telemarketing division represented more than 50%
of the lender‘s marketing strategy, and, more importantly, the lender improved the
percentage of leads it closed by 12%.

With its call center, CMC now receives real-time measurements about the effects of
training. If its clients don‘t perform at the level they wish, CMC is able to make
enhancements to the training program that have an immediate impact.
The changes to CMC‘s training program are continuous. To handle the needs of busy
call centers, CMC introduced Web-based training this year so that agents can
reinforce skills they already learned in classrooms in an independent, self-paced

―We wanted to create a tool that would enable training clients to follow up and certify
agents and apply their new skills in as real-life an environment as possible,‖ says

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Like its training and outsourced services, the physical setup of CMC‘s call center
reflects the outsourcer‘s high standards. Agents and team leaders sit in perimeter
workstation pods with well-padded dividers. Managers sit within a raised four-turret
tower located in the center of the floor. Light streams in through trees in the
surrounding parking lots.

―With a centralized control center the operations managers have visual contact with
the floor supervisor and vice versa,‖ explains Hansen. ―By locating the workstations
on the perimeter of the center, agents benefit from the natural light and the feel of a
more open, comfortable workplace.‖

CMC routes calls through a Spectrum ACD from Rockwell Electronic Commerce
(Wood Dale, IL) and it uses Genesys‘ (San Francisco, CA) computer telephony and
predictive dialing software. When CMC launches e-mail response services next year,
it will route messages using Genesys‘ software.

The company maintains multiple backups for servers that run computer telephony
and predictive dialing software. CMC‘s clients can have access to information within
the data warehouse within five minutes. They can also listen in on calls.

―We have IVR capability, but our clients prefer live agents,‖ explains VP, Information
Services Rich Thompson.

CMC‘s experience in call centers has prepared the company for its next big
challenge, training agents to interact with customers on the phone and on-line. The
company is developing an Internet training program for an unnamed client that will
start in January 2000. For this client, CMC will develop agents‘ skills in
communicating with customers by e-mail, by live chat and by pushing Web pages to
customers. CMC and the client will refine the training and the service throughout next

When asked when CMC‘s training experience with this client will become solid
enough to offer similar services to other call centers, general manager Mike Weinnig
isn‘t ready to give a firm date. ―About six months after the launch, we‘ll get a good
feel on how this actually works,‖ he says.

CMC is also automating the way it monitors agents and receives customers‘
feedback. It is implementing Teknekron Infoswitch‘s (Ft. Worth, TX) AutoSurvey
system, which initiates an automated survey before the end of a lead qualification
call. Customers respond to a series of recorded questions using their touchtone
phones. CMC will also install Teknekron‘s P&Q Review call evaluation software to
monitor agents‘ calls and capture their screens.

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―Without using the Teknekron P&Q system to link a call recording with call evaluation
and desktop data, reviewing lead data was very manual and laborious, especially to
correlate an individual lead with an appropriate recorded call,‖ explains Hansen.
―Also, before AutoSurvey came along, the time lag between the call with the
customer and the survey meant that we were getting information on a delayed basis
— and people‘s memory slips. This meant we weren‘t getti ng timely and accurate
enough information.‖

As with many call centers in these boom times, the firm also faces the challenge of
retaining agents. Yet unlike many companies, CMC‘s turnover is not uniform. The
outsourcer employs a high number of agents with at least a year‘s experience. Thirty-
eight percent of agents at CMC have worked for the outsourcer for at least a year
and a quarter of the agents have worked at CMC for at least two years.

One way that CMC intends to hold on to agents is by implementing CareerMax , a
five-level career path. Agents who pass CMC‘s certification earn between $7.50 and
$8.50 an hour. They can progress as high as $11.50 an hour, plus performance
bonuses. The exact wage depends on each program‘s complexity.

If agents decide to pursue the supervisory route, CMC has nailed together a four -
rung performance specialist career ladder. For three of the rungs — team leader,
coach and trainer — performance specialists must spend half their time on the phone
to maintain proficiency. The top rung prepares these specialists to become
supervisors. Performance specialists earn $11 an hour to $13.50 an hour, plus
performance bonuses. Front-line managers and supervisors earn between $25,000 a
year and $45,000 a year base salaries. As with agents, managers‘ and supervisors‘
salaries are commensurate with the complexity of their jobs.

―We‘re competing with retailers and other customer service and sales firms for the
same people,‖ explains Hartsaw. ―CareerMax is designed to attract and keep higher
quality agents from the get-go. Unlike retailers and other types of businesses, we
offer a career and professional track that will help us bring in highly-qualified people.‖

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by Jennifer O'Herron

CallCenter Magazine, 04/01/00

Utilities across the US are facing competition as a result of deregulation. Now, more
than ever, call centers within utilities need to provide top-of-the-line service to meet
customers' expectations. In addition to offering better customer service, utilities are
experiencing an increase in demand for assistance from their Web sites. Customers
are turning to e-mail and to Web sites in search of information and service.

Many of the call centers we spoke with are enhancing their programs and either
provide electronic bill presentation and payment or plan to within the near future.
Energy companies are beginning to realize that they need new technologies,
measurements and skills in their call centers. The call centers that we spoke with are
also surveying customers more to ensure consistent customer service.

Utilities place a high emphasis on feedback in order to help determine policies and
procedures for their call centers. Whether it comes to adding new technologies,
beefing up Web sites or consolidating call centers, utilities have high-powered plans
in the works to gear themselves up for competition.

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Wisconsin Electric

Wisconsin Electric, a subsidiary of Wisconsin Energy Company, provides electric,
gas and steam service to 2.3 million people in southeastern Wisconsin and the upper
peninsula of Michigan. The company's customer service call center is located in
Waukesha, WI and primarily handles inbound customer service calls 24x7.

The collections center is located in downtown Milwaukee and primarily handles
outbound and inbound calls dealing with delinquent accounts. The Waukesha call
center primarily receives calls regarding bill inquiries; move orders; questions about
meter readings; outage calls; and complaints about high bills. Call volumes usually
peak on Mondays and the first and last workdays of the month. "What we have found
with a 24x7 center is that we have been able to shave down our peaks to a fairly
reasonable level, a significant improvement over what a business only open from 8
am to 5 pm would experience," says Steve Kelly, group leader for communication
technology support.

The utility employs 165 agents in Waukesha and 73 agents in Milwaukee who handle
between 5,000 and 7,000 calls daily. Wisconsin Electric also has nine agents
designated to handle calls from nearly 20,000 of Wisconsin Electric's large business

During periods of high call volumes, agents in the Milwaukee call center also answer
customer service calls. Agents in both centers are trained to answer emergency
outage calls.

Wisconsin Electric uses Aspect (San Jose, CA) phone switches in both centers
connected through T-1 trunks. Using Periphonics' (Bohemia, NY) IVR system, the
utility offers customers a series of options that determine how their phone call will be
handled. Depending on the type of call, customers are either prompted to enter in
their phone numbers or their account numbers. For example, if customers call to
report a power outage, they are first asked to provide their phone numbers so that
Wisconsin Electric can immediately determine their locations. If customers are
inquiring about a bill, they provide their account numbers.

One of the latest additions to the call centers is Syntellect's (Phoenix, AZ)
OutageTicket system. In the event of major power outages, OutageTicket allows
customers to call the toll-free number designated for power outages and use a touch-
tone or rotary phone to enter their phone numbers. OutageTicket integrates with
Wisconsin Electric's outage management system so that the location of the outage
can be immediately determined. Using the information reported by its customers, the
utility is able to quickly dispatch field crews to restore power.

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"We are planning to add new features that will allow customers whose phone
numbers we can't locate to enter their account numbers or a combination of their
phone numbers and their zip codes," says Kelly. "[Our system] assures them that we
have received their info and that we will restore their service as soon as possible."

Kelly stresses that if an incoming outage call involves a life-threatening emergency,
the call is immediately routed to the first available agent in either the Waukesha or
Milwaukee call center.

The call centers also plan on adding Syntellect's AddressConnect system, which will
enable customers to provide the numerical portion of their addresses for even clearer

Wisconsin Electric takes as much care with agents as with customers. The utility
records all phone calls that come into the centers using Nice Systems' (Secaucus,
NJ) NiceLog. Eight team leaders in Waukesha and five in the Milwaukee call center
are responsible for monitoring and evaluating calls with agents. Each team leader
works with 20 consultants and can access NiceLog directly through their PCs to
either monitor live phone calls or select and save the recordings to their hard drives.
"We have a fairly extensive evaluation program. We went through a long process
working between management and the union to come up with performance
standards," says Kelly.

Training is another important aspect. Newly-hired agents receive five days of training
concerning the company and the utilites industry. Next, they receive three days of
training in customer service skills, followed by 16 days of training handling specific
calls, such as move orders and power outages. They are brought back into training
three to four weeks later to handle calls concerning requests such as high-bill

The utility has designed a workstation for one of its consultants who is blind. The
customized tools include a Braille keyboard and raised touch pads on the Aspect
phone. BioLink's (North Vancouver, BC, Canada) ProTalk32 is a screen-reading
product that dictates the information that appears on the agent's PC. A specially
designed binaural headset allows the agent to listen to the customer through one ear
piece and hear the screen reader through the other ear piece.
Wisconsin Electric's plans for the future include providing customers with more
options over the Internet. Electronic bill presentment and payment are one of the
features that the utility is looking to add to the Web site.

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GPU Energy

GPU Energy is currently in the process of consolidating its two call centers into a
single center located in Reading, PA. Its three electric utilities -- Jersey Central
Power & Light (JCP&L; NJ), Metropolitan Edison (Met-Ed; PA) and Pennsylvania
Electric (Penelec; PA) -- serve approximately 2.1 million customers in New Jersey
and Pennsylvania.

"We are consolidating our call centers in order to increase customer satisfaction and
enhance cost per customer. We feel that with one management team and with
everything under one roof, we can improve our service," says Brenda Moyer,
manager of call center operations. The company expects to complete its
consolidation by the end of the second quarter of 2000.

GPU plans to employ 200 agents in the call center that will handle power outage calls
24x7 and offer customer service from 8 am to 8 pm EST.
The center receives about 40,000 calls a week. Call volumes peak on Mondays and
Tuesdays, usually between 9:00 am to 10:30 am and 2 pm to 3:30 pm.

The center uses computer telephony software from Genesys (San Francisco, CA) to
provide agents with screen pops for incoming calls and is currently working with
Genesys to add skills-based routing.

An in-house IVR system lets customers access general account information. "We are
currently considering purchasing an IVR system with an open architecture," says
Moyer. "This is something that we will look at later this year."

GPU strives for an average speed of answer (ASA) of 30 seconds. The utility's
current goal is to increase its first-call resolution rate. "We are really paying attention
to calls being resolved the first [time] and we're in the process of developing a metric
for that," says Moyer. "While a measurement like ASA is basically the customer's
perception of how long it took to receive attention, the one -call resolution metric,
along with customers' satisfaction levels determined through s urveys, will be our
internal measurement of how well we are doing."
Some of the surveys that GPU conducts are point-of-contact surveys, which it
automatically mails to customers who have contacted the center. Survey questions
focus on how courteous agents were and how well they answered customers'

The utility is also in the process of revamping its training program. "We have a six-
week classroom training program that will include four weeks of initial training
followed by call center experience," says Moyer. "During the course of agents' first
six months of employment, they will return for an additional two weeks of training.
After having been on the phones, agents get added value from the follow-up

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In September 1999, GPU installed Customer Care System (CCS), a customer
database package from SAP (Newton Square, PA). Agents receive additional training
on the system. "We also continue to do enhancement training as we add new
features to the CCS system," says Moyer.

On-line forms help the utility effectively answer e-mail messages that come from the
company's Web site. These forms ask for information that includes customers'
names, account numbers and e-mail addresses, along with a description of their
requests. Customers can also use on-line forms to process move orders.

GPU plans to enhance this capability even further by working with SAP to enable the
information that customers enter on the Web site to automatically update in CCS.
The utility also offers electronic bill presentation and payment on its Web site.

"As we go into 2000, we are looking at all of the technologies that we use in order to
leverage each piece to contribute to overall satisfaction," says Moyer. "The real focus
of the reorganization of our call centers is to create a customer interaction center,
focused around our processes and our people to make our operation the best it can

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Florida Power

Florida Power, a subsidiary of St. Petersburg-based Florida Progress, is an investor-
owned electric utility that provides electric service to more than 1.3 million customers
who live in central and northern Florida.

The company operates two call centers in Lake Mary and Clearwater, FL. "The
number of agents in each center depends on the season, but the number can swell
as high as 150 agents per site," says Brian Bureck, manager of customer solutions
for Florida Power.

"Something that we have unique to our territory is the threat of hurricanes," says
Bureck. "In the event of an emergency, clerical and staff emplo yees are all trained to
answer customer calls."

The Lake Mary call center is intentionally located in a secure site to remain safe from
potential flooding that might accompany a hurricane. "One of our large conference
rooms has the ability to be transformed within two hours. The room can be outfitted
with telephony and computers so that a multitude of employees can help run the
operations," says Bureck.

In 1999, Florida Power answered 3.7 million calls. This number doesn't include
requests that were completed through the IVR system or handled over the Web.
InterVoice-Brite's (Dallas, TX) IVR system lets customers automate requests that
include billing inquiries, information regarding payments, payment arrangements and
reporting outages.

The company uses computer telephony software to provide agents with screen pops
along with incoming calls. The initial screen pop includes the customer's name,
account number and the last option he or she chose from the IVR menu. Seconds
later, a screen with detailed information about the customer's account appears
behind the initial screen pop.

e-talk's (Irving, TX) AutoQuality allows the utility to schedule call recordings. At press
time, Florida Power was in the process of implementing e-talk's P&Q Review, which
is on-line software for evaluating and scoring agents' performance and productivity.
"We have a statistically valid number of phone calls that we listen to over a period of
days. This is one of the best features of AutoQuality. You can load agents' schedules
and tell the system how many phone calls you want to record and it'll record calls
over a certain number of days," says Bureck.

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Florida Power's training includes Phone Pro's (Indianapolis, IN) training program,
which teaches customer service and telephone skills, and Development Dimensions
International's (DDI; Bridgeville, PA) Service Plus cutomer service training. Agents
complete six weeks of training before they handle calls on their own. "The neat thing
about our system is that it has on-line references for agents," says Bureck. "We don't
have any paper manuals for anything. If at a later time, an employee wants to review
a particular topic or if they don't remember how to do something, it is right on their

The Lake Mary call center was designed with the collaboration of agents. The call
center has a large break room, TV room, quiet room and workout center. "Agents
voted on everything, from the colors to the art work on the walls," says Bureck. "That
is why you see a lot of employees walk i n the door with pride and they can say 'hey,
that was my idea.'"

One of the utility's plans includes enhancing its Web site. Customers will be able to
view and pay bills electronically within the first half of this year. "We have been
hearing from our customers that this is what they want, so we are working quickly to
get that up to speed," says Cheryl Krauss, spokesperson for Florida Power.

Currently, visitors to the Web site can get information about the company's products
and services. They can also send e-mail requests, which are answered by agents in
the Lake Mary call center.

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Central and Southwest Services

Central and Southwest Services (CSW) operates four utilities located in Oklahoma,
Louisiana and Texas. The company has three call centers, located in Tulsa, OK;
Shreveport, LA; and Corpus Christi, TX. The three call centers answer calls for all of
the utilities, although they try to keep customers within their service territories. For
example, a customer calling from Oklahoma reaches the Tulsa center, based on the
customer's area code and the toll-free number that he or she dialed. "We use point-
of-origin routing through MCI to route calls to the most appropriate center," says
Linda Tracy, lead technical coordinator for call center planning and support.

The utility employs 90 agents in Tulsa, OK; 90 in Shreveport, LA; and 175 in Corpus
Christi, TX. All agents are trained to handle every type of call. They also have a
remote call center located in Pharr, TX that houses 20 agents. "The number of
agents in each center fluctuates depending the season. Right now, the numbers are
lower than they will be two to three months from now," says Aaron Johnson,
supervisor of customer relations for CSW.

Currently, CSW is developing groups of specialists to handle certain types of calls,
such as payment arrangements and requests to connect and disconnect service.

To handle peaks in call volume, the utility runs a program that employs teachers
during after-school hours, during the summer and during holidays when schools are
closed. "The hours that [teachers] are available works well for us because these are
usually the less desirable hours, like after school and on Saturday. This program
helps us get through June, July and the beginning of August when our customers
start getting high bills," says Johnson.

The call centers each have an Aspect ACD that they use to route calls among the
centers. The call centers also use IEX's (Richardson, TX) TotalView scheduling and
forecasting software. They are in the process of enhancing the software by assigning
agents to certain skills sets.

TotalView accurately forecasts call volume to ensure that CSW has enough agents
available when call volumes peak. "We started using the software for inbound calls
only, but now we are using the software to help us decide the number of agents that
we can apply to making outbound calls," says Johnson.
The utility also has plans to integrate TotalView with e-talk's AutoQuality for
scheduled call monitoring.

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In the case of power outage emergencies, calls are sent to the first available agent.
For example, Southwestern Electric Power in Louisiana recently experienced an ice
storm. Power outages started on a Thursday and lasted through the following
Monday. "During that time we had difficulty getting agents into the Shreveport center,
so we started sending the outage calls to Corpus Christi and it became the primary
center for [Southwestern Electric Power's] outage calls," says Johnson.

An IVR system from Aspect automates requests that include finding a location to pay
bills, inquiring about bill balances and reporting outages. Customers who experience
power outages can even request a wake-up call through the IVR system. Johnson
points out that customers can always press zero to speak with an agent.

Currently, CSW offers electronic bill presentation and payment for West Texas
Utilities (WTU) through TransPoint (recently merged with CheckFree), an on-line bill
payments service. "We have a pilot program in place with WTU and it's been ver y
successful. Within the next couple of months [the service] will be offered to all CSW
customers," says Johnson. "We have a new feature on our Web site that allows
[customers] to locate the nearest payment station by zip code and presents the
information graphically with a map."

Customers can also visit the customer service Web site and submit forms to request
service connection and disconnection and to provide feedback. "We strive to answer
every e-mail within one business day, but normally we answer them within less than
two hours," says Johnson. There are five to six agents in each call center who
answer e-mail messages and phone calls.

"We started our [e-mail program] in November 1998 and our volume was about 20 to
30 e-mails a month," says Johnson. Once the utility began publicizing the Web site
the volume increased to more than 100 e-mail messages a month. "The volume is
steadily increasing and we have some repeat users," says Johnson.
CSW also plans to implement scorecards for agents, which will factor in quality,
productivity and schedule adherence. "We worked with Response Design [Ocean
City, NJ] on a performance management system," says Tracy.

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Entergy, a utility headquartered in New Orleans, LA, provides electricity to about 2.5
million customers in portions of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The
company operates six call centers that are located in Jackson, MS; Little Rock, AK;
Baton Rouge, LA; New Orleans, LA; West Monroe, LA; and Beaumont, TX.

"We try to stay focused on jurisdiction. For example, in the Mississippi call center, we
answer 90% of the calls that originate from Mississippi," says John Mullins, customer
service manager at the Jackson, MS center. Calls overflow to other centers during
peak periods.

Calls are also sent to the Mississippi center, which operates 24x7, after the other
centers close. The Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas call centers operate from 7 am to
9 pm CST, Monday through Friday. With the exception of the West Monroe center,
agents in each center are trained to handle all requests. Agents in West Monroe
specifically handle applications for service.

1999 was a year of major improvements in the call centers, especially the Mississippi
call center. The Mississippi center created The Agent Ince ntive Program, which gives
agents the opportunity to earn a percentage of their salary based on how well they do
on certain performance measurements. Performance measurements include
availability, work time, and end-of-call survey results.

"Customers stay on the line after a call is terminated and answer four questions
regarding the agent's capabilities, such as the overall performance of an agent,"
explains Mullins. Currently, the surveys indicate a 95% positive response rate.
Entergy's service level goal is to answer 85% of all calls within 30 seconds, although
the centers' actual service level has consistently remained above 90%. In 1998, the
average length of time that a customer spent waiting to speak with an agent was 56
seconds. In 1999 the utility decreased the average to 15 seconds.

"We do a lot of work through our IVR system," says Mullins. Requests such as billing
inquiries, payment extensions and reporting outages can be automated through the
IVR system.

The Mississippi call center also uses IEX's TotalView for forecasting and scheduling.
"This software has been very beneficial. Right now we probably have about 76
different part-time and full-time shifts and this software helps us match our shifts with
call volume," says Mullins.

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Nova Scotia Power

Nova Scotia Power, an electric utility, serves 430,000 customers in the province of
Nova Scotia, Canada. The utility operates seven 24x7 call centers throughout the
province. The main call center, located in Halifax, employs 85 agents. There are
approximately 130 agents in total in all of the call centers. The centers receive
between 1,500 and 2,000 calls a day.

To help meet customers' demands, the call centers recently installed Voci's (San
Jose, CA) Sereno speech recognition software. "Last summer we conducted
customer focus groups on speech recognition and our customers told us that this is
the solution that they were looking for. If they can, they want to avoid talking to an
agent. Secondly, they find it faster than using touch tone," says Angelo Tiveron, call
center manager of Nova Scotia Power.

Customers are offered the option of using either touch tone or speech recognition
within the IVR system. Using speech recognition, customers can request their bill
balance or locate the nearest place to make a payment. "As the system gets more
experience with more people talking to it, it learns more and picks up on different
accents. The accuracy rate is very high and we are quite pleased with the system
and so are our customers," says Tiveron.
If after two attempts a customer makes a mistake or the system can't understand the
request, the call is automatically transferred to a live agent. A screen pop lets the
agent know which stage of the automated dialogue the customer was in before

Nova Scotia also runs an extensive training program for agents. Agents receive four
weeks of training before handling collection calls. Collection call training takes place
first because it requires the least amount of training. After agents have been handling
collection calls for a few months, they receive training to handle residential calls.

ITC Learning's (Herndon, VA) computer-based training software keeps experienced
reps up-to-date. "We keep agents off the phone and schedule them for an hour of
training," says Tiveron. "Usually, we link a call that we have monitored with a module
within the software that pertains to a problem area."
Recordings are scheduled using e-talk's AutoQuality call monitoring system. "We
schedule calls a month ahead and we are now looking to monitor five calls per rep
per month," says Tiveron. He also points out that this number varies depending on
the agent's experience.

The call center uses TV monitors from Info-Vision (Toronto, ON, Canada) to provide
information throughout the call center. In addition to displaying ACD stats, such as
the number of calls in queue and the longest length of time a call is in queue, Nova
Scotia uses the TV monitors to display corporate messages.

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The system also allows agents to view cable stations like the Weather Channel and
they can view satellite maps from the Internet. "This information is crucial to us," says
Tiveron. "Displaying this information on TV monitors creates that sense of urgency
that we are looking for."

The call centers strive to answer 70% of calls within 20 seconds. In 1999, the utility
exceeded this goal by answering 72% of calls within 20 seconds. Tiveron
acknowledges that he has thought about raising the service level but he has
determined it is not an immediate goal at this time. "This is not because we are the
only utility in Nova Scotia, but our decision is based on customer feedback," explains
Tiveron. "We survey our customers every three months and the results for the call
centers have been very high."

Nova Scotia Power observes a demand for Web-based services. "We don't have a
set response time for e-mail yet, but we are now looking into a statistical
measurement tool to track response time," he says.

This new demand for e-mail is also creating a need for new skills that Nova Scotia
Power looks for when hiring new agents. "We want to have agents that can work on
the Web and not just the phone," says Tiveron.
Tiveron also credits new technologies for helping the utility improve customer service.
"In 1999 we saw that a lot of calls were handled by technology and completed by
technology versus an agent handling the calls. Our call volume still remained the
same but instead of an agent, technology handled it. We still find that our customer
loyalty results are very high so we are not sacrificing quality for quantity."

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Southern California Water Company

Unlike electric utilities, water utilities have not directly faced deregulation and are still
regulated by the Public Utilities Commission in each state. "We have seen [in
California] with deregulation, electric customers, gas customers and telephone
customers all have a choice in who they have as a service provider. And, we think
that one day customers will have the same choice with water," says Rusty Hodges,
manager of customer services for Southern California Water Company (SCW).

SCW is a wholly-owned subsidiary of American States Water Company. The
company's call center is located in San Dimas, CA and serves about 350,000
customers 24x7. The center currently employs 26 agents who handle about 30,000
calls a month.

SCW provides water service to more than one million customers in California and
Arizona. The company also operates as Arden-Cordova Water Service, California
Cities Water and Bear Valley Electric. The company also acts as an outsourcer and
handles customer service for several other utilities within regulated and non regulated
utility industries, including Brooke Water LLC, AZ; City of Bell Gardens, CA; City of
Torrance, CA; Goleta Water District, CA; and Rowland Water, CA.

"We've been using the technology in our customer service center to improve the level
of customer service so that we can secure our customers," says Hodges. "When
[customers] do have a choice one day, we're confident that because of the service
we provide they would want to stick with us versus changing companies."

SCW's primary service goal is to handle 80% of calls within 40 seconds. However,
this goal varies depending on the utility that it answers calls for. SCW also strives for
an abandonment rate of less than 5%. Before the call center opened in 1994,
customers were served through 22 district offices located throughout California. The
district offices assisted walk-in customers while answering the phone at the same
time. "We realized this conflict and created our customer service center in order to
specialize call handling in one location. This frees up our district offices to truly serve
the walk-in customers," says Hodges.

The utility uses different toll-free numbers for each of the utilities it serves. A Definity
ACD from Lucent Technologies (Murray Hill, NJ) routes calls to agents. With each
incoming call, DNIS provides agents with the company name so the agent knows
how to greet the caller. SCW uses Lucent Technologies' Conversant IVR system so
customers can retrieve their account balances, report leaks or request that their
water service be turned on or off.

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SCW is careful to meet the different expectations of its different customers. "It seems
that we get a lot of IVR calls from customers in the greater metropolitan Los Angeles
and Orange County areas, because these are fast-paced communities that are used
to dealing with IVR," says Hodges. "Customers from some of our smaller towns
prefer the human touch and want to speak with a customer service representative.
We offer both options so that customers can get information either way." SCW also
utilizes Lucent's CentreVu Advocate and CentreVu Supervisor to route phone calls to
the most appropriate agents. Some representatives are cross-trained and others
specialize in specific utilities.

One of the benefits of CentreVu Advocate is that it evenly distributes calls among
agents. "Invariably, you might have agents, because of their skills, [continually]
answering call after call. And, you might have another agent not as busy -- agents
notice this," says Hodges. "[CentreVu Advocate] really is a fairness tool that helps us
to distribute calls more evenly."

SCW uses Lucent's CentreVu Supervisor to administer agents' skills and to monitor
the system. "I can dial up remotely from home and see the status of the call center,"
says Hodges. "I have even changed agents' status from home."
Emergency calls, such as a water leak, or in the case of Bear Valley Electric, a power
outage, receive high-priority status and are moved to the front of the queue.

Another recent addition to the call center is Nice Systems' NiceUniverse call
monitoring software. Along with voice recording, NiceUniverse also captures the
screens that agents work from as they speak with customers. SCW records two
phone calls a day per rep. The entire phone call is recorded along with 15 additional
seconds of after-call work. "We have found with screen capture that representatives
are still wrapping up a previous call when they are taking an incoming call with a new
customer," says Hodges. "So, because of the Nice system, we have already seen
something that we need to change."

New agents receive three weeks of training before taking customers' phone calls.
Once agents are ready to start taking phone calls, they sit with more experienced
reps and supervisors who oversee the reps. American States Water Company also
operates the Employee Development University, which offers continuing education
and training for all employees of the company. The customer service track
incorporates a multi-disciplinary approach that totals 200 hours of formal classroom
training. Upon completing the program, agents receive continuing education credits
authorized through the International Association for Continuing Education and

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The utility regularly mails surveys to its customers for certain types of service orders
that require interaction with an agent and a field technician, such as a leak or a high-
bill investigation. The surveys are mailed five days after the service orders are
created. "We've been doing this company-wide since the first of the year," says
Hodges. "Overall, we have had positive feedback. But we do have those customers
who didn't have a good experience and that gives us the opportunity to follow up."

SCW is also starting to experience greater demand for service over its Web site. "We
are starting to see our e-mail volume go up. Customers are starting to use e-mail
versus calling," says Hodges.

Currently, SCW is in the process of creating templates for on-line forms. "One of the
big things that we have seen with e-mail is that customers don't always include all the
pieces of information that we need to look up an account." And, because of the
greater e-mail volume, SCW also has plans to add a business writing component to
agents' training. Because the company is growing so rapidly, SCW is also
considering telecommuting options.

Outsourcing Partners

The deregulated market has some utility companies turning to service bureaus. This
is the case with DTE Edison America, a subsidiary of DTE Energy that was created in
1998 to serve the deregulated market. The utility currently serves customers in
Pennsylvania and expects to provide service to New Jersey within the first quarter of
this year. DTE Edison America has partnered with outsourcer Ron Weber &
Associates, headquartered in Milford, CT. The service bureau's facility, located in
Machesney Park, IL, handles all of DTE Edison's residential and small business
customer service calls, on-line inquiries and faxes.

"We support a variety of calls that have to do with the deregulation of the utility
industry," says Jared Weber, VP of inbound teleservices for Ron Weber &
Associates. "Questions like what can DTE Edison do for me and what kind of savings
will I see if I switch to DTE Edison."

Ron Weber & Associates also answers requests from existing customers regarding
their bills. "We also handle retention calls, so if people want to try a different utility
provider, we will try and retain them for DTE Edison."
The call center operates Monday through Friday for about 12 hours a day and limited
hours on Saturday.

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"Originally, we had all of the agents answering phone calls and e-mails, but we've
migrated more towards specialization," says Weber. "We have found that some
agents are better suited to handle e-mail than others. We have a set number of
agents who are dedicated to e-mail and a number of agents who [only answer the]
phone. We can roll over depending on the volume."

Currently, the service bureau strives for a 24-hour turnaround time for e-mail
messages, which it has met without a problem. "This is a competitive market and we
realize that we have to give customers excellent service," says Weber.
Agents in the service bureau receive two weeks of training on issues concerning DTE
Edison, deregulation, DTE Edison's products and DTE Edison's systems. Agents who
are going to be working with e-mail receive additional training.
Weber feels that there are several reasons that utilities choose to work with service

"DTE Edison has found that they have certain core competencies that they do well,
and companies like ours have different core competencies. [Utilities] are not call
center experts but we are," says Weber. He also adds, "I think that because DTE
Edison is in a new and emerging field that is changing constantly, they want a partner
who can work with them as the market changes."
Another advantage that Weber points out is that service bureaus are in the position
to grow as call volumes increase. "An in-house operation is limited in what it can do.
As a business grows there are added costs that you may not be prepared to deal

Encompass Teleservices is an outsourcer based in Beaverton, OR that handles
marketing calls for two utilities owned by Scottish Power, Utah Power and Light and
Pacific Power and Light.

The service bureau handles inbound calls regarding services offered by the utility,
such as insurance calls. Encompass also handles calls generated by marketing
programs and promotions.

Calls come into Encompass either through direct toll-free numbers or from the
utilities' customer service center, based on options that the callers choose from the
IVR menu. Using systems developed by Encompass, Scottish Power is able to
monitor agents in real time over the Web. "We assign Scottish Power an extranet
site, off of the Encompass Web site, so at any time they can go in and monitor reps
without us knowing," says John Cargal, president of Encompass Teleservices.

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The utility can also get call center statistics in real time, such as ASA, abandonment
rates and average talk time. "We can provide Scottish Power with a graphical
breakdown of different toll-free phone numbers or different marketing programs,"
says Cargal. This allows the utility to view information about specific programs and
see trends over long periods of time.

"If Scottish Power is planning a smaller initiative it is easier for [the utility] to train a
small group of agents [at Encompass] rather than have to train all of the agents in its
call center," Cargal adds.

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Montana Power Company

by Jennifer O‘Herron
CallCenter Magazine 02/01/00

The Business: The Montana Power Company (Butte, MT) is a $2.9 billion energy and
telecommunications company whose core utility business is providing electricity and
natural gas throughout Montana.

Montana Power's call center, also located in Butte, MT, serves 322,000 utility
customers. The center receives about 50,000 calls a month from customers who
want to start receiving gas or electric service, have questions about their bills or are
experiencing power outages. The center employs 22 part-time agents and 16 full-
time agents. Dan Daly, Montana Power's call center manager, has organized the
center into five teams, each supervised by an experienced agent who discusses their
call evaluations with them.

The utility has a toll-free number that customers call for customer service. Agents
answer customer service requests weekdays from 7 am to 8 pm Mountain Time.
Callers to the customer service number first hear a greeting from IBM's (Armonk, NY)
DirectTalk IVR system. They then have the option of speaking with an agent or using
the IVR system to get information about account due dates, previous billing dates,
meter readings and service orders. ―If customers want to go to a rep immediately,
they can; they don't have to go through IVR,‖ says Jack Cossel, director of customer
service for M.P.

The IVR system informs callers about their positions in que ue and how long they can
expect to wait to reach a live agent. It also offers customers the option of receiving a
call back from a rep if they do not want to wait in queue.
The utility has two separate toll-free numbers for calls about gas and electrical
emergencies. The center answers calls to these numbers 24 hours a day, seven
days a week. From 8 pm to midnight, an agent is available to take emergency calls.
Dispatchers handle any emergency calls that come in after midnight.

Customers can also visit Montana Power's Web site to find answers to frequently-
asked questions and to send e-mail messages to the company.
Goals: Since November 1998, Montana Power has offered residential customers and
small businesses the option of choosing other companies to supply electricity and
natural gas. Although the prospect of competition from alternate suppliers wasn't the
motivation behind the utility's original decision to open a call center three years ago,
Cossel acknowledges that the call center is an important part of Montana Power's
effort to distinguish itself in the way it serves customers.

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Before Montana Power opened its call center, customers had to contact the nearest
district office about gas or electricity services. These offices were scattered
throughout the state. ―Since opening the call center, we are now able to serve our
customers better with a lot fewer employees,‖ says Cossel. ―We have developed
more consistency in customer service.‖

Technology: The center uses Siemens' (Santa Clara, CA) Rolm 9571 phone switch to
route calls to agents. IBM's CallPath computer telephony software generates screen
pops that enable agents to view information about customers with every incoming
call. Such information can include a caller's most recent transaction with the call
center and whether the call is about a gas or electrical emergency. Screen pops also
include information callers enter from the IVR system.

Agents view real-time ACD stats from two Spectrum (Houston, TX) electronic
displays and from video monitors suspended from the ceiling. Among the stats
agents see are the number of calls in queue and the longest amount of time a call
has been in queue.

Besides observing stats, the utility also provides training for agents. New agents train
for six weeks from a separate facility next door to the center. This facility replicates
the phones, workstations and software that agents eventually use when they are
ready to answer live calls. After six weeks, new agents answer calls while sitting next
to more experienced colleagues until they are comfortable with taking calls on their

To ensure agents maintain their call handling skills, a quality assurance manager
randomly monitors five calls a month for each agent. The center evaluates agents on
20 different criteria, including their greeting and tone of voice. If an agent's call
receives a score below 90%, the utility forwards the recording of the call to a team
leader, who reviews an evaluation of the call with the agent.
The center uses Nice Systems' (Secaucus, NJ) NiceLog to record every phone call
that comes into the center. ―We can store up to 2,048 minutes on our hard drive and
we archive calls for up to three months,‖ says John Thurmond, information analyst for
Montana Power.

Since the center primarily employs part-time agents, the utility relies on workforce
management software from Aspect Communications (San Jose CA) to generate
accurate forecasts of call volumes and patterns. The center also uses Aspect's
software to determine optimal schedules for meeting service levels.

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In addition to making sure that agents are available and that they always provide
good service over the phone, Montana Power provides agents with a comfortable
working environment, which is evident in the type of workstations it sets up for them.
Agents use split-level desktops to raise and lower the front portion of their desks with
the push of a button. By doing so, they can work standing or sitting.

―This is a very popular feature among agents,‖ says Thurmond. ―They like to sta nd-up
and work for a few hours and then sit down and work for a few hours. Plus, agents
can make the adjustments themselves whenever they want,‖ says Thurmond.

Results: The call center has made a great contribution to Montana Power's customer
service. As Cossel points out, the center allows the company to extend its hours of
service and enables it to prioritize customers' requests and calls concerning gas and
electrical emergencies.

―Previously, we really didn't have a way to rate our quality of customer service,‖
Cossel says. ―We couldn't measure metrics such as average speed of answer and
talk time because they were handled by many different individuals in many different
offices. We also didn't have a way to benchmark ourselves against other companies. ‖

Starting last September, the call center began the first of several major
enhancements with the installation of Orcom's (Bend, OR) E-CIS Year 2000-
compliant billing system. In accordance with Montana's plans for deregulation, the
software generates bills that break out specific costs of electricity.
Montana Power plans to introduce skills-based routing into its center and intends to
offer customers more options from its Web site. ―We are currently in the process of
adding electronic bill presentation, credit card payment and are looking at another
vendor that will allow customers to write checks on-line,‖ says Cossel

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Vendors for Utilities Call Centers

Aspect Communications


Development Dimensions International (DDI)

e-talk (formerly Teknekron Infoswitch)





ITC Learning

Lucent Technologies

Nice Systems

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Phone Pro

Response Design




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Shipping and Transportation

Yellow Freight System

by Jennifer O‘Herron

CallCenter Magazine, 09/01/99

The Business: Yellow Freight System (Overland Park, KS) is the largest provider of
less-than-truckload shipping services in the US. (―Less-than-truckload‖ refers to a
quantity of freight that does not fill up an entire truck.) The company offers same-day
deliveries, next-day deliveries and guaranteed deliveries for specific days or times.
Yellow Freight has 380 terminals throughout the US, Canada and Mexico. The
company also serves Europe, Asia, Central and South America.

Yellow Freight operates two call centers in Sioux Falls, SD and Des Moines, IA. It
employs nearly 200 full-time reps in the Sioux Falls center and close to 300 in the
Des Moines center. Annual agent turnover at the centers is only 4%, which Paul
Marshall, Yellow Freight‘s director of customer support, attributes to a great working
environment for employees.

The company‘s more than 600,000 customers dial a toll-free number to reach an
agent at either center; both centers operate 24x7. The centers receive between
35,000 and 40,000 calls a day. Marshall says that call volume usually peaks between
10 am and 11:30 am and then again around 1:30 pm. The most frequent requests
are for freight pick-ups. Callers also contact the centers to ask for rate quotes,
shipment tracing and proof of delivery.

Besides answering calls, agents also make outbound calls to notify customers in
advance if the company expects delays with shipments due to unforeseen
circumstances like bad weather. Because the company serves customers throughout
North America, it employs some French- and Spanish-speaking agents. Yellow
Freight automatically routes all calls from the Canadian province of Quebec to
French-speaking agents. Spanish-speaking customers reach the center throug h a
separate toll-free number.

Goals: One of Yellow Freight‘s main goals is to avoid transferring customers among
reps. The company trains all agents to handle every possible request from
customers. Yellow Freight has an on-site training center with full-time trainers.
New agents receive classroom training for eight to ten weeks. Agents take courses to
learn about the shipping business in general and to acquire skills for responding to a
variety of requests from customers, such as rate quote and shipment tracing. Reps
begin taking calls from customers after ten weeks of training. Veteran agents receive
at least an hour of training a week to stay current on Yellow Freight‘s latest services
or special offers.

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The company maintains an active quality assurance program. Quality assurance
coordinators silently monitor up to five calls (which often add up to a half hour of talk
time at most) per rep per month. In addition to listening to agents‘ live phone calls,
they also use software from McAfee (Santa Clara, CA) to observe agents‘ screens as
they speak with customers. Yellow Freight conducts all screen monitoring in real time
and monitors phone calls using voice-activated recorders or by having coordinators
sit next to agents.

Quality assurance coordinators evaluate an agent‘s call within an hour after they
monitor it. In discussing a call with an agent, they provide feedback and a plan for
improvement. Quality assurance coordinators also maintain a database of all the
calls they monitor. This database, which is accessible only to quality assurance
coordinators, trainers and executives, helps the company quickly identify patterns
associated with problems during phone calls.

Yellow Freight is working with consultants to determine more efficient ways to
measure service levels. For now, its call centers strive to answer 90% of incoming
calls within 20 seconds. The company does not set a limit on average talk time per

―You don‘t want to make a 30-second call a minute long, but you don‘t want to make
a 30-second call into a 20-second call,‖ says Marshall.

Technology of Note: Calls come into the centers through Lucent Technologies‘
(Basking Ridge, NJ) Definity G3r phone switches. Yellow Freight routes calls among
both centers, which it links through a T-1 connection and through a service from
AT&T that allocates a percentage of incoming calls to each center.
When customers call Yellow Freight‘s main toll-free number, they first reach an IVR
system from Periphonics (Bohemia, NY). If customers request a freight pick-up, the
IVR system transfers them to agents. If callers want to receive rate quotes or trace
shipments, they can do so automatically through the IVR system.

If a customer enters incorrect account numbers or information the IVR system
doesn‘t understand, the system automatically directs the caller to an agent. The
agent hears a whisper tone in his or her headset that indicates that the caller had
difficulty using the IVR system. The whisper tone informs the agent what the caller
was attempting to accomplish through the IVR system, such as scheduling a pick-up.
Callers can also transfer out of the IVR system on their own to speak with agents.
Whether callers choose to speak with agents or the IVR system directs them to
agents, they reach the first available rep in either center .

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Yellow Freight uses Genesys‘ (San Francisco, CA) T-Server computer telephony
software to generate screen pops. From using the software, the company is able to
recognize 80% of incoming callers by identifying the phone numbers from which they
dial. Genesys‘ software pulls customer information from Yellow Freight‘s home-grown
database system. Screen pops display data about callers, such as company names,
phone numbers, fax numbers, designated pick-up terminals and any special shipping
instructions for specific companies. Agents can drill down into the data within screen
pops to view more customer information.

Marshall says that Yellow Freight‘s use of TCS‘ (Nashville, TN) workforce
management software enables the company to create accurate schedules. He
observes that the percentage difference between forecasted and actual call volumes
usually falls between 1% and 2%. The software also provides supervisors with
forecasts during the day, which lets Yellow Freight give agents the option of leaving
early if it anticipates call volumes will be low.

Yellow Freight‘s customers can perform a number of automated transactions from the
company‘s Web site, They can request bills of lading and
proof of delivery; schedule freight pick-ups; check out the latest specials and
discounts; trace shipments; check cargo claim status; request rate quotes; and apply
for credit.

Visitors to the company‘s Web site can receive live assistance at any time. Four
agents at Yellow Freight currently handle about 40 live text messages a day using
FaceTime Communications‘ (Foster City, CA) Message Exchange system, which
enables agents to respond to text messages from customers. The system also lets
agents push Web pages to customers and enables them to communicate with more
than one customer at a time. Marshall says that the advantage of using Message
Exchange is that FaceTime hosts the servers that run its text messaging software so
that there is no need for Yellow Freight to install the software at its call centers.

Results and Future Plans: Since opening its call centers in 1995, the company has
been able to offer customers more professional and personal service. Marshall says
that the use of a single customer database helps the company learn more about its
customer base and make more intelligent decisions about how it approaches, retains
and treats its customers.

With regard to upcoming enhancements to its call centers, Yellow Freight is
considering the addition of speech recognition capabilities to its IVR system. The
company is also looking into using customer relationship management software to
improve the way it cross- and up-sells its freight transportation services to customers.

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Integration of Call Centre Locations

Computer Telephony
by Ellen Muraskin

Pagemart Wireless

Pagemart Wireless‘s call center needed to span five locations. It needed seamless
integration of voice and data traffic, and partners to help it move into web-based
customer self-help and e-commerce.

The Pieces:

• Williams Communications Solutions‘ (Houston, TX — 888-994-5835, ) custom programing and suite of Dialect call center products
(Call Manager, Data Repository, Databas Gateway, Desktop Integrator).

• Three Nortel Networks‘ (St. John NB, Canada — 800-4-NORTEL, )
Symposium IVR servers.

• Three Nortel Meridian 1 PBXs with Nortel ACD.

• Vantive (Santa Clara, CA — 408-982-5700, ) CRM software.

• Dialogic‘s (Parsippany, NJ — 973-993-3000, ) CT Connect
switch-to-app middleware.

The Payoff:

Pagemart can handle customer service calls for 55+ resellers of their paging service,
across five Texas locations, using top-notch skills-based routing. E-commerce and
multi-media integration are now being investigated with the same vendor.

The Plot:

PageMart Wireless, Inc., maintains a paging network used by over 2.5 million U.S.
subscribers, who buy their service through such resellers as Radio Shack.
PageMart‘s National Service Center handles all customer service, receiving from
8,000 to 17,000 calls per day. People call to activate pagers, recharge their accounts
through credit cards, report problems, ask about area coverage, and check account

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The service center now spans five physical locations, since it takes three Texas
towns — Dallas, Amarillo, and San Antonio — to supply the necessary human
resources. Nortel‘s Network ACD links three Meridian switches over ISDN links,
making them all operate as one, with skills-based routing seeking agents in any of
the centers.

Not so long ago (early ‗97) PageMart‘s routing wasn‘t nearly so nifty. Their system
could pull unique DNIS numbers off 800 lines, so each reseller could be greeted
appropriately — that‘s about it. Then Williams Communications, who had earlier
installed the Meridians for PageMart, added the infrastructure necessary to show
agents who they were talking to, ship calls and data from one center to the other, and
show management how customers were being served.

Williams‘ servers and custom integration programming now send the call with the
associated Vantive customer screen, and with IVR-captured data.
Williams‘ Symposium Open IVR server lets PageMart handle a percentage of calls
without human intervention. It also lets them capture IVR information and route calls
based on this data, as well as tracking calls across the entire five-location enterprise.
The IVR app was programmed through Nortel‘s OEM‘ed version of Voicetec‘s
Generations tool. Identical IVRs front all three Meridians.

If the caller needs an agent, his call is then transferred to the ACD. ―The
infrastructure for the switch is a private ISDN network, and the responsibility for
marrying the call and the data together is handled by Williams‘ Call Manager
product,‖ says Glenn Wyman, Williams Manager, Integrated Systems. A caller‘s IVR-
entered information gets stored in Williams‘ Dialect Data Repository (DDR), a
transient store of live call information. The Call Manager polls for a local agent with
matching skills, talking to the switch via Dialogic‘s CT Connect middleware.

If no appropriate agent is found by the local switch, the call is transferred to another
site on the network. When the call appears on the receiving switch, CT Connect tells
the local Call Manager server that a new call is ringing. It pulls out of that notice the
network caller ID, sees that the call came from San Antonio, goes and fetches the
Data Repository data from San Antonio, and puts it in Austin‘s DDR. The Austin
agent‘s Desktop Integrator gets it, displays it in an ―interim‖ Visual Basic screen pop,
and Vantive shows up simultaneously (or one to two seconds later).

―When we began,‖ explains Mike Hardy, Pagemart‘s Director of Operations, ―the
Vantive screen was as much as 30 to 45 seconds in coming.‖ To make sure that
agents knew at least whatever the IVR had been able to learn about the caller, the
sub-second VB pop was inserted.

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―Internal enhancements in our database and storage improvements have now
allowed us to speed up the Vantive pop to be simultaneous.‖ But the VB pop still lets
agents know what transpired in the IVR, and also color-codes the customer
according to his or her value to PageMart..

Any problems? ―We definitely had some database integration issues, due to internal
IS situations. We had about a 60 percent turnover in IS the last year. Responsible
parties were no longer available. If it hadn‘t been for Williams and their dedication to
bringing this online, we probably still wouldn‘t have it working. Glenn and his team did
the vast majority of the programming, provided the Oracle integration requirements to
our ISA group, to the level of actually doing the programming and saying, ‗this is
where you have to put it.‘‖
At which point, Glenn pipes up to plug another Williams piece, the Database
Gateway. This sits between the IVR system and the Oracle database, minimizing the
number of direct connections to the database, keeping the IVR app live in case
Oracle becomes unavailable, providing alternative ways to handle the call, and
automatically reconnecting at the first opportunity.

The IVR Server off the Meridian runs on SCO Unix, and also includes a fax-on-
demand for faxing callers maps of their paging coverage area. The CT Server, with
CT Connect, Dialect Call Manager, Dialect Data Repository, and Database Gateway,
runs on Windows NT. The Dialect Desktop Integrator, running on agents Win 95
Desktops, adds soft-phone functionality, allowing agents to take, drop, and transfer

At the time of our interview, Mike Hardy was planning a more-or-less-immediate trip
to Williams‘ Woodbridge, NJ labs in search of added call center functionality; call-
back requests from queue, hold-time announcements, and the whole multi-media-
contact, e-commerce ball of web wax.

―I‘m a firm believer in single-source vendor operation,‖ says Mike. ―Multi-vendor
solutions just complicate the issues in an already complicated technology picture.
Our goals today are full e-commerce. We want a complete CRM database. We want
as much customer self-service as we can possibly provide, including the ability to
activate pagers, buy debit cards and recurring charge cards, activate trouble tickets,
provide complete billing, payment by credit card or bank draft, as part of our future

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That‘s a long shopping list, and some of those items will have to wait their turn.
―That‘s part of why we want to make this trip up to the labs — deciding what
functionality we want to hit in the short-term, which in the long-term.‖

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Impact of Internet on Call Centres

by Lee Chae

Network Magazine, 12/01/99


As Dan Whaley remembers it, a key turning point in his career occurred when he
downloaded his first Web browser in February 1994. ―It was a Mosaic browser,‖ says
Whaley, chief technical officer of ( ).

―The sites I browsed were pretty experimental, primarily university sites, but the
whole experience was so compelling. The mix of graphics and text on a page, pulling
information remotely, and having that information assembled on the fly for you was
just so different.‖

At the time, Whaley was a vice president at Sunnyside Computing, a computer
consulting firm. Now, less than six years later, he finds himself a principal founder of, a Menlo Park, CA-based company that provides Internet technology
to the travel industry.

The genesis of‘s offerings, which include a full range of travel-related
e-commerce technologies, can be traced to Whaley‘s early experiences as a Web
surfer. ―When I saw the first forms-enabled site, the implications for commercial
transactions on the Web became pretty clear,‖ he says.

Whaley transformed that idea into, one of the new breed of companies
that is burgeoning in the Internet economy. While many preexisting companies have
been scrambling to add online services to their business portfolios, companies such
as have been entrenched in e-commerce technology from the start.
By studying how has successfully brought the Internet to the travel
industry, we can glimpse the true power of e-commerce and its potential to change
the way an entire industry does business., formerly known as Internet Travel Network (ITN), specializes in
bringing the operational efficiencies of the Internet to the travel industry. Simply put,
the company offers a Web-based travel reservation system that consumers,
companies, and even airlines can use to buy and sell airline tickets and make rental
car and hotel reservations. The company is privately held, has more than 200
employees, and has offices in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, New Jersey, New York, and
London. The company also operates two data centers, one in Santa Clara, CA, and
the other in Virginia, and plans to build one in Europe and one in Asia.

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Since opening its doors in 1995, has attracted more than 150 clients,
including United Airlines, Boeing, Nike, Texas Instruments, Nabisco, Procter &
Gamble, and Credit Suisse First Boston. In addition, it has successfully garnered
investment money from firms such as Brentwood Venture Capital, U.S. Venture
Partners, Contrarian Group, BancAmerica Robertson Stephens, and Norwest
Venture Capital.

According to Whaley, one of the primary reasons for the company‘s success lies in
an early decision he made along with cofounders Bruce Yoxsimer and Al Whaley. ―In
gauging opportunities for doing business on the Internet, we decided that to have a
large-scale business, you‘re going to have to pick a large industry to begin with.‖
Consequently, the founders targeted the travel industry. ―Travel is one of the largest
industries in the world,‖ he says. ―It‘s also one of the highest cost centers in large
corporations and one area that‘s ripe for the process efficiencies the Internet can

Whaley points to several other reasons he felt e-commerce technology was an
appropriate solution for the travel industry. First, the travel industry is dynamic: Price
and inventory (flight and seat reservation) information change constantly. For this
reason, airlines can‘t distribute this data on paper to the consumer. The Internet,
however, provides a means for rapidly publishing updated information.

Second, most travel agencies are only open during regular business hours, which
isn‘t always convenient for consumers. So, there‘s a market for a system that can
serve customers on a 24-by-7 basis. Third, travel-related transactions require
relatively low bandwidth, as communications are usually a matter of transmitting and
receiving flight and seat reservation data. As Whaley notes, ―There are no glossies
involved.‖ Consequently, this data can be delivered over standard telephone lines.

Finally, the travel industry experienced a change in operations in 1994 that put a
premium on cost efficiency. ―Historically, travel agencies made a 10 percent
commission from airlines for each ticket sold,‖ Whaley explains. ―That was a constant
for 20 to 30 years. But in 1994, the first commission cap came out, which limited
commissions to 50 dollars on domestic reservations, regardless of the value of the
ticket. That put pressure on the distribution chain to become more efficient, to reduce
the internal cost of labor to deliver a completed reservation. The Internet provided
that [cost-reduction] mechanism.‖

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Once set its sights on the travel industry, the challenge was
developing the underlying e-commerce system. The first hurdle was working out
agreements with the various reservation companies that serve the industry. ―We had
to negotiate access rights with travel reservation companies to get access to the
travel data,‖ Whaley recalls. ―It was difficult. At first, they were wary. They didn‘t
necessarily want to make all of the data available. However, ultimately
convinced these companies of the opportunities involved in delivering services over
the Internet.

The second challenge was building the system itself. ―We developed the rendering
system, business logic, and back-end data layer in a general way, so that we could
empower different e-service-type initiatives,‖ Whaley says. As for applying that
technology specifically to travel, Whaley notes that the company was breaking new
ground and therefore had to craft its solution to fit the typical experience a consumer
would have with a traditional travel agency. ―Before, you had a human interface
between you and the airline. What we‘ve done is provide an Internet-based user
interface in place of the travel agent.‖

Whaley stresses that, from the start, the company was committed to creating a
system that was easy to use—and appreciably easier than going through a travel
agent. ―If you make the effort to go out and get someone to try out your system, if it
breaks or is hard to use, you offend them, and they‘ll tell others your system stinks,‖
he says. For this reason, built an interface that provides travel
information without the codes and cryptic formats normally seen on travel agency
computers or the standard airline-issued flight ticket.

According to Whaley, the system is designed to give users total control ove r the
reservation process itself, meaning they can access travel data and complete
reservations on their own.

Although Whaley proclaims his company‘s system easy to use, he points to areas
that need improvement. ―Above and beyond the interface layer, the re‘s a lot of
intuition an agent applies in the ticketing process that makes it easier for you to get
where you‘re going, find the lowest fare, [and] solve the logistics of flight connections
and hotel reservations,‖ he says. ―Initially, we created the interface to access
information, leaving users to apply the intuition themselves. In the future, you‘ll see a
lot more layers of sophistication. We plan on building a next layer of intelligence into
the process. There are a lot of directions we plan on moving toward in terms of expert
systems and wireless communications.‖

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The company‘s first milestone came in June 1995, when it brought the system online
and became, according to Whaley, the first Web site through which consumers could
book airline reservations. Just as uses the Internet to bring a certain
efficiency to the way consumers shop for books, harnesses the
Internet delivery model to offer users a convenient way to make travel plans.

As the Internet‘s role in providing business-to-business services blossomed, so did
Whaley‘s vision of By 1996, the company was packaging its
reservation system as a corporate solution for travel services. Companies could now
purchase‘s service and offer its internal employees a way to make
company-related travel plans via the corporate intranet.

―We received a Request for Proposal [RFP] from Texas Instruments to develop a
corporate travel booking system,‖ says Whaley, explaining the evolution of the
company‘s reservation system. ―We realized there were opportunities in automating a
corporation‘s travel system, and we realized the costs savings the system could
achieve.‖ beat out 12 other bidders for the Texas Instruments contract. In
Whaley‘s opinion, the key to the company‘s success lay in how it packaged its
solution. While other bidders proposed installed, client-server-based software
solutions, proposed a service that could be delivered to its corporate
client over the Internet. ―We sold [Texas Instruments] on the concept of the Internet
service bureau,‖ says Whaley. ―They didn‘t have to worry about maintaining boxes
within their firewalls. They didn‘t need to hire staff to manage and support the system
internally. We house the system on our end and provide 24-by-7 management and

In October 1996, the Texas Instruments system became‘s first
installation of the corporate model. Soon thereafter, the company went after the
supplier space, selling its system directly to the airlines.

In November 1997, launched a United Airlines Web site based on the reservation system. The Web site gives United a great deal of
freedom in how it packages tickets to customers. For instance, the airline can set a
special price break for a certain route in order to move specific inventory, e-mail
customers about the special, and then allow customers to purchase the tickets
online. On the consumer end, United fliers can check their frequent flier accounts,
apply miles, apply for upgrades, and check flight information.

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Because of the different types of users it serves, offers several
versions of its travel reservation system. For example, its consumer Web site, , lets the general public book a variety of travel reservations and is
supported by the travel center and a network of travel agencies in
more than 50 countries. ITN Flightrez is targeted toward airline carriers and a llows
them to use the Internet as a direct distribution channel to consumers.

ITN Global Manager and ITN Manager are aimed at the corporate space—at large
companies and medium-sized to small businesses, respectively. These products
allow a company to offer travel booking services to its employees via a corporate
intranet. They also offer a full set of travel management features to minimize travel-
related costs within the company.

The corporate products provide insight into why Internet-based, business-to-business
e-commerce solutions are attracting so much attention in the corporate market. The reservation system really operates as an online service bureau (see
figure ―The Online Travel Agent‖ ). The bureau—in this case,‘s data
centers—provides travel data and booking services to companies over the Internet.
Consequently, the corporate clients are freed from having to house data and manage
software and hardware. In addition, employees can book travel plans themselves.

Using the system, employees book a reservation by logging on to the
corporate intranet and clicking on a travel button. Once users click on the travel
button, the company‘s internal Web server connects to the
authentication module. ( uses its own single-sign-on technology to
authenticate users, using the information they provide when they first log on to the
company network. As a result, users don‘t need to perform another logon to access
the travel Web site.)

The authentication module then redirects the employee browser to the
data center, along with an authenticated token. The data center performs a standard
Web transaction, returning the first page of the travel Web page, which is customized
for the company and particular user.

To achieve this level of customization, the system associates specific, defined
environment variables with the incoming transaction, Whaley says. Variables include
information on the user, the company, and the company‘s travel policies and
contracts. This information is housed in Oracle databases located at‘s
data centers.

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At this point, a Netscape Server Application Programming Interface (NSAPI) proxy
layer takes the incoming transaction and its associated variables and connects it to a
traffic controlling process called the arbiter. The arbiter controls a pool of processes
on the data center Web servers and assigns the transaction directly to the desired
process. The arbiter does not accept the socket itself, which helps avoid bottleneck

The process then accepts the connection and pulls in the information from the
databases according to the variables. Using business logic developed by, the process can control the data displayed on the user‘s page. The
Web servers contain different templates corresponding to items such as a main table
of contents, user profile pages, and travel pages containing forms and fields for
plane, hotel, and car queries.

Using a meta tag language, the system interprets queries on the fly and injects data
into specific meta tags for items such as personalized information and flight times.
This data is injected into the pages as information is passed back to the user. Once
the user accepts a flight, the system books it and returns a ticket number and
printable itinerary. On the back end, the system uses a general-purpose travel
industry API (developed by and its own reservation servers to tap into
different industry reservation systems—such as Sabre, Galileo, and Worldspan—via
multiple T1 circuits.

Aside from ease of use and cost-effectiveness,‘s e-commerce model
offers corporate clients other important efficiencies. One of its benefits is its ability to
find low airfares. ―Each time a user assembles an itinerary,‖ says Whaley, ―our
system runs a low fare search and displays alternate fares.‖ The system also
maximizes savings by analyzing pricing variables such as seat location, time of day
for the flight, overnight discounts, and so on.

Another feature is the system‘s ability to enforce corporate travel policies and
contracts. ―Inside a corporation, travel is a complex operation, with multiple policy
rules and vendor contracts,‖ says John Metcalfe,‘s vice president of
marketing. Both ITN Global Manager and ITN Manager use a business logic module
to match general query information—such as travel date and time, carrier preference,
and route preference—to a database containing the travel policies and contracts of
the user‘s company.

―If a user picks a flight against policy,‖ says Metcalfe, ―you could customize the
system so that it will e-mail the user‘s boss for approval. Or, if your corporation works
with a specific supplier, the system can get pricing information from that supplier and
also pull price information from other suppliers. If it finds a lower price, it can send the
information to the boss [so that he or she can] decide whether to go outside of policy
to get the lower fare.‖

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The system can also manage corporate contracts with travel vendors to ensure the
company is capitalizing on its agreements. For instance, if a company negotiates a
discount between two specific locales in return for sending a certain amount of
business to the vendor, the system can manage travel purchases to reach the target

In addition, Metcalfe says companies achieve fundamental productivity and
processing savings when using the booking system. ―It usually costs you $50 to $70
to issue a ticket through an agent. Ours comes in under $20. A telephone call to an
agent usually takes 28 minutes to complete. It‘s under 8 minutes using the Web.‖

Texas Instruments,‘s first corporate client, says its employees are
choosing lower airfares using the online booking system. It also says its electronic
bookings are averaging a 20 percent savings.

Whaley notes several truisms the company has had to embrace in designing its
service. ―If you‘re going to take the responsibility of providing a service, you must be
reliable, secure, and scalable,‖ he says. ―An example we look at is eBay. They had
some unfortunate problems with their site going offline. But the Beanie Baby seller
will come back. [eBay] won‘t lose an entire chunk of business at once. In our position,
if you lose Procter & Gamble, you lose millions of dollars in one fell swoop.‖

For this reason, the company not only architected its system for redundancy on the
hardware and process levels but also built two data centers, one on the East Coast
and one on the West Coast. In case of a disaster, one center can failover to the
other, with traffic and data being routed to the safe site. The centers can also share
workloads, maximizing performance.

Whaley invokes the maxim that things break all the time. ―We realized that we must
have a system that assumes that anything can fail at any time. Because of this, we
architected our system to employ many smaller pieces of equipment. This gives us
high distribution across a lot of hardware, rather than concentrating resources in a
large box.‖

Whaley‘s first experience as a Web surfer back in 1994 has led to a company that‘s
now riding the crest of the e-commerce wave. As it stands now, GetThe has
more than 60 corporate customers, 100 Web partners, and five million registered
users. The company reaps more than $400 million in annual bookings from the 1.5
million transactions it processes. And, according to the company, it commands
approximately 50 percent of the online business travel market.

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In light of this success, Whaley offers a few tips to those developing an e -commerce
service: ―Focus on each of the disciplines of providing an Internet solution. Make the
user interface simple and easy to use. And make sure it does exactly what you want
it to do—rapidly. On the back-end infrastructure, cobble together a set of
technologies that provides high performance, reliability, and scalability.‖

Most importantly, Whaley says to do your research. ―It can be daunting trying to
figure out what the relevant technologies are and how to put them together. But at
this point, there are many companies engaged in building technology for this space.
Find peers who‘ve done things similar to what you‘re planning on creating. The more
time invested in research, the less you‘ll lose developing redundant technologies and
going down the wrong path.‖

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Call Centre Management Software

Teleconnect Magazine, 10/01/99

Hawk’s Cay Resort

Hawk‘s Cay Resort, located 90 miles south of Miami in the heart of the Florida Keys,
offers elegant accommodations in true West Indies fashion: posh, island-style
guestrooms and ocean side villas, plus amenities.

However, management did not believe the resort‘s call accounting system was as
impressive as its accommodations. The system costed and posted outgoing calls, but
billing, reporting, and analysis functions were limited. They wanted a system with a
flexible means of reporting and analyzing call and revenue data beyond the daily
printout of call records. They also needed real-time monitoring to anticipate and alert
them to problems, and they wanted a network solution that could run in their existing
Windows NT Terminal Server environment.

After looking at several call accounting packages, Hawk‘s Cay decided that Systems
Design & Development ‘s (Boca Raton, FL — 561-367-1648, www. Jazz could provide the functionality its earlier system lacked,
including multi-user functional and data level security, and precise establishment and
reporting of calls and call profits. And SDD Jazz operated seamlessly with their
Microsoft NT Terminal Server, which was a big plus.

With the old system, only one Hawk‘s Cay employee had contact with the call
accounting system; this was to collect the nightly call report, and it required physical
access to the PBX. Now eight or nine people work with the Jazz system on a daily
basis — front desk, accounting, call center, controller, and general manager — and
they don‘t have to manhandle the PBX to get information. All systems are accessible
to Hawk‘s Cay employees from home or office and can be run on terminals using
client software.

Guest services have improved and complaints over incorrect phone charges have
been practically eliminated, thanks to more accurate costing of calls. The call coster
and inquiry screens allow users to accurately predetermine the cost of calls, so there
are no surprises at checkout time.

As for the financial impact of the Jazz installation, it was felt immediately. On
average, Hawk‘s Cay is recording $1,000 per day more in phone revenue than with
its previous system.

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RS-232 v.s Alternatives

By David Dishek

Computer Telephoney

The ISI client represented in this story was a long-time Centrex customer of the local
Bell Operating Company. They were unhappy about being overcharged and under-
serviced, and went to bid for alternative solutions. Customer needs ranged from a
corporate office complex with a call center application to remote satellite offices wi th
just a couple of phones.

Ultimately, the client decided to go with Centrex service, offered by a CLEC to all of
the client‘s major offices.At headquarters, a #5ESS will provide primary service — a
100-agent call center will also be located at this facility, serviced by an ACD
connected to the 5E through T-1s.

It was a sensible, cost-effective solution. But then arose Problem #1. The client
wanted to bill back all or most phone charges against cost centers and contractors.
But the CLEC would only provide call records to the client via CD-ROM; and refused
to have any third-party devices (e.g., polling buffers) co-located at their facility to
collect the records.

Problem #2 followed: The client also needed to monitor activities of their call center
agents beyond the standard reports they purchased with the ACD package. They
wanted a single, unified reporting system that would encompass both the #5ESS and
the ACD, permitting allocation of charges outside the traditional usage realm (e.g.,
third-party bills for credit cards, cell phones, etc.) Unfortunately, getting call records
from the ACD was complicated, since the ACD did not come standard with a
traditional RS-232 port for CDR (though a bolt-on option was available for tens of
thousands of dollars). The ACD vendor proposed developing specific client-defined
reports through Crystal Reports, based on data drawn directly from the ACD‘s
proprietary interface. But this would be initially expensive; as would be any later

Two parallel problems: both entailing the lack of a standard source for call data
records. ISI solved the problems by reverse-engineering the non-standard data
sources. Since the CLEC would not allow ISI to deploy equipment at their facility to
trap the records for the client or to receive exports from that facility specific to the
client‘s information. ISI created a Bill Import function into Infortel-NT that would
accept the electronic bill information from the CLEC‘s CD and parse it into the
Infortel-NT system‘s data tables. This is now a regular monthly exercise that the
client would go through when they received their CD-ROM.

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The ACD‘s logfiles turned out to be based on a commonly-known 4GL database that
ISI could write SQL queries against. By doing this, ISI could extract information
equivalent to CDR records and import this into the Infortel-NT system. Infotel-NT can
now process and rate the records in a manner consistent with the client‘s

Together, these two spot-solutions let the customer put all their call information into a
single application and take full advantage of Infortel-NT‘s robust reporting engine,
along with electronic distribution of the information.

The client was also able to expand the scope of the project into working with their
other service providers to have their monthly information put onto a CD-ROM for
import into the system and expand their capabilities even further.
ISI Infortext (Schaumburg, IL — 800-366-6550) the maker of Infortel-NT: a
comprehensive NT call accounting system that‘s rated Editors Choice awards from
Computer Telephony and Teleconnect magazines, among others.

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Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

by Ellen Muraskin

Computer Telephony, 07/14/00

Los Angeles Traffic Court

The Problem: High call volumes in LA Tra ffic Court.

The Pieces:

    Sonant Corporation's ClientCall CourtTalk IVR/ACD
    Norstar hybrid key/PBX system
    IVR servers housing: Dialogic D/480SC 48-port voice cards with network
    interface, Dialogic D/241SC network interface cards
    ACD/Payment Server
    Windows NT

The Plot:

The Los Angeles Municipal Court's 15-station call center handles calls from LA
residents who've received traffic tickets. Until November 1998, they were swamped
with queues growing 50 calls deep, abandons, and busies. That was just to answer
the LAPD's ticketed callers. When the center's job was expanded to include citations
from the county highway patrol and other agencies as well, they realized that their
small IVR system had reached the breaking point. ―It would take two to three days to
get through,‖ says Bernadette Duncan, Division Chief, Metropolitan Branch Court.

The pre-existing IVR had automated a small portion of ticket handling: only the
numerically-coded traffic tickets of the LAPD. Alphanumerically coded tickets had to
be handled by live operators. The old system was also the product of three different
vendors: Sonant for IVR, PacBell for Centrex-based ACD, and Microlog for auto
attendant. ―They all worked independently,‖ recalls Duncan.

When the time came to upgrade, the LAMC went with Sonant, for their preexisting
familiarity with the center's requirements and their previous award through
competitive bid. Sonant supplied the newer auto attendant, expanded the IVR, the
credit-card payment processing engine to go with it, and built an integrated ACD.

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They replaced agent dumb terminals with Windows PCs, and put a Norstar hybrid
phone system for bare-bones switching behind their ACD and IVR servers. ―That
ended the [multi-vendor] finger pointing,‖ says Duncan.

That also started a revenue gush, because the system so markedly increased
LAMC's capacity to handle call volume. It automated a much larger proportion of
calls, spread that call load around the clock, reduced hold times over 550%, virtually
eliminated busies, and screen-popped caller records and ACD info on calls that did
go to live operators.

―The first day we turned the switch on this system, we got $3,000 in payments,‖
Duncan says. ―Under the old system, we collected $110,000 in payments per month.
Under the new system, we now collect $160,000 to $200,000 per week.‖ Just taking
the friction out of ticket payment has lowered the number of arrest and bench
warrants the court has had to issue for non-payers.

Callers enter citation numbers and birthdates. Sona nt's system fetches caller history
and applies eligibility rules to administer automatable penalties: Someone who hasn't
had a citation in over year, for example, might satisfy his penalty by signing up (using
IVR registration) for traffic school. The system also lets callers automatically set
 arraignment dates. If they want to contest tickets (if they qualify), they can order
forms for ―trial-by-declaration,‖ on which they can write up and submit their version of
events. Sonant has added credit-card payment to LAMC's web site as well,
accessing the same financial database as the IVR.

Two voice servers with two incoming T-1s apiece currently run this NT system, for a
total of 96 ports. Mirrored IVR runs in both VRUs using Sonant's ClientCall script,
consulting business rules, back end databases, as well as the separate ACD and
payment-processing server. Where calls must follow to a live agent, the ACD
determines available agents, Client Call fetches the target agent's DID, and a
D/241SC on the back end of the VRU uses the DID to forward the call through the

Client Call also has the citation number to send over LAN to the host database. In
this way, caller-entered data completely circumvents the switch; no PBX integration is
necessary. ―Our only requirement of the PBX is that it be programmed to give our
ACD a dedicated line appearance at each agent's phone set,‖ says Murray Judy,
Sonant's VP, Engineering, so that the ACD knows who is logged on and available.
Lernout & Hauspie text-to-speech is used to read back addresses for confirmation.

Agent PCs are simultaneously logged onto two sessions: ClientCall's own agent
client and a terminal emulation of a CICS screen running off LAMC's IBM 390. This
accesses the traffic violation database.

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Knowledge is power: The Sonant client gives agents newfound leverage in dealing
with clients by telling them how long they've really been waiting in queue, and why
their call was forwarded. Murray Judy says that the effect on CSR morale was
dramatic: ―People who'd left the call center now wanted to come back.‖ Agents can
now also redirect callers back into the automated system, popping them back right
where they left off, or any other place in the IVR, using a drop-down menu of reentry
points. Calls can also be transferred to extensions both within and outside the ACD.

Completion of the next upgrade to LAMC's system will bring another T-1 onboard, for
a total capacity of 144 ports. The new ports will support Los Angeles County's
consolidation from 23 separate municipal courts to reorganization as one Superior
Court, and an upcoming centralization of one call center for all traffic court calls. It's
also supporting the increased ticketing (and revenue stream) that's followed LA's
institution of Photo Enforcement: those cameras mounted at intersection that catch
and photograph drivers running red lights. Those ticket recipients have a separate
menu item on LAMC's IVR.
Sonant, for its part, has leveraged its success with Los Angeles to market the
solution vertically, as ClientCall CourtTalk. Aimed at a wider range of court
applications, 16 have been sold to date

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Integration of Voice, Data and Video

U.S. Navy

by Alan Joch

Through the narrow eye of CNN, the allied Desert Storm assault on Iraq in 1990
looked like a model of supreme tactical precision: Phosphorescent-green cruise
missiles streamed like fireworks across Baghdad‘s night sky. Stealth bombers
breezed overhead, untouched by SCUD missiles that were no match for the sleek,
state-of-the-art military toys. And every day, General Schwarzkopf swaggered into
the briefing room to report the war‘s progress in living color.

Behind the scenes, however, the communications networks that kept the surgical
operations going looked more like jerry-rigged cans and string than high-tech glitz.
Each day, helicopters flew from ship to ship like springtime honeybees to hand -
deliver assault orders (known as Air Tasking Orders, or ATOs) issued by Naval
commanders. ―Chopper Net‖ meant that one ship might receive an order an hour
after it was issued, while other ships, depending on their location, were still waiting
for directions five hours later. ―That was a real wake-up call for us,‖ recalls Navy
Captain Renny Ide, director of the Navy‘s Fleet and Allied
Requirements Division and a key director of Information Technology for the 21st
century (IT-21), a sprawling network modernization effort. ―The Navy needed to
participate in joint operations, and being able to receive the ATOs in a timely fashion
is a big part of that.‖

Since the Gulf War, the technology operations within the Navy haven‘t been the
same. For the past two years, this service branch has been working feverishly not
only to upgrade its communications networks by dismantling the so -called Chopper
Nets but also to achieve the convergence of voice, video, and text in a single high-
speed IP network. Along the way, the Navy has been fighting the kinds of problems
that big private-sector companies know only too well: keeping up with emerging and
constantly changing technology—specifically ATM standards; choosing between
custom-tailored solutions versus off-the-shelf commercial products; and optimizing
the use of costly communications satellites.

While many of these issues have yet to be ironed out, the Navy believes a real-time,
multimedia network will make the U.S. armed forces safer and more efficient in the
21st century. ―The network will permit us to combine information to build a tactical
picture,‖ Ide says. ―It also lends decision makers—anyone with the authority to pull a
trigger—rapid access to this information.‖

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It wasn‘t hard to figure out what was wrong with communications in the Desert Storm
era. The pace of planning and fighting modern battles was becoming too fast to rely
on paper communications.

To address this state of affairs, Navy Admiral Archie Clemins, the now-retired
commander-in-chief of the Pacific Fleet, instituted a change based on a network
model he had seen in private industry: computers linked by LANs and WANs that can
send secure messages via e-mail or firewall-secured Web sites. For the Navy, such a
network could support the transmission of voice, video, and data traffic, as well as
enable onshore planners and battleship commanders to send and receive classified
and unclassified data from standard PCs for briefings. Rather than waiting for a
chopper to land, fleet commanders could just point their Web browser to a highly
secured URL to read orders seconds after they were posted.

In theory, the goal of IT-21 was simple, not unlike what hundreds of corporate
pioneers have been striving for: to facilitate communications across a large
distributed network. However, within the Navy, IT-21 represented a massive cultural
shift in how information flowed through the chain of command. The old way reli ed on
a strict hierarchy, where grunts received marching orders from on high. The new
network, however, would place decision makers and combat personnel on an even
plane, facilitating an almost continuous communications flow. Battle tactics could now
be made in real time, rather than after the next formal briefing.

A second shift—from host-based to network-centric systems—was also required to
make IT-21 succeed. At the center of IT-21 are ATM LANs, positioned on every
vessel in the Pacific Fleet, which wi ll become the model for similar reengineering
projects in the rest of the Navy and Marines. Ultimately, IT-21 will provide a secure,
international ATM network—speeding data to some 150,000 Navy PCs. It will also
connect 270,000 Navy personnel via browsers, continuous TCP/IP hookups, and a
multilevel security system that protects classified information.

Not surprisingly, reengineering of this magnitude isn‘t cheap. Between fiscal year
1998 and 2003, the Navy expects to spend about $2 billion for IT-21. The basic
framework will be installed during fiscal year 2000-2001, with the Pacific Fleet fully
IT-21 operational by fiscal year 2003. Among planners, discussions are ongoing to
determine what happens after that: Goals range from expanding the network‘s
capabilities to the remainder of the active fleet to ultimately tying all branches of the
armed forces into a larger intranet modeled after IT-21. ―We‘ve already shared the
plan with the Coast Guard for them to update as they see fit,‖ says Ide.

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In some ways, IT-21 will never be complete. The Navy expects it will have to ―refresh‖
software by installing new versions every 18 months. Hardware will need to be
replaced about every three years. ―Once you‘re in the IP networking business, these
are continuing bills you have to pay,‖ Ide says. ―Our philosophy is that we were
paying for [technology] anyway before IT-21, but now we have a coordinated plan.‖

The network, with its mix of floating and onshore nodes, is the ultimate global
enterprise system. The main elements consist of battleships deployed in the
Mediterranean Sea and in Asia. They communicate with each other and with onshore
command centers in Tokyo, Bahrain, and the United States. Tying these seagoing
and terrestrial facilities together is a complex communications infrastructure that uses
wires, fiber, and radio waves.

Each ship will ultimately operate an onboard ATM fiber network that will feed its
scores of servers and PCs with 100Mbit/sec Fast Ethernet service. ―Fat pipes‖ are
important to the Navy because, similar to a corporation with far-flung business
managers throughout the world, it will rely heavily on videoconferencing for prebattle
briefings among fighting ships, tactical ground forces, and stateside strategists.

In addition, the network will need to support a staggering number of users and nodes.
Battleships alone may have more than 4,000 e-mail accounts, while tactical units
associated with battleships may operate 10 separate classified networks and eight
unclassified networks over the 155Mbit/sec ATM LAN. So far, the Navy is committed
to ATM but leery about its still-evolving standards.

That‘s why it‘s hedging its bets with Fast Ethernet, while insisting that all routers and
other hardware be upgradeable to ATM service in the future.
Onshore command centers and tactical- support facilities will rely on the same ATM
fiber backbone architecture at large command centers in Oahu, San Diego, and
Norfolk, VA. Because these areas are home to sprawling Naval operations facilities,
including maintenance facilities, onshore sites will be linked by Metropolitan Area
Networks (MANs) that deliver at least 155Mbit/sec OC-3 service from leased lines.
SONET transmission managers and routers will tie together regional bases to their
respective MANs. Each command center will operate two distinct IP networks, one
for transmitting classified information, called the Secret IP Router Network
(SIPRNET); the other for routine communications, called the Nonclassified IP Router
Network (NIPRNET).
Network Operations Centers (NOCs) in Hawaii, Virginia, Italy, and Bahrain are
regional gateways for ship-based IP traffic, acting as connectors that funnel classified
and nonclassified IP traffic. NOCs house IP network servers, routers, associated
software, firewalls, and transmission systems.

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For security, the Navy chose the NetRanger Intrusion Detection system from Cisco
Systems. The real-time security technology consists of three main components.
NetRanger Sensors is a network ―sniffer‖ that monitors IP traffic for potential security
breaches and manages access control lists in routers. NetRanger Director provides a
graphical network map to help network managers review and manage security
information collected by Sensors. A communications component called Post Office
handles the data flow between Sensors and Director.

Other tools available to NOC staff include troubleshooting products from Remedy ( ) and Hewlett-Packard. Remedy‘s Action Request System (AR
System) offers trouble ticketing to alert network technicians to problems and to
assign repairs. Hewlett-Packard‘s OpenView acts as the central network control
station, providing a graphical view of individual hardware and software components,
traffic patterns, and failure points.

A number of vendors are supplying hardware, including Cabletron Systems ( ), Cisco Systems, and Marconi Communications ( ). Cabletron‘s ATM, Fast Ethernet, and 10Mbit/sec
Ethernet SmartSwitches won the Navy‘s certification for IT-21 voice, video, and data
communications. Marconi, through its acquisition of FORE Systems, is supplying
ForeRunnerLE switches and NICs for 155Mbit/sec ATM services. IT-21 is also using
Marconi‘s PowerHub 7000/8000 multilayer LAN switches for LAN emulation (LANE),
which provides links to ATM systems.

Despite the number of vendors used in the project, IT-21 planners insist on
consistency: All the NOCs must run routers and servers that use the same card
buses, e-mail servers, and Web cache servers. DNS, e-mail, and caching servers
use common host names and IP addresses.

Similarly, the software support backing up the new hardware includes Web-savvy
relational database management systems from a variety of commercial vendors,
including Oracle, Sybase, and Microsoft. The Navy chose the Windows NT Server
and its successor, Windows 2000, as the network OS, as well as Microsoft Office and
Exchange as the e-mail platform. All of the products met the IT-21 criteria of being
industry standards.

The Navy is also starting to staff area network management facilities, called Regional
Information Technology Service Centers, in the United States to manage the new
networks and to integrate Naval communications with the Defense Information
Systems Network. So far, the command centers in Oahu and San Diego, which
together house almost half of the Pacific Fleet‘s resources, have upgraded to high
bandwidth networks for about 30,000 workstations.

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The onshore upgrading means that Naval bases will get new cable in offices and in
pier-side docking terminals. The overall goal is to permit ships coming in from active
duty to plug into T1 connections at the dock to receive classified and unclassified IP
data at fractional T1 rates. One example is the Norfolk Piers Naval station, where
nearly 196 T1 lines run to either unclassified concentration routers or to a pier
classified concentration router. Classified routers use Constant Bit Rate (CBR)
encryption devices to scramble data. Ships plug into pier data terminals using
DSU/CSUs. Submarines use portable telecommunications systems that provide 12
phone lines for top secret and routine IP communications.

To complete the link among floating and onshore operations, the Navy is using
commercial and military satellite systems (see figure ). Global Broadcast Service
satellites provide wideband radio frequency to ships at sea. In addition, Ultra-High
Frequency Follow-On (nicknamed UFO) satellites offer four Ka-Band transponders
for transmissions to Pacific Ocean locations.

Improvements in ship-to-ship communications are one of the most important benefits
of IT-21, according to Martin Jordan, an IT-21 systems engineer. In the past, only the
largest battleships had access to high-bandwidth communications. With IT-21, all
cruisers and destroyers can ―talk‖ IP to each other and to onshore facilities, Jordan

To accomplish this, the Navy installed new antennae on the smaller ships and gave
them an unencrypted satellite network for standard e-mail and Web services. A
second satellite service, Inmarsat-B High Speed Data (International Maritime
Satellite), encrypts transmissions for classified communications. Inmarsat operates at
64Kbits/sec, which can be doubled with two antennae.

Like private companies that find the expense of satellite communications
overwhelming, the Navy is flinty about how it doles out radio-frequency bandwidth.
Ships in the Pacific Fleet receive bandwidth allocations depending on their size and
mission. For example, an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean gets a 1Mbit pipeline to
a super-high- frequency satellite and relies on narrowband ultra-high-frequency links
at 2.4Kbits/ sec to round out its communications services.

So what makes the Navy think billions of dollars in IT-21 will serve the needs of a
21st-century fighting force? An early reality check came in 1996, when part of the
Pacific Fleet traveled to the Taiwan Straits to provide a show of force when tensions
flared between mainland China and the Republic of China. The full arsenal of e-mail,
videoconferencing, and Web-based orders helped onsite and onshore strategists
monitor the tussle and plan contingencies with the latest information on political
rhetoric and troop movements.

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The Navy says these tools helped everyone involved clearly understand the mission.
Ship commanders, in turn, would have been able to respond without delay if military
support had become necessary.

In more mundane terms, the Navy expects the IT-21 project to ultimately accomplish
the military equivalent of downsizing. It estimates that more sophisticated
communications technology will enable it to cut the manpower needed to support
ships by 10 percent. In addition, crew members in combat situations will be safer
because of faster response times to enemy attacks. ―Our Return on Investment [ROI]
in terms of combat capability is an added benefit,‖ says Ide. ―For example, logistics
are obviously a key to combat. We can have instant visibility on where a part is for a
radar system, which will speed the process of getting a part out to a ship if a system
goes down.‖

Another advantage comes when battleships remain deployed for long periods in one
of the world‘s hot spots. One carrier may be ready to return to port when its relief ship
leaves the States. Prior to IT-21, the ships had to be within close proximity to each
other so that the chopper seamen could exchange orders and information. Now, with
ships talking globally, the vessels can make the same information exchange while the
relief ship is in transit. When it arrives on the scene, its crew is ready for action

Additional ROI will come from IT-21‘s technology standardization. In the past, the
service operated NT, various Unix implementations, and Novell NetWare OSs—an
amalgam that resulted in unnecessary costs due to multiple upgrades and training.

A less-strategic benefit, but one just as important to seamen who spend months at
sea, is the ability to stay in touch with families. Quality of life and morale are higher
on ships already IT-21 compliant, says Stephen Arkin, deputy chief engineer for the
Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) systems command. ―Sailors can make phone
calls or send e-mail to families. One sailor had a child born and saw the first picture in
an e-mail attachment,‖ he says.

IT-21 directors still grapple with the special problems of launching an IP network
when some of the nodes are ocean-going vessels. The antennae needed for satellite
communications don‘t always fit neatly on a ship. So far, however, creative
positioning has succeeded in getting the receivers on every reengineered ship. Also,
network troubleshooting is difficult in the cramped confines of a battleship. In some
cases, Navy engineers have built a network in a warehouse, where they can test
switches, PCs, cables, and software prior to installing them on a boat.

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IT-21 planners also worry that the new information delivery systems may become too
efficient. ―There‘s a real fear of information overload,‖ says Ide. The Navy is funding
research that studies tactical decision-making under stress, as well as tests new
ways of displaying information using colors and symbols. Among the tools to help
strategists turn raw data into understandable information is the Type Commander‘s
Readiness Management System (TRMS), a Naval data warehouse that helps
commanders monitor mission readiness of their forces by tracking training and
maintenance schedules, among other data points.

The IT-21 technology isn‘t as sexy as a matte-black Stealth bomber, but in the end, it
may do more to keep troops prepared for battle and to help commanders keep
casualties to a minimum

Crown Casino Entertainment Complex, Melbourne, Australia

by Ellen Muraskin

The Problem:

Controlling programming and volume on almost 100 audio and video sources,
scattered throughout a huge mall/hotel/restaurant complex.

The Pieces:

    Dialogic D/41E-SC voice board
    Parity Software VOS for NT
    Windows NT
    AMX audio/video multiplexer
    NEC 7400 PBX

The Plot:

Each year, IVR app gen maker Parity software gives an "app of the year" award to
the coolest new application built with their platform. Parity's winner for '99 is a unique
app that puts CT in charge of audiovisuals in a huge mall/hotel/restaurant complex in
Melbourne, Australia.

It sounds like a grand-scale realization of the telephony-driven Smart House. (That's
what will let you phone in on the way home to turn up the heat and turn on the porch
light). But Melbourne's Crown Casino Complex is no mere house. It's a $2.5 Billion
(Aus.) entertainment mall, occupying three city blocks; featuring a casino, 14
cinemas, restaurants and bars, retail stores, an atrium and a five-star hotel.

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They use multi-source audio and video for promotion, ambience and entertainment.
And they use a lot of it: 42 video and 55 audio sources spread over 52 separate
zones. All of these can now be controlled from any telephone in the complex, by
authorized employees.

Providing this IVR interface is a four-port, NT-based CT server called ProtoCall,
programmed in Parity's VOS and equipped with special communication libraries
developed to interact with an AMX A/V system. An employee calling into the system
provides a PIN, which the system uses to determine whether this person is
authorized to modify programming in a particular zone (or zones).

Once employee permissions are established, the IVR helps the caller choose a floor
and zone, then lets them change volume or signal source for a particular output
device. Audio inputs derive from radio, cassette player or CD; video, from one of
several VCRs, a laser disk player, pay TV by channel (Fox sports, CNN, ESPN, etc.),
teletext or free-TV channels.

It's secure, easy to use and flexible. Bar staff, for example, can raise or lower music
volume in their areas, change CD tracks, switch music sources or schedule future
programming changes up to seven days in advance. If they have a multi-screen
display, they can change what's playing at any time from any phone.

ProtoCall's designer is Jeff Wise, technical director of InfoDynamix, Melbourne.
"Parity's VOS afforded us great time to market on this application as well as the
flexibility and portability necessary to handle its complexity," he says. For this project,
he and InfoDynamix's technical staff worked closely with Rutledge Engineering, the
local A/V systems provider and AMX reseller. All audio prompts were produced in
their in-house recording studio.

The IVR script was designed by Mark Lipshut, director of Imedia Corporation,
Infodynamix's sister company. Mark told me that app design and development took
about two months.

At CT Expo, Mark also told me a wonderfully funny story about how he and his
brother Steve went almost blindly from the carpet manufacturing business into CT,
but in the cold sober light of e-mail correspondence I can't quite recall it or get him to
repeat it. If you see him or his brother/sales director, ask him. Together with its sister
company, Infodynamix now has more than 150 customers across Australia,
Indonesia and the US.

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User Interfaces

by Ellen Muraskin

Universal Pensions, Inc., Brainerd, MN.


UPI‘s retirement-benefits IVR platform was cranky and hard to update. But a perfectly
good database tier, supporting web-based queries, was already in place. Could it be


• Brooktrout Software ‘s
 (Southborough, MA — 508-229-7777, ) 48-port Show N • Tel
application generator and CT platform
• Dialogic (Parsippany, NJ — 973-993-3000, ) boards
• Windows NT
• UPI‘s Preexisting 401kNet site
• SQL 7 Server


The Plan Services Group of Universal Pensions, Inc. (Brainerd, MN) handles
recordkeeping for 9,000 different 401(k) employee retirement plans. Their clients are
investment providers such as mutual fund companies, credit unions, brokerage
houses, and S&Ls. The 401(k) plans are ―Daily Valued,‖ which means that
employees can check them and make investment changes on a daily basis.

For some time they‘d had an IVR that let 401(k) plan participants at client firms dial
in, enter a PIN, and make changes to their investments over the phone. They also
had a preexisting self-service website which offered even more flexibility, originally
designed for them in Java, by e-business specialists Javelin Technology
(Minneapolis, MN — 612-630-1063, ).

It‘s a complex database application, explains Todd Headlee, CIO of Universal
Pensions. The database has to know which investment options are available to each
employee in each of the employee plans it administers.

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On the voice side, the existing OS/2-based IVR was plagued with downtime, and was
not particularly easy to change. ―We were also anticipating a lot of new
development,‖ says Headlee. ―We wanted to add new types of transactions, and
paperless loans — things that were not conducive to development under the old

So when Universal Pensions decided to redo the application, they looked for a new
platform vendor. That‘s also when they decided to plug the IVR side into the same
business logic and database that drove the 401(k) Network System site. They also
wanted to switch to NT, as that was their network platform of choice. All this, plus
price considerations, led them to choose Brooktrout Software‘s Show N Tel as their
new app gen and CT platform.

They replaced their old IVR in two months. ―All the 401(k) logic is built and
maintained as stored procedures, shared between Show N Tel and our Internet
401(k) record-keeping system,‖ says Headlee. ―We wanted the IVR and web
interface to look and feel alike.‖

The result is so successful that UPI has decided to take the combined web/phone
application to market as a service for (possibly competing) third party pension plan
administrators. ―Everyone is going to have to have [e-commerce],‖ says Headlee.
―We offer an application service, where we host Internet and IVR, so that if there‘s
another third party administrator who can‘t afford to have their own people to build
and maintain it, we can build a real-time link to their record-keeping system.‖

Input to the system is employee investment decisions. Output is forwarded daily to
the investment houses themselves, brokerages and mutual fund companies, or the
National Securities Clearing Corp. (NSCC).

All 401(k) calls are made to one 800 number; input account numbers branch the call
to customized applications and business logic — largely contained within the SQL 7
database server. The application delivers account balances, amounts per
contribution source, amount vested, mutual fund positions, and lets callers make
changes to future investment allocations. The Show N Tel server answers 500 calls
per day; those that need human help are routed to a 70-seat call center through a
Nortel 51C switch.

The new IVR system also performs the first phase of the 401(k) loan process. It tells
callers how much money they can obtain (based on current balance, vesting, etc.),
calculates monthly payments per length of loan, offers options, and accepts input. A
mail-merge on the back-end sends finished paperwork to the employee, ready for

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The 401(k) application was installed in October ‗98. ―It went so smoothly,‖ says Tom
Anderson, UPI president. ―Show N Tel is so graphical and easy to program, we‘ve
gotten people who were just well-versed in building VB and SQL server transaction
systems [but who had no telephony experience] up to speed very quickly.‖

Demos of UPI‘s website and IVR do show very similar user experiences. The IVR
branches to account information, investment elections, loans and withdrawals, and
setup changes. If a user chooses ―investment elections,‖ the IVR reads the caller
each of his available funds, prompting for a percentage to be entered for each. After
each percentage is entered, it tells him the remaining percentage to allocate. It also
throws all your new allocations out if they don‘t total 100 percent.

UPI is planning a Spanish version of both web and IVR front-end by press time.
Intelligent call routing and agent screen pop are also on their development agenda.
―After a brief analysis, it seems as though Active Call would work just fine for these
applications,‖ says Headlee. Active Call is Brooktrout Software‘s toolset for client/
server CTI and screen pop.

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Automatic Number Identification (ANI)

by Alison Ousey

Con Edison

Consolidated Edison Company of New York, one of the nation's largest utility
companies, provides electric, gas and steam service to over three million customers
(representing 8.3 million people) in New York City and Westchester County, NY.

When Con Edison decided to consolidate its customer service call centers, it
revamped its telephone system and created a virtual call center. There were
previously five separate phone switches for five call center sites, but last April, the
company laid out new plans to create a virtual call center with only one telephone
switch. It moved agents into two larger centers and one smaller office.
Approximately 400 agents work at Con Edison's Flatbush Avenue call center in
Brooklyn, NY; another 115 work from a center in Rye, NY, a suburb north of
Manhattan. Call Center Magazine toured the new Brooklyn center last month, and we
were impressed by what we heard and saw.

In October 1998, the company installed an ACD switch from Rockwell Electronic
Commerce (Wood Dale, IL). With almost eight million calls directed to Con Edison's
agents and voice response units each year, the new communications system is the
real power behind the operation, providing greater levels of customer service while
saving the company money.

The switch's main feature is its internal automated attendant, which executes skill -
based call routing, so customers can be directed to the next available agent most
equipped to handle a particular call.

The switch, for example, directs a call from a Spanish-speaking customer to a
Spanish-speaking agent. Or, it can direct a call concerning the company's Retail
Choice Program to an agent skilled in answering questions about Retail Choice.

The ACD has helped in several ways, according Robert Sherman, section manager
of customer operations at Con Edison. Customers get faster responses, self -service
capabilities and access to more detailed information. Before implementation, the call
center supported 1,000 agent positions. Now it has the capability to grow to 3,000.

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Con Edison also has a contract with Sprint for toll-free service. To provide ever-
increasing service to its customers, the service was established in October 1998.
Con Edison relies on automatic number identification (ANI) to play specific,
customized messages to improve response in case there is a storm or emergency. If
there's a power outage in a particular area, for example, calls from customers in that
area may be directed to a customized outage announcement.

With the new service, customers can call the Con Ed Direct line at 800-75-CONED,
24x7, to get quick, automated questions answered, without the help of a live agent.
This new toll-free number appears at the top of customers' bills.
Con Edison's list of self-service applications is varied and covers many bases of the
operation that leave time and energy for questions that agents are really needed for.
Through touch-tone telephones, customers provide information regarding an electric
service emergency or power interruption they may be experiencing.

They can also: perform self service pay-by-phone; obtain information about Con
Edison's direct debit program; hear detailed, up-to-date information about the
company's Retail Choice programs; obtain a list of competitive energy service
companies; and listen to their account balance, date and amount of last payment.
Callers can also verify if their payments were received and obtain short-term bill
payment extensions of up to 14 days. Also included in the menu are options for
callers to activate a deferred payment agreement offer; request bill and payment
statements (up to two years prior); request duplicate copies of their latest bills; hear
payment office locations; and key in meter readings.

Approximately 35% of calls are handled by the VRU. The company strives to mirror
its VRU options on its customer service Web page ( ), including the
ability to pay bills over the Internet. In the near future, Con Edison will acquire
Orange and Rockland Utilities in upstate New York, and may include them in its
virtual setup.
Focus on Agents

Con Edison also performs quality monitoring, recording four calls per agent per
month; supervisors sit with agents to review calls during side-by-side evaluations.
Con Edison also uses non-call center staff to perform evaluations of customer calls.
This process helps them validate service ratings objectively. They use Comverse
Information System's (Woodbury, NY) Magnasync for call monitoring. The next
version of the system will let supervisors perform monitoring at random or set it up to
work by time of day or by agent.

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Agents go through nine weeks of formal training. For two weeks they are coached on
location with the most experienced customer service reps. Turnover among agents is
very low -- some of Con Edison's call center staff has been with the company for 20
to 25 years. There is room for agents to advance to supervisory positions.

The diversity of languages spoken by Con Ed's agents is impressive. Besides
English, agents at Con Edison speak French, Italian, Russian, Chinese and Korean.
Headsets are a mandatory requirement for call center agents; Rockwell provides the
ones used here. To get ACD statistics out to agents quickly and effectively, Spectrum
(Houston, TX) readerboards adorn the walls. They work with software from AAC/Call
Center Systems (Irvine, CA). For agent forecasting and scheduling needs, the
company is installing TCS Management Group's (Brentwood, TN) workforce
management software.

The call center's goal of answering 70% of calls within 30 seconds is currently being
met. With the proven technologies in place and a high sense of enthusiasm for
success, Con Edison's management and call center staff have demonstrated true
leadership among utilities in their ability to provide top-notch customer service.

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Telecommunications Switches

Private Branch eXchanges (PBXs).
by Brandon Friesen and Ellen Murask in

Computer Telephony, 04/01/99


Contact: Charlottesville, VA - 804-978-2200.
Switch Name(s): Impact 224, 560, FX System.
CTI Architectural Basics: The Impact FX purports to combine the phone system and
CT server in one cabinet. Meanwhile, the Impact NT Application Server is a
standalone CT server for the Impact 224 and 560 and features backend TAPI /
TSAPI API support.

The Case Study:

Strategic Claims Services (SCS) is a claim processing company that contracts with
many automobile insurance companies. It provides full-service resolution for
insurance claims that involve glass breakage, physical damage, vandalism and/or
theft. SCS runs a sophisticated call center and uses its client/server CMS (Claims
Management System) technology to manage the entire workflow.

Acting as a customer representative for an insurance company means that each call
SCS receives must be handled successfully. "The customer's first phone call needs
to be the only phone call to put a resolution process into action. Therefore, it's crucial
we get all the details the first time around - the information specific to the
policyholder's insurance," states Bob Rosenfield, President of SCS.

"We wanted to add an auto attendant with voicemail and automatic call distribution
(ACD) but still utilize our existing database and Novell Network. I did some research
on Comdial and found they offered what I needed at a reasonable price," remembers

A local Comdial dealer installed an Impact 224 and a QuickQ ACD to handle call
traffic. To coordinate phone calls with the existing policyholder database, they also
installed Enterprise for Telephony Services, a Comdial software package that "CT
enables" a Novell Network.

Now when customers call in with a claim, the agents already have the pertinent
computer screen at their disposal. Claim forms for each insurer are retrieved via
DNIS and sent to agent screens. If all agents are busy, an auto attendant handles the
call with a greeting specific to that insurance company and transfers the call to the
ACD queue. When an agent becomes free, the call is transferred along with the
appropriate claim form.

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"Because of this new setup, we've seen extraordinary growth in our customer base
and call volume at SCS," says Bob. "We've also seen a reduction in operating
expenses and an increase in agent productivity."

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Contact: Research Triangle Park, NC - 919-472-7000.
Switch Name: MD110.
CTI Architectural Basics: You can attach Ericsson's own Open Application Server. It
supports Ericsson's Telephony and Media API (TMAPI).

The Case Study:

Volvo operates a 24-hour roadside and dock-side assistance call center in
Greensboro, NC, with 35 agents handling between 8,000 and 12,000 calls a week.
The facility was modeled after a Volvo call center in Belgium, which also relied on
Ericsson CTI.

Supporting truck drivers, boaters and construction equipment customers who've run
into problems, it uses skills-based routing, advanced messaging, and reporting
capabilities across a virtual networked call center.

If truckers call in to report breakdowns, part failures or medical emergencies, agents
locate the nearest available repair facilities and parts or medical help. If Volvo Penta
Marine customers call with similar problems, agents find the nearest available Penta
dealers. In certain situations, they can also remotely diagnose the engine and fix it
over the phone.

Ericsson installed its MD110 PBX and ACD for this center, along with Call Center
Assistant (CCA) and Call Center Manager NT-based applications. The CCA
application shares a physical server PC with Application Link, Ericsson proprietary
switch-application interface. CCA also runs as a client on agent desktops for call

Each DNIS is assigned to a separate queue, but agents are assigned to multiple
queues. Sometimes (as in the case of a service station) the screen pop is triggered
by ANI; sometimes by DNIS.

CCM is the agent supervisory piece, keeping tabs on answer rates and individual
agent productivity.

"In the past, if a customer called in looking for emergency unit breakdown parts, it
would take me two days to source the information," said Lisa Kirkley, senior parts
coordinator, Volvo Action Service. "Now, with the Ericsson System, I can get the
information in about an hour."
Volvo expects to grow to 60 agents by press time; call volume has gone from 200
calls per week in March of '98 to 8,000 to 12,000 at the end of '98. The company has
also used Ericsson's Freeset wireless PBX system to keep the lines open to specific

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Contact: Milford, CT - 800-955-9866.
Switch Name: IDS (Integrated Digital System).
CTI Architectural Basics: They provide Windows Telephony and Telephony Services
drivers, plus a proprietary CTI link (ACD Datastream) and one based on CSTA. CTI
app often work with Novell Telephony Services.

The Case Study:

Gulf States Credit, a collections firm, chose and installed Executone's IDS 648 with
custom ACD, voicemail and the new InfoStar Predictive Dialer 4.8 for outbound use
in their call center housing over 200 age nts.
In choosing the system, Gulf States did their homework.

First, they built a list of top criteria/requirements for purchasing a predictive dialer -
mostly obvious stuff: easily integrated into their current Information Systems
environment; easy to use - relatively limited MIS intervention to operate and manage
it; robust reporting package; cost competitive; ability to integrate with their current
ACD for a blended call center environment; Y2K compliancy; ease of use in setting
up campaigns and monitoring success.

Second, Gulf States Credit got their hands dirty. They entertained proposals from
numerous predictive dialer vendors. They visited corporate headquarters, customer
sites, and called references over a six month period.
When all was said and done, Executone was elected as the vendor of choice.
In August of 1998, the Infostar Predictive Dialer was finally installed
at Gulf States Credit. A package - IDS 648 with custom ACD, voicemail, and
48 predictive dialer seats - worth about $220,000.

Before installing the InfoStar, Gulf States mainly handled inbound calls on overdue
accounts using Executone's IDS 648 with custom ACD software.
In January of 1999, Gulf States approved the expansion of their predictive dialer from
48 seats to 96 seats. The addition of another IDS 648 gives Gulf States a solution
that links their predictive dialer and ACD systems. A package worth $150,000.

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Contact: Dallas, TX - 972-855-8000.
Switch Name: InteCom E, driven by the InteCom E Millennium Server
CTI Architectural Basics: Interfaces: InteCom's native OAI channels communicate
directly from the switch, without the need for external processors or servers. Any
combination of these CSTA and OAI channels are available via up to 63
simultaneous TCP/IP sockets. OAI channels are also available via up to 29
simultaneous RS-232 circuits (the CSTA standard does not support CSTA via RS-

TCP/IP service originates from the Millennium server via an IP address assignment.
RS-232 circuits are carried through the switching matrix and can appear anywhere on
the network, including remote survivable switching sites, via an RS-232 module
connected to a standard digital line port.

Channel assignments for both CSTA and OAI are database entries and may be
made in any combination without restriction. For example, OAI channels can be
assigned to several TCP/IP sockets and several RS-232 channels at the same time.
Remaining TCP/IP sockets can be assigned to CSTA service.

As far as third-party CTI server software that talks to their switches, Dialogic's CT-
Connect does it via InteCom's native CSTA interface, while Genesys T-Server is
nearing completion of an OAI interface for the InteCom E. They've also worked with
Softgen International's Symphony CT server.

As for app support, besides the TAPI / TSAPI support they get from a server like CT-
Connect, they also handle first-party TAPI directly. Any or all digital telephone ports
can be configured to support first party TAPI via individual RS-232 plug-in interfaces
at the desktop.

TAPI 2.1 third-party can also be done via an InteCom-developed TAPI Service
Provider (SP) running on a Windows NT server. The TAPI server connects to the
InteCom E via TCP/IP and communicates with a client PC via TCP/IP. They also
support ActiveX and DCOM for InteCom's OAI links.

OAI and first party TAPI are available via an InteCom Programmable Data Interface
module. This line-powered module connects to InteCom digital ports, with or without
a station set, to create an RS-232 port. A standard 9-pin to 25 pin modem cable is
typically used to connect a desktop PC or other serial device to the PDI.

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The Case Study: Media One

MediaOne, out of Denver, CO, is a new breed of service provider - actually a spin off
from a merger between a division of US West and a cable company. MediaOne's
mission is to offer video, high speed data and telephone service through a single wire
to homes throughout the US.

MediaOne's call center operations are geographically divided into six regions. Each
region is responsible for customer service in its designated area.
A problem arose when, in 1996, the Northeast region, whose 575 agents serve 1.2
million customers and 20,000 calls a day, wanted to crunch 15 smaller call centers
into a three-site configuration - not a small call center modification.
The idea being three main sites in each MediaOne region running an InteCom E
host, that would connect to smaller call centers through Survivable Switching Units
(SSU). If one of the hosts goes down, or if the link between the SSU and the host is
broken, the remote sites stay up and running.

"We did a vendor evaluation and our major goal was to acquire an enterprise
solution," said Steve Hackley, regional director of customer care call centers for
MediaOne's northeast region. "InteCom definitely provided that solution in addition to
advanced applications such as skills-based routing and an ability to be our broker for
all of the other vendors."

In addition to InteCom's platform, Brite's IVR, TCS's workforce management, and
Digital Sound's voicemail and predictive dialing were also deployed.
In the form of CTI, Agents/CSRs have screen pops on their desktops, which flash
customer data with the phone call.

It works like this. As incoming callers connect with the call center by calling 888-
MEDIAONE, they are first segmented by the line of business - video, data, voice.
Next, each call is segmented by type of call - sales, billing or technical assistance.
The system then verifies customers' accounts through the IVR and passes the
caller's basic information such as name, address, phone number and account
number to the agents' desktops.

"The CTI applications allow us to pinpoint high-value customers and provide them
with exceptional service and treatment," said Laurie Pellichero, director of call center
technologies for MediaOne's Chelmsford location.

"The CTI applications have shaved anywhere from three to 10 seconds off of each
call which reduces call handle time and customer hold time. With our present CTI-
related successes, we are looking forward to installing additional applications."

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Contact: Chandler, AZ - 602-961-9000.
Switch Name: AXXESS.
CT Architectural Basics: They offer desktop-level integration and traditional CTI
through Novell Telephony Services server software.

The Case Study:

Telesis Federal Credit Union's single customer service number handles customers
from six branch locations. Three conundrums popped up when Telesis went
shopping for a new call center backbone.

First, Telesis customers call from more than one number and customer homes often
have more than one account holder. Telesis wanted screen pops based on account
numbers with PIN verification for more accurate pops - not the traditional vehicle of
Caller ID.

Second, because customer account information and customer history is housed in
separate databases, Telesis required "dual screen pops."
Third, the screen pops had to be transferable. Agents in the Member Services ACD
Group must pass certain calls to the Fulfillment ACD group to fill the request - screen
pop info to boot.

After evaluating a bunch of options, Telesis settled on this: An Inter -Tel AXXESS
system; Taske (Kanata, Ontario - 613-591-9267) Level 2 ACD reporting; and
Computer Telephony Solutions'(CTS; Phoenix, AZ - 602-496-9040) OAI Server, the
single interface between Oaisys application modules - ACD Manager, Voice
Assistant IVR, Auto Call Record, and Agent Phone Plus - and the System Level OAI
of the Inter-Tel AXXESS.

Reliability? Well, CTS's CT Server platform was designed solely with the Inter-Tel
AXXESS in mind. When a customer call comes in, the Voice Assistance IVR prompts
the caller for an PIN number and passes it to the AXXESS system. The AXXESS
system works with CTS's Agent Phone Plus, through the OAI server, to do the dual
screen pop. And all screen pop info is transferable. Cost was around $250,000.

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Contact: Basking Ridge, NJ - 908-953-7688.
Switch Name: DEFINITY Enterprise Communications Server.
Architectural Basics: Their CentreVu CT server is billed as being API Neutral,
supporting TSAPI, JTAPI, TAPI 3.0 and their own proprietary CallVisor ASAI
interfaces. They also have PassageWay Telephony Services (runs on Novell
Netware with TSAPI API) and PassageWay Direct Connect (first party, TAPI
interface). Other server software they've worked with: Novell Telephony Services,
Dialogic CT Connect, IBM CallPath, HP ACT, Nabnassett T-Server, Genesys T-

The Case Study:

The Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Company is the sixth largest Coca-Cola bottling
company in the U.S. They handle a ton of calls. To deal with these calls in a more
professional manner, in March of 1998 they CTI-enabled their call center.

The bottling company runs Lucent's Definity switch and Davis Software Engineering's
(Dallas, TX - 214-758-3642) Windows-based TELE-SCOPE - computers and switch
communicating via a Novell network.

"TELE-SCOPE consolidates calls that previously went to various locations and brings
them into one center. The software not only allows us to provide better customer
service, but also enhances our business processes and decisions due to call
tracking," said Fran McGorry, CFO of Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling. "In addition,
TELE-SCOPE supplies the company's telephone agents with all the information they
need at their fingertips to be able to successfully deal with most issues that occur on
each call."

For example, if a customer calls in about the status of an order, using Caller ID, the
call is automatically routed to the telephone agent assigned to that customer. The
end result is a screen pop, including the date of the last order, description of products
normally ordered, account financial information, likes and dislikes, and expected
delivery date of the last order.

Margaret Bailey, call center manager at Coca-Cola Bottling, added: "During our peak
season, we receive approximately 20,000 per month that include simple order
requests, service calls, calls from potential customers, or current customers calling to
check on their order status.

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"We can now track these calls and use the information we gather to make better
business decisions," Bailey explained. "For example, if we have information telling us
that out of the 250 service calls we've received, 200 pertain to coolers, we can
immediately identify and correct the problem."

According to Bailey, Philadelphia Coca-Cola plans to expand their uses of TELE-
SCOPE in the upcoming year. "We are looking into setting up an IVR system that will
allow our salespeople to enter orders over the telephone by simply dialing in without
user intervention," Bailey continued.

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Contact: Kanata, Ontario - 613-592-2122.
Switch Name(s): Mitel SX-2000 Light, SX2K NT, SX-200 EL ML.
Architectural Basics: They have a CSTA interface and a proprietary one called MITAI.
CT server support has included their own Multimedia Server, Phoneware NT-based
server and CT Connect.

The Case Study:

The Mark Group, catalog marketers, uses the Mitel SX-2000 platform to support a
100-station call center in Boca Raton, FL. Selling different apparel and home
accessory merchandise through three catalogs, the company has grown from 20 to
100 stations since 1992 - all on the same Mitel switch.

In 1997 they acquired their third catalog and decided to eventually take over the
operation of that businesses' separate Atlanta center. That's when they started
looking into ways of streamlining average call length. Separate sales and customer
service phone numbers were assigned to each catalog. They decided to shelve a 25 -
second pre-connect announcement, as it kept callers waiting even when agents were

Working with Mitel dealer Teledata Concepts, they instituted ACD routing based on
these DNIS 800 numbers. On the agent side, they tied catalog-specific scripts and
screen pops to each DNIS, so that any agent could answer for any number.
When a call from the Mitel switch is distributed to an extension, DNIS is passed from
the switch to the MITAI switch-server link software and hence to Mitel's Phoneware
CTI server, developed for Mitel by Q.Sys. From the server it is then broadcast to any
Phoneware client logged in as that extension.

The Phoneware client has the option of running external macros or scripts. "We use
a Visual Basic script using a Rumba-to-DDE macro to read the DNIS information
from the Phoneware Client and interface with our order entry software to pop the
appropriate screen," says Mike Leonard, the Mark Group's network guru. The order
entry software runs on an IBM AS/400; the switch-to-server link is fiber optic cable
and ends in AFC (Application Fiber Controller) cards on both ends.

A call management reporting system from TASKE technologies is used to assign
agents to skill queues and to track calls and call durations by agent. With 1.5 million
calls per year, a 25-second cut in call time saves the Mark Group $30,000 all by
itself. This paid for the CTI investment in 18 months, they said.

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Contact: Irving, TX - 972-518-4817.
Switch Name(s): NEAX 2400; NEAX 2000.
CT Architectural Basics: OAI is the name of their proprietary switch-to-host link. They
also have TAPI/TSAPI grounded solutions.

The Case Study:

It's no secret to anyone dwelling in Vegas, but Park Place Entertainment (Las Vegas,
NV - 702-699-5000) is constructing a new hotel/casino, dubbed Paris, next door to
their own Bally's Vegas. The half finished, half life-size, replica Eiffel Tower in the
courtyard is a small tip off to the name.
When Paris is finished, the Bally's Las Vegas call center will become the Bally's/Paris
call center. A central site to handle room reservations, VIP services and the box
office for a combined 6,000 rooms and upwards of 20,000 calls a day.

NEC America is providing the switch/software call center platforms to manage the
soon to be over 15,000 lines. The new Paris will run NEC's newest NEAX, the 2400
IMX (Integrated Multimedia eXchange) platform; Bally's already uses NEC's NEAX
2400 UMG.

Right now, in the Bally's call center itself, agents use NEC's Advanced Attendant
Consoles for the likes of auto connect, directory lookup, busy lamp fields, auto
wakeup and PC-dialing. Supervisors run Navigator to track calls. Average speed to
answer, total calls, abandoned calls are just part of what Navigator provides them.

The whole idea is to seamlessly make the jump from p re-Paris to post-Paris.
Meaning the call center needs to remain operational, add agents, adjust to twice the
call volume, handle twice the number of rooms, process calls from two sites and then
some - without affecting customer service.

Installing a new phone system is one touchy subject matter in Vegas.
Vegas is about money. Customers' money. And in case you've never been or were
too distracted to notice, there are many options for the money-spending consumer.
Money-seeking ventures must keep a close eye on who their customers are.

And the call center is where this all starts. There are thousands of customers. There
are customer levels of importance as well - VIPs get special numbers and are
assigned special agents. Customer history files are many. Agents need to be ultra-
polite. The call center essentially pulls in the money-spenders.

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Contact: Richardson, TX - 972-684-1000.
Switch Name(s): Meridian 1
CT Architectural Basics: They have many CTI flavors, including TAPI / TSAPI based

The Case Study:

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's call center answers phones for two
Philadelphia hospitals, a health information hotline, a managed-care physician
referral service, an after-hours answering service for physician specialists, and a
nurse-staffed advisory service for after-hours primary care.

The heart of their 60-agent center is a Nortel Meridian 1 Option 81. The switch is
integrated with Sharp Focus, from Health Line, a physician and patient database
application, through the Meridian Link interface application processor running in the
switch. This, in turn, connects to a CTI server running Dialogic's CT-Connect

ACD and customer-controlled routing are run on the same Meridian Link application
processor. A separate Nortel Open IVR server supports the health hotline audiotext

When patients call their primary physicians after hours, the individual practice
numbers are forwarded to DNIS numbers on UPHS's system; DNIS -keyed screen
pops tell agents which practice is being called. Callers are notified that they've
reached UPHS's after-hours service and the call is recorded.

The agent manually brings up the patient record. If the caller is reporting symptoms,
the call, with patient record, is transfe rred to a nurse, who can then determine if the
caller should immediately see or speak with a doctor.

The center's transaction processing and health database software is Sharp Focus,
from Health Line. It contains patent records, the physician database, symptom-based
protocols, and has been integrated with the call center dialing and transferring
functions through DDE messaging and Meridian Phone softphone clients running on
agent desktops. For physician-practice screen pop, CT-Connect passes the DNIS to
the Meridian Phone client at the receiving agent's desktop. The Meridian Phone
client, in turn, sends a DDE message to the Sharp Focus database to bring up that
practice screen.

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UPHS had an ACD system before the Meridian and assigned different numbers to
various queues. But they did not have the scale they needed for a nurse advisory
service, for the referral service they run now, or the reporting they needed to
determine staffing levels.

Previously, if calls to the after-hours advisory service were not a nswered in 12
seconds, they rang a bell in the center - as many as 60 times a day. The center had
no way of knowing which agents were picking up those calls or how long the caller
waited. Agents who did pick up those calls were not credited with that extra load.

Staffers, both agents and nurses, now log onto the Meridian system and have full
Meridian Phone functionality through their NT workstations.

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Contact: Woodbury, NY - 516-921-8300.
Switch Name(s): Synopsys, Digital 128, Digital 400, S1000.
Architectural Basics: Their CTI interface is CSTA-based and called Open Architecture
Link. They'll work with Novell Telephony Services and Dialogic CT-Connect. They
also have special TelradLink Data Cards for desktop TAPI call control.

The Case Study:

Lollytogs French Toast manufactures and supplies children's clothing - not yummy
breakfast fare as the name would imply. They have been using Telrad products for
two decades. And when their call center boomed to over 100 agents handling over
1,000 calls a day, they went hunting for an upgrade.

"We've considered other systems as we've upgraded over the past two decades, but
each time we come back to Telrad," says Michael Sutton, General Manager of
Lollytogs French Toast. "Telrad gives us features and q uality that we think are
unmatched in the industry."

Lollytogs' upgrade went from the Telrad Digital 128 phone system to the Digital 400
with a 384-port capacity. The same peripheral equipment, system cards and stations
are being used.

Lollytogs also i nstalled Microsoft Outlook and Active Voice's (Seattle, WA - 206-441-
4700) PhoneMax third-party software in their PCs, and TelradLINK data cards with
the TAPI interface were installed in their Telrad stations. This gives agents call
control, including screen pops on inbound and outbound calls.
Johnny Ng, Facilities Manager at Lollytogs French Toast, says he really likes "the
convenience of the screen, which is very user-friendly. For example, I can push a
number and a menu of options appears that makes everyone's job so much easier."

With orders coming in all day long, Lollytogs French Toast must ensure the right reps
get their customers' calls right away. "Telrad allows us to worry about selling and not
about technology," says Mr. Sutton. "Telrad provides the latest and greatest with
systems that are very robust and give us the most bang for our buck."

Interconnect Service Group did the installation. John Liguori is vice president of
system sales. "Telrad is our most popular phone system because of the flexible
networking capabilities they offer," says Mr. Liguori.

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"Many of our customers have multiple locations and Telrad systems allow us to
implement voice and data connectivity between them. The system's CTI and ACD
capabilities provide effective call center solutions. And with Lollytogs French Toast,
we also help keep our kids looking great."

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Unified Messaging

by Blair Pleasant

Network Magazine, 08/05/00

Unified messaging (UM) products have been around for quite some time, but only
now is the market beginning to hit its stride. One reason for this accelerated growth is
the variety of implementations now available. Companies can deploy the technology
using their own Customer Premises Equipment (CPE), or by subscribing to one of a
growing number of enhanced service providers offering Unified Messaging (UM)

This wider array of options means more and more kinds of users -from Small
Office/Home Office (SOHO) users to those at large enterprise organizations-can reap
the benefits of the technology.


Today, most companies using UM have opted to buy their own CPE, either from
traditional voice mail/PBX vendors-including Lucent Technologies, Mitel, Nortel
Networks, Siemens, and NEC-or from standalone UM vendors, such as AVT, Active
Voice, and Baypoint Innovations. Companies are also beginning to evaluate next -
generation switch solutions such as PC-PBXs, which perform multiple messaging
functions and store multiple message types on a single platform.

Within the CPE category, there are two primary approaches to UM: integrated and
unified. Both architectures deliver the same result-end users see one in-basket where
all their messages reside and that they can access through the telephone or an e-
mail client. Back-end configurations differ, though.
With the integrated approach, different message types are not located in a single
message store but rather in separate systems: Voice messages reside on the voice
mail server, e-mail messages reside on the e-mail server, and faxes reside on a fax
server or a voice mail server. This architecture uses peer-to-peer server connections,
often with bidirectional synchronization, to move messages and headers to the
appropriate server and to synchronize those messages. Server software coordinates
this back-end process, while a client GUI integrates the different message types into
a single application.

In a unified architecture, there is a single repository or message store. Faxes, e-mail,
and voice mail reside on one server-usually, the existing e-mail system-and all types
of mail are consolidated in one mailbox. For example, with UM, when you call in to
leave a voice message, it is stored in an e -mail box instead of on a voice mail server.
Typically, a company's existing voice mail system will dictate the UM architecture it
uses. Those with significant investments in legacy systems will benefit from the
integrated approach, as it permits them to leverage the equipment they already have.

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It also enables them to distribute users and applications across the servers and

However, one drawback to the integrated architecture lies in the area of unified
directories. System administrators need to maintain separate directories for each
type of server, and multiple directories can limit messages using different media,
such as an e-mail with a voice attachment.

By supporting Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), vendors can provide
unified, single directories on integrated messaging systems. However, LDAP support
does not necessarily solve the overall problem.

Companies that do not currently have voice mail systems but want to add voice mail
to their messaging mix will most likely want to opt for a unified architecture. The
advantage here is tighter integration between e-mail and voice mail, which are stored
on one system. This eases administration, as changes can be made to a single

―Green field‖ companies, which typically have little or no investment in legacy voice
mail systems, will be among the initial beneficiaries of a unified architecture.
However, in three to five years, it is expected that unified systems will replace
integrated ones as more and more companies choose to add voice mail to their
groupware systems, such as Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes.
In the meantime, many customers may want to opt for the integrated approach and
use their existing systems, particularly since Microsoft Exchange is currently less
reliable than telephony servers.

Regardless of the underlying architecture, however, the bottom line for UM is ease-
of-use for end users and superior message management. Both architectures provide
this. (The differences in the two approaches are enumerated in Table 1.)


Given the admi nistrative and cost benefits of a unified architecture, the
telecommunications industry is shifting toward new systems that provide PBX and
switching capabilities in a standard PC or server.

These systems, called communication servers or PC-PBXs, replace the traditional
telephone system with more versatile, PC-based technology that supports voice, e-
mail, and other services on a single, unified platform. This design eliminates the need
to integrate separate voice mail and e-mail systems.

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These servers contain phone-line cards and specialized add-in boards, and serve as
the PBX for regular, analog phones. Because they are generally built on Windows NT
servers and incorporate Microsoft Exchange, these next-generation switches provide
seamless integration with applications such as Microsoft Outlook, making unification
painless and seamless.

For example, Outlook captures and displays all voice mail, e -mail, and pager
messages, in addition to faxes. Any of these messages can be played, saved, or
attached to other messages for forwarding.

Communications servers provide users with a single inbox for their messages. They
also provide Internet message browsing, letting users browse voice mail messages
via a LAN or dial-up Internet connection.

For example, vendor provides Web-based interfaces for browsing
voice mail messages, enabling users to access all of their messages-voice mail, e-
mail, and faxes-through their Web browser. (See ―Communications Servers: The
Wave of the Future‖ for information on various vendor offerings.)

Communications servers provide the same functionality as traditional PBXs at a
much lower cost, making them especially popular among small and branch offices.
Driving down prices is the use of generic, off-the-shelf components and PC platforms,
which are less expensive than proprietary PBXs.

These components are also more easily and quickly replaced, since they're readily
available. Another draw is ease-of-use: Some of these systems support UM out of
the box, requiring no additional equipment. This means that all forms of
communications-phone, voice mail, e-mail, and fax-can be supported at the outset.

Communications servers are also open and modular, making it easy to add new
services and features, such as voice mail/UM, automated attendant, fax, e-mail,
Interactive Voice Response (IVR), and Internet access. With a proprietary PBX,
delivering these features would generally require adding and connecting servers to
the PBX and LAN.

Another benefit of communications servers are the use of GUIs, which replace
command-line programming, thus making them easier to administer.

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For those who don't want to mess with supporting their own equipment, there are
many options for getting UM as a service. An increasing number of enhanced service
providers, including telcos, wireless carriers, ISPs, Competitive Local Exchange
Carriers (CLECs), and even Web portals like Yahoo!, have jumped into the UM fray,
offering low-cost or, in some cases, free services.

With a UM service, users, or subscribers, can access their messages by either calling
in to the service provider's system, or connecting via a Web browser. On top of a
monthly fee, subscribers usually must pay a one-time setup charge. Monthly fees
start at under $13 and scale up according to the services provided.
Most UM service providers give users a single, unique phone number-usually a local
or toll-free number-to receive voice mail and fax messages.

These messages are then delivered to the user's e-mail account. Voice mail
messages are sent as .wav file attachments, and faxes are sent as attached .tif
images. All messages appear in the user's e-mail inbox. Some of these services
permit access to e-mail messages over the phone via text-to-speech, but not all
providers have this capability. Some services have pager notification, which notifies
users of new voice mail messages.

The main drawback of many of these services is that they require a separate number
from the subscriber's regular phone number. Either callers have to make a second
call, or the recipient must subscribe to a call-forwarding service from the phone
company, which is an additional expense.

Most UM services target a particular niche market, such as small businesses,
wireless users, ―road warriors,‖ telecommuters, or casual residential Web users with
one phone line or no PC.

The enterprise market has not been tapped as the prime target for most service
providers because of integration issues with legacy voice mail and e -mail systems.
However, this is beginning to change as companies like Lucent make headway into
the enterprise market via service provider offerings.

In October 1999, Lucent announced that it would provide a new UM solution to
service providers based on Microsoft Exchange and Lucent's Unified Messenger
system, making Lucent the first company licensed to resell Microsoft Exchange to
global service providers. The Unified Messenger for Service Providers will be sold to
service providers and marketed to businesses. Lucent will offer a complete UM
solution that includes hardware, software, services, and support under a single

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As mentioned earlier, UM services can be provided by a variety of sources, including
local telcos, long distance carriers, cellular providers, ISPs, and backbone service
providers. Even cable and satellite service providers are competing for
communications customers and could conceivably become UM service providers.

Several existing carriers, such as GTE, MCI WorldCom, and Bell Canada, offer some
type of UM service. In some cases, newer CLECs can deploy UM much faster than
traditional telcos because they are unencumbered by legacy systems that need to be
upgraded and integrated into UM systems. This makes it easier for them to
implement UM technology and to offer ―new world‖ services to their customers.

Telcos are still evaluating the potential for offering UM services; most will begin trials
and implementations over the next two years. GTE is the furthest along, having
invested millions of dollars in its UM infrastructure.

Smaller service providers can bring applications to market more quickly than the
RBOCs, which are notoriously slow in delivering new products and services. When
these smaller, innovative companies bring UM to the market, they not only help
educate the public about UM's benefits, but also give the RBOCs an incentive to
move more quickly with their own UM infrastructure and service delivery.

Other players in the market include a host of providers offering free basic UM service.
Most major e-mail hosting companies, as well as several portals such as Yahoo!,
offer free UM services. Some of the free services include, eFax,
MessageClick, OneBox, Hello Direct's Message Center Light, uReach, and
ThinkLink. has signed deals with Yahoo!, which promotes's free service in
connection with Yahoo! Mail, Prodigy, CompuServe, and AOL. hopes to
step up its customers into premium, for-fee services.

Another free service, OneBox (, lets users listen to voice
messages, read e-mail, and receive faxes through the Web, and it is offered for free
through partner Web sites. Another vendor, OfficeDomain, also gives away its
MessageASAP software. E-mail, voice mail, and fax messages are stored in a
personal inbox at, which subscribers can access from any
Web browser.
Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch, and people who subscribe to these
free services generally have to deal with advertising, and they risk having their
personal information sold to marketing companies.

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While most UM services are attractive to individuals because there are no major
equipment costs, they can have limitations in some enterprise environments. Most
services do not provide an adequate level of integration with the company's existing
voice mail and e-mail systems; nor do they provide the same level of customization
as CPE systems. Again, this is starting to change as companies such as Lucent
begin to offer UM services that integrate with Microsoft Exchange.

For companies that want to provide UM to some of their employees, such as those
who travel frequently, a UM service may be the way to go, as it is generally more
cost-effective. For companies that require integration with existing voice mail and/or
e-mail systems, a CPE solution is probably the best choice. (Table 2 lists some of the
pros and cons for users considering CPE vs. service provider offerings.)

Regardless of the method used to deliver UM, the technology provides many
benefits. Studies have found significant time savings and productivity improvements
in many types of companies and for many types of users.
An independent study by The Radicati Group ( found that
organizations recovered their investment in Lucent's Unified Messenger CPE in less
than four months, reduced ongoing IT support and administrative costs by 70
percent, and generated about 30 minutes of additional daily productivity per system

For established companies with legacy voice mail and e-mail, as well as green field
organizations without an existing infrastructure, there's an increasing number of
available UM alternatives.

The key is carefully assessing your requirements up front to ensure that the solution
you choose will provide sufficient functionality now and in the future.
Blair Pleasant is director of communications analysis for The Pelorus Group
( Focusing primarily on UM, computer telephony, call-
center software, and voice processing, she provides both market research analysis
and consulting services. She can be reached at

Communications servers are becoming increasingly popular as more and more
companies begin to move toward a single, unified platform for all their messaging
needs. Examples of these integrated servers include products from AltiGen
Communications, Mitel, NexPath, Sphere, Interactive Intelligence,,
and Praxon.

AltiGen's ( AltiServ provides PBX, automated attendant, and voice
mail functionality integrated with the Internet. For Unified Messaging (UM), AltiGen
uses Coresoft's ( CenterPoint software application.

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Coresoft leverages the AltiServ environment to integrate voice mail, e-mail, and fax
messages, and also provides GUI drag-and-drop features. ( offers the InternetPBX, which provides
traditional telephone service, e-mail, voice mail, and faxing integrated with low-cost
IP telephony. Services include UM for voice mail, e -mail, and faxes, and text-to-
speech translation for users wanting to receive e-mail over the phone. Voice mail, e-
mail, and faxes stream into one universal inbox or to a Web browser.

Interactive Intelligence's ( Enterprise Interaction Center (EIC) runs on
a single Windows NT server to process telephony, fax, e-mail, and Internet
interactions. Users can start with UM features, then add other options for managing
all synchronous and asynchronous communications. EIC's basic configuration
provides voice mail, faxes, e-mail, a common inbox, and a telephony user interface to
access messages. It also offers fax headers and text-to-speech features for e-mail
headers and bodies.

The Praxon Phone Data eXchange ( server is aimed at small and
midsize businesses. It offers voice, data networking, messaging, and Internet access
for under $400 per port. It includes an integrated PBX, automated attendant, voice
mail server, e-mail server, LAN hub, intranet server, remote access server, and
secure Internet router. Messaging capabilities include voice mail with multiple
greeting configurations and multimedia mailboxes for storage of voice mail and e -

Sphere Communications ( offers the network-based PBX
Sphericall and offers a UM solution with its partner AVT ( AVT's suite
of UM and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) solutions brings expanded capabilities
to the basic feature set of the Sphericall system.

The Web site houses newsletters, news summaries, and
links related to various issues in the messaging are na.

The Unified Communications Consortium (UCC) focuses on the unified-
communications market, both for public services and enterprise Customer Premises
Equipment (CPE)-based systems. The consortium seeks to further industry growth
through sponsoring of ongoing market research and education. Visit the consortium

―Unified Messaging CPE: Moving to Unified Communications‖ is an in-depth market
study by The Pelorus Group that covers Unified Messaging (UM) technology, trends,
issues, players, market forecasts, and much more. See

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Packet Switching - Circuit Switching

Cisco Bites the Blended Bullet

by James Gifford
Computer Telephony, 04/01/99

Part 1 in an ongoing series of how Cisco is folding all of its corporate voice
communications into a single, packet-basednetwork.

Slowly but surely, IP telephony has been moving from a half-developed fringe
technology to a mainstream replacement for circuit-switched equipment. The signal
rockets have been getting bigger and bigger, and Cisco Systems is about to light off
a Saturn V-sized monster that's sure to get everyone's attention.

The darling of network managers and investors alike, Cisco firmly planted its $8.5
billion corporate flag in the CT industry by acquiring Selsius Systems late last year.
Selsius developed a complete line of IP telephony products, including an IPBX, IP
phones and system-management software. The Selsius name is slated to fade away,
but the product line will remain - and likely prosper - under the Cisco banner.

This would be a routine big-corp-buys-small-company-to-get-a-technology-infusion
transaction except for one thing: Cisco plans to implement its newly acquired
technology in-house, on its sprawling two-site San Jose campus. All existing
telephony systems will be replaced with IP systems - right to the last desktop.

The numbers are staggering. Within two years, Cisco will have implemented IP
telephony across the split campus to more than 40 buildings and some 20,000
employees. All told, that's something like 30,000 extensions.

Cisco's exuberant growth curve might well make those numbers seem small by the
time the conversion is complete. (The Cisco campus is not a good place in which to
stand around in an empty area, as they're likely to drop a building on you. If you
stand around in a corridor, you might well be run down by the hordes of new hires
racing to their cubicles.)

Right now, Cisco depends on some 100 Nortel Meridian 1 PBXs with Octel voicemail.
All of these will be ditched in favor of the new digital stuff.
At the time I spoke with them, only a small pilot pro ject was underway - a dozen
users in one office. By the time you read this, a larger pilot of up to 300 phones will
be underway. The short term goal of 3,000 digital extensions should be reached by
late summer of this year.

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New buildings are being built to accommodate IP telephony and may never be
invaded by a "telephone" wire. The conversion of existing buildings and PBXs is
expected to occur on an aggressive schedule, with the changeover complete by the
end of the millennium - December, 2000.

All of the telephony systems installed and used by Cisco will be production
equipment. Cisco is proud of the fact that their own network contains only production
hardware, firmware and software and that a customer can buy any item in use. The
same will remain true for the erstwhile Selsius equipment. If the IPBXs, phones or
software need further development to meet Cisco's needs, the changes will be part of
the commercially available product line.

Cisco has (of course) a world-class multiprotocol WAN linking some 225 sites (mostly
sales offices) in 77 countries, and a large portion of their telephony trunking rides this
ATM railroad. What Cisco now plans is to cover their version of the proverbial "last
100 feet" that stymies telcos across the country who want to bring digital to the
doorstep. The backbone WANs are done; the high-speed LANs are in place; all that
remains is to get digital telephony out of the wall sockets to the users.

Cisco has also committed to a combined data/voice network. Each workstation within
the company already has several 10/100 Mbps data ports, so plugging in IP
telephones is a relatively low-impact step.

Cisco expects the conversion to reduce their new cabling needs by one-third. (That
alone is a pretty compelling reason to consider IP telephony in large installations.)
They don't expect any voice quality or bandwidth problems by combining voice and
data on the same network; we'll see how they feel about it after a substantial chunk
of implementation.

Cisco is fortunate in that they've already cleared one common hurdle. In older
companies, data systems and telephony are often managed by different, not -always-
cooperative departments. Cisco's network and telephony systems are already
managed by a single department, so there will be no turf wars to cloud the

The existing PBX and traditional telephony staff are being re -trained, over a two-year
period, to understand packet networks and manage the new equipment. They're also
being coached to look at telephony in terms of solutions instead of as discrete
technology - a change that's affecting telephony and network VARs and integrators
throughout the industry.

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The Cisco conversion may be the largest implementation of IP telephony to date. As
such, it's of more than passing interest to us - and to you.
Thus, we're going to be keeping an eye on the project and reporting Cisco's progress
at regular intervals. Stay tuned... It should be quite a ride.

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by Mary Jander

Rolls-Royce Allison

It's easier to apologize than ask permission." Put it in a script and it's a great line for a
Hollywood tough guy. Hear it from electrician John Sego and it explains why he's the
man behind one of the largest ATM networks in the nation. He may not be on the
silver screen, but he's proof that even in real life shooting first and saving the
questions for later is sometimes the best way to get the job done. Consider the
situation at Rolls-Royce Allison (Indianapolis). Five years ago the aerospace
engineering company was making do with coax LANs creaking along at speeds as
low as 9.6 kbit/s. Three years ago it didn't have e-mail. Now it has an ATM network
that boasts more than 8,000 Ethernet ports and 760 OC3 (155-Mbit/s) ports, spans
two campuses and 3.7 million square feet of industrial space, and comprises 10
emulated LANs linked by a 155-Mbit/s network that features more than 6,000
switched Ethernet connections.

Sego's no lone ranger-outsourcing partner Electronic Data Services Corp. (EDS,
Plano, Texas) was instrumental in seeing the project through-but he was the one who
kept things moving. "One of the challenges of this project was that there wasn't a
good universal understanding throughout the organization of what was being done
and why," says EDS infrastructure specialist Eric Boeck. "There was no one person
you could go to for quick decision making. Without John, I don't think we could have
finished in the time we did."

Pretty strong praise for someone Rolls-Royce Allison didn't consider a net manager.
As an hourly electrician and member of the United Auto Workers union, Sego says
his duties were clearly delineated-and his ability to get involved in management
decisions limited. "I'm supposed to pull wire, that's all."
Maybe so, but he and EDS personnel ended up pulling Rolls-Royce Allison through
an upgrade that would have challenged even the best-drilled IT team.

Technical problems included signaling shortfalls inside ATM switches from Bay
Networks Inc. (now Nortel Networks [Santa Clara, Calif.]), as well as glitches with
ATM server adapters from Olicom Inc. (Richardson, Texas) and Sun Microsystems
Inc. (Mountain View, Calif.). Nontechnical problems included a management staff that
likened corporate networking to building maintenance; they literally equated router
installation with changing lightbulbs. Then there was the added distraction of two
changes of ownership in less than five years.

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And just to keep things interesting, there was the small matter of Sego's workplace
demeanor. "John isn't exactly tactful," says Kevin Flook, another EDS infrastructure
specialist. "He has a tendency to butt heads in getting things done."

But no one can deny that things are better. "We've doubled our throughput capacity
and the overall stability of the network is up 20 percent," says C. David Evans, vice
president of security and information technology.

Sego's reward? A Mexican lunch-and a firm reprimand for not following appropriate
management channels. "They told me I was a disgrace to the maintenance
department for making too many management decisions on my own," he says. And
though he received partial reimbursement for the certification courses he took at
Building Industries Consulting Services International (BICSI, Tampa, Fla.), he didn't
receive much credit. Sego says the head of plant engineering told him, "It can't be
that tough if you passed it."
Still, Sego has the bigger picture firmly in sight. "It's definitely been worth it," he says
of the project. "It's brought us a new way of working."

It only takes one look at the old network to see how far Sego and his team came (see
Figure 1). Employees used the old network mainly to exchange technical drawings
and data between engineering departments involved in the construction of aircraft
engines-and that's about it.

Good thing, because even file transfers posed problems. The network was divided
into 250 distinct segments, with more than 200 servers spread across them. "There
was no really good structure," Boeck recalls.

Applications were homegrown, and 90 percent of traffic was sent over 10-Mbit/s
shared Ethernet running on broadband cable TV wiring. Connecting everything were
400 hubs and bridges from Chipcom Corp. (now 3Com Corp. [Santa Clara, Calif.])
and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP, Palo Alto, Calif.); 12 switches from Alantec Corp. (now
Fore Systems Inc. [Warrendale, Pa.]); and eight older-model routers from Cisco
Systems Inc. (San Jose, Calif.). (The Alantec switches, Boeck says, were set up to
act as routers.) The other 10 percent of network traffic was SNA running over coax
connections at rates of 9.6 to 56 kbit/s, terminating in mainframes at a remote EDS
site in Auburn Hills, Mich.

And the hassle of maintaining the network was matched only by how poorly it
performed. Loading an engineering file from server to workstation took as long as five
minutes. "We limped along, trying to keep up," Sego recalls. "We had to get creative
in order to keep everything up and running."

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That often meant engaging in a primitive form of predictive analysis: dashing from
place to place with a protocol analyzer to determine where the next blowout might
occur, then moving wires around to accommodate the load before trouble hit.

And it wasn't as if Sego hadn't been working to impro ve things already. Way back in
1992-when the company was known as Allison Engine and was still a part of General
Motors-he installed a Category 5 structured wiring system from AT&T
Microelectronics (now Lucent Technologies Inc. [Murray Hill, N.J.]). He also put into
action a plan to install a fiber optic backbone, with the ultimate goal of moving to an
ATM backbone and switched Ethernet. Why not gigabit Ethernet? "It wasn't even
being talked about when we made our decision," he says. "Fast Ethernet wasn't
widely implemented, and faster Ethernet was still a dream. And no type of Ethernet
would have offered the built-in ELAN support ATM does."

Regardless, GM sold Allison to investment firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice Inc. (New
York) in 1993, before users were even hooked up to the new wiring. And the new
owners put the kibosh on network upgrades. "They made it clear they weren't
interested in building up the company in any way," Sego says. "They turned out every
other light in the plant to save money and basically sold everything that wasn't bolted

But a new suitor was waiting in the wings. In 1995, Rolls-Royce PLC (London)
bought Allison. It wasted no time in setting itself apart from Clayton, Dubilier & Rice-
buoying Sego's hopes in the process.

The new owner wanted to deploy a suite of engineering applications that included
solid modeling, a method of design using geometrical three -dimensional
representations of objects. It also wanted to introduce e-mail and a SAP R/3
database from SAP AG (Mannheim, Germany). EDS took up the challenge and
started to roll the apps out in late 1995. That's when trouble hit: Response times
slowed to a crawl, and loading large files now took as long as 10 minutes. "We were
at 90 percent saturation every day," Sego recalls. "Shared Ethernet couldn't handle
the load."

It was time for action, but Sego, Flook, and Boeck had to cool their jets. Because the
plant does so much work for the military, they couldn't call Rolls-Royce brass in the
U.K. directly. Instead, they had to forward their upgrade requests through Randy
Kingston, an EDS infrastructure manager who'd been appointed the designated
liaison. He was able to obtain a copy of the company's "strategic direction" for IT.
"The document said two things," Sego recalls. "ATM backbone and switched
connections to the desktop."
It was the only go-ahead they needed.

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By June 1996, the design team had chosen 5000BH ATM switches (with 10/100-
Mbit/s Ethernet modules) from what was then Bay to build the backbone. Flook is
clear on why Bay made the cut: "We wanted just one vendor. We needed a complete
solution that provided switched Ethernet as well as ATM and had been installed in
very large networks."

At around the same time, the team began to work with a local representative of
distributor Anixter Inc. (Skokie, Ill.) to negotiate a deal with Bay and design the
network. Michael Booher, a systems engineer with Anixter's Indianapolis office,
helped design the new ATM network. The plan called for a fully meshed net in which
a hierarchy of switches would establish redundancy for every port and connection
(see Figure 2). The 155-Mbit/s ATM backbone was to be configured for variable bit
rate (VBR) traffic, and links to servers and desktops would run at switched 10 - or
100-Mbit/s Ethernet.

All switches are dual-homed. In other words, all of the switches have OC3 uplinks
with OC3 backup links to other switches; if any main uplink went down, it would
automatically be rerouted over its backup link. And neither Sego's fiber optic wiring
nor his Cat 5 would go to waste, since they'd support the backbone and the wiring-
closet-to-desktop connections.

Separate feeder-switch chassis would back one another up. One Nortel/Bay BCN-1
router, located at the center of the network, would route traffic among separate
ELANs (emulated LANs) and maintain links to other sites. A duplicate router would
be kept alongside as a hot standby. The routers would reside behind the corporate

Keep in mind that it was still only 1996, which meant that using MPOA (multiprotocol
over ATM) software to route among ELANs was not yet a realistic option (the design
team says that even now it's not ready to make a move). Similarly, they decided
against a prestandard version of PNNI (private network-to-network interface). Also
unavailable at the time were router modules for the 5000BH chassis, which would
have eliminated the need for a central router to move traffic over separate ELANs.
But even if they were, Boeck contends, the team felt one central router would simplify
management. "This design was flat and simple," he says.

As for the end-stations, the plan called for 3,500 new PCs from Compaq Computer
Corp. (Houston), which would run Windows NT for e -mail, office apps, and SAP R/3
database applications. Another 1,000 Sun workstations running Solaris would be
used for CAD/CAM, solid modeling, and other engineering apps. About 40 of the
Compaq and Sun machines would be configured as servers.
The rollout was to last one year, with responsibilities parceled out according to
expertise. Supervising ATM switch configuration and ELAN assignment was Flook.
Tabbed for router configuration and security setup was Boeck. And slotted in for the
premises wiring and documentation was Sego.

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And getting it all on paper would be no easy feat. Sego completed the first part of the
documentation by the time switches started arriving in December 1996. But then it
was time for the port mapping-and that's when he ran into some organizational

For starters, he had to do all his work in Excel charts. Communication problems
within the company kept him from getting the OK on software that would have
streamlined the documentation process.

And there were continued questions about Sego's role. "They felt the documentation
wasn't a job for the maintenance department," he says. So he had to do it in his
spare time. But he wasn't allowed to work at home -which turned "spare time" into
more time spent at the plant, after hours. Still, Sego was intent on creating a naming
system that would help the team move through the migration. "It's crucial that a
naming system tells you not only what's in your network, but where it is and what it's
connected to," he says.

So he settled on a system in which the name of every switch indicated its function:
CS for core switch, FS for feeder switch, IDF for intermediate distribution frame
(wiring closet) switch, and SS for server switch. He assigned each of these a number
from 1 to 120 (there were to be 120 ATM switches in the network). He then used
letters to indicate where the switch would be located: TSC for technical support
center, M for manufacturing department, and so on. Then more numbers, to indicate
the rack the switch would sit in and its position within that rack. Thus, an address of
FS08TSC01-1A signifies the right-hand side of feeder switch No. 8, located in the
technical support center, in the first rack.

Once the basic naming scheme was completed, Sego placed it into a larger chart he
called the conversion document. This contained a special number for each switch
that could be used in dealings with Nortel/Bay, as well as IP and ATM address
information. Next, he mapped the ports on every ATM switch slated for setup in the
new net, creating another Excel document with separate charts for each switch,
showing how each module was linked to modules on other switches. This was the
most difficult part of the work. "If anyone even says your name while you're doing
this, you've lost it," he says.

All in all it took Sego over four months to create a full set of port maps. But better to
set it out clearly than fly blind during the migration. "Poor documentation does more
harm than good," he says.

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Meanwhile, Flook and Boeck got started on the ATM network itself. They built a test
bed comprising several switches, a Bay BCN router, and a server. "We couldn't
afford to have outages and mistakes," says Flook. "The test bed helped us keep
everyone working while we got the new system up and running."

And the first step on that front was to set up the Bay 5000BH switches to handle 10
ELANs. With help from Anixter's Booher, Flook and several other EDS staffers
configured the feeder ATM switches in the test network to act as LAN emulation
servers (LESs) and broadcast and unknown servers (BUSs). They set up wiring
closet switches to act as LAN emulation clients (LECs), funneling requests from
users to the LESs/BUSs. They also set up switched Ethernet modules from the wiring
closet switches to ensure they could emulate the end-to-end design.

Testing was completed by April 1997, but a couple of problems cropped up during
that time. First, the team found that some ATM calls weren't passing smoothly
through the network; end-station screens would freeze or messages would appear
indicating a failed server connection. Fortunately, Sego's documentation allowed the
team to trace the physical path of VCs (virtual circuits) through the network. Then,
using a protocol analyzer and traffic logs, they discovered that in periods of heavy
traffic VCs weren't always torn down upon call completion-resulting in "busy signals"
the next time a VC connection was requested.

Apparently, there was a LEC-to-LEC timing failure, for which Bay said it would find a
fix. In the meantime, team members found they could get around the problem by
rebooting the network. And that's what they're still doing: A repair did arrive, and it
tested fine. There just hasn't been time to install it.

The second problem concerned end -stations that sometimes didn't respond to ATM
calls made by the switches; during peak periods, users couldn't get a response from
servers. Flook once again resorted to the analyzer and log files, this time tracing the
problem to workstation and server ATM adapters, which were furnished by Olicom
and Sun.

It turned into a sticky situation. Both products apparently had deep incompatibilities
with the Bay switches, despite claims by all three vendors that they supported ATM
standards. Booher says that in Sun's case, the adapters failed to respond to switch
requests with appropriate ARP (address resolution protocol) information. And the
Olicom adapters seemed unable to handle addressing information from multiple

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Then came the arguments. "Both Sun and Olicom told us they were working on the
issue,'" Sego says. "But they made it clear that other customers hadn't had problems
with their adapters, so it seemed to be a low priority for them." So the team settled on
a workaround that meant putting servers on 100-Mbit/s switched Ethernet
connections instead of connecting them to ATM server switches.

It wasn't until January of this year that Sun finally delivered a software patch that
fixed the problem; at press time, Olicom had sent fixes that worked with one or two
ELANs but failed in the 10-ELAN production network. Both Sun and Olicom deny
having any record of customer problems with their ATM adapters, although Olicom
says there could be problems if a server doesn't have enough memory for ATM

Of course, work was continui ng on other fronts. Boeck set up the software links
between the old and new networks by building a DNS (domain name system) server
on a Sun Solaris workstation. It matched the new ELAN addresses with the IP and
MAC addresses listed on the old DNS server and created a pointer indicating they
were the same. "Users on the old network could see a server on the new one without
having to know the new server address," Boeck says. "It was all transparent."

Next up was security, and here Boeck chose the SecureIT firewall from Milkyway
Networks Corp. (now SLM Networks Inc. [Ottawa]). He also set up a bypass
capability that would temporarily allow legacy network users to get access to the new
servers behind the firewall, which ultimately would act as a proxy server for Internet
communications. And users dialing into the network would have to be authenticated
by a SecurID server from Security Dynamics Inc. (Bedford, Mass.).

As for management, the team simply built on the HP Openview platform that was in
place in the old network. It became the launching pad for Bay's Optivity management
software, which tracks the activity of the ATM switches. There were some initial
problems getting all the reports to work, but EDS infrastructure analyst Phil Kendall
admits this might have had as much to do with his own learning curve as with the
vendor. "Managing ATM requires a new mindset," he says.

While Optivity offers good graphical views and performance statistics, he's had to
extend his knowledge of both Openview and Optivity to get the functionality he
wants. "I've written scripts to track calls, and I'm trying to automate configurations so
they don't have to be done manually." And as it happens, Sego's documentation has
been vital. "The documentation is excellent," he says. "That helps keep your head
above water."

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And all the preparation paid off. In May 1997, the design team installed the first of the
Bay 5000BH switches. In July, it was time to schedule device cut-overs and install
the new switches alongside the old network hubs.

Sego took charge of this project, and once again it meant coming in at odd hours and
on weekends. "During the week we could only work between four and six a.m.," he
explains. That was the only time the network was sure to be relatively free of
important traffic. But the drill was straightforward: Move extra shared Ethernet hubs
and routers into the wiring closet, transfer the old shared Ethernet links to this
substitute, move the old hub out of the rack and into the corner of the wiring closet,
and move the new ATM switch into the rack. Work proceeded this way until all the
new switches had been installed. "It took several mornings to clean out each rack"
and move all legacy hubs into the corner of each wiring closet, according to Sego. In
total, the new network featured six core switches, 14 feeder switches, four server
switches, and 96 wiring-closet switches.

Finally, in September, it was time to connect the users. Sego again took charge,
borrowing five staffers from the EDS IT support group to help him. He defined a
routine. Users would receive e-mail telling them when IT staff would be stopping by to
connect their new computers to the new network. A team member armed with a
cordless phone would show up and type in all the necessary configuration
information (including new IP address, DNS subnet mask, and domain names), then
call another team member in the wiring closet. This worker would disconnect the user
from the legacy hub in the corner and plug the desktop link into a port on the wiring-
closet switch. "We allowed five minutes per connection," Sego says. Then, the legacy
hubs were removed and sent to surplus. All told, it took nearly three weeks to
complete the changeover of 3,000 users. They were all online and connected by
spring 1998.

And it didn't take long to see how much better things were. Response times for CAD
file transfers shrank to one-fifth of what they'd been. Overall network availability shot
up to 99 percent from an average of 75 percent.
But challenges remain. Using a central router to move traffic among ELANs makes
for a chokepoint. "A central router is a bottleneck in ATM just as it is in frame -based
networks," says Nortel/Bay ATM product marketing manager Kevin Dillon. Still, Rolls -
Royce Allison isn't ready to make the hardware upgrades needed to deploy MPOA
and PNNI software. "We're doing well," says Flook. "We don't need MPOA at this
time, and there are no immediate plans to move to PNNI."

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As for recognition: The team got a free lunch, but for Sego there was no raise or
promotion forthcoming. In fact, Rolls-Royce Allison management made it clear they
didn't appreciate Sego's failure to follow the proper channels. Sego seems fine with
that. "I didn't have a bit of help from management," he says. "In fact, I did it in spite of

"John would go ahead on his own a lot," Boeck acknowledges. "Instead of asking
permission to plug something in, he'd go ahead and do it." Anixter's Booher thinks it's
fair to say that Sego often had to fight for his network. "John was very vocal about
getting things done and done right," he says. "The Allison management wanted the
network, but they weren't aware of the end-user the way John was."

As for some other members of the team, they've made the most of the experience-
and headed on to new things. "They've capitalized on the fact that this is one of the
largest North American ATM networks and gone to greener pastures," Sego says.
But he's chosen not to ride off into the sunset. "I promised to stick it out and see the
project through," he says. "And I've done that."

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Fiber Optic Networking: A MAN, a Plan, and ATM

by Robert Richardson

In 1992, when the Web wasn‘t interesting and neither was IP, one thing that was
interesting was fiber optic networking, especially when you wanted to tie together
LANs in different locations across a city. Fiber optic networking was also interesting
to cable companies looking to improve their infrastructures to support the interactive
TV systems of the future.

Because of that interest, TCI in Tulsa, OK, wanted to strike a deal with the city of
Tulsa. ―The city gave them the right of way to operate their cable systems,‖ says
Clayton Lewis, network services division manager for Tulsa. ―In 1992, TCI wanted a
new ordinance valid for 25 years because they were planning to rebuild their system
with fiber optic cable. Well, we negotiated with them, and when they rebuilt the
systems, they agreed to install fiber for us into city facilities at the incremental cost of
adding the fiber.‖ Tulsa agreed to pay for the cost of the extra fiber and the
equipment required to use the fiber, while TCI would pay to put the fiber into the

Meanwhile, Tulsa was growing fast. In fact, it‘s still one of the fastest-growing cities in
the country. Although its population is not especially large (currently there are about
400,000 residents), its civic offices, fire stations, and libraries are spread out over 600
square miles. From a small-scale network that had started with six PCs networked to
one of the city‘s mainframes, the plan was to build a comprehensive infrastructure
that would tie together buildings as far apart as 20 miles.

―Now we‘ve got fiber to about 150 city locations,‖ says Lewis. He makes it sound like
no big deal, but in fact the city started this project with a small network operation and
was trying to build a system to last for a number of years, at a time when it wasn‘t
clear what high-speed network trunks were going to look like by the end of the
decade. ―There were challenges in trying to come up with the budgetar y numbers
and a plan to do this,‖ says Lewis. ―After all, none of the stuff that was going to be
required was on the market yet. I just did my best and decided to go with ATM.‖

The ATM decision let him come up with a design to nail down footages, equipment
lists, and budget numbers. In the end, Tulsa only exceeded the $2.5 million budget
for the multiyear project by $100,000.

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In 1992 ATM was already an established solution, designed from the ground up to
deliver different QoS levels over virtual switched circuits. ―ATM looked like a good
direction because, besides being able to support our expanding data network, it
could also support video requirements,‖ Lewis says. ―Both the police and fire
departments indicated they were interested in being able to support image-based

The TCP/IP community is currently knee-deep in figuring out how to combine
different media types—things like voice and streaming video—on a data-oriented
network architecture. You could argue that ATM was also designed b y committee,
and that the results show this (see ―A One-Cell ATM Refresher‖ )—but ATM knows
how to handle phone calls with more finesse than Voice over IP (VoIP) has managed
to date. ATM also leaves a lot of headroom to expand upward as networking needs
increase over the years (see ―Isn‘t ATM Dead?‖ ).

The network in Tulsa includes fire stations, libraries, parks, recreation facilities, the
police force, and so on. The water and sewage departments use a billing system
from Custima that the new network makes available citywide. A finance and
personnel package from Computer Associates ties together all the city‘s
departments. The fire department will one day use the network‘s multimedia
capabilities to deliver jitter-free training videos of the latest fire-fighting procedures to
desktops at the city‘s 30 fire stations.

TCI began putting in the cable in 1993 and finished in the spring of 1999. ―I had a
small test network up in 1995 with a couple of buildings, and we gradually added on
as we were getting fiber into the trenches,‖ says Roger Hall, network operations
section head in Tulsa. ―We didn‘t fully cut over a network until we had redundant
paths, so it took awhile. We had the north side of town fully up a year and a half ago.‖

The overall design of the Tulsa MAN separates the network into two large loops, one
to the north and one to the south (see Figure 1 ). Entirely a 3Com site to date, Tulsa
strung the individual segments of the two loops together using 16 CoreBuilder 7000
high-function ATM switches in buildings throughout the municipality. The loops run at
OC-3 (155Mbits/sec).

The two loops meet in the data center at the police and court building, a crossover
point that is the core of this network. There are two CoreBuilder 7000 switches at this
point, each one a big, 17-slot unit. One connects to five CoreBuilder 7000 ATM
switches that form an ATM ring in the northern part of the city. The other connects
the CoreBuilder 7000 switches comprising an ATM ring in the city‘s southern half.

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According to Hall, the original plan allowed for one CoreBuilder 7000 switch at the
center point of the loops. The switch was supposed to move traffic from one loop to
the other as needed. ―But we found that sometimes the computers on the south loop
weren‘t seeing computers on the north side,‖ Hall says. ―3Com had written some
software that made it possible to do what we wanted to do, but it turned out that it
worked to have a separate 7000 on each loop at the junction point and just connect
the two switches. Ironically, adding the 7000 was less expensive than buying the
enhanced software.‖

At the edges of the network, the city converts from ATM to Ethernet using 3Com
switches that handle much of the routing and conversion complexity in hardware.
Because of the different ways ATM handles interfacing among ATM switches and
between ATM and Ethernet, successfully handling this hardware bridging is more
important than it may initially look.

In the ATM-to-ATM case, the switches use the Private Network Node Interface
(PNNI) for path determination and routing among switches. This protocol allows for
load sharing where multiple redundant links are available, and it means that a given
ATM switch can have multiple PNNI links active at the same time.

For edge connections to Ethernet LANs, ATM uses the User Network Interface (UNI)
protocol to set up Switched Virtual Circuits (SVCs) across the ATM mesh. For each
edge device, UNI allows only one SVC. UNI requires this because protocols like
Ethernet aren‘t equipped to handle potential recursive loops in data paths.

For an edge device making the transition from ATM to Ethernet, the SVCs handled
by PNNI deliver ATM‘s characteristic 53-byte cells, which must be funneled into the
UNI bridge, interpreted, and then reassembled into longer Ethernet frames. The
reverse is also possible: the Ethernet frames must be broken down and graced with
new ATM headers. This process of packet-to-cell and back is called Segmentation
and Reassembly (SAR). (It‘s a sign of ATM‘s close relationship to the telecom
industry that acronym usage is even worse in ATM than on the data networking side.)

A typical design for an edge switch calls for two backplanes. There‘s one bus for
packets and another for ATM cells. Bridging the two backplanes is a LAN Emulation
(LANE) access module. The LANE module makes the connection to the ATM bus on
the other backplane through UNI, which is then jumpered to a single ATM switch port.

This architecture has two principal disadvantages. First, most implementations of this
type handle SAR in software, making it difficult or even impossible for the link to
forward traffic at wire speed. The other potential bottleneck is the UNI port.

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UNI ports can‘t support load sharing, so you can only use one traffic stream from a
single LANE link per (logical) ATM network. On a given logical network, the port tops
out at 155Mbits/sec, assuming a typical OC-3 installation such as Tulsa‘s.

The CoreBuilder ATM edge switches used in the Tulsa installation sidestep these
potential bottlenecks. First, they implement SAR in hardware built into the Ethernet
module that will be plugged into the switch‘s ATM backplane. In other words, there‘s
no Ethernet backplane and no separate LANE module (see Figure 2 ). Because
there‘s no single LANE module and the translation to the ATM format is internal to
the switch, all traffic is sent immediately to the ATM fabric. All the ports, including
those that have been translated on the fly from Ethernet, support PNNI.

The upshot of this approach for the Tulsa MAN is that the system can accommodate
gradual upgrades from conventional Ethernet at 10Mbits/sec to Fast Ethernet or even
Gigabit Ethernet by load sharing across more than one OC-3 link, as required.

Despite rumors about the unreliability of cable company infrastructure, the Tulsa
cable plant went in smoothly. Lewis reports that the main loop has only gone down
once, and that was for scheduled maintenance. ―We bored a hole that put us 5 feet
under an Interstate highway we had to cross. But the highway department graded the
area again, which put us just 16 inches deep. When they needed to put in a drainage
ditch, we had to get a backhoe, install a new conduit, cut the line, pull it back thro ugh,
and so on.

―I was here in the office when they cut the line,‖ Lewis says, ―so I could watch the
devices turning from green to red on my management console. I learned that it takes
the network about 20 seconds to figure out ‗Oops, I lost this route‘ and get itself back
together again.‖ In fact, most of the delay came from the monitoring system and its
display on the graphical console. A typical SONET ring of this sort uses overhead
channels to monitor and manage a ring; depending on how such a ring is
constructed, it can respond to a single cut within a few hundredths of a second.

Outside the main loops, Lewis figures he‘s lost fiber connections about 18 times
since the first cables were ―lit up‖ back in 1995. To guarantee that the system really is
up and running as expected, Tulsa uses 3Com Transcend, which runs on top of HP
OpenView. The city is trying to beef up administrative efforts in that area so it can
monitor use on various segments or hubs at various sites to see if anything is getting
hit too much.

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The only other glitch involved getting proper terminations on all those long segments
of fiber optic cable. Although it caused some confusion at the time, the problem
turned out to be a supplier who erroneously claimed a particular kind of connection
would handle both single-mode and multimode fiber. It turned out those connectors
didn‘t handle single-mode fiber, which is what the Tulsa backbone uses. ―Once we
had the couplers worked out,‖ Hall recalls, ―things went pretty smoothly. The
equipment has been rock solid.‖

So far, the traffic on the Tulsa MAN has been made up of data packets, almost all of
them IP traffic. Although the city anticipates using the network to deliver video
training to the police and fire departments, video is still in the planning phase. ―It
makes a lot of sense to distribute the training like that, though,‖ Lewis says, ―because
cops and firefighters work round-the-clock shifts, and it‘s hard to get them all together
in a room at the same time.‖

Although some have discussed using the ring to provide redundancy for the city‘s
911 emergency calls, Lewis says it‘s still pretty expensive to get from the big pipe to
the little pipe with phone calls. At present, Tulsa has no plans to put voice on the

What‘s ahead? Roger Hall points out that now that it‘s all in place, it‘s time to start
figuring out what kind of equipment will replace the original equipment that was
installed. ―By now, of course, 3Com doesn‘t even sell what we installed anymore,‖
Hall says. ―So we‘ll be looking for switches that will allow us to bump up speeds to
the desk to 100Mbits/sec.‖

Tulsa must also decide about the next generation of equipment on the trunk rings.
Lewis and Hall are looking at Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM), a
high-end, fiber optic technology that crams more data onto each fiber by using
different wavelengths of light to transfer different data streams. This means that the
carrying capacity of each strand is multiplied several times.

How many times it‘s multiplied is a function of how many different wavelengths are
used. Right now, DWDM is expensive, and the loops are running at less than
capacity using OC-3, but Lewis is looking ahead. DWDM will get cheaper, and
Tulsa‘s bandwidth usage will mushroom just like everyone else‘s.

ATM may not be the sexy new thing in the networking world these days, but the
Tulsa story shows that it‘s a good, practical choice. For all the rage over IP, ATM still
offers some advantages if you want to build a fast network core to ha ndle voice and
streaming multimedia, with guaranteed QoS.

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Network builders who‘ve sunk large sums into ATM networks, hoping that investing in
a technology that emphasized complexity and headroom over immediate, easy, data-
only solutions was a good gamble, really aren‘t in bad shape, even with the apparent
ascendance of Gigabit Ethernet. The horizon looks good for gradual upgrades that
protect their largest investments.

The city of Tulsa wanted to leverage a new cable infrastructure and build a high-
speed network to connect government offices throughout the city. The goal was to
create a solution for the long haul that anticipated and could support throughput -
hungry applications such as streaming video for distributed training programs.

Solution: Lewis chose an ATM backbone with one main loop for the north side of the
city and another for the south. The network now links 150 sites, spread out across
600 square miles of the metropolitan area. The core switches are all 3Com, as are
the edge routers that make connections to local Ethernet networks. These routers
use a hardware-based translation scheme to sidestep typical bottlenecks at the ATM-
to-Ethernet junction points.

If ATM isn‘t on the tip of your tongue these days, you may need a quick refresher on
this complex technology. Although you probably remember that it‘s based on virtual
circuits, and that it uses uniform-sized small frames, or cells, it‘s more complicated
than that.

Rather than resembling something like TCP/IP, ATM was designed to provide
services for voice and data over the same network. Voice needs a steady throughput
with absolutely on-time data delivery. LAN data tends to be bursty, so it needs a
system that can not only handle peak loads without dropping packets but also
perform other useful tasks when nothing‘s being sent.

Typically, voice has been handled by opening a direct, dedicated channel between
the two endpoints of a voice connection. Where multiple connections needed to
share a line, the various connections were broken down into chunks and interspersed
with each other on a reliably ordered, carefully timed basis. Phone circuits, in other
words, have traditionally used Time Division Multiplexing.

ATM is something of a ―best of both worlds‖ compromise between the bursty needs
of LANs and the synchronous-data throughput requirements of voice
communications. Essentially, if you keep the cells short and regular enough, you can
break voice down into cells and deliver them with the same reliability of a strictly
clocked TDM scheme. You can also vary the number of cells you dedicate to a data-
only channel to accommodate traffic peaks.

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Using the same-sized cells enables ATM to handle the lowest-level issues of
guaranteed packet delivery time frames. If you use standard packet sizes and a
reasonable scheme for routing and queuing the packets, you can say with certainty
how long it will be from one packet to the next.

High-speed Ethernet running IP may be able to provide streaming services where the
latency issues aren‘t relevant and the service levels are ―good enough,‖ but it can‘t
deliver the same low-level predictability that ATM can.

At the Physical layer, ATM runs happily on single-mode and multimode fiber, twisted
pair copper, and coaxial cable, generally at 155Mbits/sec, though the speed can
theoretically be extended as far beyond that point as users can afford. A typical ATM
installation runs on SONET or Synchronous Digital Hierarchy (SDH), the international
superset of the SONET standard‘s data stream. The 155Mbit/sec single-mode and
multimode fiber standards are SONET-based.

ATM is complicated because it is connection oriented, supports a huge variety of
Physical-layer implementations, and provides a strictly defined set of QoS levels. It
provides a highly interoperable basis for delivering solutions where there are strict
requirements, but it also suffers from a reputation of having tried to be too many
things to too many standards bodies.

While the question of whether ATM is too complex to hold up alongside the cheaper
and better-understood Ethernet/IP juggernaut is something of a religious one, ATM
shows signs of committee work and compromise right down to the individual cell,
where a squabble over whether the cells should be 32 or 64 bytes long was settled
by splitting the difference at 48 (with a five-byte header subsequently added to bring
it up to its current 53 bytes).

When I go to trade shows these days, the buzz is all about Gigabit Ethernet. When
people mention ATM, they dismiss it as too complicated or expensive—in other
words, dead.

Coming from a strictly data-networking background, I feel more comfortable when
people talk about ATM as if it‘s dead. Gigabit Ethernet makes sense to me because,
after all, it‘s Ethernet, and we all know how Ethernet works. Even adding voice to
Ethernet works because whatever solutions the IETF comes up with, it‘s bound to be
a protocol that overlays and doesn‘t significantly alter the familiar topography of
routed, rather than switched, packets.

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To determine whether ATM has a pulse and, specifically, whether it would still make
sense if Tulsa was starting the project today, I spoke with Cathy Gadecki, director of
consulting at industry analyst group TeleChoice. Along with Christine Heckart,
Gadecki coauthored ATM for Dummies (IDG Books, 1977).

―There are more choices today than there were in 1992, but I think there‘s a pretty
good chance that ATM would still float to the top of the pile of possible solutions,‖
Gadecki says.

She did concede that if you knew for sure that you were going to stick to IP -based
data on the fiber, you might well consider just inserting your Ethernet routers into a
SONET network.

―ATM isn‘t hot today, but it‘s practical,‖ Gadecki says. ―I talk to people all the time
who weren‘t considering ATM but then were forced to use it in order to meet one
technical requirement or another. There‘s getting to be a lot of it installed—it may be
that in a couple of years, you don‘t use ATM to build a new network, but there will be
a lot of ATM legacy equipment around for some time to come.‖

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Disaster Recovery

Planning For Call Center Catastrophes
by Lee Hollman

CallCenter, 04/01/00

Your call center is vulnerable. Phone lines can go down and the data that agents
need to do their jobs can be obliterated at a ny moment due to uncontrollable outside

When these problems occur, your company, like many others, may not be fully
prepared to deal with them. That's the conclusion that disaster recovery services
company Comdisco (Rosemont, IL) arrived at after it interviewed 200 different
organizations, including businesses, nonprofit groups and government agencies, to
find out their plans to secure data in case of disasters.

One in four of the participants in Comdisco's study had already experienced a
disaster during which it couldn't use its computer systems. Yet only one in three has
a business continuity plan ready if servers go down and only one in four is prepared if
local area networks fail. Approximately one third of the companies and organizati ons
Comdisco interviewed have recovery plans in case their Internet connections fail, but
many of them can only manage short-term power outages.

Currently, 63% of the companies, agencies and organizations Comdisco interviewed
now use electronic backup systems with their servers and 71% of them do the same
with their local area networks. Although these systems can help them retrieve lost
data, call centers still have to provide service to customers. Rather than risk losing
customers by shutting down their call centers during emergencies, more companies
are now researching disaster recovery services options. In 1997, 21% of the
participants in Comdisco's study didn't draft a budget for these services; that figure is
now down to 4%.

What prevented most companies from planning these budgets sooner? Ed Deveau,
VP of business continuity at the disaster recovery firm EverGreen Data Continuity
(Newbury, MA), explains that many of these firms used to regard disaster recovery
plans as purely technical issues. "In many businesses, the disaster recovery planning
effort is initiated by an information technology team, usually at the data center level,"
he says. The problem with this approach is the potential lack of communication
between the IT staff and the other employees about what the plan should consist of.

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Deveau is also president of the New England Disaster Recovery Information
Exchange Group (NEDRIX), an organization of disaster recovery professionals. He
recommends that members of a company's technical and business staff establish a
process early on so that everyone knows what course of action to take when an
emergency occurs.

"An information technology team may have a great plan to recover the data center's
functions, but it won't do much good if the business teams are excluded from the
planning process and can't use the recovered systems," he says.

More companies now view disaster recovery as more than a technical concern,
especially after last year. "The Y2K scare brought disaster recovery to the forefront of
businesses' concerns in 1999," says Deveau. "We did a lot of recovery planning for
companies to prepare for any potential problems." He acknowledges that although
many of these companies didn't actually need to recover lost data, the threat of Y2K
errors did provide corporations with a powerful incentive to consider how a disaster
recovery plan would affect all their operations.

Odds are that you already have an emergency plan for your call center, but it's not
too late to begin preparing one if you don't. You can consult a disaster recovery
services company to create a plan that works best for your center and budget. Here
are how some call centers, with the help of disaster recovery firms, continued serving
customers despite the onslaught of hurrica nes and computer crashes.

Comdisco Keeps Transamerica Flood Hazard Certification Afloat
Transamerica Flood Hazard Certification declared a disaster at its call center last
year after losing all phone service in the wake of Hurricane Floyd. The company
works with banks and other money-lending institutions to offer flood hazard
certification to borrowers who obtain mortgages and loans.

Transamerica Flood provides a toll-free number for its customers to call if they want
to check or alter their certification status. This number suddenly went dead after
AT&T temporarily shut down due to flooding. Agents left the call center, which is
based within Transamerica Flood's office in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ, and gathered at
a Comdisco disaster recovery site in the nearby town of East Rutherford, NJ.

"We contacted Comdisco to re-direct our phone lines to their site," says Cindy Mann,
call center manager for Transamerica Flood. "Before that, customers received a
recorded announcement explaining that the center entered disaster recovery mode."

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Mann recalls that Transamerica Flood declared a disaster on a Friday morning, and
that the company worked to restore its call center during the weekend. By the
following Monday, customers were able to speak with agents and send them e-mail
messages from the company's Web site.

Transamerica Flood kept its customers informed of all emergency measures. "Our
field service staff speaks directly with clients, making sure they leave up-to-date
information on the state of our business," Mann points out. "They feel secure that
way even when we're in disaster mode."

Comdisco prepared 50 cubicles with desktops and phones connected to an ACD with
Transamerica Flood's routing parameters programmed on it. Since Transamerica
Flood's call center is only open on weekdays, Comdisco had time to add 30 more
desktops to accommodate additional agents. Mann didn't want to send agents back
to the center by Monday. She recognized how long it would take to move a working
center from one location to another, and decided to allow extra time to have
everything up and running.

"[We worked from] Comdisco for an entire week," recalls Mann. "We decided to
remain there to ensure continuity of service." During the week that agents worked at
Comdisco's site, Mann made sure that travelling to work wouldn't be an issue. "Some
agents had their own transportation, but we also arranged a shuttle service," she
says. "We rented a van and sent agents to Comdisco from our main office."

To ensure that agents are ready for any future disasters, Transamerica Flood
conducts drills three times a year from Comdisco's East Rutherford facility.
"We bring the software that we use to produce orders for certificates, and our
production staff to fulfill orders," says Mann. "We [also] bring agents there to take live
calls." She proudly notes that every time the company conducts a drill, customers
experience no delays in service and no difficulties with contacting agents.

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Mercedes-Benz Disaster Recovery

Transamerica Flood wasn't the only business to find its call center disabled by
Hurricane Floyd. The same storm hit auto manufacturer Mercedes-Benz, which
operates a center near its headquarters in Montvale, NJ that answers roadside
assistance calls 24 hours a day. The 100 agents at the center respond to
emergencies such as flat tires and stalled engines, typically handling a daily average
of 1,000 calls.

On Friday, September 17, 1999, the hurricane halted the center's operations
completely. A team of agents quickly relocated to a remote site and resumed service
within two hours.

"We just lost all of our communications," says Gordon Michel, a disaster recovery
coordinator at Mercedes-Benz. "We tried to determine how long the communications
failure would last, but couldn't contact AT&T." Michel explains that the company uses
AT&T equipment from a Bell Atlantic facility that experienced flooding. He recalls that
the phone lines suddenly went out at around 1 pm and that only a few wireless
phones at the center were working.

Michel adds that since there is an expense involved when using the remote site, an
executive at Mercedes-Benz had to make the decision to declare a disaster. The
company's operations manager received the necessary approval and dispatched 25
agents to IBM Business Continuity and Recovery Services' headquarters in Sterling
Forest, NY.

"Everyone loaded up their cars and knew exactly where to go," says Michel. The
agents arrived at Sterling Forest within a half hour and found that IBM had already
prepared a space for them, providing them with 50 PCs connected to a mainframe
and a database containing customers' records. Michel recalls that agents managed
to resume contact with customers as they settled in behind their computers.

"By then we were able to contact AT&T," he says. "AT&T forwarded our toll-free
number to the IBM facility, and we received calls again by 3 pm." Agents answered
calls from IBM's site during the weekend and adhered to their usual schedules. They
returned to the Montvale, NJ call center the following Monday after power was
restored there.

Mercedes-Benz prepares agents at its call center for disasters with regular trial runs
at Sterling Forest. "We bring agents there twice a year [to] let them become
acquainted with the facility, the environment and the technicians," says Michel.
IBM's disaster recovery center accommodates 200 agents. It contains its own
generator and a server-based ACD that routes incoming calls.

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IBM also operates two other main disaster recovery sites in Gaithersburg, MD a nd
Boulder, CO, as well as 14 smaller facilities throughout the US. The three larger sites
contain mainframes and the other sites have desktops and servers. All sites connect
to each other over a wide area network.

Michel adds that Mercedes-Benz contracts the use of 100 PCs from IBM, which is a
sufficient number of computers for all the agents at the roadside assistance call
center. But Mercedes-Benz also relies on a computer equipment rental company so
that agents can receive extra hardware if necessary. El Camino Resources, a
company based in Woodland Hills, CA, delivers items like extra PCs or servers
directly to IBM's disaster recovery building in Sterling Forest. IBM provides additional
space for this equipment.

Mercedes-Benz opted to use IBM's disaster recovery services in 1995 after deciding
to expand its own contingency plan. Michel says that Mercedes-Benz formerly relied
on another disaster recovery vendor to recover lost data, but researched other
vendors in the process of refining its emergency procedures. "Our IT services people
consulted with our risk management team and submitted their recommendations to
management for approval," he says. "The entire process took about three months."

During these months, Mercedes-Benz visited IBM to inspect the company's facilities.
"We conducted a test at IBM by restoring data onto a mainframe there to see how
their environment was," says Michel. "We collected all of our data there, including
information about our finances, customers, vehicles and parts. Initially, restoration
took an excess of 12 hours. We've since fine -tuned that where we're able to do an
even larger restoration in less that eight hours." After the successful test run,
Mercedes-Benz signed the contract to put its disaster recovery plan into effect.

Wang Recovery Services Covers Insurance Firm Against Disaster
Erie & Niagara, a property and casualty insurance firm based in Williamsville, NY,
experienced a major hardware problem this past February. The company's
mainframe computer went dead on a Monday morning, leaving the firm's employees
unable to sell policies or file claims.

"We had 50 people unproductive," says John Hadzicki, a database administrator at
Erie & Niagara. "We have to bill out $60,000 in policies a day to be a productive
business." He contacted a technician at Wang Recovery Services (Billerica, MA),
who arrived at the insurance company to repair the computer that day. The computer
broke down again on Tuesday evening after Erie & Niagara's business hours.

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This incident wasn't a natural disaster, but it did have a devastating impact on Erie &
Niagara's ability to conduct business. New York State law requires that insurance
firms pay claims within three days, which was why Erie & Niagara needed help right
away to avoid potential legal troubles.

Wang Recovery Services allowed Hadzicki to declare a state of emergency when he
phoned the company again on Wednesday, even though Wang wasn't legally
obligated to provide immediate assistance.

"If our system is down because of hardware reasons, our contract with Wang states
that we can declare a disaster after five business days," Hadzicki points out. "They
didn't have to honor my request."

After he declared a state of emergency, Hadzicki maintained hourly phone contact
with a Wang representative and received updates on what the company could do to
help him. "Wang prepared to send us a unit larger than ours," he recalls. "We told
them that would be unacceptable due to space considerations, so [a technician at
Wang] built a mainframe just like ours from scratch." A Wang engineer assembled
the identical computer within several hours, performed diagnostics on it, prepared it
for delivery and made sure that Erie & Niagara would have no difficulties setting it up.

"He was conscientious enough to ask if we had a loading dock," says Hadzicki. "A lot
of the incidental things, we overlooked. We wouldn't have been able to get the
computer off of the truck." Wang leased a truck with a power lift to transport the
machine from its headquarters to Erie & Niagara's offices. By Thursday afternoon,
Hadzicki received the new machine and had it running within minutes.

Erie & Niagara is prepared if it experiences a more serious problem than the failure of
its mainframe. If the company has to evacua te its call center, Wang Recovery
Services is ready to deliver a trailer in which agents can work. The trailer provides
agents with a 850-square-foot space that contains its own generator and a satellite
dish for transmitting phone calls and on-line data. The trailer also has a mid-sized
mainframe, three network servers and 34 desktops.
Since Wang encourages its customers to test their backup devices once a year, Erie
& Niagara took advantage of Wang's offer last September to get a jump on Y2K
issues. Hadzicki and an IT specialist colleague went to Wang's Canadian
headquarters in Toronto for two days. For each day they were there, they tested the
trailer's equipment between 8 am to 11 pm.

Hadzicki observed that the trailer's single-processor network servers prolonged the
time it took to restore lost data by several hours. He also found that the trailer's
computers didn't have a software module he needed for the printers, but he
experienced no other significant problems.

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Hadzicki points out that the trailer didn't include these items because Erie & Niagara
didn't request them. He says that Wang has since resolved the issue.
"We were 100% operational as a business [in the event of a disaster] by the time we
left that trailer," concludes Hadzicki.

Mastering Disasters: How To Design Your Disaster Recovery Plan
So what is the best way to create your own disaster recovery plan? The first step is to
open a dialogue among yourself, the IT staff at your call center and the management
of the company or organization that you work for. After you determine what hardware
you need and how much money you can spend, the next step is to research disaster
recovery service providers. Since many disaster recovery specialists allow you to visit
their facilities and to test their equipment, take advantage of their hospitality
whenever it is feasible for you.

Once you settle on a plan and a vendor, it's also a good idea to designate a disaster
team within your call center. If you don't want to hire additional employees to crea te
this team, you can recruit team members from your center's current staff. The team's
responsibilities can include declaring a disaster and arranging transportation to
relocate agents to a remote site. By assigning specific tasks to individuals, you know
in advance whom to contact during an actual disaster.

As you learned from the companies we profiled, it's important to perform regular tests
of your backup equipment and make sure that you regularly update the data you
save at remote sites. Try to conduct a drill at least once a year to make agents
familiar with your emergency procedures. With forethought and planning, you'll soon
find that your call center can survive the worst of times and that you can still provide
your customers with the best service possible.

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The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

by John Jainschigg

Teleconnect, 03/01/99

If you live in New York, you've already heard the story. Around 10:35am, the morning
of Sunday, January 31, New York City's Brooklyn-based Metrotech Enhanced 911
call center went offline. For almost an hour, callers received busy signals. Partial
coverage was restored at about 11:40, when Bell Atlantic finished re -routing traffic to
the old center in downtown Manhattan; staffed up lickety-split in response to the
emergency. Five hourslater, at 4:45pm, the new center came back up.

At least one person may have died as a result of this unfortunate accident. The local
tabloids wrote about that tragedy (the ―human angle‖) and dutifully recorded the
ensuing (so to speak) frenzy of finger pointing and spin control at various levels of
city government. As to why the failure occurred, only the New York Times' Michael
Cooper was able to piece together parts of a believable - if oversimplified - story,
which Teleconnect's Andy Green (who, ironically enough, wrote this issue's UPS
Shootout) was able to flesh out.

The Metrotech building that houses the new E-911 center is managed by a firm
called Forest City Ratner. Among other things, they're responsible for electric power -
mains, fallback generators, and battery systems. On the morning of the 31st,
Ratner's engineers performed a powerfail cutover to generator; something they do
four times each year to test fallback system integrity.

Normally, when you cut mai ns power, the online UPS keeps current flowing to the
equipment while the generators spin up and stabilize. Unfortunately, somebody else
from Ratner - doubtless following procedure to the letter - had removed the UPS
battery packs for servicing, and put the UPS on manual bypass. So when they cut
mains power, the whole building went dark. Then the generators kicked on, briefly,
until a bad voltage regulator shut them down, too. In just a few seconds, the 911
center's phone and computer equipment was subjected to sudden power failure,
unbuffered generator kick-on surge, voltage regulator burnout surge, and a second
power failure. Ouch.

We're not yet sure what got fried. But when things came back up, there was no
dialtone. Center personnel immediately called Bell Atlantic for trouble-shooting
assistance, but ten minutes passed before they authorized the carrier to re-route
traffic to the old 911 center at Police Headquarters in Manhattan.

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Operators rushed across the Brooklyn Bridge with police escort, and were in position
by 11:10. But full re-routing took another half hour - why, we're not sure, though it
was necessary to reprogram terminals at the Metrotech center before routing could
take place. So the delay probably wasn't Bell Atlantic's fault.

We'll know more, shortly. Meanwhile, there are some lessons, here - not all of them
obvious - for anybody running a mission-critical call center. First, the obvious ones:

Rule #1: Never put a UPS on bypass without putting huge signs up, ringing a claxon,
and otherwise making your intentions known all over the place.

Rule #2: Never test fallback power switchover capability without first checking to
make sure batteries are online.

Rule #3: Invest in a powerfail transfer phone system. When a T-1-based installation
fails, a good powerfail transfer phone system can keep phones ringing at your site. If
you have to re-route, the powerfail system can redirect calls until the telco does its
thing. Our favorite powerfail switches come from Gordon Kapes (Skokie, IL) - they
also make a nifty -48VDC UPS, which you'll see written up in this issue.

The more subtle lesson is that it may be a mistake to put an entire power train in the
hands of a single party (e.g., a managing subcontractor). Distributing responsibility
for crucial components of the power train (e.g., letting the building manage the
generators while your own firm manages the UPSs) forces everyone to keep tabs on
everybody else. By contrast, a single master schedule can create a false feeling of
security; and can ultimately become a point of failure

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