Paul Stockford, principal analyst, telephony, for Cahners In-Stat Group
The marriage of the call center with the Internet was inevitable. With over 50 million Americans now accessing the Internet on a regular basis and more companies establishing their Web presence daily, it was only a matter of time before Web surfers became a primary target of call center operators.
However, In-Stat estimates that by the end of 1997, approximately 2,570 call centers, representing less than five percent of the U.S. installed base of automatic call distributors (ACDs), had initiated some sort of integration with the Internet. By the year 2001, though, around two-thirds of call centers will be linked to the Web sites (see chart). Computer hardware and software vendors and financial services companies are leading the parade.
This flurry of interconnection is happening in two phases. Many of the early installations rely upon a simple callback process to connect the Web surfer, or on-line shopper, with the call center agent. This callback process requires only one telephone line, but preferably two lines, at the caller’s end, and Internet access and a telephone on the call center agent’s side.
Source: Cahners In-Stat Group
When the on-line shopper reaches the purchase decision, or has a question regarding information found on a Web site, the shopper uses his or her mouse to click on a “Call Me” icon that is generally found on nearly every page in the sponsoring company’s Web site. Once accessed, the “call me” function sends a screen to the caller’s PC asking him or her to fill in information such as name, telephone number, and when the caller would like to be called by an agent. The callback time becomes an important factor if the caller has only one telephone line, as is typical in the majority of American households. The caller needs some time to disconnect from the Internet and reconnect to the telephone network. When the call center agent calls, the transaction that was initiated on the Internet can be completed over the phone.
The next phase is now unfolding, as technology advancements in call center integration with the Internet have exploded. The callback scenario explained above has long since been replaced by technologies such as voice-and-data exchange over the Internet, screen synchronization between the caller and the agent, and routing technologies that make an Internet inquiry to the call center as efficient as a telephone call to the call center.
The flood of useful technologies are propelling Internet-enabled call centers to be one of the fastest growing software markets in the latter half of the 1990s and into the next decade. By the year 2001, Internet-call center integration will have been achieved by more than 60,000 call centers, nearly 66 percent of the total in the U.S. Economics, faster response, and customer service will drive this surge of linkages. Put together two of the most dynamic markets of the late 20th century, call centers and Internet communications, and the results are bound to be spectacular. //
Paul Stockford is the principal analyst, telephony for Cahners In-Stat Group. PlugIn Datamation also is part of the Cahners In-Stat Group. For more information contact Paul Stockford at [email protected].