Computer-Telephone Integration

Computer-telephone integration will eventually move from the specialized computers of today until they become integrated with the other computer systems that a business runs on. As recently as a few years ago, CTI services were mostly touch-tone response systems. Now, computer-telephony integration companies are able to offer more and varied services, including voice response systems.

1. What is Computer-Telephone Integration?

Computer-telephone integration, also known as computer-telephony integration, is the use of computer controlled phone systems. If you've called a company or customer service line and been asked to "Push 0" to speak to a representative, or left someone a voicemail, then you have experienced CTI systems. Though on the surface these experiences seem simple, computer-telephone integration companies can offer so much more than simple voicemail or touch tone services.

For call centers, CTI systems can allow for automated dialing and fax systems. Your employees' time isn't spent dialing the phone and getting busy signals, or sending the same set of pages out over and over. Many call centers rely exclusively on CTI systems. The systems can be set to allow time for customer service representatives to enter any additional information before another call is routed to that extension. CTI systems allow for call recording, where not only can you use phone records for training purposes, your call center representatives can take a verbal agreement rather than insisting on a written agreement for contracts or contract agreements.

Because of these options, many computer-telephone integration companies focus on selling their computer-telephone integration system to large call centers. Many call centers purchase computer-telephony systems to cut back on their expenses and ensure that customer calls are routed to the correct department.

2. Why Use Computer-Telephone Integration?

Businesses other than large call centers can benefit from computer-telephony integration. The largest reason that a company would have computer-telephone integration is to allow each employee to have their own voice mailbox. Unlike with an answering machine, when you have CTI services on a server, the amount of voicemail or the size of the message will not matter. This allows your employees to keep important messages without having to worry about saving space.

Customer service issues become easier with computer-telephone integration. When the customer calls in, their customer file can be set to pop up on the screen of the customer service representative that answers that particular call. This can save time and the effort of trying to find that customer's account information. The computer-telephony system can also allow for information to be faxed out at the click of a button.

As long as your touch-tone (or voice) activated call routing is set up to allow for smooth transitions, your customer service rating will increase with the use of computer-telephone integration. When the incoming telephone calls are directed to the correct employee, customer hold time is reduced and customer service improves. Ultimately, since CTI systems can improve customer service, they can benefit any company that chooses to use them.

3. Other Benefits of Computer-Telephone Integration

Computer-telephone integration companies are working on more and better products, meaning each year, more and more options are released for computer-telephony integration. Two of the many uses of computer-telephone integration include auto dialers and predictive dialers. Where auto dialers can dial telephone numbers to keep your call center employees from having to waste time dialing the telephone or getting busy signals and customers hanging up, predictive dialers wait until the customer service representative is almost done with their telephone call before dialing another number.

With the advent of computer-telephone integration and CTI services, call centers no longer have to be tied to one specific location. Because of computer-telephony integration, you can have customer service representatives in other states, or even working from home. Employees who work from home enable you to decide how many call center representatives you want available at any one time. You do not need to have an employee come in for a straight four or eight hour shift.

Another option with computer-telephone integration is the tailored customer service or trouble ticket script. When a customer calls in to one of your call center employees, you can have a customized script display on the employee's screen. Each answer will affect the next question until the customer's issue can be solved.

4. Customer Service and Computer-Telephone Integration

Especially for large telemarketing or customer service firms, computer-telephone integration only makes sense. CTI services will allow a large firm to downsize their work force. Even if they pay minimum wage for each of their employees, the cost of running a customer service or telemarketing business can skyrocket. With computer-telephony integration, the business can hire fewer workers, yet still keep customer satisfaction high.

Though customer service companies or help desk departments differ from telemarketing firms, their needs are similar. Instead of auto dialers or predictive dialers, CTI systems will need to be able to route customer calls to the first available customer service or help desk associate.

Since CTI systems can record all telephone calls, if and when a customer complaint goes further than the customer service or help desk representative, the supervisor can review all recordings from the customer to verify that the customer service representative made the appropriate suggestions to correct any issue. This can help with customer satisfaction, because then the supervisor does not increase the customer's frustration by suggesting they try a fix that has already been tried and doesn't work.

Though at times it may seem less expensive to outsource a customer service or help desk department, a computer-telephone integration system would allow the expenses to drop because the number of employees are reduced, but the customer would not be frustrated by the inability to understand what was said by the help desk or customer service representative.

5. Computer-Telephone Integration Equipment

Though originally, CTI systems used specialized computers, several computer-telephone integration companies have developed hybrid systems that can run on other servers. This allows easier integration between private branch exchange (PBX) telephone systems and computer-telephone integration applications. Integration of these systems allows a business owner to choose what type of applications they need for their business.

At one time, CTI systems were sold mainly on one operating system platform. As a result, there was research done on and programming work done for other operating systems, even if they worked as well as, if not better than the one that was becoming the mainstream choice. Unfortunately, this caused business owners to believe that computer-telephony integration systems were unstable, and that CTI systems would not integrate well with the PBX systems the business owners were already using. This perception somewhat slowed the development of better CTI systems.

Now, rather than concentrating on one operating system, computer-telephone integration companies will support their CTI systems on any number of operating systems. This can allow the business owner, the company's information technology department, or their telephone system employees to have more say in the type of computer-telephony integration system they use. The operating system used will determine how often the voicemail system has to be rebooted. However, with the increase in choices in operating systems, more businesses are turning to computer-telephone integration systems for their business, no matter how large or small their business is.

6. Who Needs a Computer-Telephone Integration System?

Now that computer-telephone integration companies are not pushing one operating system over another, CTI systems are becoming more common. Though computer-telephony integration companies concentrate more on larger businesses and call centers or customer service centers, to an extent all businesses need computer-telephone integration, regardless of the size of the business.

Not only can CTI systems track telephone and customer service calls, they can be set to track email, fax, and web information. This can help any size business keep track of all customer information. With all of the information in one place, an employee can provide better customer service and answer questions faster and easier than if they need to look for the information in a filing cabinet.

For smaller businesses, CTI systems can allow for both automatic routing with an employee's extension number and a switchboard for when the customer does not know the employee's extension, or even who needs to help them with their issue. With computer-telephony integration, a small business can seem to have the resources a larger business would have. Though a customer who has been to the physical address for the business would know the number of employees, a computer-telephone integration system would put a small business on equal footing with a larger one in the global marketplace.

7. Computer-Telephone Integration and the Internet

Some would assume that computer-telephone integration systems would only deal with telephone lines, mostly the landline systems in a traditional business. This is no longer true. CTI systems can help with all aspects of your business communication. As CTI systems become more advanced, they will eventually be able to accommodate any of your business needs.

As stated previously, CTI systems can help manage email and web information. Additionally, computer-telephony integration systems can help manage telephone or video conferences for your business. As video conferencing replaces face-to-face meetings more often, the need for travel has been decreasing. With videoconferencing, you can meet with your clients, employees, or business associates without leaving the comfort of your own office.

In some cases, using a computer-telephony integration system could make your video conferencing run more smoothly. Video conferencing depends on a high bandwidth Internet connection. Some computer-telephony integration companies specialize in CTI systems that integrate seamlessly with an Internet telephony system. These companies can make it easier to set up your computer-telephony integration system to use Internet telephony and video conferencing.

8. Programming Computer-Telephone Integration Systems

Many of the different types of computer-telephone integration systems are programmable. The ability to program CTI systems allows you to add the services that you need for your business. The different systems are designed to make it easier to program individual systems to operate on your personal computer or over your business' internal network.

As a general rule, the information technology department, or your computer guru should be the one to program the individual systems for your computer-telephony integration system. Whether they are the correct choice to do this work will depend on many factors. The main factor would be whether they know how to program CTI systems. These systems may be programmable, but you want someone who knows the system to work on it so that you do not have a system failure.

In some cases, the easiest answer to programming CTI systems is to contact the computer-telephony integration company that sold you the hardware. When this programming is made part of the installation package, everything can be set up at once.

9. Integrated Voice Recognition and Computer-Telephone Integration

When you say that you use a computer-telephony integration system, the first thing that a customer may think of is integrated voice recognition (IVR). At one time, everyone has experienced the frustration of trying to deal with an IVR system that does not understand what is said. Unfortunately, though this may be treated like a joke in the movies, when a customer has issues with your IVR system, they are not likely to laugh it off.

As a general rule, when a customer reaches an IVR system, they want their experience to be as brief and pleasant as possible. This means that if the system is unable to sort out the customer's requirements within several tries, the customer should be transferred to an operator or a customer service representative for more help. If a customer stays within a computer-telephony integration system for very long, they are likely to decide to seek better customer service elsewhere.

That does not mean that you should stay away from IVR systems. These systems can help a customer sort out their own issues without an endless wait for a customer service representative. There have been several studies that show that keeping the IVR menu short increases customer satisfaction. Other studies show that the best customer service is letting the customer lead the way on how comfortable they are with both computer-telephone integration and integrated voice recognition.
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