EP1153502A1 - A call-center with agents that are distributed over the internet - Google Patents

A call-center with agents that are distributed over the internet

Info

Publication number
EP1153502A1
EP1153502A1 EP20000902840 EP00902840A EP1153502A1 EP 1153502 A1 EP1153502 A1 EP 1153502A1 EP 20000902840 EP20000902840 EP 20000902840 EP 00902840 A EP00902840 A EP 00902840A EP 1153502 A1 EP1153502 A1 EP 1153502A1
Authority
EP
European Patent Office
Prior art keywords
call
packet switched
agents
network
agent
Prior art date
Legal status (The legal status is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the status listed.)
Withdrawn
Application number
EP20000902840
Other languages
German (de)
French (fr)
Inventor
Simon Kahn
Moshe Kessner
Current Assignee (The listed assignees may be inaccurate. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy of the list.)
Tadiran Telecom Business Systems Ltd
Original Assignee
ECI Telecom Ltd
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
Filing date
Publication date
Priority to US25118799A priority Critical
Priority to US251187 priority
Application filed by ECI Telecom Ltd filed Critical ECI Telecom Ltd
Priority to PCT/IL2000/000080 priority patent/WO2000049794A1/en
Publication of EP1153502A1 publication Critical patent/EP1153502A1/en
Application status is Withdrawn legal-status Critical

Links

Classifications

    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M3/00Automatic or semi-automatic exchanges
    • H04M3/42Systems providing special services or facilities to subscribers
    • H04M3/50Centralised arrangements for answering calls; Centralised arrangements for recording messages for absent or busy subscribers ; Centralised arrangements for recording messages
    • H04M3/51Centralised call answering arrangements requiring operator intervention, e.g. call or contact centers for telemarketing
    • H04M3/5183Call or contact centers with computer-telephony arrangements
    • H04M3/5191Call or contact centers with computer-telephony arrangements interacting with the Internet
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M3/00Automatic or semi-automatic exchanges
    • H04M3/42Systems providing special services or facilities to subscribers
    • H04M3/50Centralised arrangements for answering calls; Centralised arrangements for recording messages for absent or busy subscribers ; Centralised arrangements for recording messages
    • H04M3/51Centralised call answering arrangements requiring operator intervention, e.g. call or contact centers for telemarketing
    • H04M3/5125Centralised call answering arrangements requiring operator intervention, e.g. call or contact centers for telemarketing with remote located operators
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M7/00Interconnection arrangements between switching centres
    • H04M7/12Interconnection arrangements between switching centres for working between exchanges having different types of switching equipment, e.g. power-driven and step by step, decimal and non-decimal, circuit-switched and packet-switched, i.e. gateway arrangements
    • H04M7/1205Interconnection arrangements between switching centres for working between exchanges having different types of switching equipment, e.g. power-driven and step by step, decimal and non-decimal, circuit-switched and packet-switched, i.e. gateway arrangements where the types of switching equipement comprises PSTN/ISDN equipment and switching equipment of networks other than PSTN/ISDN, e.g. Internet Protocol networks
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M3/00Automatic or semi-automatic exchanges
    • H04M3/42Systems providing special services or facilities to subscribers
    • H04M3/50Centralised arrangements for answering calls; Centralised arrangements for recording messages for absent or busy subscribers ; Centralised arrangements for recording messages
    • H04M3/51Centralised call answering arrangements requiring operator intervention, e.g. call or contact centers for telemarketing
    • H04M3/5158Centralised call answering arrangements requiring operator intervention, e.g. call or contact centers for telemarketing in combination with automated outdialling systems

Abstract

Method and apparatus for interconnecting local and/or remote agents serving a call-center, which are locally connected to said call-center or distributed over an IP network, respectively, with customers/callers who are telephonically connected to the call-center, or distributed over an IP network. The distributed remote agents are accessed in real time, over an IP network, and calls are routed using an ACD. Inbound calls from telephonically connected callers, as well as IP callers, are received in the ACD, which routes these calls to available local or remote agents. Several outputs of the ACD may be connected directly to local agents, and the remaining outputs are connected to remote agents via a gateway. Inbound calls from IP callers are received via another gateway. Upon receiving an inbound call, the ACD starts seeking a first available agent, who may be local or remote. Once a first available agent is allocated, the inbound call is automatically routed to that agent. The data, if any, associated with the call, such as the user ID information, is transferred to the agent's workstation over the data network, with the call. Outbound calls are handled in a similar manner by using a dialer.

Description

A CALL-CENTER WITH AGENTS THAT ARE DISTRIBUTED

OVER THE INTERNET

Field of the Invention

The present invention relates to the field of telecommunication. More particularly, the invention relates to a method and apparatus for accessing agents to answer or initiate calls to/from customers, incoming into or outgoing from a call-center, over a packet switched network, in real-time.

Background of the Invention

Modern marketing and customer servicing organizations provide services, such as information, sales and telemarketing to customers by telephonic interaction, which reduces the operating costs, and enables the customer to be served efficiently, with no need to meet the vendor face-to-face. In practice, the interface between the customer and the vendor is provided by an "agent" (sometimes known as the customer service representative), who is a person, sitting in the vendor's call-center and answering or initiating the customer calls. Upon receiving a call from the customer, the call is routed to an available agent who serves the customer. Maximal customer service is achieved by reducing the customer waiting time until an available agent or an appropriate agent is allocated to answer the incoming call. Furthermore, minimizing the idle waiting time of the agents reduces the cost for the operator of the call-center.

Calls entering an incoming call-center are usually distributed to the agents of an inbound call-center by an Automatic Call Distributor (ACD), which receives incoming calls from a Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), and distributes the calls between a plurality of agents permanently connected to the ACD by telephone lines. In other services, such as telemarketing, agents from an outgoing call-center are required to reach customers, and outgoing calls are paced by a Predictive Dialer (PD), or other method which establishes outgoing calls to a customer according to the probability that an agent will be available for receiving the established call. Blended call-centers allow agents to handle incoming or outgoing calls, depending on need.

Both inbound and outbound telephonic services, which employ ACDs and PDs, require a permanent data connection between the ACD/PD and each agent, as well as a voice connection, in order to obtain the status of each agent and to transfer data relating to the call (e.g., the caller ID, sales/services history, etc.) to and from the agent. Such connection may be provided via, for instance, a modem, using a dedicated telephone line or a separate data line in addition to the voice line, for telecommuting remote agents (agents located far from the call-center), or direct connection (to the call-center) for agents who communicate at the call-center (local agents). This approach is relatively costly, since all agents are continuously connected by a dedicated telephone line, to the call-center. Further, this approach does not allow inexpensive telecommuting. It is therefore desirable to increase the number of available agents upon request, who are rapidly accessible, in real time, by using an available data network, such as the Internet or other types of packet switched networks.

US Patent 5,742,596 describes a data network-based distributed Private Branch Exchange (PBX) system, in which a plurality of customers are coupled to the network by regular telephone sets, which are connected to the data network via a host computer or remote subscriber interfaces. A server provides all the packet-switching functionality to the system. Voice is converted to packets by a host computer at the source, and recovered by another host computer at the destination.

US Patent 5,778,060 describes an ACD switch, which is connected to remote agents and local agents, which transmits their status to the ACD. A server supplies the ACD information about the availability of the remote agents. This arrangement enables ACD callers to be served by remote agents, essentially the same as by local agents. However, a dedicated channel is required to carry the status information, which requires an extra telephone line.

US Patent 4,048,452 describes an ACD system, in which calls are uniformly distributed among groups of agents. Incoming calls, which are directed to a first group, are automatically routed to available agents of another group, when the load of the first group is greater than the load of the other group, or when the waiting time for incoming calls in the first group is over a specified threshold value, and the waiting time for incoming calls in the other group is below another specified threshold value.

US Patent 5,684,870 describes a system for transferring calls which contain voice and data components, between a plurality of call-centers. Each voice component is associated with a unique identifier, which is used later to identify that call. A first call-center transfers the voice component to another call-center, which uses the identifier to route the voice component to an available agent at the other call-center.

US Patent 5,687,225 describes an add-on system which provides outbound call capability to inbound ACDs. The system connects agents to outbound calls via an inbound ACD at high switching speed, without modification in the ACD.

All the systems in these prior art patents are based on a predetermined group of agents, continuously connected to ACDs or to call-centers via voice and data channel. These systems lack the capability to route, in real-time, inbound or outbound calls to and from remote agents, respectively, which are not directly connected via voice and data channel to an ACD.

All the methods described above have not yet provided satisfactory solutions to the problem of accessing agents for serving a call-center, over a packet switched network, in real-time.

It is an object of the present invention to provide a method and apparatus for accessing agents serving a call-center, which overcome the drawbacks of the prior art.

It is another object of the present invention to provide a method and apparatus for accessing agents serving a call-center, which are distributed over a packet switched network, in real-time.

Other objects and advantages of the invention will become apparent as the description proceeds.

Summary of the Invention

The present invention is directed to a method for interconnecting local and/or remote agents serving a call-center, which are locally connected to said call-center or distributed over a packet switched network such as an Internet Protocol (IP) network, respectively, with customers/callers who are telephonically connected to the call-center, or distributed (IP callers) over the packet switched network, comprising accessing the distributed remote agents and/or the distributed customers/callers, in real time, over the packet switched network, or routing calls to and from local agents and to and from telephonically connected customers.

By using the term "IP" it is meant to include any system, in which data packets are arranged and transferred according to the Internet Protocol (e.g., the Internet, an Intranet, a LAN, a WAN and others), or any "packet switched network" including any network or any system, in which data is divided to packets of fixed or variable size and then transferred to its destination. Such packet switched networks may also comprise Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), Frame Relay networks and other multiple session operating modes.

The term "predictive dialer" is a non-limitative example of automated outbound dialing apparatus, used in call-centers. The methods described in this patent are equally useful in call-centers which employ Preview Dialing, Progressive Dialing, Predictive Dialing or any other method that enables the establishment of outbound calls by a call-center or by agent of a call-center. This includes, without limitations, situations in which call-centers respond to incoming data connections or other messages and initiate outgoing calls accordingly. These dialing processes are disclosed, for example, in the Internet site

"http://www.contactpt.com/prodinfo/dialerl.htm". The term "simultaneous transmission" is meant to be any protocol that allows for multiple sessions over a single connection.

Preferably, inbound calls from telephonically connected callers, as well as IP callers, are received in an ACD, which routes these calls to available local or remote agents. Several outputs of the ACD may be connected directly to local agents, and the remaining outputs are connected to remote agents via a first gateway and a first packet switched network. Several outputs to remote agents may share a single connection. Inbound calls from IP callers are received via a second gateway and a second packet switched network.

Upon receiving an inbound call, the ACD starts seeking an available local or remote agent. Once an available agent is allocated, the inbound call is automatically routed to that agent. If the first available agent is a local agent and the inbound call is telephonic, the ACD can simply switch the call ~to the available local agent. If the inbound call is an IP call arriving from the second packet switched network, the second gateway converts the IP to an analog protocol and the ACD switches the converted IP call to the local agent. The data, if any, associated with the call, such as the user ID information, is transferred to the agent's workstation over the data network, with the call. By using the term "first available agent", it is meant any technique, used in call-centers, for allocating agents to customers (callers).

Preferably, if a remote agent is allocated first, and the inbound call is telephonic, the ACD simply switches the call to the available remote agent, via the first gateway and the first IP network. If the inbound call is an IP call arriving from the second IP network, a bypass switch is activated by the ACD, and the call is transferred as IP data directly to the first IP network and from there to the remote agent. Of course, the first and second packet switched networks may be a part of the same network, such as Internet sites of an IP network.

Preferably, the same method is applied by the invention for outbound calls, when local and remote agents are required to communicate with telephonically connected or IP customers. The ACD is connected to a predictive dialer, which begins to establish a connection with telephonically connected or IP customer, according to the probability that an agent will be available until the call establishment is completed. The predictive dialer initiates a call with a customer, and as the connection is established it starts seeking a first available agent via the ACD. Once an available agent is located, the outbound call is automatically routed to the agent. If the outbound call is telephonic and the agent is local, the ACD simply switches the call to the agent. If the outbound call is telephonic and the agent is remote, accessible over the first IP network, the first gateway converts the IP to an analog protocol and the ACD connects the converted IP connection to a telephonically connected customer. If the outbound call is directed to an IP customer, and the agent is local, the second gateway converts the IP call to an analog protocol and the ACD switches the converted IP call to the local agent. If the outbound call is an IP call, directed to an IP customer, and the agent is a remote agent, accessible over the first IP network, a bypass switch is activated by the ACD, and the call is transferred as IP data directly to the second IP network and from there to the IP customer. Alternatively, the IP connection information may be forwarded to the remote agent and caller, so as to directly connect the remote agent with the customer via the data network.

The invention is also directed to an apparatus for interconnecting local and/or remote agents serving a call-center, which are locally connected to said call-center or distributed over an IP network, respectively, with customers (callers) telephonically connected to said call-center or distributed over an IP network, comprising circuitry for accessing said distributed remote agents and/or said distributed customers (IP callers), in real time, over the IP network, via interfaces and circuitry for routing calls to and from local agents and to and from telephonically connected customers via a telephonic switch. Typically, the telephonic switch may be an ACD for inbound calls, or alternatively, a combination of an ACD and a predictive dialer for outbound calls. Preferably, associated data such as ID information of an IP customer or the telephone number of a telephonically connected customer, may be transferred with the call.

Brief Description of the Drawings

The above and other characteristics and advantages of the invention will be better understood through the following illustrative and non-limitative detailed description of preferred embodiments thereof, with reference to the appended drawings, wherein:

— Fig. 1A is a block diagram (prior art) of an inbound call-center, based on telephonic connection between callers and a plurality of agents, servicing the callers;

Fig. IB is a block diagram (prior art) of an outbound call-center, based on telephomc connections between customers and a plurality of local agents 12, calling the customers;

Fig. 1C is a block diagram (prior art) of an inbound call-center, based on telephonic connections between callers, and a plurality of local agents, servicing both telephonically connected and IP users;

Figs. 2A and 2B are block diagrams of an inbound call-center with on-line access to remote agents which are distributed over an IP network, according to a preferred embodiment of the invention; and

Fig. 3 is a block diagram of an outbound call-center with on-line access to remote agents distributed over an IP network, according to a preferred embodiment of the invention.

Detailed Description of Preferred Embodiments

For a better understanding of the present invention, the structures of prior art systems are examined, as shown in the block diagrams presented in Fig. 1A to lC. Fig. 1A is a block diagram (prior art) of an inbound call-center 10, based on telephonic connections between callers and a plurality of agents, servicing the callers. Inbound calls, which may arrive, for instance, from a PSTN, are received at the ACD 11, which functions as a telephonic routing switch. A plurality of local agents 12 are continuously connected to the ACD 11. Upon receiving an inbound call from a caller, the ACD 11 seeks an available agent to serve the caller. Since in this configuration, all local agents are directly connected to the ACD 11, on-line information about the status of each agent is provided to the ACD 11. If an available agent is found, the inbound call is automatically routed to this agent. If no available agent is located, a queue is formed, and callers are kept on hold until one of the busy agents becomes available. Each waiting call from the queue is served on a First-In-First-Out (FIFO) basis, or any other basis, used in call-centers. If the call is not served within a predetermined time period, the call may be recorded by the ACD 11 and handled later on. Agent stations are also connected to a data network 101, connected to the ACD 11 and to each agent 12, so that customer connection history and/or caller Identification Data (ID) information can be transferred. The data network 101 is coupled to the ACD 11 for extracting and transferring relevant data about a current session/transaction with a caller, to be routed concurrently with the incoming voice call from the caller. Data transfer is controlled by a control circuitry 102, which is connected to the ACD 11 and to the data network 101.

Fig. IB is a block diagram (prior art) of an outbound call-center 13, based on telephonic connections between customers and a plurality of local agents 12, calling the customers. Such an outbound call-center may be used, for instance, for telemarketing. Outbound calls generated by a PD 14 are received at the ACD 11, which functions as a routing switch, and then transferred to an available local agent. Normally, all local agents are connected to customers. During that time, the predictive dialer 14 performs a calculation of the probability that one of the local agents will be available until a new conversation with a new customer is established, and when the probability exceeds a predetermined threshold level, begins dialing to a customer. Upon establishing the call with a new customer, the predictive dialer 14 seeks an available local agent 12, to communicate with the customer. Since in this configuration, all local agents are directly connected to the predictive dialer 14 via the ACD 11, on-line information about the status of each agent is provided to the predictive dialer 14 and ACD 11. If an agent is available, the outbound call is automatically routed to the available agent. If the customer is not served within a predetermined time period and the called customer has not yet disconnected, the connection may be suspended by the predictive dialer 14 and a new connection is established later on. Here again, a data network 101, connected to each agent 12, is coupled to the ACD 11 and to the predictive dialer 14, for extracting and transferring relevant data about a current session/transaction with a customer, to be routed concurrently with the incoming voice call from the customer. Again, data transfer is controlled by a control circuitry 102, which is connected to the ACD 11, to the predictive dialer 14 and to the data network 101.

Fig. 1C is a block diagram (prior art) of an inbound call-center 15, based on telephonic connections between callers, and a plurality of local agents 12, servicing the users, and on an IP connection between the plurality of local agents 12, and a plurality of IP users 16, via an IP network 17 and a gateway 18. Since IP users are connected via a personal computer and transmit data packets, the data is first converted from an IP to analog signals by the gateway 18, which is actually a protocol converter, serving as an interface between IP and telephonic environment. Inbound calls, which arrive, from Internet users, or from callers, are then received at the ACD 11, which functions again as a routing switch. Here again, a data network 101, connected to the gateway 18 and to each agent 12, is coupled to the ACD 11 for extracting and transferring relevant data about a current session/transaction with a caller, to be routed concurrently with the incoming voice call from the caller. This relevant data may comprise user identification details, delivery details and other details that saves each agent that handles the call the need to collect the same information again. Data transfer is controlled by a control circuitry 102, which is connected to the ACD 11 and to the data network 101. The plurality of local agents 12 are continuously connected to the ACD 11. Upon receiving an inbound call from a caller or from an IP user, the ACD 11 seeks a first available agent to serve the caller and/or the user. Since in this configuration, all local agents are directly connected to the ACD 11, on-line information about the status of each agent is provided to the ACD 11. If an available agent is obtained, the inbound call is automatically routed to this agent. If no available agent is located, a queue is formed, and callers are held until one of the busy agents becomes available. Each waiting call from the queue is served on a First-In-First-Out (FIFO) basis, or any other basis, used in call-centers. If the call is not served within a predetermined time period, an option to record a message may be offered to the caller every predetermined period. If the caller prefers to use this option, the message is recorded by the ACD 11 and handled later on.

Fig. 2A is a block diagram of an inbound call-center 20a, which, according to a preferred embodiment of the invention, is connected to a plurality of telephonic callers. Service is based on telephonic connections between callers, and a plurality of local agents 12 and/or remote agents 21, serving the callers. Inbound calls, which arrive from telephonically connected callers, are received at the ACD 11, which functions again as a routing switch. The plurality of local agents 12 are continuously connected to the ACD 11. Since in this configuration, all local agents are directly connected to the ACD 11, on-line information about the status of each local agent is provided to the ACD 11.

Upon receiving an inbound call, the ACD 11 seeks a first available agent to serve the caller and/or the user. After an available agent is obtained, the inbound call is automatically routed to this agent, as previously explained. Seeking an available agent may be carried out with no preferences to the agent's connection type (local or remote), but with reference to an availability queue, as well known in the art. The availability status of each agent is stored in a database and continuously updated. Local agent, who are directly connected, have their status updated via the control circuitry 102, as is well known in the art. Remote agent availability is updated on-line. This requires a prompt update of each remote agent's status. According to a preferred embodiment of the invention, agent status information is collected and stored in a database. Status information is primarily based on notification from the remote agents, or by polling agents by the ACD control circuitry 102, or a combination of them. Logging of remote agents onto the IP network is carried out when they are available. Any remote agent that is logged on, and for some reason wishes to leave his station, informs his computer that he is not available. This information is sent to the database. Log-in and log-out messages from each remote agent are stored in a database, as well as information about calls sent to them. In this way, no calls are transferred to this agent until he informs his computer that he is reconnected, or until he logs onto the IP network again. Alternatively, the control circuitry 102 polls all available remote agents each second, or any other desired time interval and updates the database accordingly. A query about availability is also introduced at predetermined times to any remote agent for status update. Status information may also be collected by polling agents who are logged out (not active), or by using the database and polling only logged in and available agents. Therefore, the control circuitry 102 either polls its remote agents, or monitors log-in and log-out operations of the remote agents or any combination of the two. Data transfer is controlled by a control circuitry 102, which is connected to the ACD 11, to the data network 101. Thus, the status of both local and remote agents, as well as the time when they became available, exists in the database, to allow ACD 11 to seek the first available agent with no regard to location. If the first available agent is a remote agent 21, from a plurality of remote agents which are distributed over the IP network (such as the Internet), the eall is transferred via ACD 11, via an outbound IP network 22, and a gateway 23. The ACD 11 is linked to a data network 101 (or a database) and bi-directional control and management data (e.g., data about the connection with the caller, caller ID, payments, credit card number etc.) may be transferred between the data network 101 and local or remote agents. The data network 101 is linked to the ACD 11, to each local agent 12 and to the gateway 23 through data links (shown in Fig. 2A in dashed arrows) for simultaneously transmitting data and voice over the network, that is associated with the connection between the ACD 11 and each remote agent 21. Data transfer is controlled by a control circuitry 102, which is connected to the ACD 11, to the data network 101. Additional information and data, such as the connection history with a caller, caller ID, and any new data that is generated by any agent is also uploaded and stored in the database and is available for download by any agent.

Fig. 2B is a block diagram of an inbound call-center 20b that serves both telephonic and IP callers (users), with on-line access to remote agents distributed over an IP network, according to a preferred embodiment of the invention. Service of telephonic callers is provided in the same way as previously described with reference to the inbound call-center 20 of Fig. 2A. Service of IP users 16 is based on an IP connection between the ACD 11, and the IP users 16, via an inbound IP network 17. Since IP users are connected via a personal computer and transmit data packets, the data is first converted from an IP to analog signals by a gateway 18, which is actually a protocol converter, serving as an interface between the IP and telephonic environment. The converted inbound calls, which arrive, for instance, from Internet users, are received at the ACD 11, which functions again as a routing switch and is linked to a similar data network 101 and local and/or remote agents. The data network 101 is also linked to each local agent 12 and to the gateways 18 and 23 through data links (shown in Fig. 2B in dashed arrows) for transmitting both data and voice over the network, that is associated with the connection between the ACD 11 and each remote agent 21 or each IP user 16. Additional information and data, such as the connection history with a caller, caller ID, and any new data that is generated by any agent is also uploaded and stored in the database and is available for download by any agent.

Upon receiving an inbound call from an IP user, the ACD 11 seeks a first available agent to serve the caller and/or the user. After an available agent is obtained, the inbound call is automatically routed to this agent. As previously explained, seeking an available agent is carried out with no preferences to the agent's connection type (local or remote). If the first available agent is a remote agent 21, from a plurality of remote agents, which are distributed over the IP network (such as the Internet), the call is connected to the remote agent 21, via an outbound IP network 22, and a gateway 23. Here again, the ACD 11 comprises, or is linked to, a data network 101 (or a database) and bi-directional control and management data (e.g., data about the connection with the caller, caller ID, payments, credit card number etc.) may be transferred between the data network 101 and each remote agent 21 through data links (shown in Fig. 2 A in dashed arrows) for simultaneously transmitting data and voice over the network, that is associated with the connection between the ACD 11 and each remote agent 21. Data transfer is controlled by a control circuitry 102, which is connected to the ACD 11, to the data network 101 and local or remote agents.

Additional information and data, such as the connection history with a caller, caller ID, and any new data that is generated by any agent is also uploaded and stored in the database and is available for download by any agent. A bypass path for IP data is utilized by controlling a bypass switch 24. Data- protocol conversion is not required for transferring inbound calls from an IP user 16 to a remote agent 21, via the IP network 22. Therefore, the ACD 11 controls the bypass switch 24, to switch the IP data directly from gateway 18 to the IP network 22. Alternatively, the ACD may provide the calling party software, the IP address of the agent, to directly make the connection between the calling party and the remote agent, in a process which is similar to call forwarding.

Fig. 3 is a block diagram of an outbound call-center 30, with on-line access to remote agents which are distributed over an IP network, according to a preferred embodiment of the invention. Service is based on telephonic connections between customers, and a plurality of local agents 12 and/or remote agents 21, communicating with the callers, and on an IP connection between the plurality of local agents 12 and/or remote agents 21, and a plurality of IP customers 16, via an outbound IP network 17. Outbound calls, which are set up by the predictive dialer 14, are received at the ACD 11 which functions as a routing switch to direct outbound calls to local or remote agent, and is linked to a data network 101 and local or remote agents. The data network 101 is also linked to each local agent 12 and to the gateways 18 and 23 through data links (shown in dashed arrows) for simultaneously transmitting data and voice over the network, that is associated with the connection between the ACD 11 and each remote agent 21 or each IP user 16.

Voice data from remote agents, which is directed to telephonically connected customers, is first converted from an IP to analog signals by a gateway 23. The plurality of local agents 12 are continuously connected to the ACD 11 which is linked to the predictive dialer 14. The predictive dialer 14, begins to establish a connection with a telephonically connected or IP customer, via the ACD 11, according to the probability that an agent will be available until the call establishment is completed. The predictive dialer 14 initiates a call with a customer, and as the connection is established it starts seeking a first agent available, local or remote, as previously explained. Once an available agent is located, the outbound call is automatically routed to the agent. If the outbound call is telephonic and the agent is local, the ACD simply switches the call to the agent. If the outbound call is telephonic, and the agent is a remote agent, connected via the first IP network 22, the first gateway converts the IP to an analog protocol and the ACD 11 connects the converted IP call to a telephonically connected customer. If the outbound call is destined to an IP customer 16, and the agent is a local agent, the second gateway 18 converts the IP call to an analog protocol and the ACD 11 switches the converted IP call to a local agent. Data transfer is controlled by a control circuitry 102, which is connected to the ACD 11, to the predictive dialer 14 and to the data network 101. Additional information and data, such as the connection history with a caller, caller ID, and any new data that is generated by any agent is also uploaded and stored in the database and is available for download by any agent.

Again, a bypass path for IP data is utilized by controlling a bypass switch 24. Basically, outbound calls set up by the predictive dialer 14, are routed by the ACD 11 to local or remote agents, for handling. Upon establishing a call with an IP user 16, by the predictive dialer 14, if the ACD 11 routes the call to a remote agent 21, which is also connected via the IP network 22, data protocol conversion is not required. Therefore, the ACD 11 controls the bypass switch 24, to switch the IP data directly from the IP network 17, to the IP network 22. Alternatively, the ACD may provide the calling party software, the IP address of the agent, to directly make the connection between the calling party and the remote agent, in a process which is similar to call forwarding. The above examples and description have of course been provided only for the-purpose of illustrations, and are not intended to limit the invention in any way. As will be appreciated by the skilled person, the invention can be carried out in a great variety of ways and a variety of Multi-Session over a single connection protocol networks to allow for simultaneous transmission of voice and data, such as, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) or Frame Relay networks, employing more than one technique from those described above, giving preference to available local agents or seeking available remote agents, employing only remote agents, integrating all IP network to one IP network, integrating both gateways into one gateway, encoding all calls and polling signals, using a progressive or a preview dialer or other outbound calling methods, all without exceeding the scope of the invention.

Claims

1. A method for interconnecting remote agents serving a call-center, which are -distributed over a packet switched network, with customers/callers telephonically connected to said call-center and/or distributed over said packet switched network and/or another packet switched network, comprising accessing said distributed remote agents, in real time, over said packet switched network and/or over said another packet switched network, and routing calls to said agents.
2. A method according to claim 1, comprising: a) providing a call distributor having a control circuit, linked to a packet switched network and/or to a telephonic network, the outputs of said call distributor being connected to a plurality of local agents and/or to a first gateway, said first gateway being connected to a plurality of remote agents via said packet switched network, the inputs of said call distributor being telephonically connected to a plurality of callers/customers and/or said gateway and/or a second gateway, said gateway or second gateway being connected to a plurality of packet switched callers via said packet switched network and/or via another packet switched network; b) receiving an incoming call from a caller in said call distributor and/or connecting an outgoing call destined to a customer, to said call distributor; c) seeking a first available agent; and d) connecting said caller/customer to said first available agent via a direct telephonic connection in said call distributor, or via said first gateway and said packet switched network.
3. A method according to claim 2, wherein a direct connection is established between the remote agent and the customer/caller, over said packet switched network and/or between the packet switched networks.
4. A method according to claim 2, wherein the call distributor is linked to a dialer which establishes an outgoing call to a customer, said dialer being selected from a group of dialers which comprises:
- a predictive dialer;
- a preview dialer; and
- a progressive dialer.
5. A method according to claim 2, wherein the call distributor is further linked to a data network being connected to each agent, said data network being updated with information referring to available agents and to customers/callers, for transferring control and management data to the agents.
6. A method according to claim 5, wherein said control and management data is transferred to at least one of the agents via simultaneous transmission over said packet switched network.
7. A method according to claim 2, wherein the call distributor further comprises a packet switched bypass path, said packet switched bypass path connecting between said packet switched callers and said remote agents, and being controlled by the call distributor.
8. A method according to claim 2, wherein seeking a first available agent comprises at least polling remote agents.
9. A method according to claim 1, wherein at least one of the packet switched networks is a network being selected from a group which comprises:
- an ATM network;
- a Frame Relay network - 20 -
- an IP network; and
- the Internet.
10. A method according to claim 1, wherein at least a portion of calls which are transferred over the packet switched path, are converted back to voice at each remote agent and/or at each packet switched customer/caller.
11. A method according to claim 2, wherein seeking a first available agent comprises at least using status information which is provided to the call distributor by said remote agents.
12. A method according to claim 2, wherein seeking a first available agent comprises at least using status information which is provided to the call distributor by at least one remote agent, and by at least continuously polling the remaining remote agents.
13. A method according to claim 2, wherein the call distributor is an Automatic Call Distributor (ACD).
14. A method according to claim 12, wherein polling the remaining remote agents is carried out according to a non-continuous basis.
15. A method according to claim 11, wherein security of calls and network status is achieved by encoding all calls and status information.
16. Apparatus for interconnecting remote agents serving a call-center, which are distributed over a packet switched network, with customers/callers telephonically connected to said call-center or distributed over said packet switched network and/or another packet switched network, comprising circuitry for accessing said distributed remote agents, in real time, over said packet switched network and/or over said another packet switched network, and circuitry for routing calls to said agents.
17. Apparatus according to claim 16, comprising: a) a call distributor having a control circuit, the outputs of said call distributor being telephonically connected to a plurality of local agents and/or a first gateway, said first gateway being connected to a plurality of remote agents via a first packet switched network, the inputs of said call distributor being telephonically connected to a plurality of callers and/or to said gateway and/or a second gateway, said gateway or second gateway being connected to a plurality of packet switched callers via said packet switched network and/or via a second packet switched network; b) circuitry for receiving an incoming call from a caller, in said call distributor and/or circuitry for connecting an outgoing call destined to a customer, to said call distributor; c) circuitry for seeking a first available agent; and d) circuitry for connecting said caller/customer to an available agent via a direct telephonic connection in said call distributor, or via said first gateway and said packet switched network.
18. Apparatus according to claim 17, further comprising a direct connection between the distributed remote agent and the distributed customer/caller, over the packet switched network or between the packet switched networks.
19. Apparatus according to claim 17, wherein the call distributor is linked to a dialer which establishes an outgoing call to a customer, said dialer being selected from a group of dialers which comprises:
- a predictive dialer;
- a preview dialer; and - a progressive dialer.
20. Apparatus according to claim 17, wherein the call distributor is further linked to a data network being connected to each agent, said data network being updated with information referring to available agents and to customers/callers, for transferring control and management data to the agents.
21. Apparatus according to claim 20, wherein the said control and management data is transferred to at least one of the agents via simultaneous transmission over said packet switched network.
22. Apparatus according to claim 17, wherein the call distributor further comprises a packet switched bypass path, said packet switched bypass path connecting between said packet switched callers and said remote agents, and being controlled by said call distributor.
23. Apparatus according to claim 16, wherein said at least one of the packet switched networks is a network being selected from a group which comprises:
- an ATM network;
- a Frame Relay network
- an IP network; and
- the Internet.
24. Apparatus according to claim 16, comprising circuitry for transferring at least a portion of calls which are transferred over the packet switched path, and for converting said at least a portion, back to voice at each remote agent and/or at each packet switched customer/caller.
25. Apparatus according to claim 17, comprising circuitry for updating status information of available remote agents.
26. Apparatus according to claim 25, comprising circuitry for encoding all calls and status information.
EP20000902840 1999-02-17 2000-02-07 A call-center with agents that are distributed over the internet Withdrawn EP1153502A1 (en)

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