WO2002060161A2 - Call center with ivr, whereby customer information and call control functions are presented to the agents in web documents - Google Patents

Call center with ivr, whereby customer information and call control functions are presented to the agents in web documents Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2002060161A2
WO2002060161A2 PCT/IB2002/000141 IB0200141W WO02060161A2 WO 2002060161 A2 WO2002060161 A2 WO 2002060161A2 IB 0200141 W IB0200141 W IB 0200141W WO 02060161 A2 WO02060161 A2 WO 02060161A2
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WO
WIPO (PCT)
Prior art keywords
call
ivr unit
ot
data
sen
Prior art date
Application number
PCT/IB2002/000141
Other languages
French (fr)
Other versions
WO2002060161A3 (en
Inventor
Paul Tidwell
Original Assignee
Ericsson Inc.
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 US76961501A priority Critical
Priority to US09/769,615 priority
Application filed by Ericsson Inc. filed Critical Ericsson Inc.
Publication of WO2002060161A2 publication Critical patent/WO2002060161A2/en
Publication of WO2002060161A3 publication Critical patent/WO2002060161A3/en

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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
    • H04M3/5166Centralised call answering arrangements requiring operator intervention, e.g. call or contact centers for telemarketing in combination with interactive voice response systems or voice portals, e.g. as front-ends
    • 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
    • H04M2201/00Electronic components, circuits, software, systems or apparatus used in telephone systems
    • H04M2201/40Electronic components, circuits, software, systems or apparatus used in telephone systems using speech recognition
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M2203/00Aspects of automatic or semi-automatic exchanges
    • H04M2203/25Aspects of automatic or semi-automatic exchanges related to user interface aspects of the telephonic communication service
    • H04M2203/251Aspects of automatic or semi-automatic exchanges related to user interface aspects of the telephonic communication service where a voice mode or a visual mode can be used interchangeably
    • H04M2203/253Aspects of automatic or semi-automatic exchanges related to user interface aspects of the telephonic communication service where a voice mode or a visual mode can be used interchangeably where a visual mode is used instead of a voice mode
    • H04M2203/254Aspects of automatic or semi-automatic exchanges related to user interface aspects of the telephonic communication service where a voice mode or a visual mode can be used interchangeably where a visual mode is used instead of a voice mode where the visual mode comprises menus
    • 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

Abstract

A call center (10) handles incoming calls in a call center (10) initially through an IVR unit (18) with receives preprogrammed instructions and other call data from a Service Execution Node (20) servicing the call center (10). Selectable human operator participation in a call is provided and an OT (26a..n) receives a call-specific web page (40) including pre-existing customer data (34) and call-progression data (36) to assist in handling of the call. The web-page (40) can include user interface elements that assist the human operator in controlling and servicing the call or updating/accessing a database containing the call data (34) and call-progression data (36). The IVR unit (18) acts as a proxy between the SEN (20) and the OPM (24) so that certain functions of the IVR unit (18) and the human operator are integrated.

Description

SYSTEM AND METHOD USING WEB-BASED SEN IN CALL CENTER OPERATION WITH COMBINED PRESENTATION AND CALL CONTROL

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present invention relates to a call control application using an Interactive Voice Response unit, and more particularly, to a call control application that allows the transfer and transmission of calls and call related data from a web-based application server to an IVR unit, a human operator, or both within a call center.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Without limiting the scope of the invention, its background is described in connection with call centers. Many call centers use Interactive Voice Response (IVR) units to facilitate handling of incoming calls. Typically, a call center includes one or more IVR units and a number of human representatives or operators who field inbound telephone calls for assistance with account transactions and/or general information about products and services. Commonly, each representative has an associated personal computer or work station and a telephone. The representative may field inbound calls for potential or current customers seeking service and answers to questions over the telephone.

Inbound calls may also be initially fielded by an IVR unit to handle basic or automated service tasks. An IVR unit is a special purpose computer that uses a recorded or digitized human voice to provide assistance to the caller. For example, when an account holder calls a financial institution, an IVR unit may respond by providing a series of voice prompt menus and transaction service options, such as account balances, recent account activity or security positions. Typically, the caller is asked to enter account-related information by depressing keys on the telephone set or through voice entry using voice recognition. In this way, information requested of a caller can be provided automatically in response to the appropriate voice commands or depressed telephone keys.

Frequently, telephone calls are transferred between an IVR unit and a human operator who can answer or handle more complex or non-routine transactions. Thus, a caller may begin a call by responding to prompts from an IVR unit and progress to a human operator by selecting an option from one of several menu options. For example, a call to a financial institution may result in the caller being transferred to a human loan representative that can assist the caller with payoff balance information or the transfer of funds between accounts. Based on the menu choices of the caller, the IVR unit may forward the call to the loan representative and the loan representative may forward the call to an account representative for further assistance to the caller. This type of call progression is well known and common operation in call center environments. With the current state of the art, when a caller is transferred, the caller typically must repeat information to the human operator. As a result, a caller may be required to provide account number information several times during a single call. The reason for this type of repetitiveness is that no interaction currently exists between the IVR unit and the operator. This repetition of information can occur several times during a single call, for example, both for transfers between an IVR unit and a call center representative and from one representative to another. The repetition of information is often an annoyance to the caller, inconvenient to the call center representative, and inefficient in terms of the overall call center operation. Accordingly, a need exists for a way of increasing the efficiency of the call center. A way of decreasing the repetition and selectably combining the call handling functions of an IVR unit with those of a human operator would provide numerous advantages. SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention achieves technical advantages by providing a system that integrates functions of an IVR unit with those of a human operator. With the invention, an incoming call is initially serviced by an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) unit that interfaces with the caller. A Service Execution Node (SEN) is provided in the form of a web server that provides data and instructions to the IVR unit that assist in servicing incoming calls. Specifically, the SEN provides the IVR unit with preprogrammed instructions and call data for participating in the call. The call data can include information relating to a caller's account or related transactions as well as call record history information. An Operator Pool Manager (OPM) and one or more Operator Terminals (OT) provide human operator assistance on demand while the Service Execution Node (SEN) provides the operator terminal with call-progression data support through the IVR unit. The SEN can pass data and instructions to a participating OT by sending an instruction to the IVR unit which passes the data received from the SEN to a participating OT. The data can include user interface elements (such as button or input fields) that control the screen content of the OT and assist the human operator using the OT in servicing the call. Also disclosed is a method of interfacing with a caller in a call center utilizing a Interactive Voice Response (IVR) unit for servicing incoming calls. The method comprises the steps of an IVR unit receiving an incoming call to the call center and the IVR unit providing transaction options to the caller placing the call and detecting selections made by the caller in response to the options. An SEN transmits data to the IVR unit that determines how the IVR unit services the call. The IVR unit may invoke OT participation in a call and transfer the call to an OT for further servicing. OT participation may be invoked by transmitting the call to an OPM handling a plurality of OTs. The SEN transmits call data and instructions to the IVR unit which acts on them or transfers them to the OT via the OPM. If OT participation is required, instructions transmitted to the IVR unit from the SEN cause the IVR unit to transfer the call to a participating OT along with any associated data and instructions.

A technical advantage of the invention is increased efficiency of the call center using call data which eliminates the need for repetitive entry of information by a caller.

Another technical advantage of the invention is that certain functions of the IVR unit and the human operator are integrated providing a more unified system for handling customer related concerns and transactions.

Still another advantage of the invention is that it permits the call center service designer to provide a high level of flexibility in the user interface presented to the operator and other system(s) he or she interfaces with.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The features of the present invention, including the above and other advantages, will be more clearly understood from consideration of the following detailed description in connection with the accompanying drawings in which:

Figure 1 is a block diagram showing an example of a call center and its primary components, according to the invention; Figure 2 is the call center of Figure 1 using an Interactive Voice

Response (IVR) unit to handle an incoming call;

Figure 3 shows a call center handling an incoming call with Operator Terminal (OT) participation;

Figure 4 is a block diagram depicting use of the invention to handle an incoming call with an IVR unit according to Figure 2 and invoking Operator Terminal (OT) participation in handling the call according to Figure 3.

Figure 5 is a high-level process flow diagram showing the steps in a method of handling incoming calls to a call center according to the invention; and Figure 6 is a call flow diagram showing use of the invention in a call center utilizing an IVR unit, SEN, OT and OPM. Corresponding numerals and symbols in the different figures refer to corresponding parts unless otherwise indicated.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS To better understand the invention, reference is made to Figures 1-6, in which systems and methods for controlling calls to a call center are shown, according to various embodiments of the invention are shown.

Referring primarily to Figure 1 , the basic building blocks of a system for operating a call center 10 according to the invention is shown. The call center 10 includes a voice gateway (VG) 12 capable of receiving a voice call from a traditional telephone device 14 external to the call center 10. The telephone device 14 is typically operated by a human caller and, as such, will be referred to also as "caller" 14 where appropriate, except where a distinction between the physical device and a human caller is expressed. Typically, a site keeper 16 is operably linked to the VG 12 which, in turn, is linked to one or more programmable Interactive Voice Controller (IVR) unit(s) 18. In this example, only one IVR unit 18 is shown, but it should be understood that multiple IVR units may also be used. A site keeper 16 directs a call to an available IVR unit 18 which, preferably is configured to interact with the caller and perform certain call handling functions, such as, for example, playing announcements, collecting keypad Dual Tone Multi- Frequency (DTMF) and voice inputs, playing recording messages, disconnecting the call, keeping an event log, redirecting the call, or sending messages to other system components. It should be understood that other functions may be provided by the IVR unit 18.

A Service Execution Node (SEN) 20 is able to communicate with the IVR unit 18. The SEN 20 is preferably a web server using a web-based language, such as Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) or an XML derivative, to communicate with the IVR unit 18. The IVR unit 18 is preferably configured to retrieve instructions and data from the SEN 20 by looking for relevant commands in the information received from the SEN 20. In this way, the SEN 20 is able to control the way the IVR unit 18 services an incoming call to the call center 10. Moreover, the fact that the IVR unit 18 can receive data from the SEN 20 allows specific information to be presented to the caller 14 via the IVR unit 18 handling the incoming call. This greatly increases the efficiency of operation of the call center.

The call center 10 can use Internet Protocol (IP) to connect the VG 12, site keeper 16, IVR unit 18 and SEN 20. If so, the physical links 22 comprise operative IP links. Alternatively, the links 22 may be wireline, wireless, fiberoptic, or other signal-bearing communication medium capable of carrying data. The call center 10 is seen to include an Operator Pool Manager (OPM) 24 communicably linked to the IVR unit 18. The OPM 24 is an interface to a plurality of Operator Terminals (OT) 26(a...n) and assists in selecting a specific OT to service a specific incoming call to the call center 10. Preferably, the OTs 26(a...n) are commercially available PC or workstation terminals running a commercially available operating system. Of course the number of OTs in a given system is a matter of design, as dictated by the needs of the particular call center, and is not a crucial feature of the invention. For convenience, the examples shown and discussed herein have relatively few OTs denoted as OT 26(a...n). With reference now to Figure 2, an example illustrating progression of a call into the call center 10 using the invention is shown and described. A call is typically initiated from outside the call center 10 by a caller 14. The call is initially received through the VG 12 and directed from the site keeper 16 to the IVR unit 18. Instructions and data from the SEN 20 direct the operation of the IVR unit 18 and the options presented to the caller 14.

To the SEN 20, the IVR unit 18 appears as a typical web browser of the type well known in the arts. The SEN 20 provides data and instructions 30, preferably in HTML, for interpretation and implementation by the IVR unit 18 that assist in interacting with the caller 14 and servicing the call in general. The IVR unit 18 preferably provides recorded messages and voice prompts to the caller 14 and accepts DTMF and voice inputs from the caller 14. -1-

Throughout the Figures, a solid line represents an available signal path 22, a dotted line represents an HTML path 30, and a dashed line represents a voice/DTMF path 32.

The SEN 20 is preferably provided with customer-related data 34 such as account information, shipping addresses, account history, etc.. The SEN 20 and IVR unit 18 are also preferably provided with preprogrammed instructions for using and updating the customer-related data 34 through IVR unit 18 and interaction with the caller 14. In this way, call history for the caller 14 is maintained. For example, a caller 14 being serviced by the IVR unit 18 in the manner described above may request account information through voice or DTMF inputs. The IVR unit 18 provides the caller audio information based on the data and instructions 30 including account-related data received from the SEN 20. The IVR unit 18 then receives data and instructions 30 from the SEN 20 which, in turn, causes the IVR unit 18 to request input from the caller 14. The call history is stored as call-progression data 36 which preferably includes a complete history of the call interaction between the caller 14 and the IVR unit 18. Whether it be call-related data, call-progression data, account or call history data as well as other forms of data necessary to provide service to the caller, the fact that the IVR unit 18 and SEN 20 are able to store and communicate such call data means that the IVR unit 18 has the ability to assist the caller 14 with a varied number of transactions and services.

Continuing the example, the IVR unit 18 may play a taped or digitized voice message generated using customer-related data 34 supplied by the SEN 20. For example, the customer-related data 34 can concern an account balance due, followed by a request for voice or DTMF input of, for instance, a valid credit card number. Call-progression data 36 (in this case a credit card number) is input by the caller 14 and stored by the SEN 20. Additional call- progression data 36 may also be stored by the SEN 20. For example, call history including the duration of a call, and/or a record of prompts played by the IVR unit 18, may also be stored and used by the SEN 20 in directing further IVR unit 18 interactions with the caller 14. The SEN 20 updates the customer-related data 34 with call-progression data 36 during the call.

With reference to Figure 3, it can be seen that the IVR unit 18 may receive data and instructions 30 from the SEN 20 that causes the IVR unit 18 to request the Operator Pool Manager (OPM) 24 invoke human operator participation in the call. Preferably, the SEN 20 invokes the OPM 24 in response to specific call-progression data 36 such as the caller 14 requesting to speak with an operator, or in response to customer-related data 34, such as for example, a stored preference to limit interaction with the IVR unit 18 or an instruction from the SEN 20 to transfer the call to the OPM 24.

The OPM 24 can comprise a commercially available PC or workstation device running a commercially available operating system such as WINDOWS NT, a registered trademark of the Microsoft Corporation. In general, the OPM 24 is configured to manage links between and among one or more IVR unit(s) 18, VG 12, and a plurality of OT 26(a...n). Upon receipt of instructions 30 to transfer the call to an OT 26(a...n), the OPM 24 alerts one or more available OT 26(a...n) via the IVR unit 18. Of course, in suitable applications the system may be configured to facilitate multiple OT 26(a...n) participation simultaneously in a single call. Continuing with the example call introduced above, following the receipt by the IVR unit 18 of data and instructions 30 from the SEN 20 to invoke OT 26(a...n) participation in the call, the OPM 24 finds an available human operator such as, for example, OT 26(a). An HTML path 33 facilitates communication between the SEN 20 and the OT 26(a) via the IVR unit 18 which acts as a proxy between the SEN 20 and the OT 26(a). The HTML path 33 to the SEN 20 preferably provides the OT 26(a) with a means of receiving customer-related data 34, call-progression data 36, and any other programmed instructions or data such as call-handling procedures optionally accessible to the SEN 20. The HTML path 33 also provides data which includes user interface elements, such as buttons and input fields, that allow the OT 26(a) to interact with the caller or other available applications via the SEN 20.

Preferably, customer-related data 34, call-progression data 36, and optional information ("call data") received from the SEN 20 is managed according to preprogrammed instructions chosen by the call center service designer. Such call data and instructions can be provided to the OT 26(a) in the form of a call-specific web page 40. Thus, in this specific example, it should be understood that the OT 26(a) is provided with a call-specific web page 40 including the identity of the caller 14, account number, and credit card number entered previously during the call as well as any relevant customer data 34, buttons, input fields, etc... which may have pre-existed the particular call.

A voice path 32, in this example between the OT 26(a) and the appropriate VG 12, is established as well as the HTML path 33 between the SEN 20 and the OT 26(a) via the IVR unit 18. This enables a human operator of the OT 26(a) to interact by voice with the customer at device 14 while having full access to customer-related data 34 and call-progression data 36 on the call-specific web page 40 displayed at the OT 26(a). The call-specific web page 40 preferably provides the OT 26(a) with call-progression data 36 generated by the interaction between the calling device 14 and the IVR unit 18 as well as supplemental customer-related data 34 retrieved from the SEN 20.

Inputs at the OT 26(a) are preferably also used by the SEN 20 to update the call-specific web page 40, the call-progression data 36, and the customer-related data 34. Thus, the operator at the OT 26(a) may query the customer at calling device 14 and add information to a database stored at the SEN 20 via the call-specific web page 40. Th database can take the form of call-progression data 36 and/or customer-related data 34 which is accessible for future use. For example, having found an apparent error in the credit card number provided by the customer to the IVR unit 18, the operator may request additional information from the caller 14 and enter corrections to the call-progression data 36 at the OT 26(a). These corrections can be relayed back to the SEN 20 and stored in the customer-related data 34.

Additional features of the invention are understood by a comparison of Figures 1 through 4, particularly the HTML path 33 and voice paths 32 shown therein. Returning to the call example above and with further reference to Figure 3, the OT 26(a) permits a human operator to obtain call-specific web page 40 and to interact with the customer at calling device 14. If the situation warrants, the OT 26(a) may disconnect the call or selectively route the call to another destination. If the caller 14 is disconnected, the call is terminated and the call center 10 returns to the state shown in Figure 1. The OT 26(a) may alternatively route the call back to the IVR unit 18 for further automated processing as previously shown and described with reference to Figure 2. The OT 26(a) may also alternatively route the call through a Voice Gateway (VG) 42 to a destination device 44 or to an external number outside the call center.

Figure 5 is a high-level process flow diagram illustrating a method of interfacing with and servicing an incoming call to a call center, such as call center 10, according to the invention. It can be appreciated by those skilled in the art that Figure 5, as illustrated and described herein, presents a self- consistent sequence of steps leading to a desired result. The steps are those requiring the physical manipulation of physical quantities. Usually, although not necessarily, these quantities take the form of electrical or magnetic signals capable of being stored, transferred, combined, compared, and otherwise manipulated. It has proven convenient at times by those skilled in the art, to refer to these signals as bits, values, elements, symbols, characters, terms, numbers, or the like. It should be borne in mind, however, that all of these and similar terms are to be associated with the appropriate physical quantities and are merely convenient labels applied to these quantities.

Further, the manipulations performed are often referred to in terms, such as "controlling," "comparing" or "transferring", which are sometimes associated with mental operations performed by a human operator. No such capability of a human operator is necessary or desirable in most cases of the operations described herein, which form part of the present invention. As indicated herein, these operations are primarily machine operations. Useful machines for performing operations of a preferred embodiment of the present invention include data-processing systems, such as a general-purpose digital computer such as a commercially available Personal Computer (PC) or workstation device running a commercially available operating system such as WINDOWS NT, a registered trademark of the Microsoft Corporation, or other similar devices. In all cases the distinction between the method of operations in operating a computer and the method of computation itself should be borne in mind.

Preferred implementations of the invention can include implementations to execute the method of Figure 5 described herein as a program product residing in a memory of microcomputer at a call center. Until required by a microcomputer, the set of instructions may be stored as a computer-program product in another computer memory. For example, the set of instructions may be stored as a computer-program product in a disk drive attached to a microcomputer (which may include a removable memory such as an optical disk or floppy disk for eventual use in the disk drive). Those skilled in the art will appreciate that the physical storage of the sets of instructions physically changes the medium upon which it is stored so that the medium carries computer-readable information. The change may be electrical, magnetic, chemical, or some other physical change. While it is convenient to describe the invention in terms of instructions, symbols, characters, or the like, the reader should remember that all of these and similar terms should be associated with the appropriate physical elements.

Thus, as depicted at step 100 of Figure 5, a call into the call center 10 is received, evaluated, and routed according to automated computer processes and means. At step 102, the call-progression data is compared with preselected criteria for invoking Operator Terminal (OT) participation. If OT participation is not required, the above automated call-handling steps continue as shown in path 104 until the call is discontinued. If OT participation is required, an effort is made to select one or more operator terminals for participation in the call, step 106.

As shown in decision box 106, if an OT is not available, the call is queued, step 108, and efforts to assign an OT continue. When an OT becomes available, a data link and a voice link to the selected OT are established at step 110 and step 112, respectively. The human operator utilizing the OT can then, at step 114, communicate by voice with the caller while referring to the call-specific web page created in step 116. As indicated in decision box 118, the OT can end the call following conversation with the caller. The OT also has the option of routing the call back to the IVR unit (step 100) as shown at decision box 120. If not, then the call is terminated at step 122.

An important aspect of the invention is that the SEN 20 has the ability of transmitting data and instructions to the OT that includes user interface elements, like buttons and fields, that allow the operator to interact with the IVR unit 18 and the caller. Thus, the SEN 20 can provide the ability for a human operator to accept a redirect option, for example, appearing on the OT screen by depressing a "redirect" button from the screen. Once the button is clicked, the SEN 20 detects the choice and redirects the call back to the IVR unit 18. In this way, a call can be redirected to another number or terminated to a number outside the call center operation.

Figure 6 is a call flow diagram illustrating call progression during servicing of an incoming call to a call center, such as call center 10, according to the invention. Such diagrams are known in the arts and an understanding of the invention and its use and advantages should be discernable from Figure 6. Beginning at the upper left-hand corner of Figure 6 at line 200, caller 14 is shown making contact initially with the IVR unit 18. Throughout Figure 6, voice/DTMF transmissions are shown with bold emphasized arrows and Internet protocol, e.g., HTML transmissions, are shown non-emphasized. At lines 202 and 204, the IVR unit 18 and SEN 20 communicate with each other and the IVR unit 18 receives data and instructions 30 from the SEN 20 which cause the IVR unit 18 to relay voice messages and prompts such as, for example, prompts for input to the caller 14 at line 206. Next, at line 208, the caller 14 responds by entering DTMF tones or verbal responses to the IVR 18 message.

Next, the IVR unit 18, upon receipt of a response from the caller 14, relays it to the SEN 20 (relay line not shown). The sequence of events between the IVR unit 18 and the caller 14 can be stored in the SEN as call- progression data. The SEN 20 relays instructions and data to the IVR unit 18 as needed until it is determined that a human operator is required for further service of the call. Thus, this process may iterate a number of times and in some situations the caller 14 may choose to terminate the call at some point without ever invoking operator participation in the call.

Continuing the example of Figure 6, at line 208, the caller may select an option provided by the IVR unit 18, indicating a request to speak with a human operator. The IVR unit 18 thereupon relays the request, which is in the form of call-progression data 36, to the SEN 20 at line 210. The SEN 20 sends commands to the IVR unit 18 at line 212 which, in turn, initiates a REQUEST to the OPM 24 at line 214 requesting that the OPM 24 find an available OT for participation in the call. The OPM 24 finds an available OT 26(a), at lines 216 and 218, and responds to the ICR unit 18, at line 220, that an OT is available. The IVR unit 18 indicates the availability of the OT 26(a) to the SEN 20, line 222, allowing a connection to be established between the caller 14 and the OT 26(a) at line 224. At this point, the SEN 20 has the ability to pass data and instructions to the OT 26(a) which assist the OT 26(a) in servicing the call, line 226. The fact that the SEN 20 is able to cause the IVR unit 18 to transfer handling of the call to an available OT 26(a) and to deliver data and instructions via the IVR unit 18 means that some of the functions of the IVR unit 18 and the OT 26(a) are integrated. This greatly increases the efficiency of operation of the call center. Thus, the IVR unit 18 sees all commands from the SEN 20 first and may act on them or pass them on to the OPM 24 and eventually to the OT interacting with the caller. This type of call progression is indicated by lines 226 and 228. Preferably, commands passed to the OPM 24 are in HTML format and include user interface elements and other details that allow the human operator using the OT 26 to interact with the caller and handle account related transactions. In this way, the IVR unit 18 acts as a proxy between the SEN 20 and the OPM 24. The fact that IVR unit 18, SEN 20 and OPM 24 interact with each other in this way means that certain functions of the IVR unit 18 and the human operator are integrated therefore providing a more unified system for handling customer related concerns and transactions.

In a typical example, the OT (in this case, OT 26(a)) preferably contacts the IVR unit 18 via an HTML message and receives a call-specific web page 40 from the SEN 20, which may include customer-related data 34 and call-progression data 36. The OT 26(a) then communicates by voice with the caller 14 which may provide additional information or make additional requests from the OT. The SEN 20 may provide call-progression data 36 and customer-related data 34 to the OT 26(a) via the IVR unit 18 for assisting the caller 14. The fact that call-progression data 36 and customer-related data 34 is provided to the human operator, such as OT 26(a), after going through the IVR unit 18 eliminates the need to repeat information to the human operator handling the call.

For example, the caller may express customer preferences or order information to the human operator at the OT 26(a). The OT 26(a) may enter call-progression data 36 and/or customer-related data 34, which is transmitted preferably in HTML to the SEN 20. This process is represented by lines 226, 228 and 230. The SEN 20 uses the call-progression data 36 and customer- related data 34 received from the OT 26(a) to update the call-specific web page 40 displayed to the OT 26(a). The SEN 20 may also respond as shown in line 232. The conversation between the caller 14 and the human operator at OT 26(a) may continue in this manner, in principle, indefinitely. In practice, the call would preferably be terminated by either the caller 14 or the human operator at the OT 26(a) by mutual agreement, upon achieving customer satisfaction.

Alternatively, as shown in lines 234 and 236, upon a determination at OT 26(a) that the call may be further handled by an IVR unit 18, which may be the same IVR unit 18 used initially in handling the call or another IVR unit (not shown) in the call center 10. The OT 26(a) may contact the OPM 24 and SEN 20 which, in turn, contacts the IVR unit 18 and returns the call to the IVR unit 18, disconnecting the OT 26(a). The IVR unit 18 then communicates, according to instructions from the SEN 20, with the caller 14. The call continues until terminated, preferably by the caller 14, or until another input requesting operator participation is received causing the above-related process to reiterate.

Advantages realized by the invention include increased efficiency in the handling of calls to a call center since call-progression data and customer- related data are formatted into an operator-accessible call-specific web page and transmitted to the OT via the IVR unit. Increased efficiency in terms of time required for call handling, system capacity use, cost, and call routing are also achieved with the system and methods of the invention. In addition, the invention provides for selectable human operator participation in incoming calls to the call center. In the event operator participation is selected, the invention has the advantage of providing the human operator with a call-specific web page including data useful to the operator in interacting with the caller. The date can include user interface elements that govern what options are presented to the human operator of the OT assigned to the incoming call to the call center. In this way, the invention permits the call center service designer to provide a high level of flexibility in the user interface presented to the operator and other system(s) he or she interfaces with. Additionally, combining the presentation of data to the operator and control of the call with an IVR unit provides substantial advantages in streamlining call handling from the caller point of view and also streamlining call center resource use.

It should be understood that many variations in the application of the invention are possible without departing from the inventive concepts. For example, the call center system may be configured to both send and receive calls as in the above example, or may be configured for merely receiving or merely sending calls. The call center may be configured for primarily voice traffic, primarily data traffic, or both, and may be scaled to a larger or smaller size without changing the concepts of the invention defined by the following claims.

Claims

WHAT IS CLAIMED IS:
1. A system for operating a call center comprising: an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) unit for servicing calls into the call center, said IVR unit adapted for presenting one or more transaction options to callers and for detecting selection of options from said callers; an Operator Pool Manager (OPM) and one or more Operator Terminals (OT) for providing human operator assistance to said callers, said OPM adapted for receiving data from said IVR unit and for determining which OT interacts with a specific caller; and a Service Execution Node (SEN) in communication with the IVR unit and configured to provide data to said IVR unit for assisting with the handling of said incoming call by said IVR unit.
2. The system according to claim 1 further comprising a voice gateway for receiving an incoming voice call into said and call center and for directing it to said IVR unit for service.
3. The system according to claim 1 wherein said IVR unit is configured to act as a proxy between said SEN and said OPM.
4. The system according to claim 3 wherein said SEN is configured to pass data to the IVR unit that allows a human operator of an OT to service an incoming call to said call center.
5. The system of according to claim 4 wherein said data includes user interface elements and instructions that determine the screen content of an OT utilized by said human operator.
6. The system according to claim 4 wherein said IVR unit is further adapted to received said data and pass it to said OPM for use by said OT.
7. The system according to claim 6 wherein said data is passed to said OPM in a web-based language.
8. The system according to claim 7 wherein said web-based language is HTML.
9. The system according to claim 7 wherein said HTML format includes a web page with user interface elements.
10. The system according to claim 8 wherein said user interface elements include buttons and input fields displayed on said OT.
11. The system according to claim 1 wherein said data from said SEN can cause said IVR unit to transfer an incoming call to at least one of said OT.
12. The system according to claim 1 wherein said OTs are configured to use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
13. The system according to claim 1 wherein the SEN comprises a web- based computer server.
14. The system according to claim 1 wherein said IVR-unit is further configured for transmitting call-progression data to said SEN, said call- progression data useful in maintaining the call record history of an incoming call to said call center.
15. The system according to claim 14 wherein said SEN is further configured to transmit call-progression data to an OT participating in the service of said incoming call via said IVR unit.
16. The system according to claim 14 wherein said call-progression data includes both call history and account information data relating to said incoming call.
17. In a call center utilizing a Interactive Voice Response (IVR) unit for servicing incoming calls,. a method of interfacing with a caller comprising the steps of: an IVR unit receiving an incoming call to the call center; the IVR unit providing transactions options to the caller of said incoming call and detecting selections made by said caller in response to said options; a Service Execution Node (SEN) transmitting data to the IVR unit that determines how the IVR unit services the call.
18. The method of claim 17 wherein the step of the SEN transmitting data to the IVR unit is followed by the steps: the IVR unit invoking Operator Terminal (OT) participation in a call; and the call being transferred to an OT for further servicing of the call.
19. The method of claim 18 wherein said invoking step is performed by the step of transmitting the call to an Operator Manager Pool handling a plurality of OTs.
20. The method according to claim 17 wherein said step of the SEN transmitting data to the IVR unit is performed so that call-related data and instructions are transmitted to the IVR unit.
21. The method according to claim 20 wherein said step of the SEN transmitting data to the IVR unit is performed so that instructions transmitted to the IVR unit cause the IVR unit to transfer the call to a participating OT.
22. The method according to claim 20 wherein said step of the SEN transmitting data to the IVR unit is performed so that instructions transmitted to the IVR unit are transmitted in a web-based language.
23. The method of claim 18 wherein said step of invoking OT participation in the call is performed by the steps of: the SEN transmitting instructions and interface elements to the IVR unit, the instructions requesting that the ICR unit transfer the call to an OT for servicing; and IVR unit transferring the call to an OT for servicing along with the interface elements.
24. The method according to claim 23 wherein said transferring step is performed so that said OT receives both call history data and account information data related to an incoming call to the call center.
PCT/IB2002/000141 2001-01-23 2002-01-18 Call center with ivr, whereby customer information and call control functions are presented to the agents in web documents WO2002060161A2 (en)

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