CALL CENTER SERVICES FOR LOCAL
CALLS USING LOCAL NUMBER
This application is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 08/760,111, filed Dec. 3, 1996, and related to U.S. patent application Ser. Nos. 08/833,990 and 08/833,997, both filed Apr. 11, 1997, and U.S. patent application Ser. No. 08/982,471, filed concurrently herewith, all of which are incorporated by reference.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention is directed to a network call center that provides customers, using a local telephone number, access to large virtual agent teams while reducing terminating facilities.
Many businesses use agents or operators to service customers by telephone. These businesses often employ several agents connected to an Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) system, such as a Meridian® ACD manufactured by Northern Telecom, Ltd., to handle multiple calls simultaneously. The call center technology distributes the calls, usually dialed with an toll-free number, to the agents.
There are three principal types of call center technology: standalone ACDs, ACDs integrated with a Private Branch Exchange (PBX), and central office based ACDs. The most commonly used type is the ACD integrated with a PBX.
Some conventional call center owners provide call center services through multiple local branches. Each local branch connects to an ACD to service customers in their respective service areas. To contact one of the local branches, customers dial a local telephone number.
Other conventional call center owners permit remote (non-local) agents to service customer calls. Customers typically access these call centers using a toll-free telephone number.
To accomplish remote agent servicing, the local ACD switch, to which the local agents connect, determines the status of the local agents. If all of the local agents are busy when a customer call arrives, the local ACD switch determines whether to queue the call until an agent becomes available or to forward the call to a remote ACD switch for servicing. This determination is normally preestablished by the call center owner.
If the call is to be forwarded, the local ACD switch determines a network identifier for the remote ACD switch from a database and forwards the customer call using the network identifier. At the remote ACD switch, the call is queued or routed to an available agent for servicing.
The conventional call center described above causes unnecessary delays in the servicing of customer calls due to the determinations that must be made by the local ACD switch as to whether a particular customer call is to be forwarded and the identity of a remote ACD switch that will handle the customer call. Also, because queued calls can only be serviced by those agents of the agent team that connect to the ACD queuing the call, additional expense and network resources are required to forward the calls from the queuing ACD to one that is less busy. This forwarding of calls increases the average wait time before an agent services a customer's call, and requires additional terminating facilities.
Therefore, a need exists to provide customers with more timely access to agents while reducing agent staffing requirements and terminating facilities.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Systems and methods consistent with the principles of the present invention address this need by permitting customers that dial a local telephone number access to a virtual agent team that may be physically located almost anywhere, and by reducing terminating facilities by queuing customer calls at a higher level in the network than conventional systems, and by providing connection into the local network only when an agent becomes available to service the call.
In accordance with the purpose of the invention as embodied and broadly described herein, a system consistent with the principles of the present invention comprises a network call center that connects a plurality of agent switches to a plurality of customer switches. The agent switches direct calls to and from service agents, and the customer switches direct calls to and from customers. The system further includes a database connected to at least one of the customer switches. The database stores forwarding information corresponding to local telephone numbers dialed by the customers.
When a customer switch receives a call requesting service from one of the customers dialing a local telephone number, the switch queries the database, using the local telephone number, to retrieve forwarding information corresponding to the local telephone number, and routes the call to the network call center using the forwarding information. The network call center queues the call, and transmits it to an available service agent via one of the agent switches.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
The accompanying drawings, which are incorporated in and constitute a part of this specification, illustrate an embodiment of the invention and, together with the description, explain the objects, advantages and principles of the invention. In the drawings,
FIG. 1 is a diagram of a communications network consistent with the principles of the present invention;
FIG. 2 is a block diagram of the components of the ACD server of FIG. 1;
FIG. 3 is a flowchart of agent log-on activity consistent with the principles of the present invention;
FIGS. 4A and 4B are flowcharts of call flow activity consistent with the principles of the present invention;
FIG. 5 is a flowchart of agent service activity consistent with the principles of the present invention; and
FIG. 6 is a flowchart of agent log-off activity consistent with the principles of the present invention.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE
The following detailed description of the invention refers to the accompanying drawings. The same reference numbers in different drawings identify the same or similar elements. Also, the following detailed description does not limit the invention. Instead, the scope of the invention is defined by the appended claims.
Systems and methods consistent with the principles of the present invention permit customers to dial a local telephone number and receive timely access from service agents by routing the customer calls to any agent of a virtual team of agents whose physical location is immaterial, and reduce terminating facilities by queuing customer calls at a higher level in the network and routing a customer call to the local network only when an agent becomes available to service the call.