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ESTABLISHING A CALL TRANSACTION BETWEEN A
CALLER AND AN AGENT
ASSESSING IN REAL TIME, DURING THE CALL
TRANSACTION, AT LEAST ONE OF THE STRESS
LEVELS OF THE CALLER AND THE AGENT
ENGAGE A SUPERVISOR WHEN AT LEAST ONE OF
THE STRESS LEVELS EXCEEDS A PREDETERMINED
SUPERVISOR TO SUPERVISOR TO BOTH
ONLY AGENT AGENT AND CALLER
computer readable media 500
connection computer program code segment 502
assessment computer program code segment 504
engagement computer program code segment 506
THIRD PARTY COACHING FOR AGENTS IN
A COMMUNICATION SYSTEM
The field of the invention relates to communication systems and, in particular, to communication systems having automatic call distributors.
Automatic call distribution systems are known. Such systems are typically used, for example, within private 10 branch telephone exchanges as a means of distributing telephone calls among a group of agents. While the automatic call distributor may be a separate part of a private branch telephone exchange, often the automatic call distributor is integrated into and is an indistinguishable part of 15 the private branch telephone exchange.
Often an organization disseminates a single telephone number to its customers and to the public in general as a means of contacting the organization. As calls are often
directed to the organization from the public switch telephone network, or, the communications network (e.g. the Internet) automatic call distribution system directs the calls to its agents based upon some type of criteria. For example, where all agents are considered equal, the automatic call distributor may distribute the calls based upon which agent has been 25 idle the longest. The agents that are operatively connected to the automatic call distributor may be live agents, and/or virtual agents. Typically, virtual agents are software routines and algorithms that are operatively connected and/or part of the automatic call distributor.
Automatic call distributors are utilized in communications handling centers, such as call centers, that forward incoming communications, such as telephone calls, or other contacts for processing by one of several associated call- 35 handling agents. The term "call" refers herein to any suitable communications including but not limited to, voice-overInternet protocol communications; electronic mail messages; facsimiles, chat room dialog, instant messages, other Internet contacts. An automatic call distributor is any system 4Q which performs the functions of automatically distributing calls to agents while typically maintaining records of the call processing, and may employ a wide variety of architecture made up of software and/or hardware including, for example, integrated centralized systems, distributed sys- 45 terns, systems using one or more personal computers or services, etc.
Telephone call centers, for example, are often used to dispatch emergency services, as telemarketing sales centers, as customer service centers, etc. to automatically distribute 50 received calls. Each incoming call may have a number of handling requirements, depending on, for example, the nature of the call, the originating call area, and the language of the call. Agents, on the other hand, each have abilities to process calls having certain handling requirements. Typi- 55 cally, agents are able to process one or more call types. For example, agents are typically trained to process certain call subject matters and certain call languages.
In some known call centers, computerized automatic call distributors place incoming calls, of a particular type, requir- 60 ing defined skills, in queues of like calls. Appropriate agents have skills necessary to process calls in the queues, and are assigned to such queues. Agents are often assigned to multiple queues, reflective of their particular handling skills. Typically, this is done to increase the handling capacity of 65 the center by making improved use of available communications handling resources.
Quite often, agents may handle calls related to one or more subject areas, and possess varied attributes that are relevant to all subject areas they are capable of handling. For example, a call center agent may speak multiple languages, and may therefore be able to process calls relating to a particular subject matter in all these languages. One simple approach used to deal with multiple agent attributes is to create and administer individual queues, each of which takes into account the subject matter and the attributes of the agent. This, however, is administratively very cumbersome.
Other known call centers use agent-skill indicators, associated with agents in order to connect calls. In such centers, a call is connected to an agent having an agent-skill indicator matching that of the call, within a group of agents. Agents, however, are typically only assignable to only one, and typically only a single agent-skill indicator is used to connect the call. Disadvantageously, such call centers do not use agent attributes across different groups. This may lead to an inefficient utilization of call center resources. Moreover, these communications handling centers do not allow for easy administration and re-assignment of agents to queues, while maintaining agent skill-sets.
One concern in designing an automatic call distributor system is ensuring that calls are efficiently routed to an agent, so as to minimize the amount of time that any particular call is placed on hold. One basic technique of minimizing on-hold time is to employ a first-in/first-out call handling technique. The first-in/first-out technique requires that calls be routed to the next available agent in the order in which the calls are received. However, in some automatic call distributor systems the agents are specialized in handling particular types of calls, so the first-in/first-out technique is not appropriate. For example in a product support department of a software facility, agents might be grouped according to specialized expertise, so that a first group is knowledgeable in word processing, a second group is knowledgeable in a database program, and a third group is knowledgeable in a spreadsheet program. Utilizing a firstin/first-out technique in such a situation is inappropriate, because a caller with a question regarding the word processing program may be routed to an agent having specialized knowledge regarding the database program or the spreadsheet program, rather than being routed to an agent with specialized knowledge in the word processing program.
The focus in the management of calls has been upon maximizing availability to customers, so as to achieve an acceptable profit margin in a competitive environment of customer service. Call management approaches that increase revenue may lead to savings for customers.
Most present-day call-distribution algorithms focus on being "fair" to callers and to agents. This fairness is reflected by the standard first-in, first-out call to most-idle-agent assignment algorithm. Skills-based routing improves upon this basic algorithm in that it allows each agent to be slotted into a number of categories based on the agent's skill types and levels.
The primary objective of call-distribution algorithms is to ultimately maximize call center performance. That may involve minimizing cost, maximizing call throughput, and/ or maximizing revenue, among others. For example, when a new call arrives, the call may be handled by an agent who either has the ability to produce the most revenue or can handle the call in the shortest amount of time. Also, when an agent becomes available to handle a new call, the agent may handle either the call that has the possibility of generating the most revenue or the call that the agent is most efficient in handling.
After the caller has been connected to an agent via the automatic call distributor, for example, as described above, the call transaction between the caller and the agent, especially in the case of telemarketing, may begin to degrade. There may be certain indications or danger points that occur 5 during a call transaction, which would indicate that the relationship between the caller and the agent is degrading. However, the agent may not realize that the transaction is in danger or that either the caller and/or agent has reached an emotional level that is not conducive to achieving a sue- 10 cessful conclusion to the call transaction. In other words, either the caller nor the agent or both may reach such a negative emotional level such that a sale is lost. In known systems, it is up to the agent to determine when the emotional level has reached a point at which assistance should be 15 requested. In other words, when a situation arises that is unmanageable; it is the agent's determination as to whether a call should be made for assistance. Thus, it is drawback of known systems, especially in telemarketing, that many sales are lost due to the agent not realizing until it is too late that 20 the caller has become too angry or too emotional to achieve a sale.
Systems that perform voice recording and later analysis by the administrator are not real-time in nature and while they may help improve agent behavior they do not allow 25 improvement during a transaction. The evaluator determines any stress analysis performed on the transaction at the time of listening to the recording and stress levels may be missed. Stress analysis performed during the transaction by an automated process can eliminate the human error component 30 and increase the opportunity to improve the quality of the transaction. The administrator or coach can provide immediate corrective action thereby increasing the opportunity for call success rates. Post event measurement tools offer no opportunity to affect the caller and subsequently the out- 35 come of the call.
Current methods often have the contact center supervisor "plug-in" to an agent to perform coaching and assistance but this limits the coach to only helping one agent. There is thus a need for a method that allows the system to determine the 40 transaction in distress and join the coach to the situation. The coach could be available for many contact center agents simultaneously and may be joined with the individual needing assistance.
In one embodiment, a method improves transactions in an automatic call distribution system by assessing in substantially real time respective stress levels of at least one of a 50 caller and an agent in a call transaction. A third party is engaged in the transaction when at least one of the stress levels of the caller and the agent exceeds a predetermined threshold. This third party may be a virtual party or an automated input source. The third party may engage in the 55 background of the transaction or in the foreground of the transaction, thus communicating either only with the agent or with both the caller and the agent, respectively. The respective stress levels of at least one of the caller and agent are assessed by at least one of the following: analyzing a 60 respective voice signal of at least one of the caller and the agent, converting a respective voice signal of least one of the caller and the agent to text and analyzing the text, and analyzing a physical stress level of the agent.
In another embodiment, an apparatus for improving call 65 transactions in an automatic call distribution system has a call establishing module that receives a signal from a caller
and in response thereto establishes a call transaction between a caller and an agent. A stress assessor is operatively connected to the call transaction. The stress assessor accesses in substantially real time respective stress levels of each of the caller and the agent in the call transaction. An engager is operatively connected to the stress assessor and engages a third party into the transaction when at least one of the stress levels of the caller and the agent exceeds a predetermined threshold.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
The features of the present invention, which are believed to be novel, are set forth with particularity in the appended claims. The invention, together with further advantages, may best be understood by reference to the following description taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings. In the figures like reference numerals identify like elements.
FIG. 1 is a block diagram of an example of a communication system for use with one embodiment of a communication system.
FIG. 2 depicts one embodiment of a communication system in block diagram form.
FIG. 3 is a flow diagram depicting an embodiment of a method of improving call transactions for use in a communication system.
FIG. 4 is a functional diagram depicting one embodiment of a stress monitor module that may be utilized in the communication system.
FIG. 5 is a diagnostic illustration of an example of a computer readable media with computer program code segments that implement one embodiment of the communication system.
While the present invention is susceptible of embodiments in various forms, there is shown in the drawings and will hereinafter be descried some exemplary and non-limiting embodiments, with the understanding that the present disclosure is to be considered an exemplification of the invention and is not intended to limit the invention to the specific embodiments illustrated. In this disclosure, the use of the disjunctive is intended to include the conjunctive. The use of the definite article or indefinite article is not intended to indicate cardinality. In particular, a reference to "the" object or "a" object is intended to denote also one of a possible plurality of such objects.
FIG. 1 is a block diagram of a specific embodiment of a communication system 100 having an automatic call distributor 109 that is part of a private branch exchange 108 in a call center 106. Calls may be connected between callers 101, 102, 103 via network 105 to the automatic call distributor 106. The automatic call distributor 106 may distribute the calls to telemarketers or agents, such as virtual agent 110, or live agent 112. The network 105 may be any appropriate communication system network such as a public switch telephone network, cellular telephone network, satellite network, land mobile radio network, the Internet, etc. Similarly, the automatic call distributor 109 may be any suitable structure including, for example, a stand-alone unit, a distributed system, integrated in a host computer, etc. The illustrated communication system 100 may be implemented under any of number of different formats. For example, where implemented in connection with a public switch telephone network, a satellite network, a cellular or land