Imagine you’re an agent at a busy call center: you’re fielding dozens of phone calls a day with customers you’ve never met, and you want to make a good impression on all of them. Don’t you want to be as prepared and efficient as possible?
One of the best ways to set up your call center team for success in the environment described is by investing in a system with computer telephony integration (CTI). CTI is an important category of call center software: It enables phone and computer systems to work together for the benefit of your agents and your customers.
In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know to choose the right CTI system for your company, such as:
CTI, or computer telephony integration, is also known as “computer-telephone integration” or “computer telephony.” These terms may sound intimidating, but their basic meaning is straightforward: CTI is technology that lets you use a computer to initiate, manage and enhance your phone calls.
CTI is often used as a jargon term for describing integrations between a phone system and a customer relationship management (CRM) system that has already been deployed. These integrations add features to enhance both systems and help agents better handle interactions.
An example of how they do this is “screen pops”—a window that pops up on an agent's computer screen when they have an incoming phone call. That window displays information about the caller, e.g., address and interaction history, which is pulled from the call center’s existing CRM program.
This phone system-computer coordination is made possible through CTI. Though it’s most common for CTI to be used for CRM integrations, it is also good for other types of integrations.
For instance, many organizations now use CTI to allow their accounting software to interface with their phone system. Agents can call customers with unpaid invoices directly from their accounting software through functionality called “click-to-dial” (more details on this below).
To recap: CTI software acts as a bridge for the exchange of data and functionalities between a company’s phone system and other existing programs, such as CRM or accounting solutions.
Vendors offer a variety of functional breadth and depth in their CTI solutions. Here are some of the most common capabilities:
|Screen pops||In addition to what we’ve already described, screen pops can indicate the priority level of an interaction with a caller based on customer history data from your CRM program. They can also use a customer’s Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system answers to display the purpose of a call (e.g., sales or support).|
|Click-to-dial||This function adds outbound dialing capabilities to the databases of contacts you'd find in a CRM or accounting system. Agents can skip manual dialing and simply click a phone number on their computer screen to place a call.|
|Caller authentication||CTI software screens incoming calls and uses the phone number to find a match in your CRM system. It can confirm the caller’s identity before the call even starts.|
|Phone controls||Users can manage their phone controls through the computer instead of dialing buttons manually. These include the ability to answer, hang-up, conference, forward and transfer calls.|
|Logging and notes||Basic information is automatically logged in the CRM system while the call is in progress, such as the time/date of the call and agent handling it. Agents can also add manual notes directly into the CRM or accounting program.|
|Coordinated voice/data transfer||If a call needs to be transferred from one member of your team to another, this function allows all onscreen customer information (e.g., screen pops) to be transferred when the line is reassigned.|
Here are some benefits that explain how CTI can empower call center agents and companies to have more productive customer interactions:
CTI can be implemented in one of two ways:
It’s important to note that best-of-breed CTI software is a relatively niche offering. It could be a good option for companies with older phone systems who aren’t ready to buy a new one just yet, but still want to reap the benefits of CTI sooner rather than later.
The vast majority of buyers are better off with the second option: You’ll need an established phone system for calls to be able to work on your computers at all. It’s easier to implement a phone system that supports CTI from the start, rather than trying to retrofit or replace it later on.
Also worth noting: Some of the more basic CTI capabilities (e.g., click-to-dial and even screen pops, in some cases) can be achieved with a PBX system as an alternative to using CTI with a call center system.
Once you’ve decided on an implementation model, you can evaluate vendors. As we’ve explained, CTI is intended to be used with computer programs that call centers are already using, such as existing CRM or accounting systems. It’s important to ensure that any CTI vendor on your shortlist can interface with this existing software. You can usually find this information listed on vendors’ websites.
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