Smaller agencies make the connection

The use of advanced call-center technologies has not been limited to agencies with a high volume of citizen interactions.

Organizations as varied as the Office of Personnel Management and the U.S. Army Military Traffic Management Command (MTMC) are using the technologies.

OPM tapped NCS Pearson Inc. in 1997 to deploy an interactive voice response (IVR) system to handle requests for changes from retirees during the Federal Employees Health Benefits program open season between late October and the end of the year.

During that time, the organization sends notices of insurance options to about 2 million federal retirees and processes change requests. The IVR, which handled about 195,000 calls last year, replaced a costly, time-consuming paper process and has improved response time considerably, said Jim Freiert, chief of OPM's retirement services division.

In 1998, an open-season Web site was added and has grown increasingly popular with users, Freiert said. "It will never replace the phone system because our customers should be able to choose what is best for them," he said, although the agency is considering technologies that could link the two channels.

Acting as the "transportation broker" for the military, MTMC contracted last year with American Management Systems Inc. to implement Siebel Systems Inc. customer relationship management software. Patricia Bryant, a consultant with MTMC, said the goal was to boost call-center connections with its two customers: commercial transportation providers and military transportation offices.

Under the Consolidated Call Center initiative, MTMC plans to merge multiple help desks. It will also enhance call-center operations with computer telephony integration, which will give customer service representatives information about the user before they answer the call, and an IVR menu system "to determine customer problems, provide quick information and direct customer calls," she said.

Other enhancements being considered for the project include Internet chat capability, voice over IP, desktop videoconferencing and Web collaboration, Bryant said.

For organizations with little or no call-center infrastructure, WorldCom Inc.'s Web Center, launched in June, provides subscription-based access to call-center services, including e-mail, fax and Internet chat through the company's data center.

The service would be ideal for agencies that do not operate call centers but have constituents who must fill out a variety of forms, said Diana Gowen, vice president of WorldCom government markets.

The price tag for the service is $575 per month per agent, said Frank Nigro, director of e-application product management at WorldCom, adding that there are no term commitments. If an agent requires no service during a month, there will be no charges.

Web Center services will be offered on the General Services Administration schedule and the FTS 2001 contract, Gowen said.

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