US 5841854 Wireless telephone integration system and method for call centers and workgroups
ABSTRACT – A system and method for automatic call distribution targeting users in workgroups wherein the users utilize either wired or wireless communications tools. Users are chosen via a rule-based selection process including access to a database of user and caller-screened information. The system is compatible with available and developmental hardware platforms for call centers and mobile workers including SS7/AIN, computer telephony interfaces, direct cellular network connections, PBX and centrex-based systems.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates in general to telecommunications equipment, and more particularly relates to methods and apparatus for interfacing wireless telecommunications terminals into a call center or workgroup environment.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTIO
The telecommunications industry is currently undergoing a massive shift from wired telecommunications devices to wireless devices. Impetus for this transition is provided by wireless mobility and the reduced cost of system reconfiguration. The invention described herein fits the form and function of a Personal Communications Service (PCS).
Automatic Call Distributors (ACD) are specialized phone systems used for handling many incoming calls. Once used only by airlines, rent-a-car companies, and hotel chains, ACDs are now used by numerous companies facing a heavy load of incoming calls (e.g., order taking, dispatching of service technicians, taxis, railroads, help desks, and answering technical questions).
An ACD performs four functions. First, it will recognize and answer an incoming call. Second, it will look in its database for instructions on what to do with that call. Third, based on the instructions found, it will send the caller either a recording asking the caller to continue to hold the line, or to a voice response unit (VRU). Fourth, it will send the call to an agent as soon as that agent has completed his or her previous call, and/or the caller has heard a prerecorded hold message.
The term Automatic Call Distributor arose from the device’s function of distributing incoming calls in some logical pattern to a group of operators. That pattern might be Uniform (i.e., distribute the work uniformly) or it may be Top-Down (i.e., the same agents in the same order get the calls and are kept busy–the ones on the top are kept busier than the ones on the bottom). Alternatively, the pattern may include specialty routing, where the calls are routed to answerers who are most likely to be able to help the caller.
While distributing calls logically is the function most commonly associated with an ACD, it is not the ACD’s only function. Larger ACDs are used in call centers–a facility where calls are answered and made. A call center will typically have several people (also called agents), an ACD, and a computer for order-entry and look up on customers’ orders. A call center could also have a predictive dialer for quickly dialing calls.
Some call centers are further identified as being in-bound call centers and/or out-bound call centers. In-bound call centers only process received calls. Typical applications include catalog sales, customer service, ticket sales, etc. Out-bound call centers only process calls initiated within the out-bound center. Typical applications include telephone sales, fund-raising and general solicitation.
Agents Are Not Mobile
Because telephone sets currently used by ACD agents are wired telephones, the agents using these sets are not mobile and must be at their desks or workstations to receive and process calls. The agent is associated (registered) through a particular telephone at a particular location. With current wire-dependent ACDs, agents can register at other telephones (change registration, that is, but not register at multiple locations) however, the process is cumbersome and must be done at telephones defined as ACD telephones. The burden of changing registration is magnified by the fact that agents are usually logged into computer workstations which are neither portable nor wireless. In order to move to another telephone, agents must log out of their workstations, become unavailable or log out of the ACD system, log into another computer station on the same computer network, and log in or become available to the ACD system at their new telephones.
All of the information associated with a call being handled by an agent must be present in the work area near the telephone, either in documented form or in an on-line retrievable format. And currently, the agent is unable to “take the call” with him or her to perform research in other work areas, confer with other agents, go to a lab to reproduce the caller’s problem on the agent’s own lab setup, or move the call to a conference room. Moreover, agents are unable to leave their designated ACD work areas, take breaks or go to meetings without making themselves unavailable to callers.
Telephones Must Be Dedicated To ACD Functions
Because the ACD function is delivered to a particular telephone with an agent registered to that telephone, that telephone becomes dedicated to the ACD function. Similarly to be counted in network traffic measurements, particular telephones must be dedicated to the ACD function. An agent cannot register with an ACD system from a telephone in a public common area like a cafeteria, lobby or library. Moreover, while some telephones can be set up to share the ACD and business functions by having multiple extensions appear, these configurations are difficult to reconfigure.
Off-premise delivery of ACD lines to the home, remote office, or other remote location is limited by the need for dedicated special access lines between the ACD device and the remote telephone. The remote telephone is then dedicated to the ACD function unless it can handle multiple telephone lines, as described above. Moreover, any ACD telephone line connected to the multi-line remote telephone will only perform the ACD function. Thus, for the off-premise remote terminal, an additional line or port is required if any data is needed for the ACD based call.
Mobile Workforce Not Supported Efficiently
There are several employment types which qualify as mobile. Among these are, for example, sales people traveling to customer sites, telecommuting workers working at home or at a satellite resource center, and workers who must perform a portion of their job outside normal working hours. Currently, reaching mobile workers entails alerting or contacting the worker through a personal communication device such as a cellular telephone, radio pager, or specialized mobile radio device. Currently, a caller cannot dial a generic sales department number and reach the first available salesman, whether that salesman is in the office or on the road. Because of this limitation, ACD users often resort to setting up “inside sales” departments which handle the initial sales inquiries and then route messages to the appropriate individuals.
Currently, to receive business calls while away from the office, telecommuting workers must “forward” their personal extensions through the particular business’ telephone system (PBX or centrex) to some pre-defined dialed number which represents the worker’s remote home phone, resource center temporary office phone, cellular telephone, or pager. However, the ACD function cannot be forwarded in a similar fashion to a remote telephone.
One available solution is for the mobile worker to periodically check a voice mail system’s mailbox and return calls. The efficacy of this solution is limited by the frequency of the worker’s mailbox checks.
Workgroups Not Supported Efficiently
A trend in many organizations is to move away from a hierarchical organizational structure to a flattened structure made up of many dynamic work groups. These work groups are cross-organizational, containing members from many different functional or product units. Workgroups can exist for short or long time periods, depending upon their function. Membership in a workgroup can also change over time as the nature of the task changes from, for instance, product design to manufacturing. Individuals in an organization may be members of more than one workgroup at any particular time.
Presently, only portions of workgroup needs are supported by available products. For instance, group messaging in voice messaging systems supports distributing messages to all members of a group. However, an ideal group messaging capability would be consistently available to all workgroup members rather than only to individual workgroup members who have access to their voice messaging system and personal group distribution lists.
Computer software products supporting workgroup behavior, such as Lotus NOTES (TM), support data and information communication needs of the workgroup. However, there is a particular class of workgroup behaviors, outlined below, which are not served by these tools or by the systems described above. Existing ACDs can partially support these behaviors by distributing workgroup calls to members of the workgroups. However, the requirements of particular telephone configurations and the difficulty of configuring ACDs into groups does not promote the rapid and dynamic nature of workgroup creation, restructure and dissolution.
A first unique need of the workgroup is providing the caller the ability to contact any group member without specifying the particular group member reached. This need exists for both intra-group communication and outside access.
In contrast, some spoken communication with a group requires reaching a particular member possessing some specialized skill or knowledge. For example, a financial questions may call for an accounting-based workgroup member. Other spoken communication with the group may be urgent, such as a status report request, but subject to proper handling by any (i.e., the first available) group member since all members are to be up to date in their knowledge of the group’s focus. If the member of the group contacted can’t support the call, he or she needs to be able to pass the call off to the most appropriate group member.
Likewise, for spoken communication within a group, there will be some communication which has to target a particular member of the group and other calls for which any workgroup member will suffice. Either the member reached can resolve the issue or any number of workgroup members could decide that more members of the workgroup need to get involved. In the latter event, the members could either select a conference call capability where the workgroup members are automatically contacted or alerted and asked to join the workgroup conference call, or a face-to-face meeting could be scheduled with workgroup members, or the issue could be moved to an electronic data and information forum using computer tools such as Lotus NOTES (TM).
Limitations With Current Wireless Solutions
As discussed above, because ACD telephones must be dedicated to the ACD function, mobile workers cannot easily move from phone to phone while performing call center functions. Cellular telephone systems do not cure this flaw because they do not offer the workgroup approach provided by ACD devices which associate particular sets of people with particular telephone numbers. Cellular telephone systems treat all subscribers as individuals with no special functional relationship between them. Moreover, cellular telephone systems do not provide integration with an enterprise’s own PBX or communication system to provide a wireless function to the enterprise’s ACD device. Similarly, wireless PBXs currently do not have the radio range required for a truly mobile ACD function.
Radio paging systems do provide some support to workgroups. However, radio paging systems only provide the alerting function for a telephony voice communication. These one-way paging systems do not support two-way conversations. Radio paging systems can alert a group of people that a call arrived, but cannot control who answers the call, and cannot determine in real time who is available and not available to answer the call.
Specialized mobile radio (SMR) systems provide some primitive group communication and alerting. However, SMRs fail to provide full ACD functionality. Using SMR, a voice call can reach a particular group of people, but the group cannot be easily reconfigured and the availability of individuals in the group cannot be used to selectively control the alerting and transmission functions.
The invention disclosed herein will support any radio communication and transmission media or method (either one-way, two-way or multi-way communication) in an integrated fashion, taking advantage of the best features of each while concealing their respective limitations from the user.
Existing ACD systems distribute calls only to telephones 120 or to off premise telephones such as a home telephone or remote regional office. Referring to FIG. 1, calls which arrive at PBX 80 or centrex partition 50 are routed to the correct directly connected terminal. The coverage plan for the call is programmable, and the call may forward to additional telephone terminals 120, voicemail, or a receptionist.
Existing ACD systems provide for specialized call distribution capability beyond the individual extension call distribution capability typically found on PBX Switching Network 80 or centrex partition 50. For example, a caller to an existing ACD system can specify an extension number just as he or she would if calling a PBX Switching Network 80, or a centrex partition 50.
In an existing ACD system, the extension number is associated with a group or pool of telephones as opposed to an individual line, circuit or telephone of PBX 80 or centrex 50. The telephones in an existing ACD telephone pool all share the same extension but do not share (i.e., simultaneously communicate with) calls to the ACD extension. Calls which arrive at an existing ACD are routed to telephones within selected groups or pools according to simple criteria such as the telephone which has been idle longest. Existing ACD systems keep track of the status of the telephones within a group or a pool to determine if a particular ACD telephone is available to take a call. Existing ACD systems allow rules to be used to influence call distribution. One rule might be the language capabilities of the agent assigned to each telephone and compatibility with the caller’s preferred language.
Existing ACD systems provide status reports and real time monitors to provide management and maintenance of call handling, call duration and call resource capabilities, and provide supervisor monitoring capability. Monitoring allows a group supervisor to listen in on conversations to check for correct implementation of procedures. Existing ACD systems provide for links via data communication channels to customers’ Management Information Systems to select caller related data and to assist in delivering calls to agents.
However, all existing ACD systems known to the inventor fail to provide call distribution to agents, in a manner independent of their “assigned” telephone, whether wired or wireless, flexible or dedicated, data-integrated or voice-dedicated. There is therefore a need in the art for an improved ACD system capable of integrating all available hardware types into a workgroup environment wherein the workgroup members, not assigned telephones or computer terminals, are the distribution target.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
It is therefore a primary goal of the present invention to provide a system and method for automatic distribution of a telephone communication from a caller to a user, wherein the user is one of a first plurality of members of a group of potential communication recipients, including a matrix switch, a first telephone line carrying a call from the caller, a second telephone line accessible by the plurality of members, a plurality of criteria, for determining which one of the first plurality of members will be the user, and a call control means connectable to the matrix switch and to the first and second telephone lines, for accessing the plurality of criteria, selecting the user from the first plurality of members in a manner based at least in part upon the criteria, and controlling the matrix switch to initiate and maintain a connection between the matrix switch and each of the first and second telephone lines.
The present invention further provides a system (and a related method) for automatic distribution of a telephone communication from a caller to a selected one of a plurality of agents having respective wireless telephone terminals registered in a wireless telephone network, wherein the selected agent is not predetermined by the caller and is a member of at least one of a plurality of groups of agents, each member of each of said groups being capable of performing at least one of a plurality of agent services needed by the caller, the system comprising a matrix switch, call control means for controlling the matrix switch and connecting the matrix switch to a first telephone line in response to a first telephone call from the caller via the first telephone line, and, in further response to the first call, for connecting the matrix switch to a second telephone line accessible by the plurality of agents across the wireless telephone network, selection means for gathering and analyzing a plurality of caller criteria and determining whether the first call is directed to one of the plurality of groups, and, if so, determining which of the plurality of agent services provided by the agents within the group is needed by the caller, and for selecting at least one of the agents within said group as the agent to be connected to the caller in a manner based at least in part upon which of the agents within said group can provide the needed agent service at the time of the call from the caller, the call control means being connected to the selection means to access information identifying the selected agent, and to the matrix switch to connect the first telephone line to a communication path interconnecting the matrix switch and the wireless telephone network via the second telephone line, thereby establishing a telephone communication link between the caller and the selected agent’s wireless telephone terminal via the wireless telephone network.