Down n Dirty

Follow Certive, as it tries to integrate CRM, the Web and voice technology into its call centers.

When it comes to serving customers, Calif.-based Certive ( knows that seconds count.

The ASP is committed to delivering a project workflow and business resource management system to professional services operations that earn their bread making every second a lucrative one. So as the summer of 2000 waned and the startup pondered the problems of not just helping consultants use a piece of workflow software, but manage their business processes better, the goals were clear: design a contact center that guided customers to the best possible assistance in the shortest time possible, through as many channels as possible.

With a wide variety of potential customer inquiries, call center resources ranging from sales to technical support to professional advice, and a multi-channel approach, a fancy telephone switch alone was insufficient. A comprehensive customer database, while desirable, would not have been enough on its own. Bogged down by waiting for the agent to identify the customer and the reason for calling, both parties would be losing those precious, valuable seconds because of a lack of appreciation for context.

Certive executives decided that a high-end CRM system, mated as fully as possible with a sophisticated CTI network, would be the answer. The company turned to Siebel 2000 for its agent front-end and customer database, and built the CTI solution on a family of Cisco products, emboldened by the promise that the two could work in close harmony to get customers answers fast.

Truly, an ambitious project. Especially for a company that had no customers before the project began, only purchased enough software to support 25 sales and service seats, and has only populated roughly half of those to date. Especially when many thought large startup-spending projects died when the Nasdaq tanked and every "dot-com of the day" went out of business.

More than one year since beginning the CTI integration project, however, the company is convinced it took the right steps to succeed by building the best customer service infrastructure possible. "We need to have a different [support] mentality than a one-time license sale [model] because the customer is going to vote every month whether they want to stay working with us or not," says Scott Wiener, CTO of Certive.

The Screen Pop

The core of Certives call center environment is Ciscos ICM (Intelligent Contact Management) platform which acts as the contact flow manager, looking up customer data and taking the appropriate action based on its existing profile and any data provided by the customer, including identification and reason for contacting. In the ICMs orbit are an Avaya Definity PBX for voice contact, Cisco Media Blender to provide a unified pipeline of multi-channel inquiries, and Ciscos Webline collaboration product for real-time desktop sharing with service customers. The Certive end-customer application itself is built with contact hooks to reach the call center and initiate web collaboration and/or callback support sessions.

To achieve the tight integration it was looking for, Certive and Boston-based customer relationship management specialist Extraprise ( actually created two major and distinct points of integration. The first is at the desktop level, where the Cisco CTI Desktop applications invisibly exchange information with the Siebel desktop client to log the inbound and outbound contacts of the agent in both systems. That link also allows Siebel to monitor the busy status of agents, as reported by the Cisco ICM. Beyond the client, Extraprise built a Siebel/ICM server-to-server link that runs on the Cisco COM Objects Server. The gateway exchanges known customer information, such as the unique ID identified through ANI (auto-number identification) or IVR entry, with data from the Siebel database. The database can contain information such as the customers primary Certive contact, and basic profile data. The data exchange ensures that the call reaches the best destination.

"You can do Siebel screen pops after the call has been delivered [with the Cisco-provided integration] but it doesnt give you the capabilities to use any information from the CRM component to route the call," says Extraprise contact center practice manager Tommy Harrison, who managed the Extraprise effort at Certive.

Rather than hammer the Siebel database directly, in this model ICM simulates the behavior of a Siebel thin client application, which gives it the agents-eye view of customer profile data and ensures that Siebels internal read/write policies are properly followed. "We did it this way, as opposed to reading the underlying databases, so any kind of workflow records or restrictions on that data would be properly processed by the Siebel application, which they wouldnt be by populating information at the database layer," says John Gallagher, technical operations manager for Certive. Allowing ICM client-level access also means that any ICM-aware device in Certives present or future arsenal, including the PBX and the Web collaboration interface, can benefit immediately from integration with the CRM database.

Certives call center goes beyond a clever call router and timely screen pops. Consider the chain of events when a Certive customer presses a button to request a Web help session in the Certive application. ICM looks up the customer record and determines the most appropriate agent to contact. The agents phone rings, and his screen displays the incoming customer profile. A recording plays over the phone, telling the agent they are about to enter a Webline help session. Certives PBX then places a call back to the user in distress, while the offsite-hosted Webline server works to connect the agent directly to the users desktop.

Since Certives offering is a complex Web application, building comprehensive live online technical support was a challenge because of the wide range of dynamic content the Certive application generates. Gallagher was unconvinced by Ciscos Dynamic Content Adapter solution to handle pushing and pulling dynamic Web content between points, however. So the company settled on sharing the entire agent or customer desktop, which makes up in simplicity what it may lack in elegance. "It saved us from having to QA against all of the possibilities," says Gallagher.

Although expanding the system to support fully integrated many-to-many customer interactions remains a future project, the CRM/CTI efforts have already yielded some interesting benefits. If a call needs to be escalated or transferred, the ICM COM object gateway passes the current interaction status to the new agent along with the voice or digital interaction, and the new agents screen reflects the records just viewed by the originating agent. Siebel also takes on-hold and call switching cues from the Cisco system and will hide and reveal the relevant customer records during the switch. Also, incomplete calls, such as a call that terminates in voice mail, trigger Siebel to create a calendar item to return the call, or any other process supported by the Siebel Workflow engine.

CRM+CTI=Room To Grow

The multi-disciplinary talent needed to build a fully integrated CRM/CTI call center is still growing.

Gallagher recalls watching Extraprises understanding of the intricacies evolve even as it worked on the project ("I would say they had a much better understanding of Siebel than they did of Cisco ICM and Webline products, but thats not true anymore") and notes that the outfit has developed the Siebel/ICM server integration connector it was commissioned to create into a standard service offering.

Cap Gemini Ernst & Youngs Critical Technologies group has been at work building a Cisco/CRM lab at its Chicago site since mid-2000, and can currently demonstrate a model 10-seat call center running an all-IP Cisco call center and both Siebel and Clarify CRM software. From the experience building the lab and working with potential customers, senior manager Liz Duenas says she "feels comfortable" that it is possible to build a 100-seat implementation of a Cisco IP contact center, including installation and integration of Siebel, in less than four months, with an integration staff of five or fewer.

More To Come

Despite the aggressive promise of a fully CTI-aware CRM system, some annoying quirks linger for Certive. While the company wants its customers to be able to enter service ticket numbers to provide a rich, detailed screen pop, including both the customer record and the ticket history, to the employee answering the contact request, the phone component isnt cooperating.

According to Gallagher, Siebels ticket-numbering routine includes a "floating dash," which is fine for a Web form but makes it difficult to collect the number correctly through the IVR. The likely solution, which has been put off in favor of more pressing matters, is to replace Siebels own ticket-number generator with a new field and suppress the original system. And, as with most CRM systems, the implementors are pausing—to get more feedback about the system.

"Weve kind of stopped doing a lot of the integration for a number of reasons—weve spent a fair amount of money and time guessing at what we needed, and weve got the infrastructure," says Gallagher. "What we really need now is for more customers to be on our application and for the call center itself to use these tools more and tell us what is good and what is bad, and from that we will then work on additional phases of the implementation." Although currently a single-site operation, Certive built its call center with multiple sites in mind, and the ICMs strong proficiency for multi-site balancing means the company is confident growth will pose little problem.

Extraprises Harrison relates that the most challenging portion of the integration was pushing beyond Ciscos client-side integration. Enabling the servers to talk to each other by having the ICM mimic a Siebel thin client "cant be done, thats not what the products do," he recalls Cisco telling him. Yet he says it is well worth the effort for a company to push its vendors to achieve the most integration possible in the call center. Concludes Harrison: "Having CRM and CTI together is only 25 percent of the value...the real value is in using that data to move customers around to the best places for cross-selling and up-selling, and without that [server integration] piece, youre not realizing the true benefits."