VAR Integrates Call Center To Process Unemployment Claims
Integrator HTI Voice Solutions, Inc.'s IVR (interactive voice response) expertise resulted in a five-year relationship with the Massachusetts Department of Employment and Training and a recent opportunity to oversee a $600,000+ upgrade.
When the Massachusetts Department of Employment and Training (MADET) (Boston) was faced with a potentially alarming increase in calls, it didn't have to go far to find a service provider. For more than five years, MADET had been working with HTI Voice Solutions, Inc. (Marlboro, MA) to handle its call center and IVR (interactive voice response) hardware and software solutions. Near the end of 2000, MADET learned that its IVR systems would be experiencing even more traffic as officials reviewed the estimated volume increase associated with the anticipated launch of a TeleCert application to track unemployment claims.
The new TeleCert application would make the process for reporting earnings, claiming benefits, and tracking unemployment applicants less taxing for both the users and the department. In September 2002, Massachusetts had an unemployment rate of 5.3%, which translates into thousands of people who have to keep the department apprised of their efforts to obtain work by checking in weekly. In the past, unemployment applicants could file a claim by mail or had to report to a MADET office, wait in line, and then fill out a form or speak to an employee. However, by enhancing the TeleClaim application with TeleCert, the department would reduce the workload of individual employees and make it possible for the applicants to check in at their own convenience over the telephone without using an agent resource. The TeleCert application currently processes 35,000 calls a week.
After completing an analysis of anticipated phone traffic and consulting with employment departments in other states, MADET realized that its existing system would need to be upgraded before the new IVR application could be deployed. When it came time for the upgrade, MADET not only stayed with the same integrator, it also stayed with the same product line. "MADET was happy with the Avaya technology it had in place, so the logical step was to stick with the same platform and the same integrator," says Kathleen Vignali, regional sales manager at HTI. "Because the components are all manufactured by Avaya, there is a natural synergy between products."
MADET had four production Conversant MAP/100V7 IVR units with 72 ports each and a 12-port test MAP/40V7 (now Avaya IVR) from Avaya Inc. (Basking Ridge, NJ). It upgraded to four production UCS1000 V8 units with 144 ports each and version 8 of the Unified Communication System platform. All applications handled by the IVR had to be upgraded to accommodate the new hardware platform and new version of system software. Avaya upgraded MADET's DEFINITY PBX (private branch exchange) switchboard from version 6 to version 9. The existing Quintus 3.5 CTI (computer telephony integration) application was upgraded to eContact 5.6 to give CSRs (customer service representatives) better insight into customer records. Quintus was acquired by Avaya in the spring of 2001. In conjunction with Avaya professional services, who handled the CTI integration and the upgrade of the Definity PBX, HTI oversaw the integration of the new IVR hardware components and upgraded the existing applications. It also rewrote the existing back end queries to support a new host process and developed the TeleCert application. In all, HTI realized more than $600,000 in revenue as a result of this upgrade.
Integration Services Complement In-House IT Resources
It took approximately a year to complete the entire upgrade and launch the new TeleCert application center. Contracts were signed in the first quarter of 2001 with planning and integration spread out over the next two quarters. The upgraded system was installed in the fourth quarter. "It was a staged upgrade," notes Vignali. "The old IVR boxes remained in production while we staged the new ones. The new boxes began running for testing purposes while the old ones continued to handle the calls. Once we tested the new systems together [IVR, PBX, and eContact] and made sure they were sound, the calls were moved over to the new IVR with no disruption to the end user." By the second quarter of 2002, the new TeleCert application written by HTI was up and running. "Anytime you upgrade an entire component set it requires a great deal of coordination," comments Vignali. "In this case, we had to work with MADET, Avaya, and the state because a government agency has controls that a private business just doesn't have." However, the upgrade caused very little disruption for the end users because it was made within the same product line. For the CSRs at the desktop, there were some modifications in the CTI interface, and the training to bring the CSRs up to speed was undertaken by Avaya.
HTI secured the opportunity to design MADET's original IVR system through a competitive bidding process in 1997, but its role had been minimal since the deployment. "MADET has an IVR development group within the organization," says Vignali. "Its strategy was to look to us for application development support during the original implementation, which we subsequently handed off to MADET to handle its own application modifications and maintenance. When it came time for the upgrade, MADET didn't have the bandwidth to write the new host interface and the TeleCert IVR application. The staff is self-sufficient and can program, but they also understand they sometimes have to look to us for help, such as when the legislature dictates a timeline." Hardware maintenance for MADET's IVR and call center is overseen by the Avaya Support Center in Denver.
Call Center Solution Grows With User Acceptance
Today, an individual filing for unemployment can choose to interact with MADET in the traditional ways or call and interact with the IVR. When an individual applies for unemployment benefits, he or she must still file the appropriate application paperwork in person. After that, however, there is no need to stand in line for weekly check-in. Now the individual can call into MADET's TeleCert application center to report information using a Touch-Tone phone. The information is gathered and applied to the person's file. As a result, MADET can handle more claims more efficiently "We've found MADET enjoys showcasing the technology it has implemented to the Commonwealth. It is proud of what it has accomplished and so are we," comments Vignali. "Being a state government entity, it is also pressured to keep costs down."
Unfortunately, MADET is expecting a further increase in call volume in the coming months as benefits are potentially being extended for existing applicants, as well as new ones. The system is also experiencing wide user acceptance. As a result, the department planned to install an additional 144-port Avaya IVR, which was scheduled to be operational by the end of 2002.
HTI customers with similar solutions can also be found in other vertical markets such as retail, financial, and utilities. "Anyone who is looking for an affordable way to offer a 24-hour call center at a reasonable cost can benefit from IVR," says Vignali. "A credit card customer, for example, doesn't need to talk to an agent just to get an account balance." HTI is also implementing next-generation IVR solutions that incorporate natural speech language recognition, which can actually understand spoken responses. Vignali says this technology results in even shorter call times and is attractive in markets where users, such as the elderly or mobile users, might become frustrated by keying in information and navigating through lengthy, nested menus.