TECH SUCCESS: Customer service solution zaps phone frustration

IT solutions in action

Agency: Veterans Affairs Health Administration Center

Goal: Implement a telephone system that improves customer service to veterans by automatically tracking calls for future auditing.

Project: Customer service phone system with automatic recordkeeping.

Partners: Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories Inc., Comm-Works Inc. and Fortran Communications Systems

Obstacles: Integrating several different technologies, including a private-branch exchange phone system, a customer relationship management system and database.

Solution: Genesys' integrated platform designed for that task was selected to tie the systems together.

Payoff: Veterans get better customer service, and records are kept on every call the VA Health Administration Center receives.

Genesys software cures what ails VA call centers

It doesn't get much more annoying than dealing with bad customer service over the phone. You dutifully enter an ID number and navigate a computer-voice-prompted menu to explain the issue you're trying to resolve. When you finally get a customer service rep on the line, all that key-punching seems to have gone to waste as you explain your story ? again.

If the first representative can't help, your call is transferred to another agent who needs the whole story explained ? again.

Officials at the Veterans Affairs Health Administration Center in Denver wanted to avoid that situation for veterans calling for benefits information, said Jim Farrell, federal account manager with call-center software developer Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories Inc. of Daly City, Calif.

"They wanted a better way of tracking information that was generated during a call," Farrell said. "Previously, if a veteran called in and had a discussion, there was no way of tracking what had happened during the conversation."

In their quest to better manage benefits transactions with veterans, VA officials turned to Genesys for a solution to work with the agency's private-branch exchange (PBX) phone system. They chose Genesys' computer telephony integration solution to tie the agency's phone system to a database.

Fortran Communication Systems, a Minneapolis company that offers integrated voice and data products and services for federal government agencies, was brought in to help integrate the automated systems with the VA center's Alcatel PBX phone system, which Fortran had installed.

The VA Health Administration Center is the primary provider of benefits support to veterans. The agency in 2003 awarded a contract to Fortran to install a new phone system to help with its mission.

When vets call in, embedded call-center capabilities of the Alcatel phone system route their calls.

"They wanted to expand upon this call center capability and be able to have audit trails of all contacts with veterans calling in," said Bill Compton, an account manager with Comm-Works Inc., Fortran's parent company.

"They wanted to capture the comments and information pertaining to each of these calls, so that when the veteran called in again, the VA agent would know exactly who handled previous calls and what information had been discussed," Compton said.

Here's how it works: The first time a veteran calls into the center, an agent takes information about his request or question, and enters information about the call as well, in a comments section the software features.

When the vet calls in again, he is asked to enter his Social Security number in an integrated voice response system. The Genesys product uses the number to search for the data in an Oracle Corp. database. While the data is being accessed, the agency's PBX phone system routes the call to the next available agent.

"The customer service agent gets the call and, at the same time, any database history that was previously collected from that patient pops up at the agent's desktop workstation," Compton said.

Before installing this system, a call was routed to an agent, who had no history as to what took place with the patient on previous calls, Compton said.

The system is key to enabling multiple operators to work efficiently with a single veteran, Genesys' Farrell said.

"Let's say a vet has an illness and calls into the benefits center to find out if his benefits are going to cover treatment," he said. "The agent will approve or disapprove the request, or offer advice as to what that patient should do. If that patient calls back a week later with subsequent claims or has a problem getting benefits coverage or payment to his physician, there's an audit trail of this communication between VA's customer service rep and the veteran."

The customer relationship management solution comprises several products. The Genesys custom desktop applications integrate with the telephone system with the embedded call-center capability and the interactive voice response capabilities to collect, store and route the data.

Although there were no major compatibility issues ? mostly a few software issues, such as working out the proper settings for thresholds ? integrating the different technologies was the most complex part of the project, Compton said.

But the integration had to be seamless to ensure customer representatives had all of a caller's information in front of them before they said hello.

The system has been in place for nearly a year, and so far it is meeting VA's expectations, said Genesys' Public Relations Director David Radoff. The ability to transfer a caller's information from agent to agent has been the biggest boon, he said.

Staff Writer Doug Beizer can be reached at

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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