Choosing a Web-Enabled Call Center Application

Article by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1998

Last Updated: August 15, 1998


Basically, there are several options available to companies, each with an increasing level of interaction and technological sophistication:

  1. Web-based self-service: The least personal of all solutions, but probably the least expensive. Using applications such as ServiceSoft's Knowledge Builder 4.1 and Web Advisor 4.1, companies can create their own Web-enabled interface that would allow customers to access knowledge databases. This would be suitable for routine transactions, such as checking account balances or finding answers to simple technical problems/questions. An example would be Microsoft's on-line support pages ( Other products in this category include SolutionPublisher (Primus Communications) and Sixth Sense Web (AnswerSoft).
  2. E-mail: E-mail is the most personable form of customer interaction with the greatest reach. According to Forrester Research, it is estimated that e-mail will inundate call centers in the future, as the number of e-mail users will increase to 50% of the US population by the year 2001. However, many companies have not integrated e-mail into their call center processes, and are handling them with separate processes from their voice calls. According to a Forrester survey conducted in March 1998, found that 60% of the companies surveyed manually routed e-mail messages to their CSRs, with an average response time of 32 hours. Furthermore, another Forrester Research survey conducted in February 1998 found that 68% of e-mail received by companies was customer service-related, and that many companies expect the amount of customer e-mail to grow from an average of 500 messages/day to more than 2000 messages/day by the year 2000. Companies such as Lucent offer e-mail and fax routing software (Message Care) that prioritizes and routes messages to CSRs, much like voice calls. Other products include ConText Server (Oracle), Customer Messaging System (Kana Communications), and Internet Message Center (Mustang Software).
  3. Callback: This next level allows a customer to initiate a telephone call from the CSR by clicking on a link at the company's web site. While this still does not allow simultaneous interaction between CSR, customer, and web page elements, it is more personable and opens up the possibilities for cross-selling. Products in this category would include SomeOne (NETcall Technologies) and WebCall (Spanlink).
  4. Text-based chat: This offers more convenient real-time interactivity, without placing a high load on bandwidth or hardware requirements. Products in this category include Real Dialogue (Real Dialogue) and Contact Dynamics (Contact Dynamics).
  5. High-level Interactivity: Using a variety of tools, these applications offer the highest level of real-time interaction between customer and CSR: IP telephony, shared browsing, conferencing, collaborative form completion, and file transfers. However, these applications often have high bandwidth and hardware requirements for both the CSR and the customer. Products in this category include WebLine (WebLine), HumanActive Sales Assistant (Sybase), CosmoCall (CosmoCom), Web Agent (Aspect Technologies)

 For further information, check out the following articles: 

  1. Kay, A., "Net call centers emerge", Internet Computing, June 1998, pp. 71-74
  2. Orzech, D., "Call centers take to the Web", Datamation, June 1998.



Interactive Week, June 16, 1997


SomeOne Internet Communications Service, being offered by NETcall Technologies (, is the simplest solution for integrating telephone and Internet technologies for managing the customer support function.

Using NETcall's existing HyperPhone Link technology, a web merchant places a link on their web site for customer service. A visitor in need of assistance then clicks on this link, and they are asked to fill in a user profile and provide their phone number. The application then alerts the merchant that a customer is waiting for a callback. Merchants can also specify when calls can be placed through, and when the shopper should be told to try later. SomeOne can also block out long distance calls. If the request for a callback is accepted, SomeOne establishes a phone link between the two parties.

Another use of this technology is that merchants without a web site can 'rent' a link on someone else's site (such as a portal) attached to the SomeOne service. If an interested customer clicks on the link, the web-initiated interaction can be completed over the phone.

In addition to set up costs, NETcall Technologies charges a $5 connection fee and then per-minute charges for usage thereafter.

Advantages: simple solution; no special software required on the shopper's computer; can be used by 'webless' merchants; less chance of 'leaking' demand arising from customers losing scribbled-down 1-800 numbers, etc.

Disadvantages: interaction is done off-line, and parties are unable to interact with the web content; reduced opportunities for cross-selling, or 'directed' navigation to web pages of interest to the customer


WebCall 1.0


Somewhat similar to SomeOne, the merchant places a 'Talk to a real person' link on their web site, which then prompts the visitor to fill in a form with their particulars, the question, and their phone number. The callback request is then forwarded to a customer service representative (CSR), who can then access the information on the visitor and call the customer back. The information on the customer, in addition to being displayed on a screen or Netscape Navigator window for the CSR, can be converted into speech via text-to-speech technology. This flexibility would be useful in instances where CSRs either do not have access to the Internet or only have access to 'dumb' terminals at their stations.

WebCall features an algorithm within the program can also display the estimated callback time for the customer by taking into account the number of CSRs currently available and the average call duration for the past several calls. Another advantage of WebCall is that it can track the web pages visited by the customer and provide this information to the CSR. Furthermore, once a customer provides the information to initiate a WebCall session, that information is retained on future WebCall sessions.




HumanActive Sales Assistant


This offering, the result of an alliance between Sybase Inc. and Transaction Information Systems (TIS) is aimed at the banking industry. This application enables two-way collaborative push technology that allows real-time (adjective!) interaction. This way, a sales representative can speak with a customer over the phone while running applications or pulling up and filling out web-based forms. Furthermore, these forms and applications can be shared simultaneously between the sales representative and the customer, much akin to a groupware application. This of course reduces the chance of a delayed or derailed sale by avoiding additional faxing, mailing, or e-mailing.

Unfortunately, other than a press release, I could not find any other information on this.





RT Magazine, July 1998


CosmoCall is the offering from CosmoCom ( that allows real-time interaction between merchant and customer. By clicking a link that requests human assistance, the customer is put in touch with a CSR over the Web. Communication can be via voice, voice with video, or text-based chat, depending on the technological sophistication of the CSR and the customer. The CSR can also view and modify object-oriented database applications, such as the customer's 'shopping cart', which would offer opportunities for cross-selling.

However, in order to communicate with the merchant, the customer must possess Microsoft NetMeeting and download an application from the merchant's web site. The application comes in three forms:

Another interesting feature is that the CSR can link their browser to the customer's browser, allowing them to browse the web site together




Web Agent


Web Agent from Aspect Telecommunications is more versatile in terms of the level of interaction possible between CSR and customer. After a customer initiates a request for human contact at the web site, the CSR has the following tools available to them:




"Web enable your call center", Internet Computing, June 1998


WebLine is a versatile call center application that is Java-based, allowing the customer to interact with a CSR using any Java-enabled browser. After the customer initiates contact via a 'meet me' invitation or a callback request and downloads the Java applet, the CSR has the following features at their disposal:

This application is currently being used by financial services (Putnam Investments) and technology firms (Oracle, Geotel) for customer support.



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