“How much does CTI cost?”

While this seems like a straightforward question, the best answer I can give you is, “It depends.” But in order to understand why that is, let’s take a deeper look into the technology itself.

Computer Telephony Integration – or CTI, as it’s commonly referred to – is the technology that connects your telephone system with your computer systems to enhance and streamline your call center operations. Organizations implement CTI in order to improve agent productivity.

Agent labor costs are the most expensive part of running a call center. The more you reduce the amount of time that agents spend on trivial and routine tasks, the more savings you will realize.

Unpacking the Traditional View of CTI

While CTI has been available for several decades, it has typically been viewed as a luxury only affordable for large call centers because of the perceived investment required. Telecommunications giants like Genesys and Avaya have promoted the concept of contact centers and advanced customer experience platforms resulting in solutions that are often very costly and complex.

But CTI technology is not as far out of reach as some might assume.

There have always existed more cost-effective ways to implement CTI that can yield significant cost savings in your call center and allow your agents to provide better customer service.

Coupling CTI with IVR for Savings

The most common implementation of CTI is the “screen pop” where the caller information is automatically displayed on the agent’s workstation as the call is routed to an available agent.  The caller information can be retrieved by information delivered with the call such as the caller’s phone number (ANI) or the number that the caller used to reach the call center (DNIS).  Or, caller information can be retrieved using caller information collected by an automated system such as an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system.

My wife is a coupon cutter and is always on the lookout for a great sale at the supermarket. She loves it when she can use a coupon on an item that is already on sale – she says that’s how you get the biggest bang for your buck from a coupon.

And in the world of CTI, using screen pop with an IVR is like finding an item on sale and then saving more on top of that with a coupon you’ve clipped.

A simple screen pop using just the ANI and DNIS captured by the telephone switch may only save 10 to 20 seconds per call. The real savings comes from coupling CTI with an IVR system.  An IVR system allows routine and time-consuming activities, such as caller identification or caller authentication, to be performed by a low-cost resource. The authenticated or verified caller is then transferred by the IVR to an agent to continue the transaction.

By using an IVR to collect identification information from the caller, they can be first authenticated on an IVR and then transferred to an available agent. In most call centers, agents can take 30 to 45 seconds to greet the caller, ask for the caller’s identification information like an account number, enter it into their workstation application, and receive a screen with the caller’s information. (Whew.)

The cost savings of recovering those 30 to 45 seconds alone for each call can be significant when multiplied by the total number of calls received by a call center.

Automating Routine Transactions

An even more cost-effective solution would be to automate routine transactions (e.g. account balance, order status, etc.) on an IVR and only transfer callers to agents for transactions that are too complex to be handled efficiently by an IVR application. The more tasks can be relegated to an automated system, the more savings are able to be realized by the call center.

How much does this cost? Again, it depends on the complexity of the task.

For a simple screen pop, a solution can be implemented for as little as $200 per agent. However, that cost simply covers the software to connect the computer to the telephone switch; additional programming is required to allow the CTI software to interface with a desktop application to perform the screen pop.  Fortunately, most common Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications have built-in CTI connectors that allow screen pops to be enabled with no additional programming.

CTI solutions using IVRs can be more costly requiring an IVR system and programming. IVR systems can range from as little as $250 per port to over $2,000 per port, depending on the feature set of the IVR platform. And on top of that, most IVR systems will require an application that will need to be developed by an experienced IVR programmer.

But, IVR systems have the added benefit of offloading routine transactions from the call center – essentially operating as “automated agents.” Comparatively, IVR ports are far less expensive than the labor costs for real agents that perform the same transactions.

Final Thought

Although I wasn’t able to answer the question of CTI cost with a single dollar amount, I hope you now see that implementing a CTI solution is not as daunting a task as it has been in the past. In addition, it’s no longer a technology reserved for the elite few who can afford it.

But if you’ve gotten this far, and you’re still looking for a simple answer, here it is: For a little investment in technology, a call center can realize significant cost savings and recoup their investment in less than six months.