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Borrowing The Best From Instant Messaging

Siemens Software includes presence-awareness technology to improve communications among call-center staff
Siemens Information and Communications Networks Inc. will introduce this week software designed to let call-center agents better communicate with co-workers and more rapidly address customer needs.

The HiPath ProCenter Agile software includes presence awareness, the underlying technology behind instant messaging that lets users see the online availability of others. Because of presence awareness, instant messaging has gained popularity among call-center employees looking for instant help from co-workers for a customer call. The Siemens application also includes Internet telephony capabilities for linking customers and subject experts in one-click conference calls.

Siemens' product represents a significant call-center innovation, says Ken Landoline, a VP at research firm Robert Frances Group, but he questions Siemens' decision to market the offering primarily to small and midsize companies. "This is a tool for the sophisticated call center," he says. "Those people are waiting for it and hungry for it."

One midsize call center already sees the value of the software. The Texas Association of School Boards has been running a trial of it since early February, and telecommunications manager Rick Tillotson says the application has made his 100 call-center agents more efficient and better informed. The agents, who provide support for things such as online purchasing to school officials and district boards throughout Texas, are answering questions faster and providing more-accurate estimates of subject-expert call-back times. Says Tillotson, "You'd have a hard time prying this out of my agents' hands now."