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A Quick Guide to CTI and Screen Pops

Part of our Back to the Basics Series. See also: PSTN, VoIP, SIP Trunking, and Telephony.

When it comes to computer telephony integration, or CTI, a significant amount of distortion exists between the textbook definition of the term and what people understand it to mean in today’s business environment.

Here we’ll cover what CTI is, what people typically mean when they talk about CTI, some of the challenges CTI faces, and what’s in store for the future.

What is CTI?

On a basic level CTI is simply any instance where phones and computers interact. That may sound a bit overly broad, but the point is that no single application or use case defines the technology. Companies use CTI in an array of different ways. This includes things like automatic dialing, call routing, transfers and presence detection, voice recording, and screen pops.

Screen Pops

However, most of the time nowadays when someone is looking for CTI technology the use case they want is screen popping. Especially in the contact center space, it’s easy to see why a screen pop would be appealing.

Imagine, if you will, a typical customer service call. You dial the number and first encounter an IVR; you enter all the appropriate information. You think to yourself, this is great! I’m really getting things done. Once the agent comes on the line they ask you for the exact same information you just entered into the IVR. If they’re going make you repeat everything again, why bother going through the extra steps?

Implementing CTI, in theory, eliminates this issue. Information collected by the IVR is crossed with customer data from a CRM and when the agent picks up the phone they see a screen pop that gives them all the information you entered in the IVR plus all of your customer data. At this point you can hit the ground running getting answers to your questions without wasting more time.

In theory, CTI helps to expedite agent-caller interactions, boost first call resolution rates, and provide good customer experience. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

CTI Infrastructure Needs

Here’s the thing about screen pops though: to implement them effectively takes a lot of time and money. For that reason, the only companies that can really do CTI effectively are large enterprises with deep pockets and the human resources necessary to not only acquire and implement CTI technology, but also to keep it running.

Take infrastructure for example. CTI is a hardware intensive technology, even in this day-and-age when more and more technologies are moving to the cloud. This is largely a byproduct of the backend of the twentieth century when CTI technology first caught on. Demand for CTI/screen pops waned before the rise of cloud computing so CTI technology hasn’t changed a great deal in the past few years.

As a result, pretty much any vendor that is selling CTI solutions is selling something premises-based. That means expensive hardware and paying someone to update and maintain that hardware at a time when companies are increasingly looking to shed on-premises hardware,

CTI Integration

If the cost of hardware procurement and maintenance doesn’t frighten off potential CTI buyers, then integration probably will.

There is a lot of different tech that needs to play nicely together in the example above. You have the CTI, IVR, CRM, not to mention the telephony backbone, and all of the agent workstations. That’s at least five different things, and there may be more depending on your company’s needs. Even if you buy a CTI suite that includes multiple applications, that suite still needs to be integrated with your current infrastructure.

Integration is where the CTI roadblocks start to emerge. The problem with CTI is that all of the standards for it are proprietary. That means if you want to switch from one vendor or piece of tech to another you’re going to have to re-integrate it. And integration is a time-intensive process.

Therefore, CTIs may be flexible on the frontend, but all of that is moot if its backend rigidity prevents it from functioning effectively.

Think of each software/hardware component as a silo. The question then becomes: how do you get the silos to talk to each other? Establishing links between silos occurs through deep integration. This type of integration can cost $100,000-250,000 or more.

But here’s another issue with deep integration—it lacks permanence. What that means is that updating or upgrading one silo can break the connection(s) between the other silos. Therefore, system admins have to go back in and repair those connections. So not only does CTI require a lot of human capital to run effectively, but there are real concerns about reliability as well.

Looking Ahead

Fortunately, the shift to the cloud creates a whole new world of possibility for screen pops. The advantage of the cloud is that different systems connect through APIs and there is no need for deep integration. APIs make integration easy so once rigid systems are much more flexible. This allows companies to use best-in-breed technology without worrying about whether or not it’s compatible with what’s already in place.

It’s worth re-iterating that cloud communications technology eliminates the need for on-premises hardware. This translates into major short-term and long-term cost savings.

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