As a direct insurer providing coverage throughout Quebec, La Capitale Assurance Generales Inc. has employees scattered across 22 regional offices. When customer calls come in, the company needs to know who’s calling, the nature of the inquiry and who’s the best agent to respond — no matter

where he or she is located in the province.

Five years ago, that task wasn’t so simple. Operating two claims centres — one in Montreal and another at its head office in Quebec City — La Capitale had an aging Centrex service from Bell Canada and basic call centre technology from Nortel Networks. Without the benefit of computer telephony integration (CTI) software, calls would be transferred “”blindly”” to an agent who would look up the customer in the corporate database and then determine the best person to respond.

According to La Capitale vice-president, finance and administration, John Kirouac, after several minutes on the line, a customer could end up in voice mail. Looking for a better alternative, the company decided on IP telephony, becoming one of the first users of an IP-based contact centre system from Cisco Systems Inc.

“”My main objective was to link all offices in order for them to operate as if they were one unique call centre,”” says Kirouac. “”That would allow us to be much more efficient and provide better quality of service to our customers.””

The first step was to ‘beef up’ the company’s existing Ethernet wide-area data network to ensure it could handle voice traffic as well, he says. Knowing it couldn’t afford to miss calls or experience downtime, the company changed network service providers, choosing leased T1 lines from Telus, and upgraded the router technology in each of its branch offices. Next, the company installed and configured the Cisco IP platform, including soft phone technology, CTI functionality and interactive voice response (IVR).


By linking all 22 offices together over a converged IP network, La Capitale broadened the depth of its call centre so that any available agent is now able to respond to an incoming call. When a call comes in to the main number in Montreal, for example, the IVR technology directs callers to the appropriate agent by checking their caller ID against the corporate database. If a local representative isn’t available, the call is routed elsewhere.


“”Because the network is constantly monitoring agent state and availability, it knows at any given point in time who’s on the phone and who’s not on the phone by skill set,”” says Sean Forkan, director of advanced technology at Cisco. “”Agents can be scattered all across the province or they can work from home. As long as they have IP connectivity and they’re off hook, we can route the call to them.””

For La Capitale, that means being able to take advantage of the expertise of remote agents working in smaller towns and cities who weren’t able to take calls under the old model. It also helps to alleviate the pressure in larger metropolitan centres like Montreal where caller demand is higher than the number of available agents.

By moving to IP telephony, Kirouac estimates the company saves an average of 45 seconds per call, improving customer service productivity by about 20 per cent. Meanwhile, total cost of network ownership has been reduced by roughly $1 million annually.

Some of the biggest adjustments, he adds, are getting used to the idea that the IT department now has control over the phone system, from adding new lines, to writing scripts, to configuring the private branch exchange (PBX). Another is that agents no longer need their handsets, even though they’re not ready to do away with them entirely, he says.

While Kirouac acknowledges there were some rough spots in 2001 when La Capitale first switched to a converged network, the system has since been trouble-free. His advice is to run a pilot, maintaining the old phone network in parallel with the IP-based network so that customer calls can be transparently switched over if problems do arise.

“”Another thing I tell people is to be sure you have the proper personnel to implement the technology,”” says Kirouac. “”When we did it, it was quite new and having the right IT people with experience in telephony wasn’t easy, but quite useful when you did find it.””

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