London call centre uses virtual queuing to connect to other offices

On a typical day Sykes Canada Corp. handles 20,000 phone calls, but not one of them begins with “”Sykes Canada, may I help you?”” That’s because, as a call centre, Sykes Canada isn’t interested in having a street presence. Rather, the London, Ont.-based company prides itself on ensuring the customers

of its Fortune 500 clients never even suspect they’re speaking to anyone other than the business they called.

“”That’s our whole goal in life,”” says Sykes Canada vice-president, technology, Bart Stanley. “”If we do that well, we retain our client base.””

Sykes Canada’s roots are in the auto industry where it began in 1955 as the National Auto League, marketing auto club services to the general public. In 1992 it changed its name to Oracle — The Assistance Group to better reflect its evolution into the call centre business and in 1998, it was acquired by Tampa, Fla.-based Sykes Enterprises Inc. Today, the company offers a range of outsourced communications services, including roadside assistance, home assistance, business support services, telehealth, telemarketing and legal assistance.

According to Stanley, the phone system is the company’s mission-critical application.

“”The bread and butter of this organization is the phone system,”” he says, adding 95 per cent of the company’s customers operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Its diverse client base is essentially divided into two groups: those who require 95 per cent of their calls to be answered in 10 seconds and those who require 80 per cent of calls to be answered in 20 seconds. “”If we can’t take phone calls, or make phone calls, we aren’t generating any revenue.””


Since 1992, Sykes Canada has used computer telephony integration (CTI) technology from Wood Dale, Ill.-based Rockwell FirstPoint Contact. It currently operates two Rockwell switches — one in London and a second in Toronto — with additional “”extend centres”” in North Bay, Ont. and Moncton, N.B.

As Stanley explains, the extension cabinet in Moncton is networked to the switch in London while the extension cabinet in North Bay is networked to the Toronto switch. Not only are the extend centres available at about one-third the cost of a full switch, but the Toronto and London centres comprise what Stanley refers to as a “”virtual queue.”” Calls to be routed across the company to the next available agent with the appropriate skills, regardless of the agent’s location.

Another benefit of the design is it allows Sykes Canada to perform maintenance on its CTI platform without causing downtime.


“”We can’t afford to have downtime, even to do upgrades,”” says Stanley. “”With the advantage of having multiple switches in multiple locations, we can actually — using our telcos — roll their services from one location to another … while we do upgrades on the switch.””

A third office, located in Sudbury, Ont., also connects to the Rockwell switch in Toronto using what is referred to as soft phone technology. Rather than installing expensive telecommunications equipment at the remote office, agents connect to Toronto using software on their computer desktop. According to David Sedgwick, a sales engineer at Rockwell’s office in Brampton, Ont., it’s as if the 12 agents in Sudbury were on the Toronto switch even though there’s no equipment at all in their office.

“”They can process calls, see the queues, see what’s happening,”” he says, “”and likewise back at the main locations, supervisors can see them logged in, taking calls.””

The ability to support remote offices enables Sykes Canada to tap into communities with a French-speaking population in order to provide bilingual agents, he adds.

As Sykes Canada moves forward, Stanley is investigating the use of Internet Protocol (IP) phone technology as another way to expand remote sites. He also aims to continue the company’s evolution from a call centre to contact centre. “”We want to be able to do e-mail, text chat and all those other types of services,”” he says.

Rockwell’s multi-channel contact architecture is appealing, says Stanley, because it means one agent can respond regardless of how the session originates. Other products require a dedicated agent to handle e-mail or text chats, he says, which may be acceptable in the U.S. where companies can receive up to 15,000 e-mails a day, but not so in Canada.

“”The problem in Canada is size,”” says Stanley. “”ABC company in Canada may get only 15 to 20 e-mails a day. I can’t very well afford to have an agent who’s going to sit all day waiting for those messages to come in.””

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