BT will switch its call center network to VOIP

British Telecommunications PLC plans to migrate its U.K. call centers to a new VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) system over the next two years, allowing around 9,700 call center agents on 124 sites to work as one team in a single, virtual, customer contact center.

Reaching the right person to solve a problem can be difficult in a large organization such as BT, and customers can often find their call transferred several times, each transfer obliging them to explain their problem again. BT recently promised to make it easier for customers to reach the right person, and so its call center agents need to be able to transfer calls -- and accompanying information about the customer's identity and reason for calling -- to the appropriate place.

With the new system, "We can move calls around the business to support BT's 'My customer promises,'" said Alf Ellis, head of BT's internal voice solutions.

The project will take between 18 months and two years to complete, he said.

BT will spend around US$5 million on new VOIP equipment from Nortel Networks Corp., including five Nortel Communication Server 1000 systems for the main sites in England (Gatwick, Cambridge, Walsall and Bristol) and Scotland (Edinburgh), according to Nortel. The deal also includes a desktop Nortel 2004 IP phone for each of the 9,700 call center agents and a Symposium Call Center Server, making it one of the largest virtual call centers in Europe. The equipment replaces existing Nortel equipment, including Meridian 1 PBXs and Meridian Max call center software.

One of the challenges for the systems integrator, BT's own Global Services division, will be to use CTI (Computer Telephony Integration) functionality to link the call center with back-office databases of CRM (customer relationship management) applications so that agents can see, for example, the identity of the caller and the history of their account.

"BT will make use of Symposium CTI and other CTI applications" for CRM work, Ellis said. He would not identify the CRM applications BT uses.

For the call center agents, this will be their first encounter with VOIP within BT -- but the company has already used the technology at the highest levels, according to a Glynn Evans, Nortel's account manager for BT.

"We had deployed IP Telephony at BT's headquarters in Newgate Street, London, last year," he said in an e-mail. That system served 2,000 employees, including BT's executive management board.

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