Roth Says Call Center Nortel's Next Big Challenge

WASHINGTON (01/25/2000) - Nortel Networks Corp. is helping companies integrate customers' Web experience with the assistance they receive from call center agents, said John Roth, president and chief executive officer of Nortel Networks Corp.

In the keynote address opening ComNet today, Roth said companies are looking for ways to use the Web to maintain a complete customer relationship, but because the Web won't be able to meet all customer needs, Nortel Networks' unified network concept includes a continued role for the human call center agent.

"The successful application (of the Web) in the future is not going to be just exclusively transactional relations. People still are looking for human contact," Roth said. "Our theory is people will visit your Web site and want to talk with one of your sales reps."

The task for Nortel, which in October bought CRM software provider Clarify Inc. for US$2.1 billion in stock, is developing the use of storage databases allowing the agent to rapidly retrieve data about the customer, who has already learned a lot about the company on the Web before talking with the agent.

Nortel's own experience with the unified network concept has meant call center agents that deal with better- informed customers and can access more information themselves about what the customer has viewed, Roth said.

"When the customer comes off the Web site, exhausting everything he can learn there, we want to make sure our agent knows what the customer has seen ... so he can pick up the conversation," Roth said.

It's important to include the human agent because people want some reassurance that there is a real person standing behind the product they are buying, and because when things go wrong, it's very difficult to get a computer to correct the problem or change course.

Roth said Nortel's monthly revenue attributed to electronic business was about $250 million. There are 260,000 registered users of the company's e-business Web site ( and the site records about 13 million Web page views per month.

Voice over IP (VOIP) is also a factor in the CRM system and is creating an advantage for combining the customer's Web experience with the call center, he said. About 1,000 Nortel employees are using Nortel's VOIP system, he said.

Ross also ran down a list of technologies -- including fiber optics, DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), voice over cable, LMDS (Local Multipoint Distribution Service), and third-generation wireless -- as some of the things Nortel is working on.

He also said there is much on the horizon involving wireless Internet services, applications and devices, particularly among companies preparing to roll out 56K-bps transmission capacity to a range of data devices later this year.

"The industry is putting a toe in the water to see what consumers are going to do," Roth said. "This is going to be one of the highest growth industries."

Nortel, in Brampton, Ontario, can be reached at +1-905-863-0000 or at

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