Medical Call Center Glossary

This glossary was written, complied, and edited by Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD. If you have a word you would like defined and see added, send an email to

Abandoned Calls: in outbound calling, a call that is made by a predictive dialer but is subsequently disconnected if no agent is available. In inbound teleservices, a call where the caller hangs up before an agent answers.

AC (Alternating Current): Standard household current, available at wall plugs and used to power most electrical devices. The most common AC Voltage is 120, although 220/240 and 440 also exist. AC is the opposite of DC (Direct Current).

ACD (Automatic Call Distributor): An ACD is commonly used to route and deliver incoming calls in call centers to agents. Compare to a PBX and switch.

Agent: A generic name for call center employees, encompassing both CSRs (Customer Service Representative for inbound calls) and TSRs (Telephone Sales Representative for outbound work).

Analog: A signal or voltage that can vary continuously between two values. Contrast to digital which can possess only two states or conditions. Speech is analog, but with modern technology, it is often converted into a digital signal to be transmitted and switched.

ANI (Automatic Number Identification): A telephone company service that provides the telephone number of the calling party (and sometimes their name) electronically to the called party while the phone is ringing. It is a more sophisticated version of caller ID.

Answering Service: See Telephone Answering Service and Telemessaging.

Area Code Overlay: When a new area code is assigned to the same geographic region as the existing area code(s), which is in jeopardy of depletion. With an overlay, no one needs to change area codes. However, if it is not already implemented, ten-digit dialing becomes required for all calls, even local numbers. All new number assignments are in the new area code. As such, ordering a second line could result in a number with a different area code. Overlays are not popular with most consumers, as they do not want to dial ten digits on every call, nor remember different area codes for friends and neighbors. Contrast to an area code split.

Area Code Split: When the geographic region of the area code is divided in two. One part will keep the same area code, while the other section must switch to a new area code, but they will retain their seven-digit number. There is a transition period for this, called permissive dialing, in which either the old or new area code can be dialed for the affected section. After a time, mandatory dialing goes into effect, when any call to the new region using the old area code will not go through. These numbers eventually become available for reuse. Splits are not popular with most businesses because  it requires printing new stationary and other changes, as well as reprogramming phone systems. To avoid repeating this process in a few years, sometimes a three-way split is made at the same time. Contrast to an area code overlay.

ASP: An acronym for Application Service Provider, it refers to a company that makes software available via the Internet. The ASP handles maintenance, upgrades, and backups. End users pay a fee to use the software.

Auto Attendant: see IVR.

Automated Dialer: a program or device that will dial phone numbers for agents (compare to Predictive Dialer).

B Channel: In ISDN service, the B channel is also called the bearer channel and is used for voice transmission. In BRI-ISDN, there are two B channels, whereas in PRI-ISDN, there are 23 B channels; all B channels use 64 kbps of bandwidth.

BA: See Business Associate.

Benchmarking: a statistical standard by which a call center can measure relative performance.

Blended Agent: a call center agent trained and capable of handling both inbound and outbound calls.

Blended Center: a call center that handles both inbound and outbound work.

BPO (Business Process Outsourcer): a company that provides various business services to other companies, including call center services (see Teleservice Provider).

BRI-ISDN (Basic-Rate Interface ISDN): The simple version of ISDN that allows for two main channels for voice, fax, or data and one data channel (primarily for control purposes). See ISDN; compare to PRI-ISDN.

Bridge Clip: a small conductive metal device used to electrically connect a phone line from one point to another. Generally, the bridge clip is used on a “split block” and is often the “demark point” between the phone company and call center. Removing the bridge clip allows the telephone company and customer equipment to be disconnected from each other and isolated for troubleshooting.

Bureau: Another name for a teleservice company or outsourcing call center.

Business Associate (BA): Under HIPAA, a person or organization that performs a function or activity on behalf of a covered entity (CE).

Call Back: A website feature that allows a user to submit a request for an agent to call them. Compare to the “talk-to-me” feature, which uses VoIP to establish a phone connection over the Internet.

Call Center: Any centralized location to which calls can be directed, answered, and processed. However, in common usage it also encompasses operations that may be decentralized and that process more than calls. Contact center is a broader term that is often substituted for call center

Call Forward-Busy Line: a variation of call forwarding where a call will be forwarded only when the line is busy. This is a great way to get overflow calls to the call center. It is often used in conjunction with call forward-don’t answer.

Call Forward-Don’t Answer: a variation of call forwarding where a call will be forwarded only when the line is not answered after a certain number of rings. In actuality, this is done by timing, with six seconds equaling one ring. Therefore, if it is ordered for three rings, it will forward after eighteen seconds, regardless of where it is in the ring cycle. Call forward-don’t answer is a great way to send overflow calls to a call center when the client doesn’t or can’t answer them. Also, call forward-don’t answer is often used in conjunction with call forward-busy line or as a backup to regular call forwarding in case the client forgets to activate it. Call forward-don’t answer can be overridden by regular call forwarding.

Call Forwarding: a service provided by the telephone company that allows calls received at one number to be automatically redirected to another number, whether local or long distance. In either case, the line with the call forwarding is charged for the cost (if any) of rerouting the calls to the other number. When a phone is call-forwarded, it usually rings at the main location to indicate that it is being forwarded, but it cannot be answered. When call forwarding has been activated, calls can still be placed from that phone.

Caller ID: the caller’s phone number and possibly name (compare to ANI).

CAP (Competitve Access Provider): See CLEC (Competitve Local Exchange Carrier).

Card: a portion of a computer or switch containing circuits and components which can be easily removed and replaced; also more commonly called a circuit card or circuit card board.

CD-ROM (Compact Disk – Read Only Memory): A high capacity medium to store computer programs, data, and even music and video in digital format. In common usage, it is shortened to CD. Compare to DVD.

CE: See Covered Entity.

Central Office (CO): A telephone company facility where customers’ lines are connected to switching equipment so that they can call other numbers, both locally and long distance.

Channel: relative to sales, a channel is the means by which agents interact with consumers, including telephone, website, email, Web chat, fax, and mail.

Churn Rate: can relate to call center clients or agents. In reference to clients, churn is the percentage of clients that cancel service within a period of time, typically measured per month or per year. In regards to agents, the churn – or turnover – rate is the percentage of agents who leave during the year (contrast with Retention Rate).

CLEC (Competitive Local Exchanged Carrier): A relatively new telephone company, competing with the entrenched local telephone company (called ILECs) who used to be a protected monopoly. CLECs are believed to meet customer needs and drive innovation much better than the traditional telephone company. CLECs serve to push down prices for local telephone service. They are also called CAPs (Competitive Access Providers); compare to LEC and ILEC.

Client: A customer of an outsource call center or telephone answering service.

Co-browsing / Web-collaboration: technology that enables an agent to assist someone using a website, whereby the agent can temporarily manipulate the person’s Web browser to display requested information or navigate to a specific page.

Coaching: the process by which a trainer or supervisor provides feedback and support to call center agents so that they may improve their skills and effectiveness.

Conference: A procedure where three or more people are connected together on a telephone call and can talk simultaneously to one another.

Confirmation: occurs at the completion of a sales call when the agent confirms the item or service purchased, payment information, and key customer details such as address. Often the confirmation is recorded or made by another individual (compare to Third-Party Verification).

Contact Center: A newer name for a call center, reflecting that other forms of contact (email, fax, text chat, Internet call back, VoIP, and even regular mail) are handled in addition to phone calls.

Covered Entity (CE): Under HIPAA, in simplistic terms, an entity who transmits health information. The exception would be a Business Associate, who performs such a function on behalf of a Covered Entity.

CPR: An acronym for Computerized Patient Record. See Electronic Medical Record.

CRM (Customer Relationship Management): the means (including strategies, processes, people, technologies) by which companies maximize customer interactions. Call centers are often in the forefront of CRM initiatives.

CSR (Customer Service Representative): An employee of a call center tasked with providing phone support to customers who call for assistance. See agent and contrast to TSR.

CSU/DSU: stands for Channel Services Unit/Digital Services Unit; a device that is the demark point and interface used between call center equipment and a digital circuit, typically a T-1 or ISDN line. It offers protection and serves as a diagnostic point.

CTI (Computer-Telephony Integration): Integrating a computer system with a telephone switch to allow relevant computer database information about the caller or account to be presented to the CSR simultaneously with the call. The telemessaging industry enjoyed basic CTI functions with its first computerized systems in the mid 1980s, years before it was introduced to the general business market. Now, more sophisticated second-generation CTI platforms are common, representing the leading edge of technology.

D Channel: In ISDN service, the D channel is also called the delta channel and is used for control and signaling functions. In BRI-ISDN, the D-channel is 16 kHz of bandwidth; in PRI-ISDN, the D-channel is 64 KHz of bandwidth.

DC (Direct Current): A steady flow of electricity in one direction; it is the opposite of alternating current (AC). Power supplies in equipment often run on AC, but convert it to DC. Telephony switches, especially Central Offices, make extensive use of 48 Volts DC. The 48 Volts DC is what provides the “talk battery” on a telephone.

Decision Tree Software: A computer software program that presents a series of predetermined questions, each based on the answer of the previous question, allowing the user, or agent, to reach a correct decision even though they do not personally have the expertise required to make such a decision. See help desk.

Dedicated 800 Service: The opposite of switched 800 service whereby the 800 numbers are permanently connected to the customer’s switch, usually via T-1.

Demark Point: a point of demarcation (“demark”) between the telephone company and the call center equipment, allowing the telephone company’s circuits and the call center’s equipment to be disconnected from each other and isolated for troubleshooting and testing. For lines and trunks, the demark is generally a bridge clip on a split block. More sophisticated telephone services, such as ISDN, DSL, and T-1, also have a demark point, typically a CSU/DSU.

DID (Direct-Inward-Dial): A special telephone service in which there is no direct relationship between one line and a specific telephone number, but where many different numbers can be served by the same trunk or group of trunks. To specify which number was called, identifying digits are dialed on the trunk and decoded by the equipment. By definition, calls can only be received with this type of service, however, many phone companies have enhanced DID service so that calls can be made on DID trunks as well. This allows for greater efficiency (since they can be used for two purposes) and also a higher quality patch (since it is switched and handled by the phone company’s central office). This is called two-way DID, but it is not available from all phone companies or from all central offices.

DID Numbers: A group of usually consecutive numbers, often in multiples of 20 or 100 that are used for DID service. The numbers have no unique physical line and calls cannot be placed on a DID number.

DID Trunks: The physical lines that DID calls are received on. Many DID numbers can be handled on a few DID trunks. Although phone companies and telephony engineers often recommend ratios as low as one trunk for each six numbers, the common reality for the telemessaging industry is a much higher ratio, such as 1:25.

Digital: The representation of information in a two state format, either “on” or “off,” 1 or 0. Computer programs, information, and instructions all exist in digital form. Speech, although an analog waveform, is often converted into a digital format for transmission or storage (such as in a voice mail system). The electrical transmission and switching of speech in digital form provides greater overall quality and less noise than doing so in analog form. Most modern switches are digital switches and represent improved quality over older analog switches.

Digital Switch: The device that directs or routes calls. As the name implies, all phone calls are processed as digital signals. A digital switch is more advanced and produces higher quality connections that are less prone to noise. Virtually all switches currently on the market today are digital switches.

DIP Switch: an acronym for Dual In-line Package, a series of miniature switches, all housed in one component, commonly used in computer and telephony systems to set options (compare to Jumper).

DNC (Do Not Call): lists of numbers that should not be called. From a legal standpoint, there are federal and various state lists of consumers who should not be called. Calling a number on one of these lists can result in fines, penalties, and sanctions. Additionally, businesses and call centers often keep their own lists of consumers who can legally be called but have requested otherwise. (There are comparable efforts for “Do Not Mail” and “Do Not Email”; unsolicited faxing is illegal.)

DS-1: See T-1.

DS-3: See T-3.

DSL (Digital Subscriber Line): A transmission protocol that allows data to be sent over standard copper wires at high speeds. There are several different types of DSL service, such as ADSL and VDSL, each providing different transmission speeds. DSL is often used for Internet access.

DTMF (Dual-Tone, Multi-Frequency): Also known by the AT&T registered trademark of Touch-toneâ. It is a method of placing a call whereby a unique pair of tones are used to represent each digit of the phone number.

DVD (Digital Video Disk):  A high capacity data storage medium, designed to store multi-media programs and adopted for computer program and data storage. Compare to CD-ROM.

E&M: a telephone signaling protocol that uses separate wires for signaling and voice. There are several variations of E&M signaling. A common use of E&M signaling is to connect voicemail and two-way systems to other switches and devices.

E-1: a European counterpart to T-1, it is a designation for a high-speed, four-wire data circuit that can accommodate up to thirty-two separate audio channels.

Electronic Medical Record:  Having a patient’s medical record in electronic form versus a paper file. The trend is to move towards electronic health records. This a huge benefit for medical call centers and the medical community as a whole.

EHR: An acronym for Electronic Health Record and another name for  Electronic Medical Record.

Email: A text form of communication, analogous to voice mail. Anything that can be stored on a computer can be sent from one email address to another. Email that has access to the Internet can send a message to any other Internet email address anywhere in the world. Generally, email messages are short, informal typed messages. However, they can also be long or formal and can contain attached files and pictures.

EMR: An acronym for Electronic Medical Record.

EPROM: Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory (see Firmware).

Ergonomics: the art and science of making a workplace, such as a call center, comfortable to work in by minimizing physical strain or stress.

Fax Server: An external device that accepts client messages from a telemessaging platform, converts them into the format used by fax machines, and delivers them to the client’s fax machine. Many fax delivery units have been expanded to send alphanumeric pages and email messages as well.

Flat Rate Service: A phone company designation indicating that an unlimited number of local and/or long distance calls are included in the monthly service fee. Compare to measured rate service.

Firmware: a combination of software and hardware; specifically, software that is contained on a chip (hardware). Generally, firmware is a PROM or EPROM.

Fulfillment Services: processing mail, packaging products, or performing other services for a marketer. Fulfillment services may also include call center, database, list, or other marketing support services.

Generator: A device to produce electricity to run equipment in the event that commercial power is lost. Generators are powered by gasoline, propane, or natural gas and produce the AC power required to run electrical equipment. Generators are sometimes used in conjunction with or as an adjunct to UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supplies).

Gigabyte: A measurement of computer memory capacity, a gigabyte is one billion bytes of data or 1,000 megabytes. Sometimes incorrectly shortened to “gig” or “gigs.”

Gigahertz: A measurement of transmission frequency, either over the airwaves or through a conduit such as a fiber optic or network cable. One gigahertz is one billion times a second or 1,000 megahertz.

Ground Start Lines: An alternative type of business line that requires the circuit to be electrically grounded before answering or placing a call. It is not common, but is considered superior to its ubiquitous cousin, the loop start line.

Handsets: a standard telephone receiver used to communicate via telephone. To increase efficiency and be ergonomically friendly, call centers universally use headsets instead.

Headset: A hands-free device allowing one to talk on the phone and yet keep both hands available for typing. Headsets are highly recommended for call center agents.

Headset Box: A network interface box into which a headset amplifier is plugged. A headset box is connected to the phone system (be it a PBX, ACD, or switch). Some equipment allows a headset to be directly connected without the need for a headset box.

Help Desk: A segment of the call center industry, whereby entry-level staff can use decision tree software to answer questions and provide basic support functions for technical applications.

HICS: An acronym that stands for Hospital Incident Command System. It is a comprehensive incident management system that tracks and addresses emergent and non-emergent situations across hospitals.

HIPAA: An acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which among other things addresses the privacy of health information and has wide-ranging ramifications to the medical community in general and medical call centers specifically.

HIS: An acronym for Hospital Information System.

HL7: An acronym for Health Level 7, it is a standard for healthcare and is the interface standard for communication between various systems employed in the medical community.

Home-Based Agent: a call center agent working out of his or her home. Home-based agents are connected to the call center through the Internet or a telephony connection (see Remote Agent).

Hosted Solutions: see ASP

ILEC (Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier): One of the original local phone companies that resulted when the Bell System was broken up in 1984. See LEC; compare to CLEC.

IM: See Instant Messaging.

Inbound Telemarketing: One of two aspects of telemarketing where customers or prospects call a company for assistance when they want or need it as opposed to outbound telemarketing where the company calls customers or prospects.

Instant Messaging (IM): Commercial versions of text chat that allows Internet users to type messages to one another. There are several competing instant messaging services, which have varying degrees of compatibility with each other.

InterLATA: Literally, between LATAs. InterLATA traffic is generally the domain of the long distance carriers (IXCs).

Internet: A complex international network of networks, allowing email and information to be readily sent from one computer to another. Several different services are available on the Internet, including email and the World Wide Web.

Internet Service Provider (ISP): a company that provides access to the Internet, along with other related services.

Internet Telephony: See VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol).

IntraLATA: Literally, inside the LATA. IntraLATA traffic is generally the domain of the local telephone companies (known as generally as LECs or specifically as ILECs and CLECs). See LATA and contrast to InterLATA.

IP Telephony (Internet Protocol Telephony): See VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol).

ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network): An international standard for all digital telephony communication. There are two types of ISDN: BRI-ISDN and PRI-ISDN.

IVR (Interactive Voice Response): A computerized system that allows callers to interact with and receive information from a database using touch-tone signals. The information is provided audibly using text-to-speech conversion. Some IVR systems will also recognize basic speech instead of requiring callers to press keys on their telephone.

IXC (Inter eXchange Carrier): A telephone company that does not provide local telephone service, but which does provide long distance service.

Jumper: a device used on printed circuit cards to provide basic operating settings for the card. Generally a jumper is a small metal connector, covered with plastic and designed to slide over two pins on the printed circuit card (compare to DIP Switch, which is used for the same purpose).

LAN (Local Area Network): a local network of computers.

Last Mile: A term referring to the final leg in connecting a home or business to the public switched telephone network (PSTN). Traditionally this was and often still is done via a pair of copper wires, though it can also be coaxial cable, fiber optics, or even wireless transmission. Although new technologies are implemented in central offices and in distribution networks, it is the last mile that is the last to be upgraded. See local loop.

LATA (Local Access and Transport Area): In most cases the LATA was essentially the area code. However, with area code splits and overlays this simplification is losing clarity. A LATA is the geographic area in which the local phone companies can generally handle calls without assistance from long distance companies (IXCs). A LATA serves as a legal limitation as opposed to a technical constraint.

LDAP: An acronym for Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, which defines a standard for organizing directory hierarchies and interfacing to directory servers.

Lead Generation: gathering information from a prospect or customer in order to prequalify them for potential future follow-up. The follow-up can occur face-to-face, over the phone, via email, using direct mail, or by fax.

LEC (Local Exchange Carrier): The local phone company. LECs used to be a protected monopoly (and some still are). See CLEC (Competitve Local Exchange Carrier) and ILEC (Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier) for two types of LECs.

List Brokers: companies that accumulate and provide contact lists for sale and/or rental to marketing companies, businesses, and call centers.

List Conversion Rate: the ratio of successful calls (such as a sale made or an appointment set) to the number of calls made from list.

List Managers: companies that compile, update, and manage consumer or business information, including names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and other data that may be useful to a marketing company, business, or call center.

List Seeding: a method of verifying delivery and/or detecting unauthorized usage by adding false names to the mailing or calling list.

Live: A somewhat inane term to indicate that a call will be processed by a real person as opposed to automation from an IVR platform, voice mail system, or an answering machine. Although call automation is preferred in some circumstances, most consumers prefer to interact with a person, presuming that that person is trained and empowered to assist them.

Live Chat: real-time communications using Internet “chat” technology, also called text chat and similar in concept to IM (Instant Messaging).

Local Loop: The connection between the local phone company and a business or residence. This is comparable to, but more encompassing then, the last mile.

Long-Distance Reseller: a company that purchases long-distance service in bulk at a reduced price to resell at a rate below what a long-distance company would normally charge an end user.

Loop Start Lines: A standard business line, in which a circuit needs to be closed in order to get dial tone or answer a call. Most individual phone lines are loop start. Compare to the less common ground start line.

Measured Rate Service: A phone company designation indicating that each local call is counted (measured) and billed to the calling party. Businesses in many areas are on a measured rate, though some enjoy a flat rate service where an unlimited number of calls can be placed without incurring an additional charge.

Megabyte: A measurement of computer memory capacity, it is one million bytes of data. It is often incorrectly shortened to “meg” or “megs.”

Megahertz (MHz): A measurement of transmission frequency, either over the airwaves or through a copper wire; also, a measurement of the clock speed on a computer. One megahertz is one million times a second.

Modem: Modems are used to send digital information, in analog form, over regular (analog) phone lines. Technically, a modem is an electronic device that MOdulates data into an analog signal and DEModulates it back to digital. Common applications for modems are alpha paging and dialing into the Internet.

Monitoring: a quality assurance (QA) function used by call centers to assess quality, coach agents, and verify call compliance.

Nearshore Call Center: an offshore call center located near the client’s country and therefore more easily accessible.

Nurse Triage: See Telephone Triage.

ODBC: An acronym for Open Database Connectivity and is a database standard. Any database that is ODBC compliant can connect to any other database that is ODBC compliant.

Offshore Call Center: a call center located in another country than the client.

On-Hold Service: music or messages that is provided for callers who are on hold, waiting for “the next available agent.” The recordings can be purchased from on-hold service providers, most of who will ensure that the music is royalty free and legal to use.

Operator: A generic, but obsolete, term for someone employed by a telemessaging company to answer calls, take messages, and distribute those messages. Often a more descriptive and positive term is used to avoid old-fashioned stereotypes. The label of Customer Service Representative (CSR) or agent is preferred. In other contexts, an operator can refer to a telephone company employee.

OPX: Off-Premise Extension; a service that functions identically to a residential extension, but with the extension at a different location. Once a primary method of connecting clients to telemessaging services, phone companies now charge a substantial fee for OPX; therefore, call forwarding is generally the connection method of choice.

Outbound Telemarketing: One of two aspects of telemarketing whereby a company proactively calls consumers or businesses in order to make sales. Contrast to inbound telemarketing.

Outsource Call Center: A call center that provides various call answering and call processing services to third parties for a fee. Sometimes called Teleservice Companies or a Service Bureau. This term is sometimes also used to encompass telephone answering services or telemessaging services. See Outsourcer.

Outsourcer: A call center that processes calls for other companies.

Outsourcing: The concept of taking internal company functions and paying an outside firm to handle them. Outsourcing is done to save money, improve quality, or free company resources for other activities. Outsourcing was first done in the data-processing industry and has spread to areas, including telemessaging and call centers. Outsourcing is the wave of the future.

Patch Cord: A short cable often used in a patch panel, to easily and quickly connect two points together.

Patch Panel: A junction or interface where telephone lines or computer network cables can be easily and quickly connected or moved using short patch cords. A patch panel saves time and costs when installing or reconfiguring telephone or computer access.

PBX: A phone system that has many of the same capabilities as a phone company’s central office. A PBX is sometimes referred to as a switch. Most larger businesses have a PBX. Contrast to an ACD found in most call centers.

PHI: An acronym for Personal Health Information.

PIC (Primary InterLATA Carrier): A designation for a main, or default, long distance company. Although it is an oxymoron, some areas allow an IntraLATA PIC to select a long distance carrier for calls made within the LATA.

Port: A generic name for the portion of a card that connects with a line, trunk, network, or computer peripheral.

POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service): Traditional phone service that is found in most homes and businesses. POTS is in contrast to advanced services such as ISDN and DSL, which are digital and provide greater bandwidth.

Power Down: To turn off the power. A system is normally powered down when replacing a card. Powering up will generally cause the system to restart or reboot.

Power Supply: A sub-component found in most computers and switches, which converts 120 Volts AC (alternating current) to the DC (direct current) voltages required by the unit to operate. Note that some computers or switches are designed to connect directly to DC power, in which case an external DC power source is needed.

PRI-ISDN (Primary-Rate Interface ISDN): A high capacity version of ISDN that allows for twenty-three main channels (for voice, fax, or data) and one data channel (primarily for control purposes).

Printed Circuit Board / Printed Circuit Card: a card containing the electronic circuitry required to perform a specific function. Printed circuit cards are used throughout computers and switches (see Card).

PROM: Programmable Read Only Memory (see Firmware).

Protocol: an approved and time-tested tool used by telephone triage practitioners. It can be paper-based or computer-based, depending on the application.

Predictive Dialer: a device that automatically calls a list of telephone numbers, screens out disconnected numbers, answering machines, and busy signals, then connects the called party to a call center agent. A predictive dialer improves call center and agent efficiency, by increasing the number of contacts per hour over other means.

Protocol: An approved and time-tested tool used by telephone triage practitioners. It can be paper-based or computer-based, depending on the application.

PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network): The traditional international telephone system in which phone calls are switched or routed from origin to destination. This is in contrast to private networks and dedicated point-to-point services.

Quality Assurance: a process to assure that calls follow established guidelines and instructions, meet ethical expectations, and are in compliance with legal requirements.

Queue: A stack of calls on hold, or ringing, and waiting to be answered. Most call centers make use of a queue for increased agent efficiency and productivity.

Remote Agent: a call center agent who works outside of the actual call center, but is connected to it and available to process calls, just is if on-site. Remote agents can work from home or from a strategically located ancillary site (see Home-Based Agent).

Rep: short for Representative; another name for Agent.

Restart: To force a component to re-initialize itself by reloading software, clearing memory, or some similar function. It is the same as boot, re-boot, or reset.

Retention Rate: the percentage of a call center’s agents who remain with the call center over the course of a year (contrast with Turnover Rate).

Ribbon Cable: a flat, ribbon-like cable used to connect different components or boards in a system.

RJ-11 (Registered Jack 11): A standard modular jack used for to connect a single phone line. In alternate variations, it can also handle two or three lines.

RJ-45 (Registered Jack 45): A standard modular jack used for many computer network connections. It can accommodate eight wires, although all eight may not be used or needed in certain network configurations.

SaaS (Software as a Service): see ASP

Screen Pop: In CTI (Computer-Telephony Integration) applications, causing a computer to display information about the call at the same time as the CSR answers the call.

Snail Mail: A derogatory term for traditional mail service that was spawned by the Internet age. Given the speed at which email messages can be sent and received, regular mail moves at a snail’s pace in comparison.

Speech Recognition: software capable of recognizing spoken language; it may also be able to translate the spoken word into written text (compare to Voice Recognition.)

SS7 (Signaling System 7): A sophisticated telecommunications protocol that provides out-of-band signaling and a data interface between phone company switches for the express purpose of reducing congestion in the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). For example, without SS7, a long distance call is routed through the network to the called party to make their phone ring or before a busy signal can be returned, thereby tying up circuits along the entire path. With SS7, once the call is dialed, the data interface sends a message to the end switch to ring the phone or to check if the called party is busy before the call is routed. If the call is answered, it is then immediately routed though the network, thereby not using the circuits while the phone is ringing or in busy and no-answer situations.

Surge Suppressor: An electronic device that limits the damaging effect of surges on electronic equipment from commercial power plants, generators, and electrical storms. All important or expensive equipment should be plugged into a surge suppressor.

Switch: A generic name referring to any device that can connect lines or trunks and route calls from port to another. It can be analog or digital. Digital is more advanced and produces higher quality connections that are less prone to noise. See ACD and PBX.

Switched 800 Service: In the past all 800 numbers required expensive dedicated lines. With switched 800 service, the long distance company routes 800 calls to existing local telephone lines. This is efficient and cost-effective for low volume applications. Also, since 800 numbers cannot have call forwarding on them, the switched 800 service can effectively be rerouted by forwarding the local lines they ring in on. Contrast to Dedicated 800 Service.

T-1: In common usage T-1 is a designation for a high speed, four-wire data circuit that can accommodate up to 24 separate audio channels. Technically, T-1 is the medium and DS-1 (not to be confused with DSL) is the format, though in many instances the terms are used interchangeably. A T-1 circuit is also a common high-speed Internet connection.

T-3: In common usage, a designation for a very high speed, four-wire data circuit that can accommodate up to 28 T-1 circuits, which is 672 separate audio channels. Technically T-3 is the medium and DS-3 is the format, though in many instances the terms are used interchangeably. A T-3 circuit is also used in connecting to the Internet backbone and even for some Internet backbones.

Telco: Short for Telephone Company.

Telecommunications: Communications that take place using the telephone or telephone network.

Telecommuting: using telecommunication technology, such as the Internet, to work outside of the traditional workplace; remote call center agents are a growing class of telecommuters.

Telemarketing: Sales and service conducted using the telephone. It is classified as inbound or outbound. See inbound telemarketing and outbound telemarketing.

Telemessaging: The act of answering a call, taking a message, processing that information, and relaying it to the client.

Telephone Answering Service: A business that handles calls for clients at a central location, whereby a client’s phone is answered, a message is taken or information provided to the caller, and the results are documented and provided to the client. Many telephone answering services also provide voice mail service and enhanced services, such as order taking.

Telephone Triage: The provision of basic medical assistance and preliminary diagnosis over the phone by a trained medical practitioner using an approved resource, often called a protocol.

Telephony: A term used to refer to telephone lines, trunks, circuits, related equipment, and the information (voice, fax, and data) that is transmitted over them.

Telephony Switch: See switch.

Teleservice Agency / Company / Provider:  See Outsource Call Center

Test Set: Also called a butt-set or butt-in; it is used to test telephone lines, trunks, and circuits.

Text Chat: An Internet service that allows two (or more) users to type messages and immediately send to each other. Text chat is a real-time communication; compare to email, which is not. Instant Messaging (IM) is a subset of text chat.

Third-Party Verification: after an agent completes a transaction (typically a sale), the caller is transferred to a third person, normally outside the call center, to verify the veracity of the transaction.

Touch Tone: A dialing method that uses tones as opposed to dial-pulses. Today most phone lines are designed for touch-tone dialing (which is faster and more reliable). Many touch-tone lines will also accept dial pulse signaling, but this is not always the case. Touch-tone is a trademark of AT&T; the generic name is DTMF.

TSR (Telephone Sales Representative): A term commonly used in the telemarketing and call center industries for employees who proactively place calls to customers or prospects to obtain data, share information, or sell products and services. See agent and contrast to CSR. Some define TSR to stand for Telephone Service Representative, though CSR is a more universally accepted term for that context.

Turnover Rate: sometimes called the churn rate, the percentage of call center agents who leave during the year (contrast to Retention Rate)

Unified Messaging: A system that allows voice mail, email, and faxes to be received, stored, and retrieved from a common system using various interfaces, including a phone, fax machine, or computer.

UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply): A device that supplies continuous power to computers and switches by converting energy stored in batteries to 120 Volts AC. Commercial power is used to charge the batteries. In the event that commercial power is lost, a UPS will provide power until the batteries run down, commercial power is restored, or a generator is turned on. In many installations, a UPS is used for short-term outages and gives time for the generator to be started and stabilized to power equipment during prolonged power outages.

Virtual Agents: call center employees who work from their own homes or decentralized locations as opposed to a centralized location (see Virtual Call Centers). Virtual agent does not imply the replacement of people with technology.

Virtual Call Centers: a call center not bound by a physical location and able to be extended to practically anyplace that is accessible via telecommunications or the Internet (see Virtual Agents.

Virtual Hold: a call center technology useful when the number of incoming calls exceeds the number of available agents. Rather than wait on hold, callers can hang up the phone – while maintaining their place in the queue – and then receive a callback when it is their turn to talk to an agent. Some virtual hold systems also provide callers with the “estimated wait time,” which provides an accurate prediction of when they will receive their return call. Virtual queuing increases customer satisfaction and agent efficiency, while reducing Average Speed to Answer (ASA), abandon rate, and toll charges for the contact center.

Virtual Queuing: see Virtual Hold

Voice Logging: Recording phone calls in a call center. Voice logging systems can be hardware based or software only. Most systems record only agent phone calls, whereas others record all audio continuously. Some systems can be linked to call records and even screen displays to provide a complete picture of the phone call. Voice logging is useful for call verification, agent training, and customer service resolution. In some industries voice logging is required. Also, laws regarding the legality of voice logging vary from state to state and country to country.

Voice Mail: A device that plays announcements to callers, records messages, and allows the messages to be retrieved. There are hundreds of different voice mail systems, each with slightly different features and user interfaces. Many newer voice mail systems provide aspects of unified messaging, which allow voice mail, email, and faxes to be handled on a single platform.

Voice Recognition: software capable of recognizing a specific person’s voice, thereby confirming identity (compare to Speech Recognition.)

Voicemail: a device that plays announcements to callers, records messages, and allows the messages to be retrieved. There are hundreds of different voicemail systems, each with slightly different features and user interfaces. Many newer voicemail systems provide aspects of unified messaging, which allow voicemail, email, and faxes to be handled on a single platform.

VoIP (Voice Over IP or Voice Over Internet Protocol): Using the Internet to send voice signals or phone calls. Also referred to as Internet Telephony or IP Telephony.

WAN (Wide Area Network): a network of computers dispersed over a large geographical area and interconnected via the various telephone or Internet connections.

Web Callback: a feature that enables a person visiting a website to a phone call from that company. The request can be for an immediate callback or scheduled for a later time.

Web-Enabled Center: a call center able to conduct business using Internet features, such as email, callback, co-browsing, and live chat.

Workforce Management Software: software that allows call center managers to more effectively balance optimal staff levels, anticipated call traffic, campaign timetables, agent availability, and infrastructure capacity. Most workforce management programs also generate agent schedules, accommodating agent preferences, as well as track attendance, including absences, late arrivals, early departures, and even schedule swaps.

24 x 7: A notation to indicate continuous operations, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Most teleservice companies and outsourcing call centers operate 24 x 7.

66 Block: a passive device that provides a connection point for telephone lines and trunks. Often it is divided in the middle and both sides are connected with bridge clips. The bridge clips serve as the point of demarcation (“demark”) between the telephone company and the customer’s equipment.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.