Selecting a PC Attendant Console

By Gary DuPont

If you are a regular reader of AnswerStat magazine, you are probably familiar with the basic concept of a PC-based attendant console. This category typically includes products that either integrate with or replace the traditional telephone operator console and include features such as an organizational directory, patient information paging, and all attendant telephony features.

Over the years, this category of products has witnessed multiple operating system advances and technology improvements. The market leaders in this space can all make claims as to why you should chose their product. MASCO Services Inc. (MSI) selected a PC attendant console solution eleven years ago and over the years has upgraded the platform as required in order to supply our customers with enhanced features and efficiencies. It has also given MSI a competitive edge in its hospital paging and physicians’ answering service businesses. Here are some of the features, benefits and advancements to help guide you and your organization toward selecting the vendor appropriate for you.

Some of the questions you should ask:

  • What CTI (Computer-Telephony Integration) methodologies are used for integrating the telephone system with the PC? Some vendors recommend server based CTI solutions versus client-based.
  • Does a failure of one link (server-based) jeopardize your entire call center?
  • Does the integration support ACD (Automatic Call Distributor) features and true attendant console features?
  • Does the system provide a proprietary telephone system in front of the hospital telephone system and create another link in the communications chain?
  • What is most important to your organization?
  • What is the product life cycle of your current PBX (Private Branch Exchange)?
  • When is your existing Centrex contract up for renewal?
  • Is your telecommunications department considering a move to an IP-based (Internet Protocol) platform?

Features and Functionality: An important way to distinguish one product from another is to review the features offered by each vendor and determine which ones are important to you. Is the software architecture based on industry standards making it open to growth, new technology, and standards? As mentioned earlier, each system available uses an attendant to answer a telephone call, perform a directory lookup, and transfer the call. An important way to distinguish one product from another is to compare each vendor’s features and functionality, then determine which features provide you and your clients the best service in a cost efficient manner.

Return on Investment: A current trend in cost justification is the return on investment model. Vendors have identified this trend and have focused on specific feature to address this, such as:

  • Voice Assisted Transfer: Over time this can reduce call traffic to the operators, since callers will hear the DID or extension number prior to being connected.
  • Recorded Agent Greetings: Operators prerecord answer and progress report phrases, such as “One moment please,” “Still searching.” From a quality assurance perspective, this can be an invaluable tool.
  • Physicians’ Answering Service: This feature allows the same hospital contact center to serve both the hospital’s needs and the needs of the physicians that work there. Often this is provided on a fee basis, but the real cost justification is tying the physicians to the services of the hospital. If you are in this business or plan to be in the future, determine if the vendor has a proven track record in the field. You don’t want to be a beta site for a newly developed or unproven product.
  • Delivery of Messages: This category has been dominated by radio-paging, faxing, email, and voicemail. However, with the advent of in-building wireless systems such as SpectraLink Wireless, Symbol Technologies, and Vocera, the traditional delivery methods are being replaced by devices that can receive a text message. PC-console systems with applications based on these formats will provide even more functionality to the users within the hospital. Features such as this help to provide cost justification by streamlining the communications process and often eliminating the use of an operator.
  • Web-Based Directory, Paging, and On-Call Scheduling: With the advent of the browser interface, more organizations are choosing this feature and giving staff self-service options for directory look-up, paging, administration of on-call schedules, and directory changes. The measurable costs and benefits to this module are recognized by the reduction of the printed directory and calls to the operator. Also, by making the database content public, incorrect entries are noticed sooner, leading to a more accurate database.
  • Speech-Recognition: Speech-Recognition has become the most talked about feature in recent years. This technology is now commercially viable and relatively economical to be used within the healthcare communications world. MSI uses speech-recognition on internal calls to route them to an individual’s office or pager without operator assistance. The reduction in call volume over time to the operator group allows for more time being spent on sensitive calls, providing other non-traditional tasks, and redeployment of FTEs (Full Time Equivalents). Your ACD or PBX reports will also confirm this by comparing before and after historical call data.

There are many other modules and features that can be included within the category of PC-Console. As you do your own research, take the time to compare your finalist to your current needs, your near-term plans, and your long-term strategy. Then compare telephony integration, features, and functionality along with product references. Once this has been completed, your vendor of choice will emerge.

Gary DuPont is Director of Telecommunications and Customer Care at MASCO (Medical Academic and Scientific Community Organization, Inc).

[From the Winter 2004 issue of AnswerStat magazine]