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DYNAMIC REQUEING TO AVOID LATENCY
IN CALL-ROUTING SYSTEMS
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
The present invention is in the area of telephone call 5 processing and switching, and pertains more particularly to intelligent call-routing systems.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
Telephone call processing and switching systems are, at 10 the time of the present patent application, relatively sophisticated, computerized systems, and development and introduction of new systems continues. Much information on the nature of such hardware and software is available in a number of publications accessible to the present inventor 15 and to those with skill in the art in general. For this reason, much minute detail of known systems is not reproduced here, as to do so would obscure the facts of the invention.
One document which provides considerable information
on intelligent networks is "ITU-T Recommendation Q.1219, Intelligent Network User's Guide for Capability Set 1", dated April, 1994. This document is incorporated herein by reference.
At the time of filing the present patent application there 2J continues to be remarkable growth in telephone-based information systems. Recently emerging examples are telemarketing operations and technical support operations, among many others, which have grown apace with development and marketing of, for example, sophisticated computer 3Q equipment. More traditional are systems for serving customers of such as large insurance organizations. In some cases organizations develop and maintain their own telephony operations with purchased or leased equipment, and in many other cases, companies are outsourcing such opera- 35 tions to firms that specialize in such services.
A large technical support operation serves as an example in this specification of the kind of applications of telephone equipment and functions to which the present invention pertains and applies. Consider such a system having a 40 country-wide matrix of call-in centers, which is more and more a relatively common practice to provide redundancy and decentralization, which are often considered desirable in such operations. Also in such large organizations, business firms have a national, and in many cases a world-wide 45 customer base. Such a system handles a large volume of calls from people seeking technical information on installation of certain computer-oriented equipment, and the calls are handled by a finite number of trained operators distributed over the decentralized matrix of call-in centers. 50
A problem in operating such a call-in system is in identifying caller requirements and routing individual calls based on the requirements to operators possessing the requisite skills and information to efficiently serve the callers. In most such systems there are a number of sorting criteria to 55 consider. There may be, for example, several products for which technical support is provided. Calls from persons seeking technical aid for a specific product need to be routed to those operators that are trained in support for the specific product. Moreover, there may be such as language require- 60 ments as well. In some parts of the country there may be a need for Spanish-speaking operators to serve those customers who speak Spanish rather than English, or who may be more comfortable in Spanish. Sorting and routing calls in this instance is often termed skill-based routing in the art. 65
Another desirable goal in such a system is to provide efficient and effective service to the largest number of
customers with limited operator resources. To accomplish this end it is necessary to seek to route calls with the most up-to-date information concerning operator availability possible, so callers may be cued in the most efficient manner, avoiding long waiting periods for service. It is desirable, that is, to route calls in a manner that minimizes wait time for the customer. This is not only advantageous for the customer, but also to the organization providing the service, as more may then be done with less resources.
Conventionally routing of calls is done statistically, such as by tracking percentages of call load or by some Management Information System (MIS). In these systems data that is at least several minutes old is typically used for callrouting purposes, and, in the few minutes between real-time and data age, load distribution can shift significantly, leading to very inefficient routing. Moreover the data is not always of the sort that could be used for most-efficient routing. Load distribution, for example, does not tell the routing intelligence where there may be an operator with the requisite skills to handle an incoming or waiting call, who is also free of other calls at the moment.
What is clearly needed is a better system and methods to do call routing in real time or very near real time, so delays are kept to a minimum and the best use of available resources may be made.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
In a preferred embodiment a telephone call-routing system adapted for routing incoming calls to individual ones of remote telephone stations is provided, comprising a first telephone line adapted for receiving incoming calls; and a routing system including a processor system coupled to the first telephone line and to the remote telephone stations, the processor system adapted to receive and use information about availability of the remote telephone stations in routing incoming calls. The processor system, upon routing a selected call to a selected one of the remote telephone stations, in the event a confirmation of completion of the call is not made within a pre-programmed time, cancels and reques the routed call. In a preferred embodiment the processor system re-routes the canceled call to the same remote telephone station to which it originally routed the call. Also in preferred embodiments, the processor system, on originally routing the selected call sets a busy semaphore for the call destination, and upon rerouting the selected call in the event the expected confirmation of completion is not received, resets the busy semaphore to free.
In a preferred embodiment of the telephone call routing system of the invention the remote telephone stations are part of a call-in center comprising a computerized telephony switch connected to a plurality of telephones at operator workstations. The telephony switch is adapted to route calls to individual ones of the telephones, and is connected by a telephony line to the initial call processing system. A telephony server is connected to the telephony switch by a first high-speed data link and having a digital communication link to the processor system, and a network is connected to a display terminal proximate each of the plurality of telephones and to the telephony server. The digital communication link to the processor system may operate in TCP/IP protocol. There may also be a customer information database connected to the network wherein the telephony server can match received information with the database, and retrieve information related to the incoming call. Methods for practicing the invention are disclosed as well.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWING
FIG. 1 is a system diagram of a call-routing system in the prior art.
FIG. 2 is a diagram of a call-routing system according to a preferred embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 3 is a diagram of a call and information routing system according to an alternative embodiment of the present invention. 5
FIG. 4 is a timeline diagram showing latency in conventional operations and unique operational decisions according to an embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 5 is a timeline diagram showing further latency in conventional operations and unique operational decisions according to an alternative embodiment of the present invention.
DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED
FIG. 1 is a system diagram of a call-routing system in the prior art comprising two call-in centers 121 and 122. These call-in centers comprise equipment sometimes known in the art as Customer Premises Equipment (CPE). Each of call-in 20 centers 121 and 122 includes a computerized call receiving and switching system (123 for center 121 and 124 for center 122) providing routing to individual telephone stations. There may be many more than two call-in centers in many embodiments, but two centers is considered sufficient to 25 illustrate the art and embodiments of the invention.
Each call-in center 121 and 122 included in this example includes at least two telephone-equipped workstations, which in nearly all instances are computer stations having (not shown in FIG. 1) a computer workstation with a video 30 display which may be connected to other networked server equipment holding the service organization's relevant database. For example, the computer device manufacturer in this example may have a connected database including the names, addresses, and other information relating to custom- 35 ers who have registered their purchases with the company, and also the resource information for operators to access in helping callers with their problems.
Workstations 131 and 132 connect to call center 121 in
FIG. 1, and include telephones 136 and 138, and workstations stations 133 and 134 connect to call center 122, and include telephones 140 and 142. There may similarly be many more than two workstations in each call center, but two will suffice to describe the art and embodiments of the ^ present invention.
In the descriptions and the drawings each telephone connected in a call-in center is a part of a workstation for a trained operator in the examples herein. The trained operators may be considered to each have a unique set of skills, 50 resources and knowledge, such as, but not limited to, language capability, access to technical information, and specific training.
Calls are routed to call-in centers 121 and 122 over conventional telephony lines 105 and 106 respectively from 55 remote origination points (a customer seeking technical aid has placed a call, for example, to an advertised or otherwise provided 1-800 number). Cloud 100 represents the telephone network system, and is referred to herein as a network cloud. This may be, for example purposes, a regional portion go of the world-wide network, or may represent the entire world-wide network of connected telephone equipment. All calls routed to call-in centers 121 and 122 originate somewhere in network cloud 100.
In this example an incoming call to be routed to a call-in 65 center is represented by vector 107 into a Service Control Point (SCP) 101. SCP101 is telephone switching equipment
typically local to the calling party, and is coupled to an adjunct processor 103 which is in turn coupled to a calldistribution processor 104. Call distribution processor 104 has access in this conventional system to call statistics describing call distribution between call-in centers 121 and 122 (typically over a larger number of call-in centers than two), delivered periodically over lines 110 and 111. Lines 110 and 111 represent one-way routing of statistical information and data which in reality is shared with all local systems where and as needed. In this conventional example an intelligent peripheral 102 is also provided to accomplish initial customer contact.
Calls from customers (vector 107) are initially processed with the aid of adjunct processor 103, call distribution processor 104, and intelligent peripheral 102. Statistical call loading data is updated to call distribution processor 104 typically on an average at five to ten minute intervals. As an example of initial processing, a caller may be asked for such as a language preference and for the product and type of information sought. This information is solicited and entered by intelligent peripheral 102. Other sorting is done by adjunct processor 103 based on information provided by distribution processor 104.
After initial processing the incoming call is routed to either call-in center 121 or 122 based upon distribution statistics. Information elicited in initial processing such as language and product category is sent along with the call as DTMF or caller-ID type information. At the call-in center the call is routed to a specific waiting loop based on such information as language and product, and the call then waits until the operator at the particular workstation (131, 132, 133, 134) finishes previous calls and becomes available for the instant call. Here is the source of the enormous irritation and frustration experienced by both calling parties and operators in conventional systems.
It will be apparent to those with skill in the art that SCP 101, adjunct processor 104, distribution processor 104, and intelligent peripheral 102 may be software implementations in computerized equipment, and not necessarily separate hardware entities.
In this example of conventional equipment and processing, little real-time or near real-time variable information is available for call-routing purposes, and some callers may face long delays while others are served relatively quickly. The allocation and management of resources is poor and unbalanced.
FIG. 2 is a diagram of a call-routing system according to a preferred embodiment of the present invention. At the call origination end a statistical processor 208 is added, communicating with distribution processor 104 by link 214. At each of the call-in centers a telephony server (T-S) is connected to the associated switching system. At call-in center 121, T-S 223 is connected by data link 212, and at call-in center 122 T-S 224 is connected by data link 213. T-S 223 is coupled to statistical processor 208 by a TCP/IP link 210 and T-S 224 is coupled to statistical processor 208 by TCP/IP link 211. T-S 223 and T-S 224 are full-service computer servers having code routines for command communication with the connected switching equipment as well as remote statistical processor 208 (and with many other remote statistical processors).
It will be apparent to those with skill in the art that the TCP/IP nature of communication on lines 210 and 211 is a matter of convenience, providing near real-time updating of information. TCP/IP is a collection of data protocols which are not discussed in detail here, as these protocols are in use