Trevor Davis explains the benefits of implementing a call accounting or call logging solution
A call accounting (or call logging) system is a hardware or software application that captures, records and prices telephone usage. Frequently implemented as a cost optimisation application, call accounting has multiple benefits for organisations of all sizes. These include:
The insight it gives into telephone usage and expenditure can help define and drive a new business strategy. For example, call accounting is frequently used to cost-justify migration from TDM to voice over IP (VoIP).
If a business is operating a unified communications platform, like Skype for Business, call accounting can help it keep tabs on communications in their entirety, measuring everything from audio and video conferencing to instant messaging, file transfers and peer-to-peer calls. This is a great way to identify trends that may have a significant cost impact on the business and require contingency plans to be drawn up.
The best call accounting systems enable specific functionality to be developed to optimise reporting for a particular type of environment, whether that be traditional audio or PSTN data, Skype for Business solutions or more general unified communications technology. Alternatively, a business might want to look more closely at the network, focusing on areas like quality of service, packet loss, latency jitter and overall network performance to ensure optimal efficiency for voice.
Call accounting delivers benefits to all parts of the organisation, from the contact centre and customer-facing business units to back office administrators. That said, there are clearly functional areas of any business to which call accounting software is especially relevant.
The primary benefit of call accounting, and the area where businesses typically see the fastest return on investment, is the ability to optimise costs, starting with an analysis of call costs across the organisation. The most functionally rich systems support multiple carrier tariff rates within the application. For example, our call accounting system, Proteus, allows businesses with multiple service providers to load up rate plans for each one and run cost comparisons to ensure they are on the right plan for their type of usage.
Also important for the purposes of cost management is the ability to identify assets that are being under-utilised (or not being used at all), which could be shared across different areas of the business.
A third key aspect of cost optimisation is the way costs are applied within a business, specifically the ability to break a bill down by department or even by employee. Cost reporting within a call accounting application can allocate costs across departments, cost centres, account codes etc., enabling an organisation to allocate costs and account for them appropriately. This is generally done on a scheduled basis.
The final cost area that call accounting systems assist with is service billing and the ability to produce monthly billing reports for individual clients. A legal firm that charges clients for time and materials used would typically assign an individual account code to every client. This would be used to collate all calls relating to that client, and associated costs (including mark-ups).
The role that call accounting systems can play in optimising the network is perhaps most relevant to medium and large enterprises with sophisticated telephony infrastructures incorporating multiple sites, multiple PBXs and large volumes of SIP or ISDN trunks that terminate in different buildings.
Leading edge call accounting systems can help organisations with network optimisation by enabling them to assess average peak utilisation across the network and to ensure that least cost routing is used to route calls across the internal network before breaking out onto the PSTN network.
Call accounting can also help with capacity planning. The best systems can see how capacity is trending on the network and are very good at predicting when a business is likely to reach capacity, managing growth accordingly. Alternatively, they can project a likely decline over time, which might help the business identify where it can reduce the number of assets and achieve cost savings as a result.
Security and Compliance
A call accounting system can monitor telephone interactions for unexpected activity, such as out-of-hours breakout calls, which could indicate some sort of toll fraud (a method of obtaining unlawful access to business phone systems to make money). Toll fraud is rife in the UK, yet is something most businesses don’t truly understand or defend against.
If something unusual happens a business would need to be notified immediately. Our Proteus call accounting system has a real time monitor, which can be configured for when the office is closed down – over the Christmas holidays, for example, which ensures that if there are any out of hours outbound calls over a certain amount, the management team is notified by email or SNMP.
Call accounting systems can also be used to detect internal fraud, including unnecessary use of long distance or toll-based services by someone inside the organisation, such as an employee or contractor (premium rate number companies have been known to pay cleaners to dial a number, leave it off the hook and only hang up when they leave the building).
Compliance might also mean using the software to manage business and personal calls more effectively. This could involve something as simple as building a set of business numbers in order to differentiate between business and personal usage and so discourage employees from making personal calls. If added inducement is needed, the system could charge employees for personal calls.
Applications of this sort are particularly useful in vertical markets subject to tight regulation, such as finance and banking. Proteus can be used to verify trader activity and pinpoint who a trader is calling, how frequently, for how long and for how much.
Staff Activity Monitoring
Most modern call accounting applications have the ability to monitor metrics like inbound call times or call wait times and display activity on a wallboard or dashboard. Users can set thresholds, e.g. a maximum 20-second wait time for customers. If these are exceeded, the wallboard can change colour, from green to amber to red.
In contact centres, call accounting systems can be used to monitor staff productivity, helping drive SLAs and meet key performance indicators (KPIs). They can show a huge range of statistics including which agents make the most calls a day or are on the phone for longest; who regularly exceeds call times; who makes the most expensive calls etc..
Ultimately, the best call accounting systems give businesses control over their telephony infrastructure, helping them with capacity planning, cost-cutting, staff productivity and fraud prevention, and ensuring a rapid return on investment in new solutions.
Trevor Davis is head of product management and call accounting at Enghouse Interactive, a provider of customer interaction management solutions. Core technologies include contact center, attendant console, predictive outbound dialler, knowledge management, IVR and call recording. Enghouse Interactive has thousands of customers worldwide.