CMS Overview

Created by: Administrator, Last modification: 25 Sep 2009 (18:10 BST)


The customer management system has been developed over a number of years using a modular approach, so that it can be tailored and extended as required. The basic operation starts with the dispensing of tickets as callers arrive, and these tickets are then used to monitor progress of callers through the duration of their visit to the office. However in the current versions of the system the initial ticket printer can be omitted if required. Historic information is maintained, but the extent of this depends on manor in which secondary information is added. At it's simplest level, the volume of caller numbers is monitored for the duration of the system operation. The system is also capable of adding a range of information to be recorded with each ticket. The main system provides for a database of caller identification, and by the use of NI or HBIS identification, caller names can be quickly added to a ticket. Once this facility is being utilised, all prior visits for each caller can be located and extracted. This database also allows appointments to be arranged and managed for forthcoming visits.

Ticket Dispenser

The system is designed to handle a number of options for the dispensing of tickets. In it's simples format, a single list of numbers is dispensed from a single button Ticket Printer, with a limit of a four digit number. This can be enhanced by providing multiple buttons, and maintained in separated lists. These are identified by the use of a single letter, replacing the first digit of the number. The original use of this facility was to provide a second queue for appointments, so that they can be called at the due time without affecting the queue for random callers. This has been expanded to allow several departments each to maintain their own list of callers while using the same system. For situations where an office has two entrances, a pair of ticket printers can be driven, either providing identical operation, or as an alternative, each printer can add tickets to its own queue, for offices where two caller areas are maintained via the one back office support. This can be used for offices where, for example, Benefit Agency and Job Center 'co-habitat' but maintain their own caller entrances. An alternative to the simple printer is the use of a touch screen terminal with it's own thermal printer. This allows for multiple queues to be used, and also callers arriving for appointments can identify themselves. In simple systems, the average waiting time is displayed on the system, this is not practical in multiple queue arrangements, when an indication of the number of people waiting is given instead. This display can be tailored for the particular requirements of the office setup. Facilities can be provided on the ticket printers to read smart card ID cards, but the development of this was stopped with the closure of the project to issue those cards to all benefit claimants.

Initial Call

Once callers have taken a ticket, the next step is to call them to a serving location. This is managed via a number of facilities. The main facility is via an Automated Announcement, which will call a ticket number to an identified location. The identified counter or room will be flagged by a flashing LED Display with the ticket number, and in larger offices this can be assisted by additional LED displays which have arrow displays to direct callers to the correct area of an office. In addition to the announcements, monitors can be provided which carry information displays, and provide a visual call of the ticket number to compliment it. For more complex setups, and to complement the simple waiting time display on the ticket printer, an additional customer side monitor can be used to provide further waiting information, so that callers can decide if they want to wait, or it would be better if they called back later in the day.

Ticketless Operation

While the most accurate results are provided by having ticket printers monitoring the initial arrival at an office, it has become common to drop the caller side ticket printer and not to issue tickets unless the caller needs to be referred to another department. In this situation, the initial reception counters create a new enquiry record, but do not print any tickets at that time. If the enquiry needs to be referred, the system will use a counter side printer to produce a ticket with the callers ticket number. The systems call forward facilities are then only required for later recall of a client. One benefit of only issuing tickets to callers who have been identified is that future calls can be made using a text to speech system in place of the simple number call. The quality of the announcements created using a real voice engine is almost human, but a more economic option gives a slightly more computerised sound. Since these voice packages are improving all the time, this may well be a practical option.

Counter Terminals

Two types of counter terminals can be supported, in addition to a virtual terminal which can run on an existing counter personal computer terminal. For situations where a counter PC is not available, either a simple numeric keypad allowing call or refer, or a full alphanumeric LCD terminal allowing full information management can be provided. These terminals do not provide the full facilities of the PC web interface, but allow simple call and refer for interview locations where a PC is not practical. The counter terminal provides a means of calling a ticket number from any of the waiting queues, updating the information contained, and then either referring the ticket back to a queue, or clearing the ticket from the system if the visit is complete. The system provides a simple log on facility using a staff ID number, and all subsequent actions on that terminal will be logged to the particular member of staff. To further assist information gathering, the system provides for a team identifier that allows groups of staff to be identified, and their information grouped together on reports. It would be anticipated that this log on process will be integrated with your own office network login, but the system can provide a full security system if required. Once a ticket is called, the user will be presented with information on how long the caller has been waiting, and any previously logged information. When a ticket does not have any caller information attached to it, then the system allow a number of ways in which exiting caller information can be linked to the ticket. The use of an NI or HBIS (or similar reference) number will call up a set of caller details and allow the counter staff to use the information found, or else flag that number as being a problem if the caller does not match the details accessed. Pre-arranged appointments already have the necessary caller information linked, and all that is required is to select the appointment, which both removes it from the appointment list, and transfers the appropriate details to the selected ticket. For an identified caller some details can be updated from the terminal, and additional reason codes can be added to allow monitoring of the volume and time spent on each category of enquiry. This information can then be used to provide statistics for the current day, or longer term analysis.

Staff Side Information

In addition to monitors displaying information in the caller areas, additional channels of information can be provide staff side giving a simple waiting time display, or a more complete list of callers in a queue. This can be configured to provide queue information for each of the areas adjoining a particular monitor. The modular nature of the system allows any number of display channels to be managed, but four or eight channels are the normal options. In addition to stand alone display hardware, the system provides the same information via a web server which can be accessed via any standard web browser. A custom browser facility is provided to monitor trigger events, such as appointment referral, or queue warnings. This is required to allow pages which are not currently being displayed to be output on staff computers directly as a background function. These displays are triggered automatically when an appointment is identified for that particular member of staff, or the number of people waiting on a queue changes or reaches a trigger time. Through this 'instant messaging', staff can be notified without the need to contact them by phone, which may not be practical if they are already on the phone dealing with another enquiry. In the manual office environment, someone has to keep calling a phone number until an answer is received, while the automated system allows each member of staff to have their own personal queue of enquiries.

System Configuration

The basic system allows for up to 32 terminals to be managed on a single system, but the modular nature of the system allows multiples of this to be added of required for a much larger installation. In addition, the normal installation is configured for up to 10 managed queues. How these queues are used depends on how the ticket dispenser is configured. On a single initial queue system, all tickets are initially allocated to the initial queue, while for a multiple button ( or two independent ) printers, tickets are initially added to one of the main queues up to the number of buttons implemented. The normal method of operation is to call the next ticket from a queue, handle the enquiry, and then 'zap' the ticket with a clearance code if required. Tickets which are flagged with a 'No Show' clearance code are normally ignored by the statistics packages, allowing rogue tickets to be removed, and other clearance codes can be ignored if required. In addition to the clearance code, any number of 26 reason codes can also be flagged against the ticket, this corresponds an alphabetic list of reasons that can be edited by the supervisor. Where an enquiry can not be cleared, the ticket can be referred back to a queue either for another department to tackle handling the remaining problems or for the caller to complete a form. There are no limits to the number of referrals that can be added to a ticket, and the times are logged for each call and refer. All of this information can be exported for analysis by external software, however a complete set of reports are provided by the system.

Supervisor Terminal

The system requires a work station for each office which is used to handle the office displays, LED's, terminals and announcements for that office. This machine provides a a real time display of the current office status. Two levels of events are provided for each of the waiting and serving times. When a warning time or count is reached, figures on that queue are flagged green, while at the alarm setting, the figures go red, and an audio alarm is triggered. Both the average and maximum waiting time for each of the queues are displayed, along with the number of people waiting. It is this information that is repeated on additional staff displays if required, or can be accessed via the local web server. The current state of each room (terminal) on the system can be monitored, and an integral panic alarm system is included to flag problem locations. The supervisor position is warned of the problem, the associated LED flashes 9999, and the caller side audio warning sounds to alert any caller side security staff. Serving times can also be colour coded in the same way as waiting times, so that users who are taking a long time to deal with a particular caller can be flagged to the supervisor.

Back office enquiries

Back office staff can access the current system information via the web server. A messaging system is provided so that a member of staff can be alerted when a pre-booked appointment arrives, or a caller is referred to a particular queue for back office assistance. Staff members can be assigned to teams, and these teams are used to identify a particular queue related to that team (or department). While back office staff can not call tickets relating to callers to the office, that requires moving to a counter or interview position, they can add other enquiry records such as telephone and email. These are handled in the same way as caller enquiries, and allow staff access to the callers historic records and provides for adding notes or booking appointments for further action.

Off-line Management

All information is stored in a multi user relational database. This allows many users to access their own view of the information contained without affecting other users. The firebird database engine used is license free, so the number of users does not have any arbitrary limit and can be expanded as required. An off-line package allows managers to review the information contained and access details on a particular caller, or member of staff. In previous versions of the system, only abstract ticket numbers were recorded. The removal of that restriction on data logging has allowed the expansion of the facilities available, and now allows managers to deal with complaints by directly referring to the callers details. In addition, statistical reports can be generated for any time period, and accessed from anywhere on the computer network. Amongst the reports generated are a simple summary report, a full printout of all ticket information of a particular day, a detailed printout of a particular ticket number and reports on staff performance, and room utilisation. The format of these reports can be adjusted within the limits of the recorded information. Times are recorded in minutes and rounded to that in calculating averages. The performance figures are calculated at 15 minute intervals, and graphs are generated on that baseline. In addition, the percentage seen figures are calculated using the same warning and alarm bands set for the system management, and so only three bands can be generated. Seen in under 10 mins, 10 to 20 mins, and over 20 mins for example.

Appointments Management

In addition to managing historical information, the off-line package allows the creation of future appointments, and the production of pre-formatted letters for sending to the appointee. This facility provides for the production of a list of appointments at the start of the day. These appointment entries can then be accessed from the user terminals so as to remove the need to enter caller information for these callers. The appointment details will also identify the staff member to be notified, and a reason code covering the appointment. This information can be used by the counter staff, or additionally by a security officer, using one of the small alphanumeric LCD terminals. Provision can be made for the use of a smart card to identify regular callers, and this card can be issued as part of the appointment notification process. Alternatively the touch screen ticket printer can be used by a caller to flag that they have arrived, using the appointment time and other flags to prevent showing a list of client names.

Facilities Management

An aspect of the system is the creation of a facility management, or room booking layer to the appointment system. In offices where a large number of pre-arranged appointments are made, the number of such appointments that can be handled may be limited by the number of interview rooms available. These limitations can be flagged as part of the booking process, or actual room and staff booking can be carried out providing a planner to show both available rooms and staff members. Currently the availability of staff members is this carried out manually but can be linked to the staff side diary system if that is being implemented in the office. The booking system will identify time slots that are available, and blank times where a staff member is already booked or a room is in use.

Central Facilities

The system can handle a number of offices in parallel and works from a single web and database server so that information is shared between all offices. As a backup, the office work stations are normally configured as duplicates of the main server so that if a machine fails the system can be reconfigured until the problem can be repaired. As the web and database software are on open licenses, we can configure your server machines to provide these functions if you require, or we can provide a pre-configured machine to add to your own server network. In addition to providing local network services, the current expansion plans for the system allow for internet access as well. This would provide for staff making home visits to access and update the system and log their out of office activity, providing supervisors with warnings when a staff member is longer then expected at a call. The system also provides for full security on information access, so there is the opportunity in future to provide client access via the internet so they can book their own appointment, and check the status of any actions that are outstanding.

Expansion Paths

The system is designed to provide a flexible base on which to develop and expand. Full integration into the rest of an office network allows a number of additional facilities to be provided, or more streamlined work practices to be implemented. Links to the existing back office systems would replace some of the facilities provided, or simply complement them by automatically completing information as part of the total package of IT provision. All facilities are implemented using standard TCP/IP network protocols, and the local ticket database can be accessed by third party systems if required to complete integration, subject to the normal security interlocks as required. Reconfiguration of the system can easily be accomplished either by simple changes that the supervisors can implement, or with the help of a support engineer depending on the level of changes required. Changes to staff utilisation often results in the reallocation of staff side monitors to different queues, or the redefinition of queue titles. In addition, changes to the way the system is used can be catered for as office practices evolve, and additional equipment or facilities can be added as required, in most cases without any changes to the existing hardware system.