UW Information Technology

May 19, 2020

Help a phone call away

Young woman in a home office sits at a desk, looks at a laptop and speaks while smiling on the phone.
As support calls spiked, the UW’s investment in modern infrastructure meant UW call centers were ready to respond.

By Gretchen Konrady

When ten customer service call centers across the UW needed to convert to home-based operations in response to the pandemic, they were able to move quickly, thanks to the University’s investment in a modern telecommunications infrastructure and support from UW Information Technology.

Countless numbers of call center staff were able to transition their work phone lines to their computer or their personal phone. This is because UW-IT had already transitioned more than 30,000 customers across three campuses and multiple off-campus locations to Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) phones. The work was part of a multi-year effort to upgrade and integrate voice communications with voicemail and email communications.

And UW-IT staff could respond to customers remotely, because they had already set up protocols and practices to manage customer service when past incidents had made getting to campus difficult.

“If this situation had happened two years ago — before the viaduct came down and then ‘Snowmageddon,’ we wouldn’t have been as prepared,” said Matt Cruz, a communications services technology manager in UW-IT.

The right people at the right time were key to the successful transition, he explained.

Home-based call centers

The call centers leveraged a solution that UW-IT already had in their back pocket, and that’s why staff were able to roll it out so quickly for other units.

“We had had some interest from UW departments wanting their agents to be able to take calls at home at times,” said Sam Osheroff, a unified communications engineer in UW-IT.  ”In February, our vendor, Avaya, offered us some free licensing for their Avaya Agent for Desktop software so we could sort of ‘kick the tires.’”

Installed on home or UW-owned PCs or Macs and used with headsets, the software provides call center agent functionality for department use.

“We had just enough time to do our testing and documentation and button it up in a few days, right before the stay-at-home mandate,” he said.

Getting UW phone lines set up for home use

Felicia Watson, director of Communications Solutions and Relationship Management in UW-IT, said her team not only handled requests to set up these remote call centers, but they also responded to hundreds of other UW customer requests and improved the available customer-facing documentation on IT Connect to support phone connections for remote work.

“People were forced into this new world, and the support tickets really spiked,” she said.

“My team would resolve 50 tickets a day typically,” Cruz said, “Then it was around 250 a day during the pandemic, starting in early March.”

They answered help requests from people wanting to forward their calls to another number or have their phones forwarded through Extension Connect. They helped with other phone services, such as helping people set up the standard softphone software, Avaya IX Workplace, which they could use on their computer to call, answer the phone and listen to voicemails.

“Our staff are well-skilled and seasoned professionals when it comes to helping customers through difficult experiences and helping them learn new technology,” Watson said. “We’ve heard from our customers that our help eased their fears about working remotely.”