Voice-Messaging System Facilitates Communications on Arizona Campus

Once a little-used business solution, voice messaging is now considered an indispensable communications tool. That's clearly been the experience of Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, Ariz. With a student population of 19,000, the public university relies on an Octel voice-messaging system to automate everything from answering telephones and taking messages to dispensing vital information to students, faculty and administrators campus-wide. NAU began looking at voice messaging systems in early 1992 as an economical and efficient way to deal with rising demand for services. One of the most blatant hot spots at the university was the Financial Aid Department. During the pre-semester crunch, callers often were placed on hold for 15 to 30 minutes only to learn from a staff member that personal financial information couldn't be provided over the phone. Ending the Frustration As call volume escalated, so did caller dissatisfaction and employee frustration. To eliminate such scenarios, NAU began looking for a powerful hardware and software platform able to grow with their needs. Also key was finding a partner to not only get the system up and running, but to help influence university culture so that voice messaging would be widely accepted and used. NAU narrowed the field to four finalists and, late in 1992, chose Octel Communications, of Milpitas, Calif., and its value-added reseller (VAR) partner, Call Dynamics, of Ph'enix, Ariz. NAU installed a 64-port Octel Overture 300 message server that integrated with an Intecom IBX switch. In the four years since its installation, the system has grown from supporting 1,500 faculty mailboxes to more than 2,500 and from three applications to more than 230. Matt McGlamery, NAU's Manager of Network and Telecommunications Services, attributes much of this success to the university's commitment to educate users. User Training Was Key "We wholeheartedly believed that the only way this new technology would be fully leveraged was if our users understood how our voice-messaging system could simplify tasks, increase effectiveness and enhance communications," McGlamery says. Toward that end, the university worked with Call Dynamics to develop a two-hour training course, attended by every new voice mailbox recipient. The course was videotaped, so now a series of videos is used to train new users, who also rely on their more experienced peers to learn about the system. According to McGlamery, NAU's voice-messaging system is now such a fundamental part of the university culture that one of the most common complaints is about the lack of voice mail when someone isn't equipped. "People simply don't want to have a message written out by an assistant," he says. "It takes more time and is less reliable." Diverse Array of Applications But voice mailboxes for faculty and administrators is not the whole story. To address the backlog at the Financial Aid Department, NAU developed a mailbox application that provides callers with basic information on the financial aid process. This not only eliminated the 30-minute hold times, but a great deal of staff stress as well. Other applications include a Job Hotline that helps match students from the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management with employers who have openings for new graduates. Plus, PS Link -- for Professor/ Student Link -- provides a simple way for students to communicate with their professors via voice messaging. This "virtual mailbox" application not only enables students to leave messages in their professors' mailboxes, but also to call a special number for a response to their message. Another innovative application lets campus police quickly communicate urgent information to university administrators. Campus police staff leave a single message that is automatically forwarded to mailboxes via a distribution list. An outcalling feature pages each recipient, notifying them of the urgent message in their mailbox. "Campus police previously had to track down key administrators one-by-one when there was an incident. The new application is both more reliable and effective," McGlamery says, adding that "it showcases the wide range of benefits we've realized with Octel's voice messaging technology."

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.