Computer telephony integration (CTI)

Upgrade your phone support with CTI.

A complete guide to using CTI

Last updated May 3, 2023

A good computer telephony integration (CTI) solution can mean the difference between seamless, personalized phone service and lurching, awkward, and unproductive conversations. And as an everyday part of your agents’ workflows, CTI software can seriously empower your team.

Given the pivotal role CTI often plays in an organization, it’s imperative to choose the right solution, configure it to your specific needs, and evolve with it.

On this page, you’ll learn everything you need to select a CTI solution that enhances your team’s productivity, makes your end users happy, and gets better over time.

If you’d like to skip to a specific section, click through the table of contents below.

What is CTI?

CTI stands for computer telephony integration, which is a type of technology that’s used to enable computers to work with phones. You may also see CTI referred to as computer-telephone integration.

While calling phones from desktop computers is the primary use of CTI, computer telephony integration includes much more. CTI is really any technology that facilitates interaction between phones and computers. That means that you can use CTI to link all of your business applications—from a CRM to service desk software—to a phone system.

Computer telephony integration examples

There are many examples of CTI, such as:

  • Interactive voice response (IVR): IVR is what you hear when you call a company’s phone number and it asks you to state your reason for calling. The IVR system responds to your voice and routes your call based on what you say.
  • Customer profiles: When a customer calls your company, CTI can match their phone number with an existing contact in your CRM and surface that customer’s information for the agent fielding the call.
  • Automatic call distribution (ACD): An ACD generally works with IVR to route incoming calls based on predefined rules. But ACDs can do much more, including tracking call data, providing automatic call back, enabling multiple call queues, and call center overflow.
  • Common phone controls: With CTI, you can use your computer to do everything you’d do with a phone, such as hanging up and answering, transferring calls, putting calls on hold, and more.
  • Advanced phone controls: Because it combines the power of a computer with a phone, CTI can also enable productivity-enhancing features such as click-to-call, predictive dialing, auto-dialing, phone number verification, and more.

The features of CTI software

Omnichannel support

In the 2022 Zendesk CX Trends Report, just 18 percent of companies said they’re extremely satisfied with the number of channels they’re offering customers. Expanding the number of channels you offer without creating a disjointed service experience, though, is easier said than done.

cti voice channel

CTI software helps facilitate a seamless omnichannel experience by creating connections between your computer’s applications and your business phone system. For instance, by integrating your phone system with a CRM through CTI, your agents can control their calls on the same screen they can look up your customers’ information.

PCI compliance

For service departments, Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance, which includes standards related to data security, is not optional. To maintain PCI compliance, CTI software should come standard with real-time text transcription and recording redaction. These useful features ensure that your customers’ payment and personal information aren’t retained in call recordings and transcriptions.

Intelligent call routing

Most CTI software can completely replace your business phone system. So any CTI software worth buying must have basic, and ideally advanced, call routing functionality. At the very least, you can expect CTI software to route calls using an extension number system.

But more advanced CTI solutions will provide advanced options for routing calls using predefined criteria and/or interactive voice response (IVR). Predefined criteria can include customer data that the system leverages to route calls to the right agent, department, or call queue without input from the customer.

Reporting and analytics

For customer service to flourish, company leaders must actively engage in reviewing, sharing, and acting on service data. Yet in our 2022 CX Trends Report, only 20 percent reported that they viewed service metrics daily and 40 percent said they view data once a month or less. Fortunately, CTI software can track important metrics like call volume, call length, average resolution time, and more. This makes it far easier to compile easy-to-digest reports that company leaders will read and act on.

Incoming and outgoing calls

Not all CTI systems support incoming and outgoing calls but they must support at least one or the other. Typically, outgoing call capabilities are used for things like cold sales calls, market research outreach, fundraising, updating contact lists, notifying customers, or following up on previous sales calls. Inbound call capabilities are more common for customer service teams who are fielding calls from existing customers.

Advanced calling capabilities

The magic of CTI is the fact that it combines the processing power of a computer with a telephone. This means that CTI enables advancing calling capabilities like click-to-dial and power dialing. Click-to-dial, as the name suggests, enables you to dial phone numbers with nothing more than the click of your mouse. Power dialers take productivity to the next level by automatically dialing the next contact number on your agent’s list once their current call has ended.

Power dialers also automatically dial the next number when the previous number doesn’t pick up or is busy. As you might expect, these features are far more useful in outbound or hybrid call centers and not as relevant for a purely inbound contact center.

Integrated customer data

According to our CX Trends Report, 71% of customers say they expect a company to share information so they don’t have to repeat themselves. And another 68% say they expect all experiences to be personalized. But without tight integration between your business’s applications and phone systems, it’s difficult to meet these customer expectations because customer data is siloed.

Computer telephony integration solves this problem by integrating your phone system with your other business tools. With these two sets of tools integrated, your agents can easily access customer data. As a result, without leaving their calling software, agents can look up customers’ purchase history, previous communications, and more, and use it to provide more personalized, efficient service. Perhaps best of all, customers won’t have to repeat themselves because all the information they’ve provided is at your agents’ fingertips.

The benefits of CTI integration

Customers still love voice

As a service channel, messaging has been growing fast. But most customers still love voice, which is why it’s a core feature of the Zendesk Suite. And fortunately for businesses, while voice has been around for a long time, CTI software has helped expand its capabilities. The advanced CCaaS (Contact Center as a Service) features mentioned above require an integrated CTI integration. Not to mention, CTI solutions enable your agents to get the best of solutions like Zendesk Suite while using third party tools to customize and extend the agent and customer experience.

More productive, less burnt-out agents

Service agents have a hard, often thankless, yet vitally important job. They deal with often-angry customers and are usually the primary representative of the company to the customer. This requires plenty of mental energy, yet just 15 percent of agents are extremely satisfied with their workloads, according to our study. On top of that, fewer than 30 percent of agents report feeling “empowered to do their jobs well.”

While some of the burnout comes down to a lack of staffing, a lot of it comes from a lack of the proper tools to do the job. CTI integration provides a vital tool for service agents. It can automate mundane, burn-out-inducing tasks and deflect many tickets that don’t require a live agent. In effect, well-implemented CTI integrations reduce your agents’ workloads, which is key to managing agent burnout without breaking the bank on staffing costs.

Self-service options meet customers 24/7

Most customers want service fast, and on their own terms. Our latest report found that 76% of customers say they expect to “Engage with someone immediately when contacting a company.” Another 70% say they expect a company to have “A self-service portal or content available to them.” CTI integration provides both. By automating call distribution, CTI software makes it possible for customers to get in contact with someone much faster than they otherwise would using a traditional business phone system.

And because IVR menus can provide frequently requested information, answer FAQs, and/or direct callers to self-service content, CTI software provides the kind of self-service that customers now expect.

Improve cross-functional collaboration

As mentioned earlier, CTI software helps bring data from business applications into your calling software. This makes it much easier for agents to see and use customer data to provide an incredible customer experience. But there’s another benefit of bringing data from business applications into your calling software: improved collaboration. With business and customer data easily accessible in your software, agents can collaborate based on shared knowledge. This makes it much easier for agents to hand off customers to each other, escalate tickets, and more.

Considering just 29 percent of agents say they are very effective at collaborating with other departments, better cross-functional collaboration is a game-changer for service teams.

How to choose a CTI solution

CTI solutions have lots of features, integrations—Zendesk’s Apps Marketplace has over 75 CTI integration that slot in seamlessly with Zendesk’s support solution. The process of choosing one solution that’s right for your team can feel overwhelming, but Zendesk simplifies it by offering numerous choices from many industry-leading, easy-to-use integrations.

But if you decide not to go with a Zendesk partner, ask yourself these three questions to help narrow down your choice:

Does the CTI solution have the calling features I need?

For inbound call centers, certain features, like advanced calling capabilities, aren’t important. Similarly, for outbound call centers, features like IVR won’t get used. So when you go about choosing your CTI solution, you want to make sure it has the features you need and not the ones you don’t.

Excess features can overly complicate the software and make it needlessly expensive. Keep an eye out for key features like advanced call routing, real-time transcription, AI-driven IVR (with voice recognition), and workforce management.

Can your team try the software for themselves?

Using a free trial is a great way to reduce the risk and unknowns associated with your purchase. If you can get a prospective CTI solution for agents and managers to try, you can uncover issues before you commit. And even if you don’t choose the software you’re trialing, the trial period will help give you and your team a better idea of what you should be looking for.

Does the solution fit within your tech stack, now and in the future?

It’s tempting to jump at the first CTI solution that solves your most immediate problems. But software choices are most effective when you make them within the context of the bigger picture. Before you commit to a solution, find out how well it integrates with your existing tech stack.

Ideally, the solution you choose will have native integrations with your tools but if not, an API can provide a path for integration. If you go with Zendesk, you can use CTI specific APIs from Zendesk (Talk Partner Edition).

Finally, consider what your tech stack might look like in the future as your company grows. Ideally, you want CTI software that’s flexible enough to grow with your needs.

Frequently asked questions

How does CTI work?

Computer telephony integration works by enabling all of your communication technologies to work together. With CTI, you can control your phone systems using your computer and integrate data from your computer with your phone system. This enables you to, for instance, configure the phone system to route calls based on customer information.

Who uses CTI?

In the not-too-distant past, only call center agents at dedicated contact centers used CTI. And while these agents are still heavy users of CTI, the software has become more accessible and popular for all kinds of business customers. IT and customer service teams in particular have become prominent users of CTI.

Is CTI an API?

API, or application programming interfaces, are used to build CTI systems. So no, a CTI is not an API. But, APIs are very important to a CTI—just like you need plumbing to build a house, you need APIs to build a CTI system.

Try computer telephony integration for free

Zendesk customer service software integrates with many telephony business applications, allowing companies to take their phone support into the digital age. Call forwarding, metrics analysis, advanced caller ID, and many, many other advantages are only ever a click away. And with Zendesk, all customer interactions and data are stored in a single location, meaning call center agents always have the context they need to provide great support.

We have more to say about this.