Handling the phones for DirecTV used to be a juggling act. Sales agents had to use as many as 13 systems -- toggling between applications, scribbling notes, checking cue cards, punching numbers into handheld calculators -- all while trying please a potential customer.\n\n\nKeeping those balls in the air affected productivity for a group responsible for half of the $30 billion company's revenue. Working with three outsourced call centers without a consolidated customer record didn't help either.\n\n\n"If you started the sales process and then hung up to check with your wife, the next time you called in, you'd be routed to a different call center and a different agent and none of that original information would have been captured," says DirecTV CIO Mike Benson.\n\n\nIn 2009, DirecTV decided to consolidate the disparate tools and processes into a single enterprise system to guide agents from lead tracking to closing the sale. They'd tried that a year earlier, but failed when agents rejected the tool. And Benson knew why.\n\n\n"We had no understanding of the actual processes being used in those call centers," Benson says. "We built capabilities on wrong assumptions." IT relied on the business operations group that managed call centers to provide requirements, but they were too far removed.\n\n\nThis time, Benson sent his staff, including business analysts and programmers, to observe call centers in California, West Virginia and Florida for two months. They then collaborated with business operations to develop the right workflows.\n\n\nUsing Salesforce.com for lead tracking, Jacada for workflow management and Informatica for data synchronization, the IT group developed Sales CRM. The system guides agents through the call flow, incorporating scripts, latest offers, local channel availability and legal disclosures.\n\n\nEnterprise systems that offer real-time guidance are gaining popularity in call centers as companies look to end-to-end CRM tools to improve productivity and cut operating costs, says Phil Fersht, CEO of IT and business services analyst firm HfS Research.\n\n\nSales CRM integrates with DirecTV's work-order management and scheduling systems, so installation appointments are made when a sale is. If, say, the scheduling system is down for maintenance, the software automatically routes new sales back to an agent when the scheduling system is back up to make the installation appointments.\n\n\nIn a function where every second costs, Sales CRM has reduced call-handle time by two-and-a-half minutes. It has also increased the percentage of calls that result in sales. (Benson will not say exactly how much close rates have increased.) Agent training time has been reduced, which is important since the monthly call-center employee churn rate is 5 to 10 percent, he says. New hires can hit performance targets within a week.\n\n\nNow DirecTV is evaluating real-time call center analytics. If certain agents close more sales, for example, the system might automatically route more calls to them. That will involve working closely with the individuals who today manage the call-routing process.\n\n\n"The biggest challenge will be working with them to build a solution," says Benson. "There will be a lot of unknowns for them and worry about how their jobs will change. How we manage that will be critical."\n\n\nStephanie Overby is regular contributor to CIO.com's IT Outsourcing section. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.