VoIP: Part III - Web -Enabled Call Centers, The Killer
BY LIOR HARAMATY
Recently in this column, I discussed equipment requirements and business applications
for basic IP telephony such as phone-to-phone and PC-to-phone services. Lets assume
that at this point we have the equipment, minutes are moving, and money is being made. So,
how can even more money be made? What other services can be sold using the same equipment?
One solution is Web-enabled call centers services that enable carriers to target
the corporate call center market using the same network infrastructure that supports other
IP telephony services.
WEB-ENABLED CALL CENTERS
Companies today experience a disconnect between their toll-free call centers and
their corporate Web sites. On the one hand, toll-free corporate call centers allow
companies to reduce physical store or office costs by enabling customers to call company
representatives to receive information and/or complete transactions. Unfortunately, these
services are generally only available in a geographically limited area (for example within
a country) and the customer/representative exchange is limited to voice only due to the
limitations of the traditional black phone.
On the other hand, corporate Web sites provide customers all over the world with a rich
and convenient environment to quickly access company collateral information.
Unfortunately, Web sites do not provide customers immediate voice access to agents who can
field questions and establish a personal relationship with customers. Customers can surf
to a corporate Web site, gather information, and start filling their virtual shopping
carts. However, if they have questions that are not answered by the Web site, or if they
run into trouble navigating the site or completing the transaction process, they have to
disconnect from the Internet and make a potentially expensive call to speak to a company
representative. This solution interrupts the sales cycle, increasing the likelihood that
the customer will abandon the shopping cart and surf on to a competitors site.
The solution? Web-enabled call centers.
Web-enabled call centers allow carriers to expand the array of services supported by
their IP telephony networks. Using the same IP telephony equipment that supports
phone-to-phone and PC-to-phone services, carriers can integrate the advantages of a
companys corporate call center and Web site by linking calls originating on the Web
to corporate call centers. By combining the human touch of corporate call centers with the
interactive environment of the Internet, online customers can receive personalized
attention without having to disconnect. Customers can surf a corporate Web site, gather
information at their leisure and, when they have a question requiring a human response,
they can simply click on a Web-enabled button to connect to an agent. Not only can call
center agents talk to customers, they can also jointly surf to different Web pages and
fill out online forms.
WEB CALLING IN ACTION
Lets look at a scenario that demonstrates how Web-enabled call centers can
improve customer relations and expedite the sales cycle. Due to the high degree of
customer interaction necessary, a full-service bank that maintains a call center is an
excellent potential user of an IP call center. In the past, a customer interested in a
mortgage would call an 800 number for information. The customer would then receive product
information in a few days, and soon after, a follow-up call from a sales agent. The
consumer then would make an appointment to visit a branch and have an interview with the
mortgage agent in order to fill out an application form for credit approval.
Now, look at the bank with a multimedia call center. A consumer reads online collateral
about a banks mortgage services. While some consumers will be able to cull all the
information needed from the Web site and complete the online forms on their own, a number
of customers will require assistance given the complexity and magnitude of the
transaction. These consumers can click on a Web-enabled icon to talk to an agent via IP
telephony, without disconnecting from the Internet. Agents can quickly set up a data
collaboration session and surf with consumers to charts that for example compare 15-year
versus 30-year interest rates. Both parties then proceed to an online application form
where the agent is able to help the consumer complete and submit forms electronically.
Carriers, such as Deutsche Telekom ( a VocalTec
shareholder), have already launched Web-enabled call center services. Using Web-enabled
call center solutions, Deutsche Telekom launched freecall Online to extend the
carriers existing toll-free 800 services. freecall Online enables companies to
receive 800 calls originating from both traditional telephones and the Web. It provides an
important business service by allowing companies to immediately address the needs of the
increasingly important and growing online customer base. Deutsche Telekoms service
has already attracted customers such as ProSieben Club & Shop GmbH, a subsidiary of a popular internationally broadcast German TV
CORPORATE CALL CENTERS
There are a few ways to implement Web-to-corporate call center network
configurations. Both levels of service can be supplied by a service provider where the IP
telephony equipment is located at the service providers site, and where the call
center itself is at the customers site.
The first and simplest method for gaining this capability is to have a hot link
on a site that appears on every page, similar to Checkout or Order
icons. This Call hot link enables the user to talk to a company representative
immediately from their PC over the Internet, without having to call over a regular phone.
In this scenario, the first time a customer clicks on the Web-enabled button, a small
client file is downloaded to connect the callers multimedia PC to the carriers
IP telephony infrastructure. Based on billing, least cost routing, and
authorization/authentication instructions from an IP telephony gatekeeper, also known as
the brains of an IP telephony network, the IP telephony gateway routes the
call over the Internet to an existing call center. Calls are answered by representatives
the same way regular phone calls are answered. Diagram A shows the network
configuration for a voice-only, Web-to-corporate call center solution.
Voice And Data Collaboration
A more advanced service is the ability for representatives to take advantage of
the Internets interactive capacity by enabling representatives to assist customers
not only with audio, but also visually. For that, an additional multipoint data
collaboration server should be installed and representatives should be equipped with PCs
connected to the network. The server provides an important security function by mediating
all data collaborative exchanges, thereby preventing either party from having direct
access to the others PC. This solution enables representatives to jointly surf to
other Web pages and fill out forms with online customers. The call center server ensures
that the representative receiving the call is connected to the right user and enables the
two to share information. Diagram B shows the network configuration for a voice and data
collaboration Web-to-corporate call center solution.
Web-enabled call centers allow carriers to introduce customer care into the world of
e-commerce. This compelling service enables companies to ingratiate themselves to online
customers by offering a human interface. By supporting multiple services using the same
network infrastructure, IP telephony opens the door for carriers and Internet telephony
service providers to position themselves as integral players in the development and
execution of corporate e-commerce strategies.
Lior Haramaty is a co-founder of VocalTec
Communications, and belongs to the original group that started the VoIP industry.
Haramaty has dealt with passing audio over data networks since the late 80s; VocalTec
started shipping VoIP products in the early 90s. Haramaty has a multidisciplinary
background in the business, technology, and marketing fields, is a co-inventor on VoIP
patents, and initiated and spearheaded standards activities in the industry. The goal of
this column is to clearly explain issues related to Voice (and other media) over Internet
Protocol (VoIP) to anyone, including the "acronym-impaired" person. Requests for
future column subjects to firstname.lastname@example.org