The Challenges Of Choice With IP Telephony
BY BENNETT KLEIN, COSMOCOM
The pursuits of efficiency, productivity and cost
reduction are driving businesses to an increasingly self-service mode.
Many advances in technology enable self-service, and the Web revolution is
one of the most powerful and dramatic movements in this direction.
Businesses that succeed in the self-service era will be those that
recognize that self-service alone is not enough. Sooner or later,
customers need to speak with someone. While customers want multimedia
options that define how they buy from or interact with an organization,
the only service option customers want is excellence and consistency.
Choice adds challenge, however, since the Internet multiplies the ways
in which customers can communicate with companies. It's tough for
companies to pinpoint and plan for the exact medium from which the
customer will choose to initiate contact. Multimedia customer service can
be integrated via a variety of technologies -- hardware, software,
servers, traditional PBXs and ACDs, and Web technologies such as chat and
e-mail. This makes accurate capacity planning for a multimedia contact
center challenging and necessitates a flexible technology platform to
accommodate this unpredictable demand.
Online Support: Improving, But Not There Yet
Over the next five years, the growing acceptance of the Internet for doing
business will lead the majority of enterprises to Web-enable their contact
centers. This is a welcome trend, as online customer care is still a
glaring inefficiency in many businesses -- whether they are pure-play
Internet companies or "click and mortars." Consider the
- Businesses lost $3.2 million in 1999 by failing to Web-enable their
customer service operations (Datamonitor).
- Only eight percent of the 69,500 call centers in the U.S. are
currently Web-enabled (Datamonitor).
- Less than 1 percent of all e-commerce sites offer live customer
- Only 24 percent of e-commerce sites have instant messaging and only
28 percent even acknowledge that an e-mail inquiry was received (GartnerGroup).
Fortunately, the tide is expected to shift. Datamonitor predicts by
2003, 40 percent of all call centers in the U.S. will provide multimedia
customer service, with the online customer support market growing from
$150 million in 1998 to $2 billion by 2003. So if Forrester Research's
forecast that online sales will escalate to $6.8 trillion by the year 2004
materializes, this growth is well-warranted.
One of the most important catalysts for successfully handling new
requirements in the contact center is Internet Protocol (IP). IP in the
call center is increasing, thanks to a host of benefits including
cost-efficiency, flexibility and the ease of a common communications
platform to handle both voice and Internet calls. Deploying IP networks
also makes it possible for new providers to offer communications services,
which was previously the domain of incumbent telephone companies.
IP can provide a robust, scalable and versatile platform for multimedia
customer service. Voice over IP (VoIP) promises a simple mechanism for
Web/call center interaction, reduction in voice costs and tighter
integration of voice and data in the call center itself. IP-based
automated call distribution (ACD) is another enabler experiencing rapid
growth; Frost & Sullivan expects IP-ACD to be a $388 million market by
2006. Some of the benefits of IP-ACD include allowing customer contact
centers to conduct all customer service activities (telephone calls, voice
and video over the Internet, keyboard chat, voice mail, e-mail and all
forms of collaboration) through all media (PC, regular phone, TV and
wireless devices) with only an IP or Internet-based connection to the
Personalized Service: Getting It Done
Smart businesses seek to make every type of interaction -- whether it's
over the phone, in a chat or even via videoconference -- an opportunity to
increase customer satisfaction and loyalty and boost revenue. Adopting an
individualized, "have it your way" approach to each customer's
challenge is an important criterion for success. At present, businesses
wishing to offer their customers real-time, personalized service over the
Web have four options.
Text chat. Perhaps the simplest to deploy; the visitor and an
agent type messages to one another in real-time. Text chat is still
popular, probably because many home-based Web surfers have only one phone
line and no alternative method of communication with an agent when they
are online. As VoIP, which a visitor with only one phone can use, becomes
more dominant, text-based support is expected to drop off. Still, text
chat is expected to remain popular in help desk settings, where an agent
can "push" relevant documents that aid in problem solving to the
Web callback. The agent calls the visitor on a separate phone
line. Ovum Research estimates callback is likely to be the most popular
communication method over the next two years.
Voice over IP. Here, the customer is connected to the agent
using a voice connection from his or her multimedia PC. Conditions for
accepting VoIP -- at least over some segments in the public Internet --
are close to being met. IDC projects that IP will grow to 2.7 billion
minutes by 2004.
Video. A VoIP connection is made with the addition of a video
image of the agent. Video contact is still in its nascent state, used
primarily in enterprise Intranets for applications such as booths in bank
branches that provide links to financial services experts. In these
settings, two-way video contact can serve as a valuable catalyst for
enhancing customer trust. Online, organizations are beginning to use
one-way video over IP to offer a "real person" presence to
customers. It can also allow a CSR to "show and tell" for more
frequent sales of higher values.
VoIP: Catalyst For Cost Savings And Talent Retention In The Contact
Investments in real estate and technology are often the two biggest
capital expenditures for a contact center. A recent report by Datamonitor
examined the reasons to distribute CSRs to remote locations, and the
contact center solutions available today that support such an alternative.
The report stated, "the next logical step in a remote CSR
implementation would be to combine the voice and data link to the
headquarters infrastructure via a single connection and the utilization of
VoIP packet-switching technology...a physical phone would not even be
needed at the remote site as both voice and data would travel over the ISP
or virtual private network IP connection." With the inroads of IP,
the need to aggregate CSRs in one physical location becomes greatly
diminished, if not eliminated.
Customer support, whether in a business or consumer environment, is a
highly stressful occupation and historically has a high rate of employee
turnover. With the cost of agents' labor typically hovering around 30
percent of call center expenses, giving CSRs the flexibility to work from
home may prove to be a valuable tool for retention. In addition, these
organizations can also tap talent across the globe, increasing the pool of
available workers and creating a truly global customer service outfit.
Looking ahead, IP-based, networked contact center environments will no
longer be anomalies: Ovum Research predicts that by 2005, nearly 35
percent of call center seats will be network-based.
Here is an example. A franchise travel company currently supports 1,400
travel agents across 350 different sites with a single toll-free number
and Web site. With IP-based automatic call distribution, the company's CRM
software unites consumers, travel agents and employees, fusing online and
offline business processes via its Web site, customer care center and
network of traditional travel agencies located throughout North America.
Customer leads are routed to the appropriate agent based on various
criteria, including the franchise's geographic territory, product
expertise, store hours and language skills.
Calls can come over on the PSTN, or over the Internet via chat, VoIP,
e-mail and collaboration channels. Switching is accomplished via the
managed IP backbone. The agents do not need or use telephones. They
interface exclusively with their multimedia PCs, which are equipped with
headsets. All calls are answered or originated from the agent PCs.
Supervisors, also located anywhere, can coach, monitor calls and
interrupt when necessary. They can draw real-time reports and gain access
to histograms, analysis and an abundance of decision-support information
for effectively managing their globally located CSRs.
Business benefits to the travel agency include more qualified leads,
accurate targeting, improved sales close ratios and superior customer
loyalty, resulting in an estimated 20 percent increase in revenues
annually. Finally, one deployment serves all 1,400 agents. Agents can work
at home or be located in offices throughout the world, which makes it
easier to support a 24-hour customer service environment.
Wait...What About Wireless?
Just when businesses are starting to get comfortable with the idea of
Web-enabling the call center, along comes the m-commerce revolution. With
700,000 new mobile users added each day, wireless phones will soon surpass
wireline phones in usage worldwide. GartnerGroup predicts 78 percent of
mobile users will access online data in 2001 -- whether through phones or
PDAs and pocket PCs outfitted with wireless modems. Extending its
projections, GartnerGroup says that the worldwide value of consumer
transactions initiated from a consumer's personal mobile device could
reach $1.8 trillion by 2005.
The wireless point of contact is emerging as a critical piece in the
overall communication cycle for customer sales and support. As the
acceptance of the wireless Internet grows, businesses will need to employ
the same live help technologies to capture critical customer information.
Customers require the same attention regardless of how and when they
choose to contact you. Customer service to mobile customers (m-care) is
more than enabling a Web site with wireless applications protocol (WAP).
Customers need caller-specific, live assistance.
Presently, customer support communications options in the wireless
environment include self-service (through menu-based prompts), live help
(through callback, inbound voice calls and e-mail call prompts) and e-mail
As wireless Web usage goes mainstream, companies that provide enhanced
services via the wireless communication channel will realize great
competitive advantages and better, more durable relationships with their
customers. Value-added services enabled through wireless PDA or
browser-based phones will be a key differentiator for companies in
maintaining customer loyalty and influencing future purchases. It gives
customers the ability to interact in any way they want, taking full
advantage of the bandwidth opportunities that will come with
third-generation wireless markets.
People still buy from people and still need live interaction with
others. The real challenge for enterprises today is to find efficient,
productive and cost-effective ways of providing multimedia live customer
care -- ways that integrate and harmoniously blend self-service technology
with the timeless value of live personal interaction.
Bennett Klein (email@example.com)
is vice president, Global Marketing at CosmoCom Inc. CosmoCom (www.cosmocom.com),
headquartered in Melville, New York, provides IP-based unified contact
center solutions for both e-business and traditional brick-and-mortar
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