Virtual Call Center Solutions Offer Flexible Deployment Options
February 11, 2010
By Patrick Barnard
, Group Managing Editor, TMCnet
Today’s software-as-a-service or “cloud”-based call center solutions bring many advantages to organizations, including fast and easy deployment; reduced up-front costs by eliminating the need to invest in hardware and network infrastructure; reduced ongoing maintenance costs; improved scalability; simplified integration with CRM and back office systems; the ability to unify geographically dispersed centers onto a single platform; and access to the latest call center technologies.
But the most distinct advantages these Web-based solutions provide come by way of the “virtual call center,” which means the call center software environment can be accessed through any computer with a high speed Internet connection. This is a key distinction compared to the hosted call center model, where the organization sometimes has to host some software “client-side” on its own servers – plus the system can only be accessed through the company network. With a virtual call center, organizations can leverage the much-coveted home-based agent model; harness the power of the “informal contact center;” and improve business continuity and disaster recovery.
The Home Agent Model
Today’s virtual call centers are ideal for facilitating the home-based agent model, which is where agents work from home using their own computers. With a virtual call center, home-based agents can have access to all the same applications as they do in the main center – plus with a virtual call center solution’s multimedia and skills-based routing capabilities, phone calls, emails, Web chats and SMS messages can be routed to home-based agents just as if they were in the main center as well. In addition, Web-based administration means call center managers can monitor and record home-based agents’ phone calls – plus they can capture metrics and KPIs in real-time, regardless of the agent’s location, using a single console. Also important, most of today’s virtual call centers allow managers to coach and train home-based agents using custom, in-house content by way of e-learning software.
The home-based agent model brings numerous advantages in and of itself – perhaps the most important being that the entire nation, if not the entire world, becomes an organization’s hiring ground. Without geographic limitations, organizations can raise the bar on the criteria used to recruit and hire new agents. In fact, it can be argued that because home-based agents work independently, organizations should be using a different set of criteria for evaluating and assessing agent skills, with an eye toward the higher end of the skill curve. In addition, research shows that the quality of the candidates tends to be better: Many applicants to home-based agent positions are retirees, home-makers or former call center agents with established skills who are still interested in doing the job, but no longer have the desire (or perhaps the ability) to work in a brick-and-mortar facility.
Also, the home-based agent model helps organizations reduce operating costs – as well as their carbon footprint. Having agents work from home reduces the strain on company facilities, and allows organizations the shrink the physical size of their call centers. In addition, because most home-based agents work part-time – and also because they work off-site under what many states define as a “subcontractor” basis – companies aren’t legally obligated to provide these workers with benefits. What’s more, because these employees don’t have to commute to work, there is a corresponding reduction in carbon emissions from the vehicles they drive.
The “Informal Call Center”
Virtual call centers are also ideal for facilitating the “informal contact center,” which is where contacts can be routed to other knowledge workers in an organization, outside of the main center, for the purpose of delivering specialized or “expert” service. This model, which is difficult to achieve effectively without virtualization, has been shown to boost sales and increase customer satisfaction. It is ideal for companies that deal in more complex, intricate, “higher maintenance” or “higher value” products and services that require “higher touch” customer service.
Not only does a virtual call center allow organizations to accurately route contacts to “specialists,” it also gives them the ability to have excess call volume “spillover” to these other knowledge workers when it occurs. For example, a small company may have cut back its call center staffing to six full-time agents, due to the recession – but perhaps there are some back office workers or sales reps in the organization who could “double” as call center agents in the event there is a sudden spike in call volume. Through the implementation the informal call center model, many companies have found that they can build a “culture of customer service” -- in other words, it’s a way of getting employees who might not otherwise care about the quality of the customer experience to care about it more, and to understand what the customer experience is like.
Improved Business Continuity
As mentioned earlier, virtual call center solutions enable organizations to more easily and cost-effectively manage multiple, geographically dispersed centers. For this same reason, the virtual call center also helps organizations achieve business continuity and customer service resiliency in the event of a network outage, natural disaster or some other unforeseen event. In fact, companies that have dispersed operations – remote call centers and/or home-based agents spread throughout a region, country or even globally -- benefit most from the virtual call center environment.
For example, should the power get knocked out at the main center, phone calls and other contacts can be automatically routed to the next closest (or most appropriate) regional or remote center, as well as home-based agents. What’s more, agents from the main center can potentially be sent home to work from their own computers, providing they have connectivity, thus allowing customer service operations to continue despite the outage. As such, today’s virtual call centers provide a powerful and flexible business continuity solution, preventing unforeseen events from disrupting customer service.
) Virtual Call Center Features
Contactual’s OnDemand Contact Center is a software-as-a-service or “cloud”-based virtual call center solution that is ideal for facilitating the home-based agent model and the “informal contact center,” plus it delivers the aforementioned business continuity capabilities as well. The fully Web-based solution offers a suite of core call center technologies, including ACD with universal queuing for multimedia contacts and skills based routing; IVR for speech-enabled, self-serve options; and CTIto facilitate integration with CRM systems and databases. In addition, Contactual’s patent pending Advanced Virtual Tenant Architecture (AVTA) distinguishes its virtual call center solution from others on the market.
With its universal queuing capability, the ACD is able to route phone calls, emails, Web chats and text messages to the next available agent via a single queue. Skills-based routing means the ACD can be programmed to route those contacts to the most appropriate agent, based on contact type and the agent’s specific skill sets. The virtual call center solution’s Web-based administration allows call center mangers to make changes to the routing schemes “on the fly” and in real time, so they have full control over the contact types each agent receives.
The virtual call center solution also delivers priority routing, which is where calls and contacts from specific (e.g. “premium”) customers are prioritized over others and immediately routed to the next available agent, thus reducing hold times and speeding service. Through integration with a company’s CRM system and other databases, customers can be identified the instant they call, send an email, or launch a chat session by way of their “customer profile,” which typically includes name, street address, customer “type” (“regular,” “new” or “premium,” etc.), phone numbers (including home phone and mobile phone) and IP address. CTI (News
) also allows for pertinent customer information, including past purchases and other activity, to be “screen popped” onto agent desktops immediately when a customer calls, thus enabling call center agents to serve customers quickly and efficiently.
To learn more about Contactual’s virtual call center solution, click here
Patrick Barnard is a senior Web editor for TMCnet, covering call and contact center technologies. He also compiles and regularly contributes to TMCnet e-Newsletters in the areas of robotics, IT, M2M, OCS and customer interaction solutions. To read more of Patrick's articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Kelly McGuire