IP Call Centers Deliver "Real Value
in the Real World"
BY AL BAKER
For several years, weï¿½ve
heard tremendous hype about Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and what
it will do for the contact center: Find tremendous savings in capital and
operations costs! Significantly reduce IT/telecom staff! Do things
youï¿½ve never been able to do before! VoIP will change your life! Itï¿½s
time to move past the hype to the realities of IP for the contact center.
While that might sound like weï¿½re in for disappointment, the truth is
that IP ï¿½ done right ï¿½ can deliver real value in the real world. There
is significant, strategic value possible for companies implementing IP in
the call center. That value manifests itself in ways not anticipated by
the early hype, but present in many call centers today.
Many companies implementing IP
are leveraging their traditional time-division multiplexing (TDM)-based
voice switching platform and associated applications. Theyï¿½re beginning
to realize the ï¿½Real Valueï¿½ of IP, and gaining experience with
IP-based infrastructures, while using the investment theyï¿½ve made in TDM
systems and robust, proven call center applications.
IP IN A CONTACT CENTER NEAR YOU
IP in the contact center is happening all over the globe, in corporate
offices and remote locations, for phone call handling and multimedia
queues. And itï¿½s delivering real value to those who have adopted it
already. Chances are thereï¿½s an agent in a ï¿½call centerï¿½ leveraging
VoIP somewhere near you.
Probably the most common application of IP to the new workplace paradigm
is distributing the functionality of the call center to a wide-ranging
environment ï¿½ leveraging a distributed architecture for a distributed
Traditionally, employees were predominantly located at corporate sites.
People were centrally located to foster face-to-face collaboration,
whether for general business or call center needs. Call centers were truly
call ï¿½centersï¿½ ï¿½ housing a group of people in the same building, and
often the same floor, to just answer phone calls. But this traditional
paradigm of location and communication has changed.
Todayï¿½s workplace is a combination of main offices, remote offices, home
offices, and even mobile workers. Research conducted by Nemertes shows
that 87 percent of workers are now in branch or remote offices, and not at
a corporate headquarters. Companies implement home office strategies to
retain good employees and reduce real estate and other overhead costs.
Satellite offices can open new labor pools, at a lower cost. Local
environmental laws encourage telecommuting to minimize traffic pollution.
These needs apply to the call center as much as any other part of business
Teleworking also improves retention and productivity in call centers,
according to an April 2002 survey of call center executives by Wideforce
Systems Inc. Seventy-seven percent of call center managers reported less
than a 20 percent annual turnover rate when using remote agents, and those
using home agents experienced a 12 percent increase in productivity.
IP Contact Centers are making possible these new ï¿½Real Worldï¿½
scenarios, such as:
Home-based agents that may
work odd shifts, provide peak support, or just enhance their quality
of life and contributions at work by not commuting.
Branch offices that support
contacts routinely, support business continuity and disaster recovery,
or pitch in under peaks or other backup scenarios. These branch
offices may also be locations that call center managers, supervisors,
and even CSRs work from on occasion.
Enterprise resources that
can expand the call center team to adapt to peak contact volumes or
for additional support in disruptive scenarios.
Mobile workers that support
call center operations from various sites as they support staff across
a campus environment.
One centrally managed agent
resource pool which is really distributed over multiple site
These new geographically ï¿½IPï¿½ distributed agents donï¿½t just handle
phone calls in this new workplace paradigm. They handle various customer
interaction media, including phone calls, e-mails, mail, faxes, and text
chats. Companies now route contacts to the right resource ï¿½ with the
right skills ï¿½ in real time, wherever they may be. Technology solutions
such as IP support this new paradigm.
IP is also a catalyst for multimedia applications in call centers. These
applications, like the distributed multisite scenarios, could be done in a
traditional environment, but often werenï¿½t implemented because of the
complexity or cost of deploying and managing them. Centers today are
adding chat and Web collaboration, and creating multimedia queues with
phone calls, e-mails, chats, and mail. Theyï¿½re using presence functions
(showing work status and availability) and instant messaging to tap into
expert resources in real-time, and to seek out more staff to help with
peak loads. This ï¿½second generationï¿½ of IP applications leveraging
presence functions has the potential to further transform the contact
center as we know it ï¿½ both technologically and operationally.
While these opportunities to exploit VoIP are very real and compelling,
businesses cannot accomplish them with a cavalier attitude toward the
significance of the change in infrastructure and its implementation and
Real World = Real Steps
IP is the enabler, and it must be done right to successfully enable the
types of applications described. ï¿½Done rightï¿½ means taking time,
spending money, and preparing resources to execute successfully. Here are
the keys to success:
Develop a migration plan
that supports the business goals and suits the environment, culture,
resources, budgets, and timelines.
redundancy to match the mission criticality of the operation.
Ensure security schemes
protecting the data networks, servers, and applications are applied in
equal measure to voice and call center applications.
Prepare the LAN and WAN
environment with up-front network reviews and appropriate quality of
service configuration and capacity expansion.
Pilot IP solution elements
before a large production rollout.
Here are some examples of
ï¿½Real Worldï¿½ migration strategies:
Grow an IP-based solution
alongside a TDM platform, eventually phasing out the TDM system. Add
IP phones for new positions, or positions with enhanced application
opportunities. All positions ï¿½ whether TDM or IP phones ï¿½ leverage
the same set of call center applications.
Change out a site from TDM
to IP, or add a new site on IP. This approach enables companies to
leverage new capabilities without buying IP for each site, right out
of the gates. Or, begin to replace smaller sites with IP-based remote
agents and satellite offices. Migrating these sites to IP and homing
them off a main location provides those sites with all the
capabilities of the main site, and makes the agents part of a combined
pool. In these scenarios, companies accomplish the value of virtual
operations across multiple sites without complex routing solutions.
Such scenarios also reduce the number of application servers for call
center functions such as CTI, quality monitoring, workforce
management, and centralized management and control.
These IP deployments translate to real value in the real world, as the
following examples show:
A help desk uses a single
connection to each desktop for voice and data, enabled with screen
pops, presence, and other applications to optimize efficiency for each
individual and the entire group. A first-tier agent can seek real-time
assistance from colleagues wherever they are located, automatically
sharing information with them about the customer via the desktop
integration of CTI capabilities and messaging. These help desk agents
may tap in from other locations or even through wireless access. They
are truly location independent. Best of all, customers experience
greater first call resolution rates.
A call center has
distributed remote positions (satellite offices, home agents,
branches, enterprise positions) with many users on various desktop
clients. Some use browsers, some use Windows client/server application
environments, and some use Citrix. A consistent client interface
permeates all the environments for ease of support and flexibility.
Executives, managers, and
supervisors have anytime/ anywhere access to call center reports,
alarms and configuration capabilities. The ï¿½centerï¿½ is a cohesive
environment across sites, with the potential to reduce management
overhead (time and staff).
The logic to route contacts
to appropriately skilled agents, including blended media, is
centralized. A single tool administers and manages the resources and
routes calls to the best available resource. This same unified tool
provides cohesive reports across sites and media. A location
independent workforce enables cost savings and productivity
enhancements while optimizing the pool of resources available for a
given customerï¿½s needs. Centralized management and control of
distributed environments creates efficiency.
Users that are familiar
with the features, capabilities, and look and feel of their
traditional TDM phones can keep them. Or, a center can introduce new
IP phones with the same mature feature set for ease of training and a
low-cost, low-impact transition to the new environment.
IP enables companies with small
or large centers, centralized or distributed, to reap quantifiable
benefits through advanced applications such as these. In todayï¿½s
marketplace, where companies require clear return on investment, IP can
deliver. And companies achieve savings while improving customer service.
THE BOTTOM LINE
IP is clearly delivering real value in the real world for call centers. A
tactical value proposition to begin the migration to VoIP delivers return
on investment (ROI) today. And it positions your business to reap more ROI
tomorrow, as you leverage the platform into more sites and applications.
Companies that implement IP for their contact center are agile, ready to
react quickly to market needs, growth demands, competitive pressures, and
the business drivers they face. Customers benefit, CSRs benefit, call
center management benefits, and the corporate bottom line reflects these
benefits. IP, done right, delivers real value in our call center world
Al Baker is vice president
Product Management at Siemens Global eCRM Solutions, a part of Siemens Information
and Communication Networks, Inc. Siemens is a leading provider of
network and applications technology for enterprises, carriers and service
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