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Feature Article
July 2004


IP Call Centers Deliver "Real Value in the Real World"

BY AL BAKER

For several years, we�ve 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 you�ve never been able to do before! VoIP will change your life! It�s time to move past the hype to the realities of IP for the contact center. While that might sound like we�re in for disappointment, the truth is that IP � done right � 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. They�re beginning to realize the �Real Value� of IP, and gaining experience with IP-based infrastructures, while using the investment they�ve 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 it�s delivering real value to those who have adopted it already. Chances are there�s an agent in a �call center� 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 � leveraging a distributed architecture for a distributed workforce.
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 �centers� � 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.


Today�s 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 operations.


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 �Real World� 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 locations.

MULTIMEDIA, INSTANT MESSAGING, PRESENCE
These new geographically �IP� distributed agents don�t 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 � with the right skills � 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 weren�t 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. They�re 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 �second generation� of IP applications leveraging presence functions has the potential to further transform the contact center as we know it � 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 management.

Real World = Real Steps
IP is the enabler, and it must be done right to successfully enable the types of applications described. �Done right� 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.

  • Implement appropriate 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 �Real World� 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 � whether TDM or IP phones � 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.

OPERATIONAL VALUE
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 �center� 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 customer�s 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 today�s 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 today.

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 providers.

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