September 2008 | Volume 11 / Number 9
IP Contact Centers take the High Ground
By: Richard “Zippy” Grigonis
The contact center is often the first – and sometimes only – face that your organization presents to the public. If your customer has a bad contact centerrelated experience and doesn’t like it, then they don’t like your company either (guilt by association and all that). The result: you’ve lost a would-be loyal customer. As they say, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”. Fortunately, IP contact centers can boost first-call resolution to amazing levels. Moreover, contact centers have always clamored for new ways to interact with customers and collaborate with the rest of their organization, and IP enables all sorts of exciting multimedia linkages with customers as well as new ways of integrating with many back-office applications.
One of the earliest major call center players that ultimately took the plunge into the world of IP communications was Aspect (News - Alert) Software. (Mike Sheridan of Aspect Software has a column elsewhere in this issue.) Also, throughout the 1990s, visitors to any telecom or computer telephony expo would inevitably see a crowd packed into the Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert) booth, intensely viewing a presentation. Today, their powerful standards-based solution handles ACD (Automatic Call Distribution)-routed multimedia interactions, IP PBX (News - Alert) functionality, IVR (Interactive Voice Response), speech recognition, web collaboration, remote agent support, screen and call recording, outbound dialing, reporting and voice and unified messaging. (See Tom Keating (News - Alert)’s review of Interactive Intelligence’s remarkable Vonexus Enterprise Interaction Center 3.0 elsewhere in this issue.)
A Touch of Mobility and Enterprise 2.0
Rather than maintaining a large customer premise infrastructure, many companies are opting for the very attractive scenarios of hosted and managed contact centers.
When it comes to hosted call centers, the name of CosmoCom (News - Alert) looms large. CosmoCall Universe is a universal access contact center platform designed for high capacity, high availability, and host-ability; and implemented on industry standard computing elements and Windows Server. The system is based on IP communication and open, standards-based interfaces. The software is written in C++ and is object-oriented. Inter-process communication enables a distributed architecture. Furthermore, Universe fully exploits the benefits of the Windows security model. Recently, CosmoCom released CosmoCall Universe Version 5.2, laden with various enhancements.
Cosmocom’s Steve Kowarsky, Executive Vice President and Co-Founder of CosmoCom, says, “We have recently introduced a centralized agent configuration so that it’s no longer up to each agent to configure their own options, parameters and so forth. The company’s management now has much more control over that and can configure things centrally for all agents in terms of how to deal with client behaviors and permissions.” “We’ve also added automatic voice quality monitoring and alerting,” says Kowarsky. “VoIP voice quality has improved greatly in recent years. But when voice quality issues do occur, you want to be proactive — you want engineers to be able to spot problems before the users do. We can set SNMP traps to generate alerts to whoever is monitoring the platform when any voice quality problem indicator reaches a certain threshold and goes off, such as those for jitter, delay or lost packets.”
“CosmoCom has also done a lot in terms of integration with BroadSoft (News - Alert)’s platform,” says Kowarsky. “We have several customers that are very big on both CosmoCom and BroadSoft, notably some of the large European telcos. We have a really smooth and effective integration with BroadSoft, so a contact center agent can use a BroadSoft phone as their CosmoCom phone and they can also have a BroadSoft hosted IP PBX phone that’s fully functional as well. The two systems essentially share information about the state and presence of each extension, which is also associated with the CosmoCall agent. Both systems ‘know’ when the extension is busy. So if BroadSoft wants to make a call, and CosmoCom is using the extension, the BroadSoft technology is aware of it. And if CosmoCom wants to extend the call, and the extension is busy on the BroadSoft side, the CosmoCom platform knows it, so that the agent state is updated and it tries for another agent. When you answer your BroadSoft phone, it answers in the agent client, and when you hang it up, it hangs up in the agent client. When you get a CosmoCom call on your BroadSoft phone the system automatically locks out the BroadSoft controls that are inappropriate or irrelevant.”
“We’re working on an opportunity in Europe where about 14,000 BroadSoft-enabled extensions in a very large enterprise will all be CosmoCom- enabled as well,” beams Kowarsky. “The issues of scalability and performance under a very heavy load become important in such projects, which is why we’ve worked closely with BroadSoft to enhance those. Our BroadSoft integration is without a doubt the most advanced in the industry, both in terms of functionality and performance.”
“CCU 5.2 has just been announced,” says Kowarsky. “It has our latest big innovation, our configuration audit trail. The first thing you need to ask when troubleshooting a system is, ‘What changed?’. If you can’t determine that, then you’ve got to spend a lot of time crawling around and looking for something that must have changed. And even when you find it, more often that not you want to talk to the person who caused it. Learning from experience is important, and our system now tracks in a log every change related to the administration and other facets of the system configuration. You can see quickly exactly what changed and exactly who did it. It’s a major new module of the system, that’s fully integrated with our multitenant capability, which enables the service provider to use the system in a shared tenant environment. Each tenant has his own log of changes at the tenant level, and at the landlord level you have access to all the specific tenant logs, plus you have access to administrative and configuration changes at the landlord level.”
“We’ll be releasing CosmoGo in the near future, which will blaze a new trail in terms of adding mobility to the system,” says Kowarsky. “We’ve learned a great deal about how to optimize communication with customers and what’s important. First, it’s important to be able to route calls intelligently, taking into consideration the skills required for the call and obviously the presence of the people that might be able to answer the call. Second, we’ve learned that it’s a very good thing to present detailed caller information right along with the call, because it reduces the call time and it also makes the customer fell really good when the call gets a personalized answer and the caller learns that the person talking to him or her actually knows something about who he is and what’s going on. That both shortens the call and enhances the customer experience.”
“Third, if you enable the agent with inquiry and transaction capabilities likely to come up during the call, again, you can shorten the call’s duration but make the customer experience a more satisfying one,” say Kowarsky. “Forth and finally, if you wrap total management information and a QA [Quality Assurance] toolset around that, you can create a lean, mean operation that achieves the goals you want to accomplish. All these things we’ve learned through the evolution of contact center technology.”
“But there’s been a huge limitation with all this up until now,” says Kowarsky. “All of these benefits are available to people at fixed workstations with a phone and a PC. With our upcoming CosmoGo, all of those key customer communication optimizing points can now be brought to a mobile worker having a smartphone in his pocket and a Bluetooth headset on his ear. That’s the whole kit. CosmoGo will provide all four of those key points: Full ACD routing capabilities, screen pop with caller information, the enablement of inquiry and transactions, and the whole reporting management QA infrastructure and control tools, all of that would be extended to people that have nothing but a smartphone in their pocket and tend to be mobile, who are an expanding part of the workforce. Thus, we can broaden the reach of the contact center and at the same time move in the direction of ‘Enterprise 2.0’, since those capabilities useful to people who are not part of an organization’s full-time contact center-related staff.”
Test for Success
Empirix (News - Alert) has long helped many organizations adopt complex contact centers and various other voice, data and VoIP applications and services, thanks to their advanced Hammer brand testing and monitoring solutions.
Empirix Senior Product Marketing Manager, Sue Anderson, says, “Overall, what we see from our customer base is that, when they’re looking at new equipment, they’re certainly having to go with an IPbased solution. For those companies looking to upgrade and replace existing equipment, they’re accepting the new technology provided by their vendors. Aside from the technology part of it, we also find that some of the larger contact center-based organizations, such as financial companies, are pondering how they can improve their business operations when deploying IP in the contact center. For example, can they now virtualize their agents as a bank? Can they utilize branch managers and subject matter experts?”
Anderson continues, “Some of our customers are in the planning stages and are asking themselves, ‘Okay, we have VoIP in the rest of our enterprise, but once we adopt this new technology in the contact center, how will it help us improve our business?’. So it’s more than just a technology shift, it’s a business shift. We also see in our customers a consolidation of their contact centers and therefore a consolidation of equipment. Since agents can be anywhere thanks to IP, all of the technology can be housed in the same location.”
Brian Gollaher, Senior Product Manager at Empirix, says, “IP contact center technologies enable a foreign footprint for outsourcing, virtualization of agents, work-at-home agents, streamlined operations, and they hopefully provide a better customer experience through integrated CRM, CTI (News - Alert) screen pops and other things that are better enabled in an IP environment. At the same time, equipment providers are making obsolete the older products. If you’re building a new contact center, you’re faced with IP technology.”
Anderson adds, “Even so, our customers, being pragmatic, are making the transition at a somewhat slower pace because their concern over voice quality is such a big issue. We at Empirix have attended many events and call center shows this year. For example, we have partnerships with such major vendors as Avaya, Cisco, Genesys (News - Alert) and Nortel, and we attend many of their user group events. At these events we keep getting questions about monitoring and ensuring voice quality, which is obviously a huge issue for contact centers when they move to VoIP, and if they’re installing things such as speech-enabled IVR, they must ensure that all of the technology is set up appropriately. They’re also working very closely with their LAN people, vendors and providers to make sure that everything is set up properly to support both the technology and the highest possible voice quality.”
The following companies were mentioned in this article:
Aspect Software (www.aspect.com)
Interactive Intelligence (www.inin.com)
Verint Systems (http://www.verint.com)
West at Home (www.westathome.com)
The company SIP Print (www.sipprint.com) launched at ITEXPO West 2008 in Los Angeles. It offers a new voice call recording product for VoIP/SIP telephones, Avaya IP office, Avaya distributed office, NEC (News - Alert) 8100 and 8300 platforms, Allworx, Aastralink, 3Com, Toshiba, Shoretel, Mitel, Nortel, Fonality and any SIP appliance and/or SIP interface-based telephone system. Unlike more expensive “per channel and per line” priced systems, SIP Print prices each system based on the specific manufacturer’s platform. No added costs, no circuit boards, no hassle.
“As businesses struggle to comply with stricter federal and international regulations,” says SIP Print President and Co-Founder Don Palmer, “having a complete record and recording of every phone call has become critical.”
“One day I asked Jonathan Fuld — who ultimately became our CTO and Co-Founder — whether he knew of any pure SIP voice call recording platforms,” says Palmer. “We couldn’t find anybody who really did pure SIP or pure VoIP recording. Many companies claim they do, but they tend to simply record the trunk lines coming in off of the PRI or even a regular POTS line, or they’re recording off of the handsets with logger patches. I was talking about the appliances from companies such as Allworx (News - Alert), AastraLink, Altigen, Zultys, as well as peer VoIP systems were I wanted to record right off of the box. We decided there was a hole in the market.”
“Jonathan got excited and within about four months he had written the code,” says Palmer. “I named it SIP Print, because SIP is a major technology that will be going places over the next five years, and I had the marketing savvy to price it so that even small businesses can afford to buy it and use it to protect their company’s financial integrity, resolve ‘he-said-shesaid’ issues, and assist in training, quality assurance or casual call center situations.”
Prospective dealers or distributors of SIP Print products and professional services can contact the company at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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