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Call Center/CRM Management Scope
April 2004

VoIP In The Call Center: Have We Found The Holy Grail?

By Joseph McFadden, Nuasis Corporation

Still think that Voice over IP (VoIP) is just another technology? Think again. For the call center, now known as the contact center, VoIP is the great enabler. Not only did VoIP turn the call center into a contact center by giving business communications multimedia functionality, but the technology is destined to solve problems fundamental to the needs of every contact center manager: improve customer service while lowering operating costs; provide the same levels of response for e-mail and Web contacts as you have been providing for phone calls in the past; and streamline globally dispersed contact centers.

VoIP is the ability to carry voice traffic over a data network. The appeal of VoIP has been the notion of managing a single network for all the communication needs of a company ' the corporate data network. Although most everyone immediately thinks of voice over the Internet, don't let others within your company fall into that trap. An important distinction must be made between voice over your managed corporate network and voice over the Internet. The Internet was never designed to reliably carry voice. Conversely, your corporate data network can be configured and managed to carry mission-critical voice traffic such as calls into your contact center.

Unlike other general business applications for VoIP, the contact center should be viewed as the killer application where the greatest customer service improvements and cost savings will be realized. In fact, the benefits are so compelling for the contact center that they may justify replacing legacy ACD, IVR and e-mail systems before they are fully depreciated. This article will review seven compelling reasons why your company should deploy VoIP-based systems for routing phone, voice mail, e-mail and Web contacts and provide some important considerations when evaluating an IP contact center system.

Reason #1: VoIP will save you money, lots of money. With general business applications such as the IP-PBX, system deployments are justified on savings from reduced telephony service charges between sites and reduced administration costs for adds, changes and deletions. But let's not stop there. With an IP contact center system for routing phone calls, e-mails and Web sessions, additional cost savings apply that can pay for a system within six months.

You can eliminate the telephony charges between sites. As an example, if you operate three sites with three T1 lines at approximately $1,500 per T1, you just saved the cost of 9 T1 lines or $13,500 per month or $162,000 per year.
Administration costs can be lowered, especially if your company operates multiple, geographically dispersed centers. Multiple centers using IP contact center systems can be managed from a single location anywhere on the corporate network. The costs of administration for a separate telephony network are also eliminated.

Factor in the lower acquisition costs. IP contact centers run on low-cost servers versus expensive proprietary hardware. You can also expect that support and maintenance costs will be lower as a result.

The most significant cost savings for contact center operations will be labor costs, the single largest budget line item for contact centers. In a networked environment, IP contact centers allow companies to route contacts anywhere on the corporate network. By networking multiple centers together as a single center, the same volume of phone, e-mail and Web contacts can be handled by fewer customer service agents. This cost savings alone could justify deployment of these latest generation IP-based systems.

Still not sold? Consider the money you will save by eliminating the cost and complexity of deploying computer-telephony integration (CTI) applications such as screen pop and data-directed call routing. These important applications improve agent productivity while improving customer service, yet it is estimated that only 15 to 30 percent of companies in the U.S. have deployed these applications.

Given the importance of CTI applications to the operation of a contact center, why haven't more companies deployed screen pop and data-directed call routing? The simple truth: CTI deployments are too complex and too time consuming to deploy, all of which adds up to the high cost of deployment. A typical screen pop application can cost $50,000 to more than $250,000.

Reason #2: Wider deployment of CTI applications. With an IP contact center on a single-network architecture, CTI is built in. There are no costs for separate CTI middleware and hardware. The time for deployment can also be reduced from weeks or months to hours with the latest generation of systems.

Imagine now if you could easily deploy screen pop to every agent desktop or more intelligently route contacts to the agents best able to handle the call. How much time would be saved per contact? How many calls would be resolved with the first agent contact? By lowering the cost barrier to CTI deployments, IP contact centers promise wider deployment of these valuable applications.

Reason #3: Phone, e-mail, Web contacts on a single platform. If you currently manage separate centers or separate systems for phone, e-mail and Web contacts (chat, page sharing and forms processing), consider an IP contact center system on one platform. Not only will you reduce the cost of acquisition and integration, but system administration is simplified. More important, a single IP platform can provide consolidated reporting across all media types for improved business intelligence.

But the real argument for a multimedia IP-based platform is that it will improve the customer experience. Now you can set and monitor contact response levels for e-mail and Web sessions just as you have for phone calls in the past. For example, if an e-mail is not responded to within a configured period of time, it can be pulled from an agent and routed or 'pushed' to another agent to assure timely handling.

Separately, a single IP-based platform supports a multimedia experience. In the contact center this often means providing customers with the option of speaking live to an agent when self-service transactions are unsuccessful. How many Web purchases are abandoned because the customer was unable to speak to someone to resolve a problem or answer a question? The cost and complexity of the integration between phone and Web applications has been a barrier to this experience in the past. With the IP contact center system, there is no need for integration.

Reason #4: A single unified agent set for improved productivity. The multimedia IP contact center places a single user interface on the PC desktop... no need for a separate phone set. The cost of the phone set is eliminated, but also consider the training required on two instruments and the productivity loss of working on two instruments. With the right IP contact center system, the process for handling contacts is the same for a phone call or an e-mail or Web session.

Reason #5: System management. In either a multimedia environment or a multisite situation, the IP contact center simplifies the administration of systems and sites. Ideally, consider a single multimedia platform that leverages a single database and a single mechanism for designing contact workflow instructions for all media type. Similarly, a distributed architecture will permit system and site administration from a single point of access from anywhere on the corporate data network.

Reason #6: Route contacts to the best agent anywhere on the network. By definition, an IP-based contact center supports the networking of multiple centers. A distributed, networked architecture also supports the routing of contacts to the best agent wherever the agent may be located ' at a major contact center facility, a branch office or at home. Not only does this networked approach reduce the number of agents required to handle the same volume of contacts, but it also improves first call resolution by matching the best agent to handle the call from a larger pool of available agents.

The degree to which your centers are networked will determine the effectiveness of routing and the cost savings you realize. Not all system architectures are created equal in this regard. The issue with IP-based systems has been scalability. Next-generation, distributed architectures scale across multiple sites and hundreds of agents.

Reason #7: Continue to leverage legacy investments. Ultimately, every contact center will go to a single-network, IP-based system. The right migration plan will maximize the investment you have in legacy ACD systems while allowing you to quickly transition. Deploy IP contact center systems in greenfield situations and as you retire legacy ACD systems. Identify a first-deployment target center that provides an opportunity for you and your IT team to learn.

Armed with these compelling reasons, you may be tempted to rush to the IP contact center vendor nearest you. But beware, there are a few important considerations.

Single network, distributed architecture or hybrid, two-network architecture? The cost savings can be dramatically different. A two-network, IP and telephony solution will still require CTI integrations and telephony service charges.
Consider the system availability features of the system. The contact center is a mission-critical application. The five 9s metric of system uptime for proprietary ACDs no longer applies. Choose a system that takes advantage of the inherent distributed nature of the corporate data network for redundancy. Also, look for routing capabilities that re-route calls around local network outages and component failures.

Voice quality. Remember, the first lesson to teach others within your company is that this is voice over your managed corporate network, not over the Internet. The poor voice quality most people assign to VoIP involved voice over the Internet. When presented with the differences of carrying voice over the managed corporate network, IT and business managers understand the distinction.
You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that your data network is already VoIP ready. In some cases, no changes may be required to your data network to accept voice traffic. In the most likely scenario, your IT department will need only to reconfigure the quality of service settings on your existing network components, or your data network may need upgrades, which your IT department would eventually get to anyway.

With the right vendor and the latest generation of IP contact center systems, the contact center is on the verge of a transformation that will not only reduce operating costs, but enrich the customer experience. You may be pleasantly surprised that your IT departments are willing to work with you on this application and are in fact looking for other areas in the company where they can leverage the cost savings of VoIP. They too will recognize the contact center as the killer application for VoIP.

Joseph McFadden has launched several first-in-breed products for customer service applications. He has more than 15 years of experience with leading companies in the contact center industry. Most recently, he launched the NuContact Center with Nuasis Corp.. He can be reached at 408-350-4965 or at [email protected]. Nuasis provides companies with enterprise software designed to improve customer service and reduce contact center operating costs.

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