TMCnet - The World's Largest Communications and Technology Community
ITEXPO begins in:   New Coverage :  Asterisk  |  Fax Software  |  SIP Phones  |  Small Cells

July 2003

The Benefits Of IP-Enabling A Contact Center

By Laura Powers, Nortel Networks

Voice over IP (VoIP) has come a long way since the first rudimentary applications which provided erratic, yet free, phone calls over the unmanaged, open Web. Today, the maturity of VoIP standards and quality of service (QoS) on IP networks provide new opportunities for enterprises in the form of IP contact centers.

An IP contact center leverages IP telephony to enable call center services on a converged voice and data infrastructure. The degree to which the contact center relies on IP can vary from one implementation to another. In its basic form, an IP contact center uses its existing PBX and automated call distribution (ACD) systems and takes advantage of cost-effective, efficient IP links to connect agents. A fully developed IP contact center is built completely on IP-based components, including agent access devices, application servers and gateway mediation devices that interface with devices and customers that use traditional telephone services.

Regardless of the method of deployment, one can achieve 14 key business benefits by enhancing a conventional contact center with IP telephony.

1. Reduce network equipment and operating costs. If your organization already has an IP network, you can maximize your investment by converging voice and data on that infrastructure. If you're establishing a new contact center, you can deploy a single, converged network with one wire to the desktop and unified management ' instead of disparate voice and data networks, with their different lines, jacks, equipment, management systems and support specialists. Naturally, this type of consolidation can translate into increased network efficiency, lower training and personnel costs and remote management through a single interface. A fully converged network can be considerably easier and less expensive to manage.

2. Reduce toll costs. For international operations and inbound toll-free traffic especially, IP telephony can generate significant cost savings compared to circuit-switched voice services. Furthermore, whereas traditional telephony services are priced per minute, IP services (such as those offered via cable modem and DSL) are generally priced on a flat rate. Also, the transformation of a key cost component from a variable to a fixed cost greatly improves cost management and forecasting.

3. Reduce capital costs. Whether expanding an existing facility or building new centers, IP can be less expensive than circuit-based solutions. For example, agents can be equipped with PC headphones, rather than a dedicated business phone plus a PC, thereby reducing equipment costs per agent seat.

4. Locate agents anywhere. Cost-effective IP communication links (usually with no toll charges) allow you to locate agents in 'virtual call centers' that include branch offices and home offices just about anywhere. The latest IP telephony remote office solutions make it much easier to work with remote agents and will likely spur greater acceptance of this variant on telecommuting.

5. Reduce agent costs. Indirectly, IP telephony enables contact centers to reduce personnel costs in terms of salaries and support. For instance, the option to locate agents anywhere enables recruiters to draw from labor pools in lower-cost markets; for example, in rural areas. IP virtual contact centers may still require a centralized headquarter office for management, training facilities and equipment, but using remote agents can save significant facilities costs, such as floor space, heat and lighting. Home-based work options also contribute to lower costs by boosting agent productivity and reducing agent turnover and absenteeism.

6. Improve agent quality and satisfaction. The flexibility to work at home or close to home makes it easier to recruit and retain employees, especially if specific skill-sets such as language or technical knowledge are required, and meet the needs of a geographically dispersed workforce. In addition, agents working at home tend to be more satisfied because they can not only enjoy the comfort and conveniences of home, but they can also eliminate long commutes and the frustration of traffic and parking. According to some recent studies, agents working at home can be up to 25 percent more productive and have near perfect attendance.

7. Provide a seamless user experience. Remote agents and branch offices can be linked to the same contact center application used in the main contact center. Whether your agents are located at an Omaha contact center hub or in their rural home offices, customers and suppliers receive the same level of personal service and are unaware of any disparity due to the actual physical location.

8. Easily support peak loads and 24/7 service. By dynamically distributing calls among agents in many locations and time zones, contact center managers can support extended business hours and dramatic shifts in demand at far less expense. Agents working at home make it easier to cover peak call volumes ' often times, these agents can work on short notice or during odd hours to provide additional call coverage. This flexibility helps attract and retain customers by making it easier to do business with you, any way and any time.

9. Extend services to internal users anywhere. Running voice over your existing enterprise IP network (and/or virtual private network across the public Internet) enables you to cost-effectively and easily extend contact center applications, including reporting and administration, to employees and managers located almost anywhere.

10. Streamline contact center management. Web browsers can be used to connect with all of your contact center management, administrative and reporting tools from virtually anywhere. Moreover, centralized management of call center applications reduces administration and maintenance costs.

11. Adjust and expand to meet fluctuating requirements. By definition, IP is highly scalable and flexible. The ubiquity of IP services indicates that almost any home or branch office can become an extension of the IP contact center, with only minor investments in IP access devices and interfaces. Contact center managers can therefore add agents whenever needed to meet seasonable business requirements or new promotions. Capitalizing on the reach of the Internet, contact centers can be easily set up and dismantled for transient requirements.

12. Provide carrier-grade reliability. IP networks have matured to the point where they can offer the availability and reliability expected for customer-facing voice communications. With some solutions, IP contact centers can be engineered for survivable local calling capability and automatic fallback to the public switched telephone network (PSTN) if necessary to maintain quality of service.

13. Converge channels and services. Placing voice and data on the same network presents new possibilities for converging the many ways in which customers communicate with your organization ' voice, text, chat, e-mail, fax and Web co-browsing. For instance, a customer can click-to-call from a Web site and an agent can 'push' Web pages to a customer to provide more information or have custom screen pops on the agent's PC delivered over the same line as the voice call. Voice is still the dominant channel for providing contact center service, but customer expectations are rapidly evolving. As a result, the ability to interact with customers via multiple communication media will soon become a key differentiator for enterprises. IP telephony is clearly the future for converged, multichannel communication, as it unifies all interaction types onto one infrastructure for routing, application access and reporting.

14. Support future high-end applications. The traditional telephone network cannot support bandwidth-intensive applications, such as streaming video. Video is not widely used by contact centers today, but as broadband access becomes mainstream, customers can soon expect to be able to view contact agents, interactive product demos or informational broadcasts as part of their online experience. With adequate network performance, IP contact centers could readily support such high-end services which are simply not feasible on the PSTN.

In The End
The business case for an IP contact center makes sense. You can easily extend your contact centers to agents anywhere, while still providing a seamless experience for customers and suppliers. This flexibility can help attract and retain customers by making it easier to conduct business with them ' in any way and at any time. You can also save pennies per agent/minute, resulting in significant savings over the long-term. Overall, IP-enabling your contact center delivers the flexibility and functionality you need to handle customer contact needs more efficiently and effectively, resulting in stronger, more profitable relationships.

Laura Powers holds product marketing responsibilities for Nortel Networks' IP Contact Center solutions, including Nortel's Symposium Call Center Server and Web Client applications. She works with businesses across North America to understand the driving forces, challenges and results behind IP Contact Center deployments. Nortel Networks (www.nortelnetworks.com) is focused on transforming how the world communicates and exchanges information.

[ Return To The July 2003 Table Of Contents ]

Upcoming Events
ITEXPO West 2012
October 2- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
The World's Premier Managed Services and Cloud Computing Event
Click for Dates and Locations
Mobility Tech Conference & Expo
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
Cloud Communications Summit
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas

Subscribe FREE to all of TMC's monthly magazines. Click here now.