Over IP: Hitting Home Runs In The Contact Center
Every spring, the first game of the season fills my leisure time with
visions ' of baseball and speculations about the prospects for my
favorite team. Sometimes those visions color my product management job,
and I then find myself reviewing product scouting reports and performance
stats to wonder if Internet telephony is ready to give traditional
telephony solutions a run for the pennant in the contact center '
especially since Internet telephony delivers the benefits of voice over
the Internet, or VoIP, with the functionality of real-time data and other
Since its introduction in the late 1990s, VoIP had many skeptics
debating its commercial viability. There were many problems for the
skeptics to cite. Technical concerns included quality issues like latency,
security lapses and a lack of end-to-end QOS (quality of service). I am
happy to report those issues are absolutely out of the game. Today,
equipment and application leaders are teaming with network service
providers to tackle and conquer those issues. VoIP has technically grown
up. More accurately, IP's ability to support VoIP voice has become
reality. Businesses of all sizes are reaping the benefits of VoIP in the
Until now, however, the technical service re-quirements were still a
challenge for many businesses, and there's still a need to work closely
with service providers around the world to enable these services and
ROI Or RBI ' Runs Batted In
VoIP is helping business owners maximize their returns by allowing them to
create virtual contact centers anywhere they need them, and a variety of
them are realizing great competitive advantage across three kinds of
- Typical retail stores;
- Work-at-home contact centers; and
- Follow-the-sun contact center applications.
For example, retail chains could take advantage of the slow times in
its retail stores. Store managers can staff the stores for their peak busy
periods, and by installing a hosted contact center solution, increase the
productivity of salespeople and turn every store into a virtual contact
The virtual nature of VoIP-enabled contact centers could bring
productivity of salespeople to a new level. For example, the back room of
any retail store could be set up as a virtual contact center, putting the
sophisticated support tools of the contact center agent in the hands of
every ordinary store salesperson. Store clerks could know what the
customer bought online, by phone, even in another store, because they have
access to a complete buying profile of the customer, enabling them to
adjust their pitch to each customer's interests and buying patterns.
With only a PC and broadband IP connection, retail clerks could take
advantage of store downtime to call customers and let them know about new
deliveries or sales and promotions. Customers at retail chains could get
the kind of personal service that was previously only available at
Store managers at those retail establishments could also take advantage
of their sales resources during periods of slow in-store traffic to create
new inbound and outbound customer contacts. For example, the company could
allow the local manager the discretion to start or stop special promotions
as the traffic in that particular store dictates. It would put a powerful
tool into the hands of the local manager to optimize returns from each
store. If local events, such as bad weather, cause a slump in customer
traffic, the manager could have the clerks make calls to key customers to
offer a special discount or promotion. Conversely, a manager with good
results could delay offering discounts, keeping margins up.
Switch Hitting ' The Work-At-Home Contact Center
Flexibility is the most important characteristic of a winning major league
team or a contact center. As coaches want players who can switch hit or
play utility in-fielder, businesses also need the ability to offer flex
work arrangements to attract the best workers. Numerous contact center
managers with whom I've worked have sung the praises of some of their
best, most dependable team players ' the 'soccer dads and moms.'
According to my contact center manager friends, parents who want the
flexibility to work around their kids' schedules are among the most
reliable and productive agents in the business.
Businesses that use the work-at-home contact center strategy experience
a number of key advantages:
- Reliable, skilled agents who switch from 'soccer dad or mom' to
contact center agents with ease. Any home with a VoIP quality
broadband connection can now be equipped as a VoIP contact center with
- Distributed, satisfied agents who can get the schedule they want and
don't need to travel to a centralized location;
- Access to a much broader pool of talent without the significant
costs of a brick-and- mortar contact center; and
- Evolution to a converged environment where voice is available in the
same infrastructure as the data, eliminating expensive separate lines.
All of these advantages center on the ability to create a virtual work
environment around VoIP technology. The core value proposition of VoIP
technology is that it brings to many applications the same functionality
without regard to geography. You can locate the technology almost
anywhere, and you don't need to reconfigure the infrastructure as you
move agents around or as the business grows. Voice and data in the contact
center are integrated with access to a single customer database so all
agents get a total view of the customer.
Getting Ready For The World Series: Global Economy Demands Global Support
One clear benefit of the Internet is its escalation of the global economy
for small- and medium-sized businesses. Large companies have been able to
distribute their operations around the globe for decades. But the
investment in wide area networks (WANs) was beyond the reach of most
small- and medium-sized businesses. Now the IP protocol standard is
facilitating the creation of virtual worldwide networks at a fraction of
the cost of a private WAN.
With a virtual IP contact center, small- and mid-sized businesses can
provide more affordable around-the-clock support. Not only are the network
costs more affordable, the business can take advantage of the best labor
rates for its contact centers. Support can follow the sun by taking
advantage of the best labor pools for multiple time zone and multiple
language support, eliminating the need to pay overtime rates in any time
A 'follow-the-sun' customer support strategy also provides flexible
disaster recovery. Multiple customer support centers'brick-and-mortar
and virtual ' facilitate instantaneous restoration in the event of
network outage or other disaster. If a business chooses a hosted contact
center solution, it gets immediate redundancy.
Instant restoration is only one advantage. Another critical capability
is smooth migration from existing analog systems and call centers to IP
telephony call centers. Support to both traditional call centers and VoIP
is a critical requirement businesses should demand from vendors.
The flexibility and availability of a hosted contact center have a
significant impact on the total cost of ownership for the contact center.
A hosted solution, in effect, outsources the technical and capital
investment headache. It eliminates the need to hire and train an IT staff.
Further, the service providers and their suppliers assume the issues
around technology obsolescence. Finally, small and medium-sized companies
can afford the functionality of the big company on a small company budget.
Scoring In CRM Means 360' Visibility And Support
A contact center that uses VoIP should let businesses see one integrated
view of the customer. All customer interactions via phone, fax, e-mail,
snail mail or in-person should be visible to agents through shared
interaction data access. This allows a new, higher level of customer
intimacy. Large businesses can appear to know their customers better. And
the little guys can look like the big guys because they get an integrated
view of the customer and a complete history for relatively little
But 360' visibility in CRM works in both directions. The business gets
a total picture of the customer, and the customer gets a multifaceted view
of the business. Where is the customer's order? What's on the invoice?
What's back-ordered? What are the new delivery dates? Customers'
expectations are high and rising. Comprehensive round-the-clock support
with 100 percent uptime is a mandate rather than an expectation. Meeting
that objective is going to require some new business relationships and
business models. Service provider hosting is that solution.
Hosted solutions from telecom service providers promise to remove that
last obstacle and make VoIP in the contact center the MVP, most valuable
player. This paradigm presents a winning combination for both small- and
mid-sized businesses and the service providers who support them.
Here's how it works: Service providers, their applications and
equipment suppliers collaborate to install and manage the business'
applications in the service provider's data center and on its network.
If needed, the supplier supports the business customer at its location,
ideally giving these customers access to best-in-class, affordable
applications. These 'outsourced' applications are delivered over the
service provider's IP and voice networks. Customers will have the
advantage of knowing they're using market-leading technology from their
service provider and its supplier without the awesome responsibility for
building and maintaining their own contact centers.
The service provider delivers seamless support for both traditional and
VoIP contact center locations with the technical support businesses expect
from their phone companies. Some providers of communications networks and
business services are offering hosted versions of their enterprise
products for Internet telephony and contact centers through service
provider partners. There are advantages in working with those suppliers
that provide equipment and applications to contact centers with more than
400 agents, as they will really understand the day-to-day demands of those
centers. Here are some of the other critical requirements that contact
center managers should demand from any contact center vendor:
- Reliability. Insist on fault-tolerant server options and distributed
architecture to avoid disasters rather than only doing disaster
- Physical and operational security. Take advantage of the advanced
service provider secure environments while hard security boundaries
between business customers allow for complete separation for security
issues, as well as for performance and operational concerns.
- Data security. Demand data security between enterprises with an
architecture design that supports security.
- Guaranteed peak performance. Demand a hosted architecture design
that provides 100 percent peak performance for each enterprise.
- Flexible implementation. Make sure you get a standards-based
development environment because a flexible implementation is easily
customizable to unique needs. Support for application program
interfaces (APIs) also simplifies integration into existing networks.
It should also be preintegrated with CRM solutions from other vendors,
and the hosted product should have deployment ability in either a
centralized or a distributed architecture.
Another advantage of a hosted IP telephony call center is its provision
of consistent infrastructure around the world. Managing a hosted contact
center solution, I have learned that service providers want a superior
product offering, a complete partnership strategy, a smooth migration from
traditional telephony and a flexible pricing policy that allows the
service provider to gradually grow the capability.
This is an exceptionally exciting area that is exploding. Service
providers and enterprise business customers want to get into the business
of VoIP without the hassle. They want hosted contact center solutions.
Businesses are now beginning to realize how much they can harness the
power of VoIP in the contact center to operate on a global basis, improve
customer service, enhance customer intimacy and increase sales.
So, as Yogi Berra once said, 'Baseball is 90 percent mental, the
other half is physical.'
While we can't admire his math, I think we all understand the
sentiment. I'll take his thought and apply it to VoIP in contact
centers: the successful VoIP contact center is 90 percent service, the
other half is technical. I'm predicting that hosted VoIP in the contact
center will break all the records for scoring hits with customers because
it has the best of both worlds ' comprehensive service and world-class
Bob Gilbert is product manager, Hosted Contact Center Solution, for the
Service Provider division of Avaya.
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