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April 06, 2006

VoIP�s Benefits Start at Cost Savings, But Lead to Customer Service Transformation

By Special Guest

When organizations consider replacing their time division multiplexed (TDM) voice infrastructures with Internet Protocol (IP)-based communication infrastructures, cost cutting is usually their primary motivation. That’s sound thinking, because voice over IP (VoIP) networks are more economical to build and maintain than circuit-switched networks on just about every front.
VoIP networks reduce:
- hardware costs through server consolidation;
-administration, overhead, training and maintenance costs; and
-phone charges due to total or partial VoIP transmission.
Organizations that have focused solely on cost as their motivator are, however, missing an important dimension of VoIP that could save them even more in the long run by raising customer loyalty and reducing churn. VoIP conversions open up broad possibilities in customer service and contact center efficiency that will ultimately surpass economy as their primary benefit. VoIP enables companies to implement service improvements that have been technically possible but economically unrealistic until recently. Most companies, for example, know it’s more efficient to link call centers in different regions to provide 24x7 service. The expense of leasing lines or building private networks, however, has kept most companies from doing that.
Now, companies can use VoIP running over the public Internet to link their call centers, without a costly private network. The Internet as a voice infrastructure replaces expensive and inflexible leased lines with a low-cost, ubiquitous infrastructure. IP-based interactive voice response (IVR) solutions running on VoIP infrastructures can deliver a wide range of customer services improvements, including:
- virtual contact centers enabled by IP technology that reduce wait time and connect callers to more knowledgeable and more prepared agents; 

- more convenient and broader self-service options made possible by the ability to integrate diverse data sources with the IP IVR system.

IP-based IVR systems are the front end to a virtual call center and can collect information to automate the call entirely and/or to reduce the time of the agent on the phone. This versatile framework enables organizations to respond to sudden shifts in customer demands quickly, economically, and with higher quality service than possible with today’s voice infrastructures.
IP IVR systems facilitate virtual contact center environments in which information can be easily transferred to any agent, anywhere, as long as they have access to the Internet and the corporate VPN.  In addition, virtual contact centers can provide these agents, regardless of their location, with full access to the entire suite of contact center functionality, leading to a more consistent service delivery across contact center agents and across the world. Virtual contact centers can be used in organizations of all sizes and can provide many business advantages, for example, a company that wants to reduce wait times without adding agents can use an IP IVR system to distribute calls to idle agents across multiple call centers. A retailer with highly seasonal call volume can use outsourced agents to satisfy peak call volumes.
IP IVR systems are also easily integrated with enterprise data sources via technology such as Web services, which is an advantage in many different customer service scenarios. Companies can make more information available to their customers 24x7 through automated self-service applications by, for example, integrating the IVR system with both the billing system and the CRM system to provide personalized service and options such as pay-by-phone.
IP IVR systems can extend the benefits of a migration to VoIP beyond simple cost savings. The compatibility of IP IVR systems with standard IT technologies, such as Web services, allow enterprises to use distributed agents and virtual contact centers with confidence and to improve customer service through more useful applications and a consistent experience. Over time, increased contact center efficiency and improved customer service levels can dwarf the initial cost savings realized from converged voice and data networks.
John Joseph is vice president of corporate marketing at Westboro, Mass.-based Envox Worldwide.

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