This is the year that the number of enterprise IP PBX lines shipped will exceed those of TDM shipments. The telephony market is moving towards the functional flexibility and efficiencies of IP Telephony applications. Even though VoIP networking will reduce usage costs and Total Costs of Ownership (TCO), the real drivers for migrating to IP include the increased flexibility and operational efficiencies in handling customer contacts and satisfying operational needs. These involve both automated application self-services and live assistance in all modalities of communication contact.
Customer contact applications have now become the target for migration to standards-based IP telephony and the enterprise challenge now is not only a matter of “when” but “how.” In particular, the dramatic changes taking place in how customers interact with the business enterprise, i.e., via the web and the functional changes to the traditional voice-only telephone, will require any customer contact technology migration to be both flexible, able to directly address an enterprise’s business objectives, while remaining “future-proof.”
Customers can choose to use a single vendor for all their applications, often based on proprietary integrations, or opt for the flexibility of “best of class” software application servers, based upon “open” standards such as Session Initiation Protocol (SIP).
Focus on the Migration of Customer Contact Applications
The reality of telephony migration to IP infrastructure is that legacy TDM technology will not go away overnight. To make migration “graceful” and maximize existing investments, new IP telephony applications in existing enterprise operations will have to integrate effectively with current technologies. Since customer contact centers are mission critical, the challenge is to flexibly accommodate legacy proprietary hardware and software to interwork with new applications across IP networks without disrupting day-to-day operations.
Because VoIP and IP telephony is enabling the transformation of the legacy telephone call center into a distributed, enterprise-wide, and multi-modal operation, the traditional, on-premise ACD equipment of the past is no longer adequate for the “virtual” IP future. With IP, voice is just another application on a data network
IP telephony and VoIP network connectivity, coupled with open (non-proprietary) IP standards for Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) required to intelligently route telephone calls, will not only make customer contact operations more functionally flexible, but also less difficult and expensive to implement. In addition, IP connectivity will also efficiently enable the integration of traditional call handling activities with other forms of customer contact, including email, voice mail, SMS, and Instant Messaging. Finally, it will make all customer contact applications easier to centralize and manage as pure software servers across the enterprise data network.
Call Routing – An Open and Flexible Foundation for Customer Contact Operations
While there are a number of applications involved in supporting customer contact operations, the “heart” of the traditional customer call center application has always been call routing. This application integrates proprietary enterprise telephony switches (PBXs) with data base information through “Computer Telephony Integration” (CTI) to intelligently route customer calls to the most appropriate enterprise resources available. With multi-modal access (voice, messaging, chat) and network – wide staffing, intelligent routing is becoming more complex, but even more strategic, to future enterprise customer contact operations. IP enables an enterprise to virtualize and route all interactions throughout the enterprise – even to non contact center personnel - and match each customer’s intent with the appropriate resource within the enterprise. This ensures that all interactions are handled consistently and according to an enterprise’s global customer care strategy.
As we have pointed out in previous articles, “intelligent” network-based call routing will become heavily dependent upon using IVR applications to qualify the purpose of a call in order to efficiently route it to appropriate enterprise resources. This will make IP-IVR a key element of the routing function, in addition to enabling telephone-based self-service applications.
The Genesys View
One of the leading customer contact software providers, who have long specialized in CTI-based routing solutions for a variety of traditional TDM and VoIP switches, is Genesys. We were most interested in getting their views on the new challenges facing enterprise organizations for migrating their customer contact technology to an IP network environment. Therefore, here are some questions we put to Steve Rutledge, Vice President, Product Marketing, with Genesys.
What is the fundamental benefit of VoIP and IP telephony for customer contact technologies?
IP eliminates proprietary hardware integration problems and shifts them to standards-based software. This not only facilitates traditional CTI for telephony, but also provides greater flexibility in integrating all software-based application servers across a standards-based IP network.
It also enables desktop “hard” phones to become converged with customer contact applications in screen-based “softphones.” This convergence at the desktop will be critical to supporting the new channels of customer contacts with appropriate agent skills, including, email, instant text messaging (chat), and co-browsing. The screen interface will also be necessary to effectively exploit new IP-based presence technology to easily access internal experts for “collaborative” conferencing in order to achieve “first call resolution” for maximizing both customer satisfaction and operational efficiencies.
What are you seeing today as the biggest obstacle to enterprise migration to new, IP-based customer contact technology and what do you recommend to your customers?
The biggest obstacle is a practical business case to cost-justify a full IP telephony migration, starting with some form of IP-PBX. Because customers don’t necessarily have to purchase a new IP PBX, but can deploy a standards-based IP Contact Center to be used in conjunction with their legacy TDM PBXs, migration costs can be minimized.
While such technology cost savings are important, we recommend to our customers that they also look at using IP to route calls intelligently to all levels of available staff across their network. This will not only increase customer satisfaction, but will reduce customer contact labor costs, which typically account for 70-80% of all call center operational costs. Because IP enables agents to work flexible hours from home, it increases overall job satisfaction and, as a result, reduces turnover.
How are enterprise organizations reorganizing their telecommunications staffs to more effectively support the integration of telephony with business applications through IP?
We see this issue as the second most common migration obstacle in many companies. In addition to shifting organizational responsibilities to ensure that the data network and telephony management staffs start working together as complementary teams, we recommend that the migration plan enable existing TDM contact center application technology (ACDs) be augmented with IP networking and VoIP connectivity.
This has been our core expertise, bringing the telephony and data world together for the last 15 years. Because we can support a variety of graceful migration strategies, where the same applications can run on TDM, hybrid, pure or standards-based IP infrastructure, customers can transition to IP telephony on their own terms and timing.
How can an enterprise operationally exploit the benefits of a new IP network to optimize the use of network-wide staffing resources for customer contacts?
In order for companies to gain the maximum operational benefit from IP networking for customer contact applications, it must be able to implement centralized, network-wide, “intelligent” interaction (voice calls, email, voice mail, Instant Messaging) assignment routing. This means enabling the enterprise to dynamically match customer profiles and contact needs with all available enterprise resources. This includes both live staff assistance across the enterprise, including home agents and outsourced staffing, as well as self-service applications.
Genesys recommends the use of an advanced routing engine, which works for any network infrastructure, (IP or TDM), along with integration with other customer contact applications, such as Work Force Management and CRM software. This approach will increase the overall efficiency of distributed contact center operations. The routing engine should be capable of identifying appropriate staff resources at the network level or at the premise level, depending on a variety of operational requirements and contact center topologies. For example, assigning s pecific personnel such as the last agent the customer interacted with or agents assigned to high value customers (personal agents).
What do you recommend to customers for combining different modalities of customer contact?
This is another migration obstacle for enterprises that may currently handle each modality separately and inconsistently, e.g., phone calls, emails, voice mail, chat, fax, etc. Because customers may utilize more than one mode of contact, it is critical that there be service consistency and continuity across all contacts. More critically, from a “first contact resolution” objective, the ability to dynamically switch modalities depending upon individual customer’s situations is also becoming more important. This would enable escalation to real-time contacts like “click-to-chat” or “click-to-talk” to take place while on a web site or from a messaging mode.
The challenge for the distributed contact center is to manage, control, route, and report all multi-modal interactions. The contact center environment is becoming more complex and now requires unified and centralized management of all customer interactions across multiple contact channels.
How can enterprise customer contact activity integrate with third-party business and communication applications?
This has been a traditionally challenging problem in the past because of expensive and difficult integration. Genesys customer contact solutions offer the integration adapters to all leading CRM applications (Microsoft, PeopleSoft, SAP and Siebel, etc), as well as integration with virtually any form of customer contact interaction, including Email systems, voice mail systems, instant messaging and fax media. These productized interfaces are available on any infrastructure, TDM or IP.
What about consolidating the collection and reporting of all forms of customer contact activities?
With the migration of customer contact activity beyond just phone calls, it is critical to track all customer contact activity across the distributed/”virtual” enterprise for CRM purposes and contextual “screen pops.” This will include all web-based online and messaging activities, not just telephone calls. Furthermore, as customer contacts become “transmodal” (e.g., click to chat, click to talk, call return from messages, etc.), all contact activity will become converged.
Genesys solutions consolidate the information collected from various data sources into a single “data mart” containing the details of all interactions. This enables enterprise-wide access to all customer interaction details so that all customer contact stakeholders (executives, customer contact operations managers, business unit managers, etc.) can have uniform and consistent visibility into customer activities.
What are the technology choices for IP telephony server infrastructure?
When considering the basic architecture of an IP contact center, two PBX-centric approaches were available initially: the hybrid and the pure IP models. Both of these typically require a CTI- enabled IP-PBX, middleware and applications from a single vendor. The resulting implementations can limit the flexibility to change hardware or add other media channels beyond voice.
- Hybrid IP - Upgrading an existing TDM PBX with gateway and IP phones using proprietary protocols or proprietary extensions to standards such as CSTA
- Pure IP – Deploy a brand new PBX that only supports IP technology using proprietary protocols or proprietary extensions to standards such as CSTA.
Both of these architectures are voice-centric and typically tied to proprietary PBX hardware coming from a single vendor.
A third alternative, the standards-based approach, is now available thanks to the adoption of open standards like Session Initiation Protocol (SIP).
- Standards-based - This modular approach enabled by SIP allows applications servers to selectively interoperate together directly over IP network connections, without the need for telephony-centric CTI links to a PBX. In some cases, there may not be a need for an IP-PBX at all. SIP-based IP-telephony applications can be deployed to provide advanced call control and business rules routing while sitting on top of a voice-ready IP network. SIP is used as the communication protocol between end devices and is both media and hardware independent.
The open, standards-based SIP approach maximizes the benefits of IP networking today as well as future-proof customer contact technologies for tomorrow by enabling:
- Application portability – Migrate legacy applications to the IP environment.
- No single vendor lock-in - Allows companies to select best-in-class vendors (CPE or Hosted services) for different software-based customer contact applications that will be continually evolving.
- Reduced total cost of ownership - According to Gartner estimates, contact centers using open standards will operate at 25% less costs than in a single vendor environment.
What are the most practical starting points for gracefully migrating customer contact operations to IP telephony?
The challenge that most customers face today is to how to migrate gracefully and cost effectively from their current telephony infrastructure to IP, and the flexibility of IP networking and software-based CTI provide a choice of practical alternatives.
Depending on individual enterprise needs, there are several kinds of starting points that can be implemented, selectively or combined.
- Enterprises can begin their IP migration within an existing site. Instead of a whole scale migration, they can keep some agents on the existing phone system while adding new IP-based agents, including new “home agents.” This approach facilitates pilot testing of new business applications for both agents and customers and minimizes any agent retraining demands.
- Enterprises can choose to begin their migration with a brand new site so that they do not have to deal with the technical upgrade issues of migrating from a TDM to an IP infrastructure. With this approach, they can apply the same business rules and routing to be consistent with other existing sites…all managed across the network as a single customer contact operation.
Enterprise migration options can also include adding outsourced call center staffing from networked third-party service providers locally or overseas.
Genesys is also partnering with a large number of Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to deliver complete hosted/managed contact center solutions that can integrate through IP networking with existing and/or new enterprise customer contact operations. Managed Service Providers offer a wide range of hosted services such as a centralized voice self-service platform (IP-IVR), contact center services, and 800/VoIP network-based routing.
What does Genesys recommend to its customers as a practical implementation migration path to IP-based customer contact operations?
While “ greenfield” situations can implement IP-based IP telephony technologies all at once, they still need to retain flexibility for the future. For current enterprise contact center operations, however, our recommended migration logic would include the following major steps:
Phase One – Deploy IP network routing over existing TDM environments and “virtualize” their contact center infrastructure
As a result, customers can capture the benefits of IP on their existing infrastructure without capital expenses at each location. This will enable contact center agents to receive application screen-pops and enable all multi-modal contacts (voice, email, Web, fax) and business application integration across multiple locations. In addition, this phase will enable the creation of consistent, enterprise-wide, multi-modal routing rules, while retaining the entire existing legacy infrastructure (TDM PBX, IVR, fax servers, etc.).
Phase Two – Deploy a centralized, IP-based, voice self-service platform and start replacing legacy IVR at each premise location
This will enable callers to indicate the specific purpose of individual calls, in order to intelligently route the call to appropriate live assistance or self-services. It also facilitates the connection of the PSTN network to an IP backbone for centralized routing purposes. New IVR servers also allow speech recognition technologies to be added to telephone-based self-service applications. The benefits are:
- Centralized switching: Calls are “intelligently” routed from the network directly to individual agents anywhere on the network (avoiding inefficiencies of call “tromboning”, manual transfers, etc) or self-service applications.
- Investment protection: Existing network and server infrastructures such as LANs, WANs and PBXs are preserved
Phase Three – Selectively deploy remote agents using VoIP networking and IP endpoints
These can include outsourced and off-shored ACD groups, as well as individual “home agents,” and customer-facing 2 nd and 3 rd level business application “experts.”
Phase Four – “ Virtualize” all customer-facing personnel across the network and the complete enterprise (HQ, branch offices, remote / home agents)
Migrate depreciated sites over time. The enterprise and its third-party service providers become the distributed “virtual” customer contact center. Migrate all depreciated infrastructure to IP and replace voice-only communication end-points selectively with multi-modal desktop and handheld devices.
What are the biggest mistakes that an enterprise can make in evaluating their needs for IP-based customer contact applications?
- Not doing due diligence for all the ROIs that will result, including cost savings, staff productivity, agent retention, and customer satisfaction and retention.
- Like any communication technology implementation, forgetting to properly represent all “end users” of the technology in the planning and decision-making process. This will be particularly important as consumers change their ways of getting information and communicating with an enterprise. In the case of the customer contact application, this will require involving the following operational management levels:
- Business unit management for customer needs and policy
- Contact center management for customer-facing support and supervisory staff
- IT technology support and administration
- IT business applications development (Online access by agents, customer self-services)
What are the biggest mistakes that an enterprise can make in planning their implementation of IP-based customer contact applications?
- Confusing basic IP networking technologies (point-to-point) with communication application servers for “intelligent” contact center routing.
- Limiting future options by using only voice-centric platforms (IP PBX/IP ACD/CTI) to build a multi-modal customer care solution.
- Not performing adequate usability testing with agents and customers
- Not reassessing the impact of multi-modal traffic and ensuring that your LAN/WAN network infrastructure has dedicated capacity to support voice QoS.
- Insuring security and privacy requirements for all forms of customer contact
What makes Genesys a leader in customer contact IP migration?
Genesys is a leading vendor of contact center software because of its strong experience with software-based, “intelligent” call routing technology deployments, especially in multi-vendor telephony environments. Having long been in the forefront of contact center implementations, Genesys is leveraging its experience to advance the SIP standard to meet future needs.
Genesys supports all three infrastructure approaches to IP telephony described earlier (Hybrid, Pure IP, standards-based SIP), either individually or in combination. Their “Open IP” architecture flexibly integrates today with 23 hybrid and pure IP PBXs using a CTI interface. It can also be deployed in conjunction with any SIP softswitch or as a standalone solution between SIP gateways and telephony endpoints.
- 100% customer contact applications, focused on 100% software products
- Expertise in CTI for over 15 years
- Deployed VoIP/IP Telephony contact centers since 1999
- Able to handle all interaction types consistently and route according to the chosen business strategy to the right resource within the enterprise
- Positioned to deliver on best-of-breed solutions that exploit the new flexibility of IP, along with interoperability with existing communication applications and infrastructures
- Over 3000 customers globally
Although the functions of the traditional “formal” telephone call center staff won’t ever disappear, there is no question that customers will not rely on voice alone for self-service information access, transactions, and, of course, live assistance. Not only has the web opened the doors to IP-based online customer application services, but multi-modal messaging is also joining real-time conversational voice in providing responsive, live assistance to customers. In addition, as customers become more mobile with their personalized communications, the traditional logic of priority queuing for all forms of live assistance and being responsive to customer contacts will also have to change.
The technology industry is starting to cross these chasms and enterprise management must seriously plan to “futureproof” their communication technology implementations, especially in the sensitive and mission-critical area of customer contact. We expect to see SIP-based presence technology applied to customer contact operations. Only “open” standards, coupled with flexible interoperability between communication applications and user devices will do that trick.
What Do You Think?
What do you think is the most important benefit of IP-based customer contact applications? With “open” IP standards, will it really be so important to have a single supplier for hardware and software, as in the past, or will software interoperability become key? What impact will the increase in mobile customer contacts have upon customer contact strategies?
Let us know your opinion by sending them to [email protected]
Art Rosenberg is a veteran of the computer and communications industry and formed The Unified-View to provide strategic consulting to technology and service providers, as well as to enterprise organizations, in migrating towards converged wired and wireless unified communications. He focuses on practical user requirements, implementation issues, and new benefits of multi-modal communication technologies for individual end users, both as a consumer and as a member of enterprise working groups. The latter includes identifying new responsibilities for enterprise communications management to support changing operational usage needs most cost-effectively.
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