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April 2007
Volume 10 / Number 4
Enterprise View

Making the Most of IP Contact Centers

By John Joseph, Enterprise View

IP Contact Center solutions have now matured to offer the functionality contact center managers need to replace their existing TDM solutions. However, to realize the full potential of VoIP, organizations need to go beyond simply porting existing functionality into a VoIP environment. Rather than simply replacing a PBX (News - Alert) with an IP PBX, or an IVR system with an IP IVR system, organizations should change their processes to take full advantage of the inherent centralization, multimedia and convergence benefits that VoIP has to offer. Some of the most impactful process changes involve the better management and use of customer data. Collecting customer data and leveraging it in customer service and sales operations can lead to a big improvement in the customer experience and the long-term success of an enterprise.

The Advantages of IP Contact Centers
Today’s IP Contact Center solutions have a variety of advantages over traditional TDM systems including:

1. Lower Operational Costs — VoIP has the potential to yield significant cost savings from reduced phone charges, but the cost savings don’t stop there. VoIP provides the ability to centralize all call handling operations, regardless of the number of contact center locations or branch offices that must be served by the system. In fact, VoIP allows the contact center infrastructure to be distributed more widely, making it possible to leverage labor pools through at-home agents. Centralized call handling yields several cost and service benefits, including routing and agent utilization benefits because calls can be distributed across the entire agent pool rather than restricting routing schemes to a single location. Plus, centralized administration and upgrade management alleviates a tremendous cost and staffing burden and means that individual locations no longer have to maintain separate IVR or ACD systems or supporting contact center management applications such as call recording, workforce management or survey software. Finally, centralized call handling allows organizations to easily obtain a single, unified view of their operations via centralized reporting mechanisms.

2. Improved Customer Service — More consistent access to customer information, regardless of agent location, allows organizations to provide a more consistent face to the customer, resulting in better control over service quality. VoIP also provides a more elegant solution for multi-channel communications. Because voice transmissions now look the same as any other email, data or Web transaction, they can all be easily integrated together into a universal queue. Additionally, SIP end points can easily switch between different media (voice, text, video) for greater flexibility and more robust applications, enabling organizations to add new capabilities such as video for interactive voice and video response (IVVR) solutions. In a VoIP world, the time-to-benefit from new technologies is greatly reduced.

With these benefits alone, most enterprises are able to make a case for adopting an IP-based contact center, but IP also helps to break down the information barriers that traditionally have made the PBX, CRM, agent desktop, call recording, IVR, and workforce management applications operate as islands within the enterprise. The fact that VoIP forces all information to be carried over the network enables enterprises to better integrate these components and other enterprise applications. This allows them to improve the information flow throughout the contact center and the greater enterprise. Enterprises that can leverage the convergence benefits of VoIP to focus on the higher level business process will find that two plus two equals five. When your PBX, CRM, agent desktop, call recording, IVR and workforce management applications are working in unison, you will gain more benefits than each can provide on its own.

Leveraging the Convergence Factor
What are the benefits of focusing on the overall business process? In a fully integrated world, information collected through the contact center would be immediately available to the contact center manager and, to managers outside of the contact center as well. For example, each time a customer calls, the CRM database can automatically be populated with the call activity data (call length, agent ID, ANI, DNIS, IVR interaction, etc...) via a computer telephony integration (CTI) solution. Contact center managers can be alerted to all calls that exceed an anticipated interaction time to proactively identify training deficiencies, agent challenges, or customer issues that need to be escalated. And, account managers can also be alerted to excessive service and support utilization to proactively monitor their customers’ status. When the call recording system is integrated, either manager can simply click on the interaction to hear the discussion firsthand and better understand what action (if any) may be required.

Connecting these multiple systems can assist sales organizations running extensive lead generation programs to operate more effectively as well. Automatically populating lead records with a campaign’s specific call-in number using DNIS from the IP PBX enables an organization to better understand their program’s effectiveness. Taken a step further, that same DNIS data can be used to “pop” product specific scripts and data collection screens to the agent desktop solution for increased efficiency. When agents are-cross trained on multiple products, dynamic script-popping, coupled with intelligent routing solutions, enables an organization to maximize the productivity of their workforce.

As CRM, presence and agent skills management systems continue to evolve and to be integrated, there will continue to be more opportunities to tighten the needs-skills match to personalize service and to resolve calls more quickly. Because VoIP makes it cost-effective to extend the contact center infrastructure to more employees, organizations have an opportunity to tap their entire knowledge base — not just customer service agents — to better assist callers with complex issues. Coupling intelligent routing with an agent screen pop solution that shows historical data from the CRM system will enable agents to further personalize each transaction and resolve issues faster.

Realizing the benefits through standards
Today, many contact center managers face the challenge of moving to a high-quality, next generation system while managing constant budget pressures. The reality is that the upgrade to IP technology often occurs in stages. For example, a contact center manager may need to upgrade obsolete components, such as their IVR system, immediately, while squeezing another couple of years of life out of their PBX. Given these pressures, is it possible to leverage your customer information to reap the benefits of convergence? One tactic to ensure a smooth transition and to ensure that you can leverage customer information at the earliest possible time is to adopt standards- based architectures or components, such as those that leverage Web services, wherever possible rather than direct product to product integrations. Many standards initiatives around VoiceXML (News - Alert) and SIP, for example, have gained significant traction over the past few years and will ensure that your applications can handle change and will continue to operate as designed even when pieces of your infrastructure change.

But before you go out and buy a standards-based IVR, take a step back and rethink the services you would like to offer customers and understand how you can improve your overall business process. What information can be leveraged to personalize the customer interaction or improve processes outside the contact center, such as sales and R&D? How can you better match customer profiles to agent skills to maximize call resolution rates? Are there datapoints that could be connected to provide a better picture of the service you provide?

The knowledge gained by simple questions such as these will help you fully realize the benefits of the move to an IP Contact Center.

John Joseph is Vice President of Corporate Marketing for Envox Worldwide (News - Alert). For more information, visit the company online at


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