Increasing demand for 24x7x365 service, workforce globalization, open standards, and rapid technological innovation have all converged to set the stage for the IP contact center. And while IP solutions offer great potential when it comes to extending the contact center across the enterprise linking remote agents, integrating distributed call centers, and providing architectural flexibility the marketing hype surrounding the advent of VoIP (No cost communications! ROI in weeks!) can set organizations up for disappointment if they jump in head first without truly considering the practical implications. A well thought out adoption strategy is essential in order to make the most of existing investments, mitigate risk, and ensure that your organization leverages VoIP successfully. How should todays companies go about making the move to VoIP in their contact centers? And what are the five "essentials" that a truly effective IP solution should have?
Migrating To VoIP
Build a strong team. At industry conferences and events, I hear over and over again that one of the leading issues organizations face in migrating their contact centers to VoIP is a lack of alignment between the business managers running the contact center and the IT experts that need to make the technology work. This partly springs from the fact that, in the past, the contact center has operated as its own island separate from the IT underpinnings of the enterprise as a whole. But in a converged world, this is changing rapidly. If the IP contact center is to succeed, business and IT managers need to share the responsibility, by exchanging information early and often about goals, expectations, and how resources and budget will be allocated. From the contact center leaders perspective, this means explicitly specifying requirements related to business rules, reporting, service level agreements, and other key areas. And because downtime is such a critical issue for the contact center, managers also need t o provide accurate information on call volumes and flow so that the IT team can make sure there is adequate bandwidth to support IP initiatives. IT must also clearly understand the demands VoIP will put on the corporate network, as well as be prepared to address issues like quality of service, security, piloting, and more.
Plan deployment models. Is your organization planning to expand the reach of its contact center to remote sites? Do you want to network branch offices together to create a virtual contact center? Are you interested in leveraging at home agents? All of these IP-enabled scenarios require some planning related to quality of service, security and application choice. For example, connecting remote agents to the main contact center site is relatively simple, but quality of service is a consideration if agents are connected via broadband rather than through a VPN, and security considerations will vary depending on whether the agent uses a hard or soft IP phone. A careful assessment of what your organization hopes to achieve from its deployment is essential in order to make the best choices based on both infrastructure requirements and business need.
Get the kinks worked out. When piloting an IP solution, organizations need to take a number of considerations into account. Most important is to have as accurate an understanding as possible of call volume as this will determine the amount of bandwidth needed. Bandwidth calculators are helpful in this regard and widely available on the Web (see www.voipcalculator.com). In addition, the IT team will need to understand how to reduce latency, manage network congestion, and control quality of service. Once the stage is set for VoIP, the next and most important step is choosing the solutions that will leverage your organizations IP infrastructure to its fullest potential.
Choosing IP Solutions:
Practicality. With all the attention surrounding VoIP in the last several years, it can be difficult for todays businesses to separate hype from reality. Resist the temptation to jump on the IP bandwagon without first evaluating what really makes sense from a business perspective: (i.e., How can we improve customer satisfaction? Boost agent performance and efficiency? How can line of business managers obtain a more integrated view of contact center activity?) A company can invest millions in an IP network, but few true benefits will be realized unless application choices leverage the technology infrastructure whether its stand-alone IP or a combination of IP and PSTN to drive real-world improvements. Make the wrong application decision and your organization could be looking at an increase in expense and inefficiencies, regardless of the underlying VoIP network.
In many ways, todays software-based contact center solutions are the killer applications for VoIP because they can take advantage of it to add new capabilities, as well as improve existing functionality. For example, IP-enabled applications can support sophisticated call routing, consolidated reporting for an enterprise-level view of contact center activity, and help organizations seamlessly link remote agents and offices to present a single face to the customer. In addition, these solutions dont overlook simple enhancements to things like agent screen pops and IVR features that can lead to performance improvements independent of network infrastructure change. Networking devices such as gateways and routers will quickly become standard industry commodities. The solutions that make a difference will be those that help organizations stand apart from the competition to become more streamlined, cost effective and efficient no matter how much investment is made in the underlying network.
Leverage existing investments. Taking advantage of IP doesnt mean your organization needs to throw out existing (and expensive) voice investments. And for most contact center managers keeping costs in check is just as important as advancing capabilities no one likes to suffer through forklift upgrades. Look for solutions that can incrementally add important IP functionality, and at the same time extend and enhance infrastructure already in place. Operating in an IP or PSTN environment doesnt have to be an either/or proposition, especially for contact centers with years of investment, planning, and development linked to existing switching equipment such as ACDs and PBXs. In addition to hardware infrastructure, consider your organizations investment in existing business rules, configurations, and user interfaces. Hybrid architectures make it possible to deploy both PSTN and IP-based agents on a single platform a good choice for businesses that want to get the most out of the investments theyve alr eady made, take advantage of all that IP applications have to offer today, and lay the foundation for future IP migration that minimizes risk.
Simplicity. In a perfect world, technology is supposed to make business simpler, but all too often the opposite is true. Poor choices can result in unnecessary complexity for developers, administrators, managers, as well as users. It is critical to look for IP solutions that enable a single, integrated environment to manage contact center activity and workforce performance, create and deploy business rules, generate reports, and more regardless of underlying technology. Complex infrastructure creates functional silos that require expensive administration and redundant staffing. Solutions that foster simplicity are cost effective and efficient. For example, operations staff, charged with keeping mission-critical contact center systems running around the clock, will find it much easier to monitor and administer resources if they have a single interface and single set of system logs and alerts. Likewise, agents should be able to operate from a single user interface, whether they are handling customer conta cts via the phone, e-mail, or the Web. A comprehensive, fully-integrated contact center solution can deliver an environment that is less costly to maintain, whether an organization chooses to run on a 100 percent pure IP or hybrid environment.
Capture the Big Picture. As the contact center scales outwards, it becomes increasingly important for organizations to capture an end-to-end view of customer service and agent performance across multiple channels, business units and geographies. Consolidated, holistic reporting (as opposed to piecemeal reports on specific functions or locations in the contact center) is the only way that everyone in the organization from contact center managers and agent supervisors, to system administrators, executive management and agents themselves can get access to the information they need to continually improve customer service, efficiency, and performance. Look for solutions that offer pre-built and pre-integrated reporting capabilities that collect and analyze contact center data from across the enterprise and present it to users in a timely, actionable, user-specific format regardless of what system generated the data.
Open standards compliant. As standards such as VXML, SOAP, Web services, and SIP become more and more ubiquitous, the contact center industry must shift towards the use of open systems. Solutions supporting a common set of technology standards enable faster integration, simpler administration and greater flexibility and scalability. Because of all the advantages afforded by open standards, IP solutions built upon this foundation are a must.
When it comes to leveraging IP solutions in your organizations contact center, dont get lost in the hype. VoIP has many cost and efficiency advantages, but will yield minimal results for the contact center unless paired with the right business applications. Clearly articulate contact center goals, carefully evaluate solutions, and make sure that business management is aligned with IT as your organization moves forward. With proper planning and a realistic approach, companies can avoid costly mistakes while evolving the contact center to take advantage of all that VoIP has to offer, both today and in the future. IT
Karen Auman is Senior Product Marketing Manager at Aspect Communications. For more information, please visit the company online at www.aspect.com.
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