Using Internet protocol telephony (IPT), today’s call centre agents can access the features, functionality and information they need to better serve their customers. Terry Linton examines the benefits of a technology that can reduce capital costs while allowing businesses to become truly networked, and discusses whether it might be right for you, too.
Voice over IP (VoIP) has come a long way since the first basic applications provided free, although often erratic, phone calls over the open web. Today, the much-improved VoIP standards and quality of service of IP networks has opened up new possibilities for contact centre applications.
Aside from the infrastructure cost savings of deploying a single converged voice and data network, IP technology means that agents can be located in virtual call centres just about anywhere, without inviting additional call charges. This means that companies can draw on employee resources in lower-cost markets, and save significant overhead costs within the contact centres themselves.
|Is an IP Telephony solution for you? If the answer is yes to one or more of the following questions, IPT could be right for your business.
Leveraging IP in the contact centre makes it easy to deploy services to meet fluctuations in demand, such as for seasonal business requirements. IP also enables new multimedia service opportunities, such as web-enabled multimedia contact centres, unified messaging, and remote web-based contact centre management and reporting.
Most decision-makers today are not determining if they will leverage IPT in their contact centres, but rather when and how they will make it happen. So how should contact centre businesses go about realising this business utopia?
The first thing to consider is, of course, whether IPT will suit your needs. Medium to large businesses that need to connect with agents spread across multiple sites or remote offices, or small to medium companies establishing a new site or expanding operations, are ideal candidates for IPT. Further to this, IPT may be the right choice if:
- Your business experiences seasonal busy periods or regular promotional campaigns.
- Your business has experienced a large number of moves and changes recently.
- You would like to reduce equipment and network operating costs.
- Your business operations need to be based in multiple locations or you need to provide extended hours or multiple time zones.
- Your agent turnover is high or there is a lack of local skilled staff.
- Call holding times and abandoned call rates are increasing.
- You want to expand internationally or move contact centre operations offshore.
So what are the business benefits?
Whether you decide to deploy VoIP capabilities, or migrate all of your contact centre operations to an IP infrastructure, IPT can offer several important business benefits for contact centres. These include:
Reduced network infrastructure and operating costs
A single converged network for voice and data is considerably easier and less expensive to manage. For example, agents can be equipped with PCs with headphones rather than a dedicated desk phone as well as a PC. This immediately reduces equipment costs per agent.
Reduced call costs
VoIP services are generally priced on a flat rate, as compared to traditional telephony services that are priced per minute. This means that international operations and inbound 0800-number traffic are significantly cheaper, greatly improving cost management and forecasting.
Increased agent flexibility
By definition, IP is highly scalable and flexible, meaning that almost any home or branch office can become an extension of the IP contact centre. Contact centre managers can therefore add agents whenever needed to meet seasonable business requirements or new promotions.
For example, in a small company such as an estate agency which deals primarily with tenant and landlord requests and queries, nearly all call volume is handled without concern. However, when an event occurs, such as a storm that causes flooding in a number of houses, call volumes will rise quickly and could exceed the limited contact centre resources. Rather than putting customers on hold or taking messages, the company needs to answer and deal with all the calls sufficiently.
With IPT, field sales agents, managers, even the president and other top executives, simply log on to the Internet, connect to the IP-enabled phone switch, and register as an available agent. Instantly, contact centre resources can scale to meet unpredictable demand.
Reduced staff costs
The option to locate agents anywhere enables companies to recruit staff from lower cost markets, leading to reduced personnel costs in terms of salaries, turnover and support. IP virtual contact centres may still require a centralised office for management and network infrastructure, but using remote agents can save significant facilities costs, such as floor space, lighting and utility bills. The flexibility to work at home or close to home also makes it easier to recruit and retain employees, as well as reducing absenteeism and turnover.
Improved customer service
IP enables remote agents and branch offices to be linked to the same contact centre application used in the main centre so that customers and suppliers receive the same level of personal service no matter where the agent is located.
Additionally, by distributing calls among agents in different locations and time zones, contact centre managers can support extended trading hours and changes in demand at far less expense. This flexibility helps attract and retain customers by making it easier to do business with you.
More effective management capabilities
Web browsers can be used to connect you with all of the contact centre management, administrative and reporting tools from wherever you are, so reducing administration and maintenance costs. Running voice over your existing IP network also enables you to extend contact centre applications – including reporting and administration – to employees and managers located almost anywhere.
Exploiting convergence for future applications
Placing voice and data on the same network opens up additional channels through which customers can communicate with your business, including voice, e-mail, text and video. While voice is still the dominant channel for providing contact centre services, advances in technology mean that customers are becoming more used to multi-channel communication, and the ability to meet that expectation will become a key differentiator. IP contact centres can easily support these high-end services as they unify all communication and interaction onto one infrastructure for routing, application access and reporting.
What are my options for implementing an IP telephony contact centre?
As a result of intense competition in the telecoms and communications industry, the level of service and support you can expect from a vendor or supplier should be very high. Nonetheless, companies should look to choose a vendor or supplier with proven expertise in contact centre communications solutions.
A completely managed solution – from an audit of your existing communications infrastructure, to the design of a bespoke solution which takes into account your customer base, flexibility needs, agent distribution and communication channel requirements – may also be preferable: unless you have a dedicated IT consultant who is willing to take on the task, of course. This partner will then work with you to devise an implementation plan.
In terms of installation, an IP contact centre can be developed by IP-enabling a conventional contact centre to increase its capabilities, or implemented as a complete IP-networked contact centre. Where a phased approach is chosen, Internet telephony gateways can be added to the existing telephony switch, enabling it to support VoIP services. This means cheaper calls, better access to remote and field agents, and more flexible communications to deliver greater customer service.
You can then evolve an IP-enabled contact centre to an all-IP contact centre by replacing the traditional telephony system or other phone switch with an IP communication server. IP contact centre software applications can also be added to extend contact centre capabilities among branch offices and to remote agents.
In a pure-IP contact centre, calls that originate on the traditional telephone network are converted to IP by a media gateway. All communication between contact centre components, such as the routing of calls between agents and retrieval of customer database records, takes place over an IP network.
This approach offers all the benefits of IP as described earlier, such as lower operating and network costs from convergence, reduced call charges, seamless and more effective customer service, and a more streamlined reporting of contact centre activity.
Finally, it is critical that any move to IPT – whether you decide to deploy VoIP capabilities, or migrate all of your contact centre operations to an IP infrastructure – be undertaken in consultation with your employees and other departments within the company, as well as with key customers or suppliers. By keeping everyone involved and informed, and receiving their feedback about requirements, you will be able to tailor your communications solution to suit the needs of the business in the most effective way. Good communication throughout the implementation will also reduce downtime and customer service problems.
Terry Linton is contact centre product manager at BT Global Services
Tel: +44 1277 326 198