What to look for when buying voice over IP (VoIP)


This month, we’ve asked three key vendors – Amcat, Aspect Software and NICE Systems – for their advice on voice over Internet protocol (VoIP).
The role of VoIP in promoting integrated customer contact

By Dudley Larus, vice president of global marketing at Amcat (www.amcat.co.uk)

Frankly, the hype surrounding VoIP can be a little wearing. Is it important?
Well, yes, but let’s put it into perspective. VoIP doesn’t actually do that much directly. However, as a facilitator of many things that contact centres have wanted to accomplish for a number of years, it is
extremely significant.

If you look back over the past ten years of contact centres, there have been a few key themes:

  • Distributed contact centres that reduce costs and provide flexibility.
  • Better service and first call resolution for our customers for all types and levels of companies, not just the upper tier.
  • Multi-channel contact that allows the customer to choose the contact medium they prefer.

Did it all get implemented and completed? No. The promised land has been attainable and some large companies did come close over the past few years, but it was often extremely expensive and required expansive IT resources.

What VoIP does is provide us with a relatively inexpensive voice and data transport mechanism that makes these key
objectives attainable and affordable. Today, any size of organisation can afford to implement a distributed contact centre that will improve their ability to serve their customers.

Distributed solutions have the ability to place your customer at the centre of your communication universe – no matter where your agents, knowledge workers or content resources are located. When the customer is the focus of your communication efforts, you can more efficiently achieve your business mission as well as facilitate your customer’s requirement with your company. Resolving a customer’s need within the first call is becoming a primary measure of effectiveness and provides real cost reductions. Eliminating call-backs and missed calls, while providing the necessary content to your customers first time, reduces your operational costs.

While first call resolution, whether for sales or service, has become a key driver to measure success, most call centres are configured to achieve the exact opposite. Numerous data and communication silos create frustrating artificial walls and isolate customers from their purpose in doing business with your company. Silos are created when organisations implement a business contact process without taking into consideration the numerous interdependencies required for customer interactions, accessing appropriate content and through restrictive, closed technologies.

The virtual distributed contact centre extends the operation to remote workers and agents, remote sites, and to knowledge workers who are often not part of the physical contact centre, but who are nonetheless elements of your enterprise. In addition, contact centre technology can link multiple data sources, web-based channels, e-mail, video and
self-service into a unified communication solution – eliminating silos and barriers and providing customers with the ability to choose how they want to communicate.

In summary, a distributed contact centre solution based on VoIP can bring several benefits to an organisation:

  • Reduced costs. By more effectively routing contacts, fewer calls are transferred and the average amount of agent time required for each call is reduced.
  • Increased customer satisfaction. The distributed contact centre can reduce the amount of time it takes to resolve a query, smooth out the peaks and troughs, reduce call wait times, and increase the level of personalisation – such as routing high value calls to the local bank rather than to an anonymous contact centre.
  • Increased revenues. Higher satisfaction means that more customers return, creating more up-sell and cross-sell opportunities.
  • Business continuity. If one site suffers downtime, calls can be re-routed to another location without the caller knowing.

Tips for introducing VoIP in to your business

By Andy Sleath, marketing manager, Northern Europe and Africa, at Aspect Software (www.aspect.com)

In my opinion, there are nine key things that organisations should think about when they want to bring VoIP in to their call centre:1) Understand your business needs

Beyond needing a new telephony or contact centre solution, are there any business issues or problems that need resolving? Mention them to prospective suppliers – they may have ideas on how to resolve  them.

2) Understand your telephony requirements

Work out how many phone extensions or agent positions you need telephony for. Also think about the likely number of simultaneous calls and so on – just as you would when purchasing a standard phone system. And don’t forget your specific site requirements either – for example, how many extensions per site are required and what services are being operated
from what locations?

3) Test the VoIP readiness of your networks

Examine how ready your computer networks are for carrying VoIP traffic by looking at the type and speed of IP networks used, contention ratios, and whether routers are capable of implementing a quality of service (QoS) policy that can  prioritise voice (see point 6).

4) Pick a trusted supplier

Select solution vendors and VoIP service providers that can meet your current and likely future needs. If your organisation is operating a mixed environment of IP and traditional telephony, then ensure vendors can support both seamlessly. For contact centres, ensure that suppliers can provide a ‘complete’ solution – that is, everything from the ability to answer, prioritise, route and report on incoming customer contacts, to providing an offering that includes outbound capabilities, workforce optimisation, interactive voice response (IVR), performance optimisation and support for multiple customer contact channels in an integrated manner.

Be sure that suppliers can support key industry standards such as H.323, VoiceXML and SIP, and use familiar architectures such as MS Windows or Linux. Open standards provide investment protection. In addition, ensure vendors can support QoS policies that prioritise voice (see point 6) and different access strategies such as Ethernet, xDSL and wireless. And don’t forget to look for evidence of VoIP interworking with other vendors’ solutions.

5) Conduct a VoIP audit

Test LAN/WAN backbone performance under full call load and in continuous live operation. This will provide a guide as to likely network traffic at different times of the day, and days of the week, indicating what QoS issues may arise. Where practical, employ solutions that provide immediate and automatic notification of network problems such as congestion, latency and so on. In the event of failure or substandard voice quality, test each network component – for example, routers, switches and terminals – separately wherever possible.

6) Maximise network performance for voice traffic

Implement a QoS plan that gives voice priority over other non time-critical network traffic. Where practical, use virtual LAN (VLAN) techniques to physically separate voice traffic, or even entirely separate broadband connections for voice and other network traffic. This will make QoS and security much easier to implement and manage, as well as making VoIP
problems much easier to identify, isolate and resolve. Ensure QoS plans are compatible with underlying networks and devices, particularly whenusing Frame Relay, ATM or MPLS ‘clouds’ (see point 8).

Use appropriate powering, provide for system redundancy, and choose the right network compression codecs (g711u, g729a) relative to bandwidth. Voice quality can also be enhanced by using redundant and load-balanced IP routes, and by distributing voice connections across multiple locations.

7) Consider security

Understand the security approach of your VoIP vendor, appoint security specialists where appropriate, and develop clear rules and procedures on how networks are used and secured. Look from an architectural perspective at components and ask how susceptible they are to attack.

Even if a VoIP solution provides ‘built-in security’, always follow configuration best practices. In addition, think about closing unnecessary or redundant web server ports and set up routing tables where necessary. Look at vulnerabilities (security flaws) in products.  Patch often.

Also, look at applications themselves – scrutinise things like authentication, access control levels, encryption and user
actions. Closely monitor remote users and portable devices. And, finally, only use third party products that are simple to integrate and manage, and that won’t compromise security on your core VoIP platform.

8) Think about the networks that VoIP service providers users

When calls leave your building, VoIP service providers can lose control over call quality if, for example, lots of people are online at the same time or VoIP calls go through congested servers. As a result, voice packets can get held up or lost, resulting in delays or bits of words missing from conversations. Look for VoIP service providers that use either their own private networks or the traditional phone network to carry calls.

9) Educate users

Ensure you receive adequate vendor training on how solutions work – for example, how to diagnose equipment problems, how to diagnose network problems, and how to translate commonly reported symptoms into probable causes and remedies. Educating users also ensures that they are fully aware of potential security dangers. Users must know what they can and cannot do safely. They should also be aware that ‘free’ downloaded software sometimes comes at a price.

How to improve quality and performance using VoIP-enabled technology

By Martin Roberts, vice president, marketing and business development at NICE Systems (www.nice.com)I recently read an article from a contact centre manager who explained that more time should be spent meeting customers face-to-face to listen to their customer service needs and expectations, to better manage the business and improve overall performance.

I’m sure everyone would agree that quality should be at the heart of every customer service operation yet, in reality, listening to the views of a small percentage of customers is unlikely to deliver the insight needed to understand what will deliver significant performance improvements. Or, to put it another way, we are all familiar with technologies that help us to do things right, but what about doing the right things?

It is now possible to improve the quality and performance of your contact centre and other customer facing departments without relying on focus groups or monitoring samples of calls. Andrew Libuser, general manager of product management, IP networking, at BT Global Services, helps to shed some light on the situation with the following statement: “With the move towards improved customer service, better quality management and the need to comply with an ever-increasing number of regulations, more and more of our customers are turning to voice and multimedia recording solutions to help drive business performance.”

But surely – I hear you ask – it is not possible to listen to every call and read every e-mail a company records? Well, you may be surprised to hear that, with VoIP, it actually is. You are probably already aware of the many operational rewards that VoIP technologies, championed by companies such as Avaya and Cisco Systems, bring to the contact centre. Smart phones provide agents with much greater control over the interaction, enterprise applications can be rolled out quicker and flexibility can be improved to adapt to constantly changing volume demands.

However, you may not be aware that VoIP has enabled technologies that can act as the all-seeing eye of your customer service operations, providing not only the contact centre, but also the rest of the organisation, with the value of  unparalleled customer insight.

It is likely that you already have the foundation in place, with digital recording solutions making it possible to capture, securely store and retrieve 100% of interactions – not only voice interactions of course, but also agent screens, e-mails and other data sources as well.

By capturing and centralising all of your interactions, advanced analytics techniques – including speech analysis, emotion detection, talk pattern analysis, screen events, call flow analysis and customer feedback – can be applied to this captured data to extract meaningful insight from the veritable goldmine of unstructured information. This data can then be delivered to the rest of the organisation.

Taking advantage of these VoIP-enabled technologies will help the boardroom to place its customer service operations at the heart of the organisation, providing the lifeblood that marketing, sales and product development need to gain  competitiveinsight, assess campaign effectiveness, improve customer retention and acquisition strategies, generate product ideas, identify operational efficiencies and detect fraud.

For you at the coalface, it will enable you to better implement and manage agent training programmes. By identifying areas of excellence and skills that require improvement, you will be able to create bespoke training programmes for each agent, leading to greater customer and agent satisfaction.

Gaining insight from interactions, identifying synergies that can be shared freely across the organisation and implementing processes at the contact centre will empower you to establish key performance indicators (KPIs) that give a true measure of your contact centre’s performance, ensuring you identify and do things right and that the organisation does the right things.

Author: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 24th Mar 2006 - Last modified: 19th Nov 2018
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