Taking The Center Out Of Call Center

IP: Taking The Center Out Of Call Center

Schelmetic, Tracey

When many people in the contact center market hear the term “IP telephony,” the first thing they frequently do is nod and respond, “Ah, yes…we thought about that. Good cost savings.”

What many do not realize is that IP telephony is about so much more than saving money. Of course, lower cost is a big element of why people seek IP telephony capabilities for their call centers. But beyond saving money, the benefits provided by the mobility, accessibility, quality, improved productivity, reliability and ease of administration are what ultimately attract savvy companies.

In this ongoing series, we’d like to explore the top ten benefits of IP telephony in the contact center, beginning with the ability to take apart the traditional call center and distribute it throughout the neighborhood, the state, the country or the planet.

The Call Uncentered

As the reach of global business began to extend (we’re used to having our kids’ toys made in China, our clothes made in Bangladesh and our strawberries grown in Ecuador, but are we yet used to having the guy we call for computer support in India and the person who answers our credit card issues in Romania?), it became clear that traditional voice just wouldn’t cut it. Poor voice quality, disconnectedness with customer data and the prohibitive costs of traditional long-distance telephony were all barriers to spreading a contact center’s business to other shores to take advantage of overhead cost savings and tax incentives.

For companies choosing to locate offshore, transparency to the end customer is a vital issue. Cost savings in labor are great, but if it takes five full minutes for the customers’ call to get routed to the correct place, it’s likely he or she will be long gone by then. For an overseas venture to work, it must seem to the customer as if the agent is next door.

The IP contact center model allows companies to overcome the problems of distance, disaster recovery, poor voice quality and a lack of reliability of a country’s traditional telecom infrastructure.

Agents In Pajamas

Traditionally, many, if not most, companies have viewed the call center not as a boon to business, but as a drain on resources: a money pit that was necessary, but evil. Regardless of what call center agents are paid, the costs of finding them, enticing them, hiring them, training them, supporting them and keeping them exceed their salaries, sometimes many times over. It’s not unheard of for some call centers to report annual turnover rates of 100 percent or more. With statistics like that, it’s not hard to understand why some companies view their call centers as fiscal black holes.

It’s only in recent years that newer technologies have allowed companies to start thinking about throwing out the model of how they operate contact centers. What if they could harness the skills and services of a contact center agent, but skip out on paying for that employee’s parking spot, heat, work station, cubicle rental, electricity, restroom maintenance, insurance and roof? Isn’t an agent who can work from home, with all the functionality of an agent in the physical call center, less likely to become a turnover statistic? The answer, for many companies, has been “yes.” Beyond that first answer, the second answer has been “IP telephony.”

IP telephony allows a company to route calls and data to agents as easily as if the agent were sitting in the third cubicle from the left in the seventh row. The same phone call, the same customer record, the same screen pop, the same database, the same multichannel functionality, the same contact management and sales software, the same workforce management and call recording capabilities, and the same quality – all handled by an undoubtedly happier, and probably less formally dressed, agent.

Virtual And Distributed Centers

While sending your agents to work from home, without direct physical supervision, may be a bit too far of a leap for many companies, a lot of organizations have become comfortable with the idea of distributed call centers. The voice and data convergence, not to mention the “anywhere” factor of IP contact center technologies, has allowed call centers to spread their physical presence around large (or small) geographic areas.

Offshoring is both an attractive and terrifying prospect for many companies. While we may like the idea of the cost savings and 24/7 coverage of offshore locations, parking the entire customer contact entity of a company in a foreign country may be perceived as too risky. Today’s IP-enabled contact center functionality allows companies to distribute their customer services in whatever way makes most sense to them. A large physical presence within North America is desirable from a traditional management standpoint, but in order to maintain round-the-clock, high-level service with this model, companies would have to keep second- and third-shift employees, not to mention specialists, on staff.

Companies are now finding that, in addition to the traditional brick-and-mortal call center, current IP-enabled technologies allow them to keep specialists on staff at all times, regardless of their physical locations. A call center that shuts down at 6:00 pm EST can seamlessly transfer its activities to a call center in another state, another time zone or another continent. The center’s only Portuguese-speaking agent is on maternity leave? With only a PC and a broadband connection, that agent can be fully on-call from her home office, should the need arise to say, “Bom Dia.” It’s holiday season and the queues are too long? Send the calls to the Nova Scotia center, which is having a lull and able to handle the spillover. There’s a hurricane heading for your main center in North Carolina? Send your agents home and shift all contact center activity to your call center in Nebraska. (North Carolina can return the favor next time there’s a tornado warning in Omaha.)

Currently, many smaller companies still labor under the misperception that IP is only for large enterprises, and not for them. Next month, we’ll examine why this view is not only untrue, but possibly just the reverse.

Home Agent Potential:

Among the Top 50 Teleservices Agencies, only 9% currently employ home agents.

Tracey Schelmetic, Editorial Director Customer Inter@ction Solutions® magazine

Copyright Technology Marketing Corporation Oct 2004

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