It's one of the most common refrains among today's telephony enthusiasts: VoIP can drastically increase savings and cut operating costs in a contact center by reducing long-distance call charges. But is the hype to be believed? Maybe not. According to Colin Taylor, CEO of contact-center consultancy The Taylor Reach Group, while it's true that most companies can expect a financial return on a VoIP investment, the metrics justifying the acquisition of an IP telephony system are quickly changing.
Originally, VoIP promised to help companies reduce international toll charges by allowing users to dial into a PBX, which would then switch traffic to VoIP. For example, experts estimate that companies can save up to 60 percent on call costs by routing interoffice voice calls over data networks. But as carriers slash long-distance charges and low-cost VoIP systems flood the market, more and more companies are looking to soft benefits to validate equipping a contact center with VoIP.
In terms of improved integration, unlike TDM (time-division multiplex) based proprietary messaging solutions, unified messaging unites the worlds of phone and Internet over a single unified network, allowing agents to receive voice mail, email and fax messages in a single mailbox. This mailbox can be then accessed via the phone or from a desktop browser or an email client.
"It's very sexy and quite cool to be able to have the phone system email you voice mail in your Microsoft Outlook program," said Taylor.
Cool quotient aside, such integration can also lead to huge agent-efficiency gains. "A company can easily deliver contact-center services versus call-center services by integrating an agent's emails and chat sessions into a call queue, which then makes them more efficient," said Taylor. After all, every second a company can shave from its agents' response times is a gain in productivity, plus a boost to customer service .
What's more, Taylor said each time a company takes a single call queue and divides it into two separate channels, it reduces labor efficiency by 6 percent. However, "If you can take three discrete work groups and make them one," advised Taylor, "you can gain labor efficiency and thereby reduce the number of full-time employees you need to service a volume of work."
Better yet, benefits such as efficiency gains, productivity increases and a reduced head count aren't likely to be offset by a VoIP system's maintenance and training costs. Whereas traditional PBX systems require companies to spend upward of $175 per hour on contractors to simply add an agent to the system, with IT telephony, Taylor said that an in-house IT professional " ... can probably make those changes himself in less than five minutes." Not to mention the reduced cost to establish new contact centers, or the investment required to support contact-center moves, adds and changes.
Nor should companies expect to invest loads of money in training their agents on a VoIP system. While VoIP systems feature programmable soft buttons for functions such as speed dial and voice mail, Taylor said, "IP systems typically are easier to understand, use and manage than their TDM counterparts."
The Bottom Line
Despite the above-mentioned benefits, an ROI (return on investment) for VoIP in the contact center is never a guarantee. Substandard network readiness, failure to drive agent adoption, quality-of-service issues and security breaches are all potential obstacles to reaping hard — and soft — benefits from a VoIP system. So plan accordingly, and expect to see savings in some unexpected places.
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