The Essential Guide to VoIP and the Contact Center

Updated: April 30, 2009

One of the hottest communications trends today is deploying VoIP with contact-center solutions. Promising to increase savings and reduce operating costs, an IP-enabled contact center can extend a contact center to locations anywhere around the world — at record speed and without costly infrastructure investments. An IP infrastructure also allows for remote, at-home agents , which can enhance customer service while slashing overhead costs. And by converging voice and data traffic, a company can reduce its operating costs and simplify its call-center management processes.

Here are some of the top reasons companies choose to migrate to an IP-enabled contact center:

  • It can provide a cost-effective platform for deploying multiple applications. Popular contact-center applications such as IVR (interactive voice response) can be as much as 25 percent cheaper to deploy in a VoIP setting than in a TDM (time-division multiplexing) setting. What's more, VoIP helps to easily extend applications to at-home agents.
  • It can yield increased flexibility and scalability. For example, it can provide a flexible way to add, move and change agent availability in the face of seasonal peaks and promotional programs.
  • It offers a converged voice-and-data network. By unifying voice and data traffic, an IP-enabled contact center reduces equipment and operational costs, as well as management, maintenance and administration headaches.

How an IP-Enabled Contact Center Works

An IP-enabled contact center leverages VoIP technology to extend contact-center functionality to branch offices, satellite locations and agents anywhere, anytime. This real-time communications system converts voice traffic into digital packets that travel over networks via Internet protocol .

Key Features of an IP-Enabled Contact Center

Some important features of an IP-enabled contact center include:

  • Screen pops to expedite caller inquiries
  • Advanced routing based on customer-database information
  • Call transfers among geographically scattered sites
  • Skill-based routing, so that callers speak with those agents best qualified to address their needs
  • A console for centrally managing multiple locations and agents
  • Adaptable call handling to customize call routing and treatment
  • Real-time displays of call-center activity to chart performance and respond quickly to changes
  • Customizable reports chronicling call history and forecasting staffing needs
  • Configurable telephony user interface
  • Unified business-VoIP messaging tools

IP-Enabled Contact-Center Benefits

The specific benefits of an IP-enabled contact center include:

  • It preserves existing investments. IP technology can be introduced without sacrificing investments in current telephony infrastructure, including PBXs and ACDs (automatic call distributors).
  • It offers multiple deployment options. Companies can deploy IP technology at their own pace, migrating slowly and creating hybrid configurations of VoIP and traditional telephony.
  • IP communications can be introduced into an enterprise without changing its overall infrastructure, resulting in minimal disruption.
  • A converged voice-and-data infrastructure increases savings and reduces operating costs, all while offering increased manageability.
  • It provides optimized resources. A virtual contact center distributes agents and their skills across a wide geographic area, and call routing can still be customized.
  • It results in enhanced customer satisfaction through better utilization of virtual resources and agent-specific skill sets.
  • It gives enhanced flexibility and business scalability by managing fluctuating traffic loads and providing 24-7 customer service.
  • It results in improved agent satisfaction and reduced attrition rates with skills-based call routing.
  • It allows for cost-effective delivery applications, such as IVR, to remote agents and branch offices.
  • It results in increased first-time call resolution by enabling agents to collaborate with experts.
  • It enables extended service hours to accommodate multiple locations.

The Perks of At-Home Agents

One of the greatest benefits of an IP-enabled contact center is the opportunity to use at-home contact-center agents. At-home agents can be located anywhere in the world and only require a browser, access to the Internet and a phone — landline, mobile or VoIP — to field calls from customers. Acting as a logical extension of the contact center, remote agents enjoy access to the same telephony and data resources as if they were located in office headquarters.

Some of the benefits presented by at-home agents include:

  • The option of 24-7 customer support
  • Reduced overhead and operating costs than those associated with a brick-and-mortar contact center
  • A widened labor pool, including agents with hard-to-find skill sets and unique language capabilities
  • Increased employee retention by allowing agents to work from home

What to Consider When Deploying an IP-Enabled Contact Center

Unfortunately, sharing IP contact-center technology resources across multiple locations can give rise to security concerns. Whether issues revolve around communication between business units or the ubiquitous threat of network intruders, securing an IP-enabled contact center calls for important security measures. Companies need to safeguard against DoS (denial-of-service) attacks , unauthorized access to the VoIP network, computer viruses, identity theft and eavesdropping.

The use of at-home agents also presents its own set of obstacles. For example, ensuring quality of service can be an issue if agents depend on an unreliable Internet connection to reach the contact center. Providing at-home agents with the proper technical support can be a battle, putting a strain on internal IT support teams. And some contact-center managers aren't comfortable working with agents from an arm's length and without any formal supervision.

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