"Always on Call"

by Sunanda Das    Aug 14, 2008

When a prominent UK-based insurance giant first began outsourcing its contact centre services some years ago, customers didn’t always respond well. Among the most common complaints were that contact agents spoke in difficult-to-understand accents and provided rote responses since they didn’t fully understand the products or services they were supporting.

Fortunately for customers and the UK-based insurance giant, that’s all old news.

Most customers calling on these contact centre agents can now count on high levels of service thanks to comprehensive training programs that teach staff all they need to know - from product knowledge to accent reduction - to answer queries promptly, efficiently and accurately.

Today, the main challenge for companies is how to meet increasing customer service demands and scale up their contact centre operations with new and greater numbers of contact points at a cost that makes good business sense.

The market has shifted - its now global!

As an organisation that has been on the forefront of the telecommunications industry, we’ve witnessed the evolution of the contact centre industry with great interest, especially the migration of contact centres to the Asia Pacific region.

A particularly interesting aspect of that trend is the growth of contact centres within Asia itself, as more Asian enterprises adopt contact centres to serve their local, regional and international customers.

Market research company Frost & Sullivan in their report Assessment of the Asia Pacific Contact Center Market pointed to the growing numbers of Asian organisations making use of contact centres. For example, companies in Japan and South Korea are increasingly offshoring their contact centres to China, while Singaporean firms are looking to Malaysia and those in Australia to India and the Philippines. They include companies in banking, financial services, insurance, the retail sector and even governments launching e-services for their citizens.

But whether it’s a western company using a contact centre based in Asia or one of a growing number of Asian organisations, all are looking to advanced global technology that helps them meet customer demand and remain competitive.

In most cases, that means contact centres based on IP, or Internet Protocol, technology.

IP: the flexible, cost-effective & intelligent solution

IP is the wave of the future, and it is fast supplanting the TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) technology traditionally used in contact centres. You don’t have to dig deep to see why. TDM systems, although based on proven technology, have inbuilt limitations. For example, they are not capable of handling multimedia, such as voice, video and data, can be expensive to maintain and cannot be easily extended to other geographical locales.

But its no more about IP vs. TDM - that debate is largely over now. IP solutions are a rising trend in the contact centre industry. Within two years, according to Contact Professional, 82% of contact centres expect to be running IP telephony infrastructure. And more than 60% of contact centres have already introduced IP-based solutions, says Dimension Data in their “2007 Contact Centre Benchmarking Report”. Clearly, more and more organisations are now fully aware of the benefits that transitioning to the intelligent and flexible IP platform can offer.

The issues customers now face are around justifying their investment of resources. The questions they ask themselves are - if and when they ought to replace existing infrastructure, whether they ought to implement and manage within their own telecommunications estate - or whether they ought to outsource the solution to be hosted by a service provider.

Selecting a hosted implementation can help both with the financial justification of the solution, and with the realisation of some of the benefits that an IP implementation can deliver. The primary reasons for this lie in the inherent flexibility of a hosted contact centre solution. Hosted solutions by their nature simplify the ‘flexing’ of agent positions to meet demand and allow the opening of new sites in new markets with minimal capital investment. This added to the cost advantages of delivering calls over an IP network either between sites or to off-shore locations make the business case easier to justify.

Furthermore, with the right IPCC solutions provider, organisations can take advantage of a network-based system as part of a complete hosted package, freeing it from having to employ specialist IT staff at each site to maintain the system. In many cases, companies seeking an IPCC solution can also select from a range of cost-effective business models that let them choose between making a capital purchase or paying for agent positions as they grow through an operating lease.

Today, customer (service) is king

Maintaining consistent customer service delivery across all contact points is essential for contact centres today. This can be achieved by consolidating all customer interactions through a single IP-based communications infrastructure that handles applications from both voice and data networks.

What this means for customers is more choice in the way they deal with a contact centre, such as web collaboration or email. This interoperability between the traditional voice and IP channels allows for the creation of a single universal queue, blending customer contact on one desktop. In other words - more ways of accessing information and less time to get it!

For companies, an IPCC solution can mean seamless integration with mission-critical business applications - including ERP, CRM, sales and marketing systems - for a 360 degree view of individual customer relationships. (This integration is available on leading platforms such as Oracle, Siebel and SAP.)
As a result, any company can now take advantage of unparalleled cross-selling and up-selling opportunities or package new services based on business intelligence collated through the call centre.

Keeping customers satisfied
Today, businesses no longer need convincing about IP as a platform. They are looking for service providers who can deliver a robust and scaleable IP-infrastructure that can support them in every stage of their IP contact centre migration. Based on such an IP-based scaleable infrastructure, customers look for complete flexibility to tailor contact centre service packages according to individual company requirements. These range from standard offerings with IP telephony via IP telephones to advanced packages with email, teleworker options, voice and screen logging, and more.

IPCC solutions offered by industry leading telecom service providers enable companies to maintain high levels of customer satisfaction by driving service standards to new levels. Among other features, these help improve customer service by providing comprehensive management information. This, then, allows a company to monitor the effectiveness of call routing, create onscreen reports (using current or historical data), and export data for easy integration with other systems, including reporting applications.

It’s clear where the contact centre industry is headed. Every business with a contact centre function using 100% IP technology because no other technology is as adept at allowing companies to maintain seamless contact with their customers and meeting, even anticipating, their demands all day, every day, throughout the year. With their ability to enhance the customer experience and reduce costs, it’s easy to see why more and more contact centres are adopting IP solutions.

The author is the MD (India) of Cable&Wireless