Voice over IP: control where it belongs--in companies' hands.
At the Intel Developers Conference "Directions 2004" industry briefing, Intel Group VP of Network Infrastructure Lee Doyle cited a recent CIO survey highlighting VoIP as an example of disruptive technologies ... that will make up the key network spending drivers in the next three to ten years," driven in large part by the need for network security and reliability.
In contact centers worldwide, VoIP is becoming a viable option for companies of all sizes looking to improve internal cost efficiencies and customer service offerings at the same time.
Time For Change
The introduction of VoIP comes at a time when the telephony landscape has remained essentially static for over 30 years. In an office corner sits the traditional telephony switch--a large, beige box costing between $75,000 and, $180,000 to install and up to $35,000 a year to maintain. It's typically proprietary-based, difficult to work on and requires expensive consultants to make even basic changes.
Over time, other such boxes have been added, but they also have been proprietary in nature and expensive to install and maintain. They've included such added functionality as fax serving, auto-dialing, ACD (automatic call distribution), IVR (interactive voice response) and other connections to the outside world.
These infrastructure additions can often present mysteries to contact center managers. There may be an ACD server linked to the switch via the voice network (with external outbound voice mail and voicebox applications), but typically these have been complex to configure and painful to administer. It's also been a huge challenge to adapt such implementations to contact center operations in response to new, broader business initiatives.
In larger organizations involved in mergers or takeovers, for example, linking disparate systems to ensure common operation has been highly problematic.
Proprietary telephony has survived for so long because it has provided rock-solid communications and very high reliability. Still, the combination of high up-front costs and annual maintenance--with slower response to changing business drivers--has highlighted increasing shortcomings in the face of growing cost efficiency and competitive pressures.
Much of the drive for change has come from small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and larger, distributed organizations setting up new contact center operations and for which VoIP offers an attractive alternative. For other organizations using traditional telephony, moving to an IP-based alternative provides a technology platform to support media other than voice--with the ability to integrate e-mail, instant messaging or Web chat.
The evolution of IP telephony has mirrored that of many other technologies, typically deployed by high enterprise. With the emergence of VoIP capability in products such as FrontRange IP Contact Center, this broader, more flexible functionality is now available to SMEs and mid-tier organizations. Technology and market demand now enable smaller businesses to provide the same high level of service as their larger counterparts.
Originally, VoIP resulted from the efforts of the VoIP Forum--major equipment manufacturers, including Cisco, 3Com and Netspeak--to promote a standards-based approach, first through H.323 and, more recently, through SIP (Session Initiation Protocol). SIP is now the standard for sending voice and video over both Internet and private networks.
VoIP involves using corporate data networks to carry voice, rather than relying on public telephony networks. Voice information is sent in individual digital packets rather than in the circuit-committed protocols of the public switched telephone network (PSTN). When a voice network is quiet, the business pays for unused infrastructure; VoIP allows more efficient use of network bandwidth and cheaper voice costs over time.
This solution offers crucial advantages to companies that take advantage of the technology. By using a private network, higher-quality service is guaranteed. Also, using VoIP and Internet telephony eliminates call charges from the public telephone service.
At first, VoIP was perceived by some as merely the means to make phone calls over the Internet, giving rise to perceptions of potential bandwidth and security problems. However, organizations implementing robust VPN-based VoIP solutions--such as FrontRange IP Contact Center--have found these concerns to be largely unfounded. Broadband DSL is now widely available and reasonably priced, allowing voice to be carried securely over high-speed networks.
The benefits are far-reaching. For IT directors, telephony and data can now be managed in the same environment, saving money and adding flexibility if staff members regularly move offices or telecommute. Each home worker, whatever his or her location, becomes just another extension of the corporate network.
Typically, many international companies deploy small-office telephony solutions, with different switch types in different locations. Senior staff members may be part of an international team, with separate log-ins for each office, incurring international call rates and reducing individuals' availability. Mobile phone technology has helped organizations meet these challenges, but even more attractive is the concept of a single platform across a distributed enterprise, making more efficient use of resources and bandwidth while greatly reducing transaction costs.
VoIP also offers ease of scalability. Integrating the telephony of a newly acquired company, for example, is likely to require little more than adding memory to the server, whereas previously a bigger switch (and its accompanying six-figure price tag) may have been required.
What benefit does VoIP offer the customer contacting the business? With the FrontRange IP Contact Center solution, a key element is its interactive voice response (IVR) unit. Together with a skills-based routing engine, it's possible to ask the caller questions via IVR; the answers can then be validated through the contact center database and the caller routed directly to the best qualified employee.
Automated response systems and IVR have received poor press over the years. Much of the criticism has been justified, with systems geared to prioritize internal efficiencies over customer experiences. Callers often repeat personal details many times before speaking to an agent, only to then be asked to divulge the same information again.
IP-based call routing is the fastest, most effective way to drive callers to the best internal resources, reducing queuing time and improving the customer's experience. With functionality such as screen pop and unified messaging with multichannel support, businesses can have comprehensive views of clients' histories. In turn, clients receive a consistent, "one company" response.
VoIP presents the ideal "win/win" for organizations that take advantage of the technology--installation costs are as little as one-tenth of those associated with traditional telephony, and ongoing maintenance costs are reduced by 60 to 70 percent. Customer service also benefits from increased first-time resolutions.
From a sales perspective, the benefits of VoIP are easy to communicate; for the first time, it enables SMEs and mid-market companies to access the end-to-end functionality previously available only at the enterprise level.
Compare a contact center interaction to eating in a restaurant. The waiter greets you at the door, takes your coat and sees you to your table. He brings you your beverage and takes your meal order and passes it to the kitchen. Until now, you've had a positive experience. This step equates to the ACD/IVR experience.
However, if the food is cold when it reaches your table, you'll quickly revise your opinion. Traditional telephony mirrors this example by focusing attention solely on pushing the call though to the agent with no concern for what happens after the connection is made--which is ultimately the most important part of the transaction.
In the same way fine restaurants ensure that your entire evening is enjoyable, integrated VoIP-based support solutions effectively manage the complete customer interaction. First, they offer a faster and smoother method of connecting callers to the right agents. FrontRange IP Contact Center solution provides the features you need to provide superior customer service that leads to better customer retention and loyalty. With a single point of entry for administration, IPCC reduces the complexity required to support heavyweight telephony functionality, including an IP-based PBX, real-time and historical reporting, queuing, automated call distribution (ACD), interactive voice response (IVR), screen pop, quality monitoring and integration with award-winning HEAT and GoldMine applications. This feature-rich solution enables you to reduce telephony costs, to increase productivity and to better utilize your agents to minimize your cost of ownership while maximizing your return on investment.
Looking ahead, with workforce analysis and forecasting providing additional efficiency savings, and with speech recognition and multimedia capability supporting more complex levels of interaction, IP telephony may account for as much as half the global ACD market by 2008.
Until recently, contact center managers had no control over the telephony aspect of their role. With the introduction of VoIP, this situation has dramatically changed, allowing them for the first time to respond to the changing demands of both their business and their customer bases. One example would be changing hold music and marketing messages based on the weather, local events or end-of-season deals. Traditionally, this level of agility wasn't available, but in today's ultra-competitive business world, this agility now represents a huge competitive advantage.
To learn more about FrontRange's VoIP solutions, please visit http://TheContactFront.com/Control and www.tmcnet.com/channels/ip-contactcenter.
By Mike Heberling, director of business development, FrontRange Solutions, Inc.
A Special Editorial Series Sponsored by FrontRange Solutions, Inc.
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|Publication:||Customer Interaction Solutions|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2004|
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