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IP moves beyond cost savings in contact center

IP-enabled contact centers are moving beyond cost-cutting measures and are poised to build real customer value.

It has been a fast path to legitimacy for the IP-based contact center.

Not even 10 years ago the technology was a curiosity at best, exemplified by chunky, clunky phones designed by companies more accustomed to building networking equipment for closets than ergonomic office products, and the advantages were thin. In recent years IP contact centers have evolved into low-cost, efficient ways to expand existing service operations or establish new ones. Now, IP is beginning to emerge not just as a cost-cutting measure, but a customer value tool. Companies are beginning to realize that building the entire service organization around IP can make managing premium service channels more effective, giving top customers priority access to all services while interactively guiding lower-value clients to more cost-effective methods.

"You can both increase agent utilization with IP, and give customers more ways to deal with an agent," said Dan daCosta, head of solution marketing for Orange Business Services.

In an IP contact center, it can be easier to place agents on a universal queue, handling voice, live chat, and email requests at the same time. @29914

Additionally, an IP-enabled contact center lets anyone on a company's staff take customer calls. Cost-savers have long seen this as a way to bring overflow help into call queues only as needed, keeping resource costs down. However, there is also significant potential here to deliver superior customer service. The best person in the organization to handle the call -- regardless of job title or physical proximity -- can be introduced to the caller at any time.

"IP contact centers make your contact organization very distance-insensitive. It lets you do lots of things you used to have to do in close physical proximity, and possibly at very low cost," said Bern Elliot, Gartner research vice president.

Kitty Hawk Cargo, an air shipping provider, relies on an IP-enabled system to route customers to the most appropriate agents. The company replaced its conventional voice environment contact center with an Intervoice NuContact Center solution beginning in 2003 to get ahead of its competition.

"Before, all of our transactions were treated the same. Now, customers can classify themselves based on what their needs are and when and how they are going to interact with our contact center, allowing us to route to our best agents," said Frank Kaiser, director of customer service for Kitty Hawk Cargo.

"Our environment was strictly voice, but now we have a full multimedia environment, and have been able to shave 20 to 30 seconds off our interactions without a corresponding drop off in service quality," he said. The rapid deployment of the IP contact center and its software-only integration with Kitty Hawk's internal CRM application made it easier to match customers with needs before reaching an agent.

Coupled with presence management, the ability to see when an agent or other employee is available for customer contact (typically provided by instant messaging for employees not on the phone queue), being routed to voicemail can become a thing of the past. This opens tremendous potential for first-call resolution even for complex customer issues.

"Anyone who could support the customer could be brought into the call. It was feasible, but difficult to do before," Gartner's Elliot said. "Now you can take technology that might have only applied to a few specialized individuals, and apply it enterprise wide."

Presence management also makes it possible to extend dedicated service teams to customers through multiple channels. Although specific service teams for high-value or special-requirement customers are not a new concept in the contact center, the availability of team members is hidden from customers in most environments. Presence management combined with a secure customer Web site or interactive voice response (IVR) code can make it possible for clients to see when their service team members are available and place inquiries accordingly, leading to better agent utilization, less hold times, and a closer one-to-one link with the customer.

By the same token, simply using IP telephony in a contact center does not create any value in and of itself if it is treated like any old-fashioned PBX line. "There is a continuum [among IP contact centers]—on the one end you have very minimal changes to the way your infrastructure operates, and on the other extreme, you change the way applications integrate with the functions of the agents and with callers," Elliot said. "The more you go out in that direction, the more you start finding new things to improve the customer experience."

Reprinted with permission from 1to1 Media. (c) 2006 Carlson Marketing Worldwide.

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