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Article : What’s Impacting The Contact Center – The Evolving Challenges

Today's contact centers have a hierarchical set of needs that impact their success and value. Evaluating these specific requirements and the necessary actions to follow creates a framework for efficient support of customer contact, drives customer satisfaction and trust and helps to deliver contact center best practices.

By deploying IP (Internet Protocol) technology in the contact center, voice calls, e-mails and Web chats can be consolidated into a single network – adding a new layer of network convergence. While it is now possible to add IP to many communications systems, some organizations may incorporate adapters into their contact center systems and others may integrate IP into the fabric of their switch. Either way, incorporating IP technology will enable an organization to generate a profitable contact center via business expansion and overcome challenges such as geographic location, investment protection and customer loyalty.

Sydney Burton
Product Marketing Manager
NEC America

To begin, we must understand the hierarchy of contact center needs to best define the tactical goals and strategic objectives that implementing IP in the contact center provides. Each phase describes a specific set of needs – geared to provide contact centers with a structure that closely corresponds to the way their organization builds proficiency. These needs will ultimately address the design and deployment of next-generation technologies in the contact center. The following is how we view the phases in the hierarchy: Responsiveness, Performance Measurement, Customer Satisfaction, Management Effectiveness and Customer Loyalty:

  • The "Responsiveness Phase" centers on the requirement to respond directly to the customer. Issues include selection of geographic location, physical facilities, communications solutions, definition of operational procedures and application of human resources.

  • The "Performance Measurement Phase" establishes the ability to gather and analyze real time and historical data to perform real-time productivity management and to cost justify new applications and resources. Real-time data helps a contact center adjust to current conditions, while historical data allows a contact center to analyze past performance and plan for future operations and initiatives.

  • The "Customer Satisfaction Phase" addresses the need to increase customer access options and alternatives, streamline customer transactions and create a closed-loop system with contact follow-up. Here it is imperative that the first impression is the best impression.

  • The "Management Effectiveness Phase" explores how to maintain service level goals once achieved, while becoming more efficient and cost-effective. This is where technology starts to play its biggest role, by providing advanced solutions to maintain consistent functionality and responsiveness for both customers and agents across diverse media.

  • The "Customer Loyalty Phase" identifies the summit at which an organization is required to establish long-term customer relationships. Customers of this organization now return for repeat business not just when it's convenient, but also when it's less than convenient.


Key Drivers
Having defined the hierarchy of contact center needs, we can now assess the key drivers that are associated with deploying IP in the contact center.

IP is the transparent means for immediate worldwide connectivity, thus enabling the contact center to stretch geographically – across a campus, across the nation and around the globe. IP transport not only supports a single contact center distributed among multiple sites, but it also supports the distribution of individual remote agents – extending and taking advantage of workforce availability wherever it might be found – from a small rural town in mid-America to an offshore location.

Greenfield opportunities, which make up approximately 90% of the IP opportunities seen by NEC, are attractive for IP Telephony because it offers the opportunity to create a single converged infrastructure. The total cost of ownership is a significant decision-making factor in these situations.

In the replacement market, customers typically require geographic distribution. They may be expanding to new locations or adding contact center capabilities to an existing location. In addition, they find an advantage in converged applications and devices – allowing agents to use soft-phones and desktop applications and to remove space-consuming telephones from their desks. One more advantage is the ability to increase management visibility to the contact center with applications that allow anyone connected to become a "casual supervisor" with real-time statistics and information.


Incorporating IP into the contact center sounds favorable as it overcomes geographic boundaries, develops performance consistency and personalizes service across multimedia access technologies – such as telephone, fax, e-mail and the Web. However, there are some significant challenges to implementing IP that need not be overlooked:


Industry Challenge #1: Providing full feature functionality in an IP-based environment
Deploying an IP-based contact center solution should never offer less functionality than the enterprise's existing system. Early converged IP contact center systems provided a glimpse of new applications and possibilities, but left behind many important telephony capabilities that were critical to business operations. As a result, many early adopters of IP Telephony contact center products realized they abandoned many of their traditional telephony features – such as tools for building management and group or agent solutions for contact handling.

In contrast, customers today must take the opportunity to implement an open system that facilitates migration and best positions them to take advantage of emerging technologies such as IP, but only where and when it makes best business sense.


Industry Challenge #2: Preserving existing investments in times of fast technology development
What a customer buys today must stand the test of time. When a company invests in any new solution, they must think, "How will this new technology migrate and interoperate with next generation solutions?" They need to find a solutions provider that offers the ability to migrate its product platforms. Additionally they must look to invest in a platform that is most cost-effective and scaled appropriately for their needs. So whether an enterprise is looking to migrate an existing investment toward IP Telephony or is contemplating a new technology investment, they must remember, "Has the vendor displayed a proven and committed understanding to provide cost-effective system migration to preserve current technology investments?"


Industry Challenge #3: Enabling cost-effective migration to IP technology
Again customers thinking about deploying IP in the contact center must evaluate when and where the solution makes the most sense for their organization. In some distributed areas, IP may not be necessary and the traditional time division multiplexing (TDM) solution may work out best. Choice is key and the customer may desire a solution platform that incorporates both capabilities for IP and TDM. The customer must also recognize that they can implement as much or as little IP Telephony as needed, maintain or install TDM solutions where required, and be assured of a smooth path towards an eventual, fully distributed, converged IP Telephony solution.


The Market
The critical nature of the contact center to the overall business can put strict requirements on the availability, reliability and survivability of the communications system. Traditional contact center providers have solutions with added IP capabilities and remain the top players in the industry. Other entrants have approached the market by building on their current Private Branch eXchange (PBX) telecommunications products with added IP telephony to ensure connectivity to all agents, equipment reliability to the expected standards for communications systems and that the system will maintain high qualities with redundancy down to the station level, if necessary. Other vendors, who have started by voice-enabling data networks, are still trying to address the issues of dependability of the solution. Those who have approached the market from an IP communications technology perspective have partnered with companies in the traditional contact center world to add communications system knowledge with contact center expertise.


Is An IP-Enabled Contact Center Worth It?
Yes, there are challenges, but the many competitive advantages and benefits that deploying IP in the contact center can realize, is overwhelming – including enhanced global services, maximized agent productivity and minimized caller frustration. With IP, an organization can obtain improved agent efficiency via advanced workforce management for forecasting, scheduling and tracking; streamline processes, procedures, and reporting through workflow management and use performance supervision for evaluation, quality assurance, and training. IP can also improve contact center service by easily adapting to rapidly changing conditions and fluctuating traffic patterns via IP-enabled solutions – Automated Call Distribution (ACD), customized contact handling and other features such as complementary screen pops, automated attendant, advanced routing or customer self-service options.

Yes, IP can ultimately help identify and reach the hierarchy of contact center needs and goals, but still, every organization must consider what solution is most vital for their specific requirements and where it makes the most sense for their business.

About the Author
Sydney Burton, product marketing manager for NEC America's Corporate Networks Group is responsible for the Contact Center and CTI product portfolio. Her primary responsibility is to shape product-marketing initiatives and drive ongoing communications for these solutions.

About the Company
NEC America, Inc. is a provider of innovative communications products, solutions, and services. NEC America serves all communications industries from carriers, to enterprise, to wireless and is an affiliate of NEC Corporation, a Global Fortune 500® company and one of the leading patent producing enterprises in the world.

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Published: Wednesday, August 27, 2003

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