IP contact centers pose significant challenges

Careful planning is necessary to cross a minefield of issues

For example, be prepared for converting call routing strategy in ways that can improve customer service. Routing in a TDM contact center might call for initially ringing one set of agents, then shifting to a different class of agent if the call isn't picked up in five rings, then to a third class if it isn't picked up in another five rings. With IP, presence could identify the most appropriate available agent right away and connect seconds before the old system would have found her, Sainsbury says.

Integrating the contact center call distribution functions with other business applications is the biggest goal, Machowinski says. Without links to databases and customer records, productivity gains that a contact center might otherwise provide would be impossible. But adapting those interfaces created for TDM contact centers to IP contact centers may require a lot of work, he says. "You'd be surprised how many companies have proprietary databases," that may not have standard interfaces such as XML and Session Initiation Protocol, he says.

The integration should take place, but it will require close examination to determine whether to adapt what's there or start fresh, he says.

Businesses should look at incorporating computer-telephony integration with their call centers. Although the technology has been available for 10 years, it is still used in only 30 to 40 percent of contact centers, McGee-Smith says. Such work is more complicated than it might seem at first blush because it can alter business processes.

IP contact centers can offer integration with instant messaging, for instance, which can allow an agent to seek an expert while they are talking to a caller. Rather than being put on hold while the agent seeks help, the customer remains on the line while the expert is conferenced in. This can result in faster resolution of a call and a more satisfied customer, she says. "The nature of calls don't change, but hopefully my path to resolution becomes cleaner," she says.

Don't be locked in by geography. Just because the current call center is located in a single building with hundreds of desks doesn't mean it has to stay there after it is converted to IP, McGee-Smith says. In fact, deploying agents at home can be cost-effective because it boosts productivity.

Home agent technology has been available for 10 years, but now it is packaged so it can be deployed much easier. "The home agent market is exploding," she says. Home agents are happier and more productive than those who go to a central call center, she says.

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