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VoIP more than hype

Using VoIP is now as much about improving the customer experience as it is about cutting costs. Some contact centers are learning why.

The latest buzzword to emerge from the Telcom industry's vast collection of acronyms is VoIP, and it's on everyone's lips these days -- even those of executives who normally prefer more concise terms, like value.

In fact, for an increasing number of contact centers, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is an important tool for driving value, both in terms of customer experience improvements and reduced costs. VoIP allows customers to reach the organizations that serve them through any channel, at any time, from anywhere. And it helps those organizations to create a consistent customer experience across their channels.

Tuition Management Services (TMS), for example, implemented VoIP to integrate its telephone, Internet, and e-mail communications with customers. According to Chief Operating Officer Dave Pelkey, this helped the Rhode Island–based education payment services provider reduce seasonal staffing by 10%, trim maintenance costs, and prune call durations by an average of 45 seconds per call. Pelkey also credits the IP-based contact center solution from Nuasis with enabling TMS to introduce a speech-recognition capability with a "warm transfer;" callers unsatisfied with the automated voice genie are transferred to a customer service representative who gains immediate access to the caller's profile and an up-to-the-second summary of the caller's current issue.

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"Some of this could have been achieved with a PBX [private branch exchange] solution," Pelkey said. "But I struggled for four years to accomplish the same thing I accomplished in a matter of months with a VoIP solution."

Four years ago, the term struggle was commonly attached to nascent IP telephony projects that suffered from voice quality issues. That's no longer the case. Currently, the main complaints about VoIP tend to indirectly support its value. In the contact center, VoIP allows organizations to capture customer calls that cannot be handled, usually because of staffing constraints during spikes in incoming calls. Those deferred responses still must be handled by service representatives, who, Pelkey emphasized, cannot handle incoming calls at the same time.

"Deferred response should be leveraged for shaving off staffing needs for absolute peak intervals, but it is not going to solve a staffing problem," he said.

VoIP is probably not for organizations with only one contact center location and limited growth prospects. And, despite the ease of TMS's VoIP conversion, the development and maintenance of a VoIP infrastructure can be complex for some companies. But that complexity, and the cost associated with it, say satisfied VoIP converts, is much less than the burden of maintaining traditional voice communications and integrating them with the Web and email channels customers also use.

Clyde Fowler, vice president of IT for Rockwell Automation in Greenville, S.C., emphasized that the quality of a company's existing technology infrastructure and network must be solid if an IP solution is to succeed.

"If you're starting from scratch and your network is not dependable, you're focusing on the wrong thing if you're thinking about voice over IP," Fowler said.

Ken Walin, chief technology officer of voice and speech solution provider Edify, ticks off several signs that a company's contact center operations are ripe for IP technology: the need for advanced call routing capabilities, heavy investments in special-purpose computer telephony integration infrastructure, the need to handle calls beyond the existing call center infrastructure (e.g., agents working from home), and "compelling business reasons to begin to incorporate multimedia in real-time communications."

"[VoIP] lets your customers reach you through any channel, at any time, from anywhere," TMS's Pelkey said. "The tool facilitates a consistent customer experience regardless of their preferred channel."

Copyright © 2005 Carlson Marketing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Peppers & Rogers Group is a Carlson Marketing Group Company.

This article originally appeared on SearchCRM.com.

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