Contact centers challenged by a unified communications business case

This Q&A discusses how communications technology has evolved in the contact center and why a business case for unified communications is paramount.

Today's communication technology is revolutionizing contact centers, but taking the leap into unified communications (UC) doesn't suit everybody. SearchUnifiedCommunications spoke with Robert Killory, chief customer officer of Rockville, Maryland-based 3CLogic, a cloud-based contact center service provider, about the challenges facing contact centers looking for a competitive edge. This Q&A discusses how contact centers can capitalize on new communication methods and explains why a unified communications business case will be a saving grace for anyone looking to embark on a UC deployment.

In the last few years how has communications technology evolved in the contact center?

Robert Killory: The entire communications infrastructure for contact centers has been migrating to ithe Internet's infrastructure. The conversion of the old traditional phone circuits over to pure database -- for either premise-based solutions using Voice over IP (VoIP) or cloud solutions  -- has been the main focus of the shift. Right now it's pretty much balanced: Almost 50% of voice communications [in contact centers] is now Voice over IP versus TDM. The migration [to VoIP] is going to be escalating very quickly…. [Transitioning to VoIP] has changed the infrastructure of data for the contact center: The need for reliable and strong data connections is increasing and with that, the opportunity for alternate media. With SMS, Web chat and email, you have to have a strong connection, and the amount of bandwidth needed is dependent on the channel that you're using.

Why, in your view, have only 50% of contact centers migrated to VoIP?

Killory: It's just now approaching 50% because a lot of the contact centers don't invest in technology that's on the leading or bleeding edge. They want to be mainstream or even lagging mainstream, just because of the cost factor.

What's holding contact centers back from using unified communications technology if anything?

If [contact centers] … don't have a driving [UC] business force, then they're not going to see a reason to invest in it, even if the investment is only training hours.
Robert Killorychief customer officer, 3CLogic

Killory: I think one key thing that is holding most of the contact centers back is cost. Now, there are two types of contact centers:

  1. One where the contact center is the business;
  2. The other is where the contact center is for the business.

I consider the Fortune 1000 companies that have contact centers to be under that second category. So JP Morgan, where I used to work, they used to have 4,000 people on the phones – but they're not a call center/contact center company. They are a business that just happens to use contact centers. I think they are embracing the multichannels of unified communications faster, partly because they have deeper pockets for the technology and also because they're using it as a differentiator in their customer base. Chase, for example, wants to attract Citibank's customers -- so they're using it as a way to differentiate themselves [against the competition]. For the core contact center businesses, where it is their sole business, voice is still the driving force. If they can get the people through voice, that's what they're going to do. Because that's how they accomplish their core mission -- [for example] getting subscribers to pay on their bad debt or making sure people activated their cellphone. I think the adoption there is a little bit slower because the consumer demand has not driven it enough to warrant the cost.

What is so cost-prohibitive about unified communications?

Killory: The biggest thing is that they haven't made the migration to a cloud-based or VoIP-based solution yet. They're still using a traditional TDM or phone circuit. You can't do all of the other communication mediums over that type of infrastructure. For example, if I have 1,300 phone lines coming in on traditional phone circuits -- that's great for all of my voice communications in and out -- but I can't do chat, SMS or any of the other unified solutions over it. Once they've made that leap over to say fiber-based Internet, where they can have strong, reliable, bi-directional Internet service, then they can do voice over that and it opens them up to doing the rest of unified communications.

What are the challenges in deploying UC in the contact center?

Killory: Technologically, it's pretty straight forward. The platforms that support unified communications, such as 3CLogic and others, are getting mature to the point where it can be used pretty easily. The bigger challenge is how they operationally implement it for their business. You've got two key aspects of that:

One is, the training of the agents and getting them to … do voice and then chat, or while they're doing voice they're [also] doing a chat or responding to an SMS or email. Multitasking, the ability to measure and effectively utilize that multitasking, is one of the challenges I see in the industry. You have to effectively measure the capabilities of each agent in the contact center and determine how to capitalize on them to accomplish your business goals.

The other big [challenge] is finding the business structure that warrants [UC]. I mean, unified communications and doing multichannel communications is cool, but until you can prove it in terms of ROI [return on investment], then most of your successful hardcore call centers don't want to go there. If they have the capacity and they have the ability, but they don't have a driving business force for it, then they're not going to see a reason to invest in [UC]. Even if the investment is only training hours, those are hours they could be more productive under a traditional channel. So the biggest challenges are educating the users and then making the business case for why that will increase their profitability or customer attention.

So it's not that IT isn't able to handle the UC deployment, it's that the users need training?

Killory: Definitely. When you look at the 7 layers of the network model, almost everything runs at the top 2 or 3 layers. So from a technology standpoint … it comes down to supporting the platform that you already do for voice to also handle your different methods of unified communications and then possibly there's some variance in there. But from an IT perspective the support of it is minimal to them because it's above the realm that they are responsible for.

What can contact centers do to ease these challenges?

Killory: Don't start with the fact that there's cool technology. Look at it and then figure out what to do with it. Start at the other end. Every business is customer-centric. You'll always make your money off your customers -- whether it's sales, satisfaction, collections -- so start from the perspective of your customer and ask how you can benefit your customer or increase your customer base by using unified communications. Back into the problem that way. A lot of the times it's somebody saying 'I want a road from New York to London. That means I need a boat.' And they back into what it takes to get there. If your goal is to get from here to there, a boat may not even be the best way. There's a plane that's 1/10th the time. So define your business objectives and then from that, determine the technology you need and then what technology supports those needs.

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