Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), or more specifically IP-based telephony, is quickly becoming the technology...
of choice in contact centers as companies replace their aging time-division multiplexing (TDM)-based systems with IP-based systems.
This makes perfect sense. IP-based technology allows organizations to easily route multiple-channel interactions (voice, e-mail and Web) across multiple locations, so employees can handle calls more efficiently, problems can be resolved quicker, and customers can have a better overall experience. The customer experience, in fact, is entirely consistent regardless of how initial contact was made (Web, phone, self-service, etc.).
Moreover, IP-based systems are considered far less expensive and much more flexible than TDM-based systems throughout the lifecycle of the contact center, from implementation and operation to support and maintenance. They also provide more consistency in communication, in general, from the viewpoint of administrators and users.
In this environment, your organization may be wondering how to go about implementing its own IP-based contact center, whether as a new deployment or as a replacement for a TDM system. Dividing the process into three major steps: business planning, implementation planning, and deployment/support is a good approach.
A comprehensive business plan is absolutely critical when deploying an IP-based contact center. In fact, it may be the single most important step in the deployment process.
Unfortunately, many companies start IT projects without clearly linking their technology initiatives with concrete business outcomes. That's a huge mistake. Organizations must take the time to create a detailed business case for a contact center. They must specify what they wish to accomplish and how their contact center will help them achieve their goals.
Naturally, the contents of the business plan vary from organization to organization. Some considerations for your company include:
- The industry you're in, which helps determine the contact center features you'll need
- If your contact center will be volume-oriented or value-oriented
- If your contact center will be used primarily for internal or external customers
- If you expect to use your contact center only for customer support or also to help generate additional sales and revenue
- If you'll provide service through diverse media (voice, e-mail, Web).
With a business plan in hand, you can link your goals to the features of your system. TDM-based users are often surprised by the rich functionality of IP-based contact centers. Being inherently distributed, a versatile IP-based system lets a single IP contact center manage all sites, delivering greater call center security, scalability and adaptability to different business processes. A TDM deployment requires separate administration of each site, imposing a greater financial and personnel burden.
With IP, more information is available to agents, allowing them to better resolve issues and even use the call to sell new products and services. Moreover, the customer experience is consistent, whether initial contact is made through agents, through self-service, or through the Web. With IP-based contact centers, organizations have a wide range of reporting and measuring options, another important consideration during the planning process.
Once the business plan is complete, a company can focus on its implementation plan. This step details the best way to build out the contact center so that objectives are met in terms of functionality, cost, and features.
- What's the best design for the network?
- How will it interface with other network components, such as voice mail or an existing customer relationship management (CRM) system?
- Will the system be centralized in one location or decentralized across many sites?
- Will customer service include a Web-based component, or only voice?
- How will the system be managed?
- How will you account for additional users, locations, or features in the future?
As in the previous stage, you must consider your organization's reporting requirements. An IP-based contact center can generate a wealth of data—far more than a TDM system—that can be of tremendous value, allowing your company to measure your customers' concerns, preferences and plans. These requirements, though, must be taken into consideration when designing and configuring the system. The types of data you wish to capture and how you want it represented must be thoroughly considered before implementation.
Deployment and support
If a contact center is well planned, deployment and ongoing support should proceed smoothly. For many companies, this step initially requires deciding whether to outsource these functions or keep them in house. The answer depends on several key factors, including:
- How large and complex is the deployment?
- Do you have onsite staff with the appropriate knowledge?
- Can the current staff cover the deployment, or is additional support warranted?
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Most organizations choose to outsource implementation to a deployment partner. These companies are often subject to stringent certification processes and have deep expertise in the solutions of their vendors. They usually can deploy an IP-based contact center quickly and affordably. Some vendors greatly facilitate deployments by offering a preconfigured contact center system that includes the solution's most popular features. This makes implementation simple indeed, whether completed in house or outsourced. In addition to implementation, some companies outsource their system maintenance and support as well.
When outsourcing, companies should get their partners involved very early in the process. Deployment partners can play a valuable role in helping clients define their requirements, build a business case and match their business goals to their contact center solution. Naturally, they're also important participants in planning for the implementation.
IP-based contact centers can take customer care to a new level, particularly for organizations that formerly relied on TDM. IP technology also allows contact centers to operate efficiently, affordably and transparently across many locations. Nonetheless, it's important to remember that, like most IT projects, the greatest benefits accrue to those who thoughtfully prepare. Organizations benefit most when they engage in detailed business planning, thorough implementation planning, and knowledgeable deployment and support.
About the author
Laurent Philonenko is vice president and general manager of the customer contact business unit (CCBU), which provides contact center and interactive voice applications to enterprises and service providers. In this capacity he oversees product and market development, and is closely involved in the business with Cisco sales force and partners. Prior to joining Cisco, Laurent was President and CEO of Genesys Telecommunications, a leading provider of contact center solutions, where he previously held the roles of CTO and COO.