IP has changed the communications game. Has your contact centre evolved?

The growth of Internet Protocol (IP) and the increasing availability of bandwidth have changed the world dramatically over the past few years.

August 30, 2012

Karel Botha, General Manager: Western Cape at Jasco Enterprise

The growth of Internet Protocol (IP) and the increasing availability of bandwidth have changed the world dramatically over the past few years. The convergence of historically separate areas such as voice and data has brought about an evolution in technology, driven by constant connectivity and the fact that practically any communication tool or service you can think of can now be run as an application on a single data network.

Always on, always available communication, driven by IP and the proliferation of connected devices, has changed the way people interact with each other and their world, and has changed the communications game for businesses. The contact centre is the first port of call for any business, and needs to evolve to keep up with changing technologies if it is to continue to perform its primary objective – satisfying customers and providing them with the services they need using the communication channel they prefer.

Practically unlimited connectivity on multiple devices from PCs to laptops to tablets and smart phones means that multiple communication channels are now available practically anywhere, and communication is not limited by traditional geographical boundaries. While this has enabled the evolution of a remote workforce, who is not tied to a desk, it also means that consumers expect to be able to contact businesses 24 hours a day, seven days a week, using any one of a variety of media including voice, email, instant messaging, text messaging and so on. This means that the modern contact centre needs to be able to handle multimedia, and each media stream needs to be given the same priority and level of service as requests that come in via other channels. Consumers may also use a variety of communication channels for one enquiry, and all of these need to be combined into one transaction to optimise customer service levels. This requires all of the various communication streams to be integrated, so that service levels can be measured and monitored.

Businesses can ill afford to prioritise one communication channel over others, since customers want a consistent experience across all channels. The consumerisation of IT not only means that consumers expect to be able to contact businesses using any channel they wish, any time they wish, it has also led to an expectation of instant gratification. First call resolution has become first contact resolution, which means that agents need to be multi-skilled and queries should be routed for the fastest and most accurate resolution possible. Consumerisation is also driving self service, as customers want to transact with companies on their terms when it suits them and only contact an agent as a last resort. When they do phone into a contact centre however, they do not want to waste time explaining the background to their query, but expect the agent to already know this.

These new challenges require new technology. Routing capabilities should use presence management to ensure that queries are directed at the most appropriate point of contact, who may not necessarily be a contact centre agent, and who is currently available to address the query. Agents also need to be able to access the right information, as without this context and customer history they will be unable to respond efficiently. This means that back-end systems need to be available immediately when a call comes in. While these practices sound simple in theory, they require some fairly complex technology, however all the customer sees is the end experience and it is vital to ensure that this experience is as smooth and hassle free as possible.

Information is key in providing optimal customer service. However, with the multitude of different communication channels available today, the complexity of data structures along with the sheer volume of information can complicate matters for the contact centre. Capacity for storage is no longer a problem, since storage has become a commodity, but accessing individual pieces of information and extracting meaningful insights about customers can be a challenging task. Data volumes and redundancy also create complexities when it comes to compliance, since if any of the recorded interactions that must be retained by law go missing, a business may face serious legal consequences. Managing backup and retrieval is vital, and data mining and manipulation are essential for obtaining usable information from big data to forecast customer trends and so on.

The contact centre is also becoming increasingly virtualised, enabling remote workers to be utilised. Virtualised contact centres with remote workers allow organisations to tap into a diverse pool of skills regardless of geographical location or available working times. Uptake of this type of technology is slow in South Africa, mainly due to cultural issues, but is growing in the United States and Europe and is something that should be on the radar. Tools are available that can measure efficiency without the need for physical presence, and technology is available to support remote workers, so this is a viable and cost effective option for the local market.

Cloud computing is another area of growth in the contact centre space, as increasing numbers of hosted contact centres are emerging. These offer the benefit of access to contact centre functionality without the need to build and invest in physical infrastructure. They are also highly scalable and offer greater economies of scale and reduced maintenance costs. However, integrating these cloud solutions into existing infrastructure and business applications can be challenging, and unless all applications and services are hosted by the same provider this can prove to be a problematic exercise. There are pros and cons to the cloud contact centre that need to be weighed up before organisations go down this route.

There exists a multitude of technology to help organisations deal with the contact centre and communication challenges of today, however one thing all of these technologies have in common is the fact that they run on IP. This means that connectivity is vital, along with sufficient bandwidth. Only once this is in place can applications be deployed on the IP network, and integrated to provide an end-to-end, seamless customer experience.

While trends may be common throughout contact centres in any business in any industry, precise requirements for dealing with them differ. There is no contact centre ‘silver bullet’ that can be installed to solve the challenges of an evolving business world. Organisations need to keep abreast of trends and be aware of what technology is available. It is also vital to ensure that suppliers have the skills to deploy appropriate solutions that are integrated correctly to meet the needs of the organisation.

Given the increasing complexity of the contact centre environment, it is not possible to manage everything in-house and evolve to the level of current customer demand, so partnerships are key in ensuring that business continues to be able to communicate with and maintain customers. With the right partnerships and the right technologies in place, organisations can evolve the contact centre into a centre of customer service excellence that improves the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire organisation at meeting customer needs.

For more information visit us at Jasco at www.jasco.co.za .