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Contact centres embrace virtual reality

September 2, 2011 • Opinion

When most people think of a contact centre, they think of a massive, bustling office with long lines of desks hosting hundreds of agents frantically fielding customer calls. In the near-future, however, contact centre agents are as likely to work from small decentralised offices or their homes as from giant call centre facilities.

Hannes van der Merwe, Mitel product manager at Itec (image source: file photo)

That’s according to Hannes van der Merwe, Mitel product manager at Itec. He says that the growing maturity of virtual contact centre solutions and improvements to South Africa’s telecoms infrastructure are turning decentralised or virtual contact centres into a real option for the first time.

Van der Merwe says that rising business costs – including rental – are prompting companies to look at ways of streamlining their call centres to save money. In this context, the virtual or decentralised contact centre has become an increasingly attractive option for businesses.

“A virtual contact centre is a perfect fit for the ‘do more with less’ business philosophy that companies embraced during the economic downturn,” says van der Merwe.

“Rather than renting a massive facility with a huge infrastructure, companies can decentralise their operations for flexibility and efficiency. With the right solutions in place, mobile contact centre agents can operate from anywhere but still deliver great customer service.”

Van der Merwe says that apart from the obvious cost-saving benefit, a decentralised contact centre offers a number of other advantages to businesses. They can tap into a national base of skills rather than needing to recruit agents only in centres where they have facilities.

That means they can source people with rare skills more easily because they have a bigger pool to draw on – a major benefit for call centres in the financial services or technology industries that need skilled agents. Calls can be routed to the agents that have the skills to manage them, wherever they may be in the country.

Another key benefit of the virtual contact centre is its inherent scalability, says Van der Merwe. Companies can easily provision new call centre seats as their business grows without worrying about moving offices as the team grows. They also have the added flexibility to easily scale their call centres up in response to events such as new product launches or busy retail seasons and down in quieter times.

Business continuity is another compelling reason for decentralising a contact centre, Van der Merwe adds. There is no danger of ending up short-staffed because the call centre building burnt down or workers got stuck in unusually bad traffic.

The softer benefits of virtual contact centres should also not be underestimated in an industry noted for high levels of staff turnover, says Van der Merwe. A remote work arrangement boasts employee satisfaction by giving agents flexible working hours and freedom from commuting through the traffic and paying exorbitant toll gate fees.

This can result in better staff retention, less absenteeism and lower training costs, he adds.

Van der Merwe says that it is lower Internet costs and improvements to the country’s broadband infrastructure that have made virtual contact centres viable. “We can now offer IP telephony solutions that are both affordable and reliable for end-users of small to medium businesses as well as larger corporate enterprises,” he notes.

In addition to rock-solid VOIP solutions, companies also need to have automatic call distribution, virtualisation and call routing solutions in place to roll out virtual contact centres.

Hannes van der Merwe, Mitel product manager at Itec

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