Contact centres- The time to optimize is now

PaulFick.jpgThe current drive in the contact centre arena to adopt new technologies may indeed have been hastened by the global economic crisis. With margins shrinking and consumers being more cautious with regard to spend, organisations are feeling the pinch and customer retention and the quest for innovative ways to grow market share have become critical. However, optimising the contact centre – its processes, systems and people – is currently a better option than investing in sizable new technology platforms, infrastructure or expensive upgrades.

The relative maturity of the local industry, rampant consolidation among contact centre technology providers, and the current economic downturn all contribute to make optimisation the smarter approach; however, getting value from such an approach may well require the services of an industry expert.

The current situation
The local contact centre industry is reaching a level of maturity that is on a par with that of the US and Europe. Most contact centres have invested in standard technologies like Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) and call routing. Some even have Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems in place.
In short, they have the platforms that provide them with basic functionality. Many are, however, now reaching a point where, to achieve greater efficiencies, they need to further integrate and optimise these technologies.

Others believe expensive upgrades to their existing technology systems are required for them to leverage the multiple benefits that newer technologies, such as SIP, multimedia services, voice enabled XML, self service and Web front ends, offer. This is not necessarily true, nor are upgrades to some technologies particularly advisable at present given the consolidation in the contact centre industry over the last two and a half years.

While the economic downturn drives the need for improved outputs and lowered spend within contact centres, maintaining competitiveness going forward is paramount. This includes offering competitive functionality and pricing. In fact, as the downturn takes hold, it will become critical to these organisations’ survival. However, that competitiveness is going to come with a hefty long-term price tag if contact centres make the wrong technology calls.

The tech investment call
A typical example is when a technology vendor no longer continues with R&D on a particular product – either due to phasing out of older technology or perhaps due to financial difficulties requiring the organisation to shelve these activities.

The question contact centres businesses need to ask themselves is whether they can, given the rapid pace of technology advancements, remain competitive if they continue to be loyal to a technology or technology vendor whose future and commitment to R&D investment and product support are unclear. They also need to ascertain the investment protection they will have for the R8 or R10 million they will likely have to shell out for their next technology upgrade (or replacement) in order to realise the benefits of newer technologies.

If the answers to these questions are negative, the good news is that these organisations do not need to write off the technology or rip it out and replace it. The benefit of technology commoditisation is that it is a less complex matter today to integrate to, or bolt on, newer functionality – and then evolve the technology platform at a measured pace to a new technology as business requirements grow.

A case in point is a project Spescom DataFusion recently completed at large financial institution where it implemented an Avaya front end solution, integrating it to older legacy PABX technologies to deliver new, modern contact centre functionality and features to the organisation. This was done at a fraction of the cost it would otherwise have cost the company to implement an entirely new platform or upgrade its back end infrastructure.

Operational and technological optimisation Operational and technological optimisation goes hand in hand. One very apt example is the implementation of a unified desktop to improve agent efficiency and enhance customer service and satisfaction. Solutions based on the Jacada toolkit can provide a single front-end to replace the three or four different applications agents typically need to access and interface with in order to service customers. This will cut call handling time, improve customer satisfaction and minimise the introduction of errors into the system.

The use of technology to speed up processes, enhance customer experience and increase service options and flexibility cannot be ignored. The evolution in contact centre technologies will appear to be a revolution to those organisations that fail to take cognisance of the power of newer technologies such as SIP, SOA and VXML.

Consider that once upon a time Web-enabled banking and telephone banking were two entirely different solutions utilising different technologies and protocols. Today, a Web page for banking can be voice enabled in a snap, by using VXML. This is extremely important for introducing self service capabilities to enhance the customer experience and save the contact centre money, a simple equation when you consider that interacting with a live agent is possibly the most expensive of contact centre interactions.

Another challenge in contact centres has been making the customer experience more seamless. If, for instance, a banking client called into a support centre for assistance and his/her query was resolved, that person would then need to navigate back through the IVR menu to transact. By adding Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) to the IVR the customer can be allowed to immediately, perhaps with the use of a PIN or ID for added security, access the previously silo’d transactional services.

What makes this possible is that unlike traditional networks built on proprietary hardware, SIP is not tied to an underlying protocol or architecture. It is an open application layer protocol that can facilitate the communication between services. SIP, combined with a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), would allow organisations with numerous outlets to bring self service capabilities to their various branches rather than have to rely on a single central support centre with an 0860 number.

Go smart, get expert
The value of an optimisation approach is that it can also be a long term investment. Process and system optimisation and the smart introduction of new technology can drive down costs for the organisation and offer customers more service options and greater flexibility in terms of how they interact with the organisation.

It is important, however, when in implementing such an approach that organisations make use of a service provider and technology partner that has broad expertise and the necessary experience to identify optimisation opportunities and implement such solutions successfully, as well as integrate and deploy new technologies for maximum impact.