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Call centre advances

New communications technologies are taking today's contact centres well beyond yesterday's functionality.

November 1, 2005  

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“Our operators are experiencing higher-than-expected call volume; please hold for the next available agent.” With the Christmas shopping season projected to generate higher than ever online and phone sales, this refrain may be repeated more often than Jingle Bells.

Fortunately, the scenario is changing with new technologies and customer service investments that are making long hold times the ghost of Christmas past.

New communications technologies, such as Internet Protocol (IP) telephony, are taking today’s contact centres well beyond yesterday’s functionality.

Combined with intelligent call routing technologies, IP telephony can enable a company to deploy agents in any location — from headquarters to home offices — maximize their skills and abilities to serve a customer, and do it all in less than a blink of the eye. Intelligent call routing can assess a caller’s history with the organization — including order and interaction information gathered through different communication modes — and agent availability to determine how a customer can be best served to meet the company’s response time objectives.

With intelligent call routing, customers may find wait times shortened or eliminated altogether, and can reach the appropriate agent right from the start.

As an example, using new communications technologies a travel agency might automatically connect a ski lover to a ski-holiday specialist in Vancouver, while linking an extreme sports enthusiast with a Halifax-based agent who focuses on adventure style travel.

The technology “sees” the available agents with the required skills, and regardless of the agent’s location, connects them to the customer to deliver the fastest, most effective service possible. These new capabilities offered by IP telephony can help businesses become more profitable, improve customer service, increase employee efficiency and provide employees with more flexibility in the way they work.

IP telephony enables companies to quickly set up expand contact center operations to support seasonal, promotional or project-based needs.

A November 2004 report by Frost & Sullivan on the North American contact centre market examined the trend towards improving contact centre customer service levels with IP-based solutions.

Of the companies involved in the research, over 90% of IP-based contact centres are planning to increase their IP telephony usage to help improve overall communications and feature capability.

“Canadian businesses are looking to the contact centre as a key tool to increase workplace efficiency as well as improve overall customer service levels,” says Ronald Gruia, program leader, Enterprise Communications Solutions, Frost & Sullivan.

“As a result, we are seeing many Canadian companies looking to adopt IP-enabled contact centre solutions to meet the increasing demands of today’s customers and provide their employees with the information and resources to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.”

With many organizations focusing on contact centres as the means for customers to get information and make transactions, it becomes less likely that one agent will have the expertise to handle all inquiries.

However, intelligent call routing helps better match the caller with the correct agent, and better balance call volume.

With the location transparency facilitated by IP telephony, calls are more evenly distributed among all available agents and skills.

The bonus: when volumes are high for one particular skill set or location, the technology can help managers re-configure staffing “on the fly” to ensure that service objectives are met.

As a result of these new developments, Canadian companies who choose to use the right contact centre technology need not maintain a huge staff to satisfy skills, language, experience and geographies.

UpScource and IP

One company that has recently implemented an IP-based contact centre to streamline its overall productivity is UpSource Inc.

With a contact centre in Sydney, N.S. and offices in Cambridge, Mass., the company provides customer service, sales and associated services through a variety of communications options (phone, e-mail, web, etc) to a variety of businesses and organizations.

UpSource represents several types of clients, all of whom expect customers to be connected with an agent as quickly as possible, and to have their needs resolved with speed and accuracy.

UpSource implemented a multimedia IP-based contact centre offering designed for small and medium-sized businesses, to improve productivity, supplement contact centre reporting and enhance service delivery.

With its IP solution, UpSource integrates inbound e-mails with voice call queuing. This means it can automatically distribute customer e-mails to agents and monitor the response rates in the same way it does voice calls. The result is improved productivity, efficiency and customer satisfaction, while giving supervisors a better gauge of agent performance.

In another example, to support significant growth at its six Ontario sites, NuComm International, a major North American provider of outsourced contact centre and customer support services, also landed on IP telephony to improve customer service, employee productivity and overall efficiency.

“We were looking for a powerful communications solution that could offer contact centre managers new and enhanced reporting tools that would give our customer service levels a competitive advantage,” says NuComm president Ral Bergevin. “As a result of implementing the new contact centre solution, we have been able to increase service levels by five per cent and lower our inter site-costs by 30%.”

TLCVision Corp., one of North America’s premier eye care services company also recently implemented an IP-enabled contact centre solution to improve customer service and operational efficiency.

Over the past four years, TLCVision has seen a dramatic increase in the number of customer phone and e-mail interactions, and required a communications solution that would provide high quality service and expanded communications options to a growing roster of customers and patients.

These examples help to illustrate how North American businesses are looking at new contact centre technologies such as IP telephony to help them win the battle for customers. Although technology is always evolving, one fact remains — customer service is key to revenue growth.

With the wide variety of comprehensive contact centre technologies available, North American businesses can provide customers with a higher level of service than ever before, and do so more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Both agents and customers are more informed, and businesses have greater flexibility in deploying, managing and staffing contact centre operations.

Mario Belanger is president of Avaya Canada Inc.