• July 24, 2007
  • By Coreen Bailor, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

A Solid Connection at Last: IP Telephony Achieves a Majority in the Contact Centers

The early penetration of IP telephony into the contact center was lackluster at best. Lately, however, contact centers have been progressively setting their sights on leveraging IP as a strategic component of their operations, according to research by contact center analysis firm ContactBabel. In fact, a majority of respondents--52 percent--report having deployed some aspect of IP in the contact center. "The U.S. Contact Center Operational Review 2007"--published in cooperation with the American Teleservices Association and sponsored by 18 vendors including Intelemedia, Syntellect, and VoiceVault--is based on a survey of 204 U.S. contact center operators. The report is carved up into 17 sections, each detailing an area of the contact center industry. The sections include:
  • IP and call handling;
  • outsourcing;
  • CRM;
  • speech technology;
  • attrition and absence;
  • security and disaster recovery;
  • training; and
  • multimedia.
Forty-eight percent of respondents admitted that they currently have no IP implementations, but most of these laggards (35 percent of all respondents) plan on using some form of IP within two years. On the advanced end of the adoption curve, 14 percent of respondents claim to have "pure IP" contact centers. A corporate-level desire to move all
telephony onto an IP infrastructure is another significant factor behind IP implementations in the contact center, according to the report. This is especially true, the report adds, in medium and large contact centers--the ones more likely to be part of a network of operations, and more likely to be part of a company large enough to have massive internal corporate telephony needs that could benefit from IP telephony. Reducing network costs is another of the report's oft-cited reasons for implementing IP, with almost two-thirds of respondents rating it as 'very important.' "Having greater flexibility to add and change agents is also very important, as is the need to replace ACDs/PBXs which may have been bought to counter the Y2K problem, and which are now coming to the end of their useful life," writes Steve Morrell, principal analyst at ContactBabel, in the report. "Half of respondents believe that enabling new multimedia channels, such as video, is a key driver for IP decisions." Fifty-six percent of respondents said they had more than one U.S. contact center location; of these, 63 percent linked those multiple locations together to benefit from economies of scale and other virtual contact center benefits. "The ability to smooth out call spikes by moving them between contact centers--and the reduced wait times--were particularly mentioned, although all of the potential virtual contact center benefits mentioned were rated positively," the report states. Interestingly enough, while just 3.2 percent of agents in the survey were home-based, "homesourcing" is clearly here to stay: more than half of the report's respondents believe it's on the rise, with none contending that it will decrease. The report also highlights contact centers' use of CRM, putting its penetration rate into the contact center at 63 percent. CRM penetration differs, however, according to segment:
  • small centers (10 to 50 agent positions)............84 percent
  • medium centers (51 to 250 agent positions)......60 percent
  • large centers (over 250 agent positions)............40 percent.
These disparities, it turns out, may boil down to semantics. "Running perhaps counterintuitive to the noise around massive multinational CRM implementations such as SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft, and Siebel, the respondents to this survey indicate that CRM is in place in a higher proportion of small contact centers than large, and this perhaps indicates the difficulty in agreeing upon a definition of CRM," Morrell says in the report. "For a 20-seat contact center, having a basic ability to segment customers when they are calling in, and having cross-selling prompts on the screen may qualify for 'having CRM,' which would not be the case in large operations." Interestingly enough, though, "improving customer satisfaction" and "improving customer experience" rate behind achieving specific call metrics and trimming costs in terms of focus. "A contact center can achieve all the operational performance measurements which it sets for itself, without being successful," the report states. "If the customer does not hang up the phone feeling that she has been treated appropriately and that her query has been resolved to her satisfaction, then that counts as a failure, regardless of how good the internal metrics may be."
Related articles: Home Bodies Cut contact center operating costs, reduce churn rates, and up flexibility--a serious look at the at-home agent model. Outsourced Customer Care Is Accelerating A recent study says growth in mergers and acquisitions are driven by industry's demand for scale; CRM component of outsourcing is small but "growing rapidly." SMBs Showing Increased Appetite for Converged Communications As SMBs enjoy an expanding IP communications and managed services market, no dominant players have yet emerged.
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