The CMP Media ACCE (Annual Call Center Exhibition) show in Seattle and the Questex Media Group ICCM show in Las Vegas are two major showcases for technology vendors in the contact center space. Among all the announcements and product updates made at these shows, three technologies stood out: voice over IP, voice recording and analytics and contact center performance reporting and analytics. Ventana Research believes that, coupled with substantial process changes, these technologies open up the possibility of significant improvement in the performance of contact centers.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has, for some compelling reasons, been regarded as the saving technology for the contact center manager. With tight budgets and major business demands, it is much cheaper to implement a single, integrated voice-and-data network than separate networks. In addition, this approach helps reduce the integration challenges associated with having separate networks. It is also possible, and again less costly, to extend existing networks by adding VoIP rather than more voice or data capabilities. The biggest benefit, though, lies in the extensive functionality supported by VoIP and the ease of integrating what previously were separate functions. For example, interactive voice response is much less costly to implement; multimedia queuing and routing make it easier for centers to support multiple channels and multiple skills; voice-to-text translation makes it easier to capture and share calls; and instant messaging becomes a useful tool to collaborate within the center or across the enterprise.
VoIP will really come into its own as the platform that supports the virtual contact center when contact handling is removed from a physical center and distributed across the enterprise. In a virtual environment, contacts will be handled by any person logged into the system regardless of his or her location, including back-office workers, home workers and mobile workers. This will increase the probability that contacts are not only handled more efficiently but are also handled more effectively by a person with the right skills. Ventana Research sees this as a risk because it takes contact management full-circle, from multiple points of contact across the enterprise to a central point of contact and back again. VoIP technology will enable this to be done in a more controlled manner, but we believe organizations need to evaluate seriously both their contact management processes and the training that will be required before going too far down this path.
Voice recording has been one of the core technologies deployed in many contact centers, but to date it has been used mainly for monitoring the quality of how agents handle calls and sometimes as input to agent training. This is all about to change; several vendors demonstrated more sophisticated capabilities that enable far greater analysis of the content of calls — everything from keyword recognition, word association and phrase recognition to voice tone and pitch analysis. These advances open up enormous opportunities to improve the handling of calls in the contact center. Now managers and supervisors can actually see a picture of what calls were about, how agents handled them, what systems agents used (and when) to resolve calls and how callers reacted during various phases of the calls.
Analytics can provide patterns of calls, categorization of types of calls and deem them good or bad, and even spot trends in customers' reactions. This opens up the possibility of performance improvements in quality monitoring, agent training and agent scheduling, which can be based not just on call patterns but also on call types. Similarly, call routing can be based on caller and type of call, and root cause analysis can be based on actual call content. The potential is so large that Ventana Research believes voice recording and analytics could be the technology that brings about a leap forward in the real performance of contact centers.
Two key things have held back contact center performance improvements: identifying what to measure and collecting data to derive the key performance indicators that can be used to drive improvement initiatives. The issue has always been the diversity of technologies and data sources required to build a center — automatic call distribution, e-mail, scanning, fax, the Web, computer telephony integration, enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, business-specific applications, knowledge management, voice recording and analytics and many more. But help is at hand. Some business intelligence (BI) vendors specifically targeting contact centers have cracked the issues connected with data extraction, transformation and loading from these diverse types of data. With clean data all in one place, it is possible to build analytic tools that combine data from all these sources and turn it into business-related information on how the contact center, its management and its agents are performing against a set of business goals.
VoIP technologies have been around for more than 10 years, but only now are they are gaining significant traction in contact centers. Recent research indicates 26 percent of centers now use VoIP, and 58 percent are giving it serious consideration. This adoption has been brought about by systems being more widely available at affordable prices and the voice quality reaching an acceptable level. Similarly, voice recording and basic analytics have been around for several years, but now they present much more sophisticated analysis of the content of calls and the means to build reporting capabilities on top of it. We are only at the beginning of serious adoption of these technologies, but they have the potential to replace the functionality associated with traditional CRM systems. On top of these advances, we can expect more BI capabilities specific to contact centers that can transcend the mix of technologies. Overall, then, there is a real basis for improving both the efficiency and effectiveness of contact centers. Ventana Research recommends that operational managers look carefully at how these technologies can be used to support radical maturation in their centers.
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