Call Center Services Featured Article
Supplier Q&A on IP Contact Center Solutions with Verizon
June 25, 2009
By Brendan B. Read
Senior Contributing Editor
This month’s Supplier Survey is focusing on IP contact center solutions. Replying for Verizon is Alla Reznik, director for global advanced voice services:
Q: What top trends do you see happening in both contact centers and in your industry and what is driving these trends?
A: Top trends in contact centers and by default in our industry continue to revolve around improving efficiencies and customer service. The trends themselves are not new, however the impetus behind them is now driven by a stronger need to control costs.
Among top trends we continue to see the move toward self-service functionality, with controlling costs as a key driver in addition to the already known benefits of improved service. Many companies look to self-service as a way to offset high operational expenses. In fact, on average self-service transactions total less than assisted transactions.
Another top trend we are seeing is that of enterprises taking a renewed look at hosted contact centers. Here again, controlling costs is a key driver (when comparing this approach to premise-based environments); and hosting is gaining traction as a vehicle to facilitating enterprise growth and expansion while improving speed to market.
A third key trend that has to date witnessed a very fasted paced introduction and is now really beginning to gain momentum is the move toward IP contact centers. The current strong motivation towards cost efficiency driven by the economic climate is fueling receptivity toward the long term value of IP contact centers.
The challenge to maintain business expansion and growth while keeping costs down is easily met with an upgrade to IP. Virtual contact centers are made possible with IP, supporting expansion to new locations and making it easy for organizations to support agents across the network. This includes home workers which can represent significant cost saving benefits. IP contact centers begin to deliver even broader value when companies roll out unified communications; which helps explain other associated trends that are beginning to take the spotlight. These include Web integration, mobility support (SMS/text messaging, streaming video to smartphones), and standards-based solutions increasingly replacing proprietary applications.
Q: What new products, services, and/or enhancements to your existing solutions have you developed, or perhaps are currently working on in response to these issues, and how will they help contact centers improve their performance?
A: There are a number of initiatives in development which are geared toward helping contact centers improve performance. Our Hosted IVR-Speech Services offering, for instance, will become available for IP transport this year, in addition to the already existing TDM service. Also, Open Hosting, which allows speech applications to be owned and managed by the customer while we manage the more intensive/cost inducing network resources, will become available on our IP IVR platform later this year. Both of these developments will build upon our IP contact center offering, allowing customers to take advantage of IP’s benefits while also deriving the self-service benefits of speech.
Verizon (News - Alert) also continues to invest significantly in a CPE certification program in order to ensure interoperability of IP based services with IP PBXs. Through this program, Verizon facilitates participation in CPE testing beyond base interoperability that includes SIP based features in contact center applications. The joint test effort results in a tight integration with partners to facilitate a viable solution for our customers. The Verizon IP PBX (News - Alert) Certifications result in CPE configurations that are confirmed to interoperate based on the published SIP standard.
Q: Where does your firm fit in your marketplace? What are your core differentiators? How would you describe your view of the future evolution of the company? Have you recently or do you plan to enter new markets and if which ones, why, and through what means?
A: For the past few years Verizon has been recognized for its strong and comprehensive contact center product portfolio, its leading position in the market with respect to Hosted IVR and its lead role in paving the road toward the contact center of the future: the IP Contact Center. In fact, our position holds steady, with awards from Frost & Sullivan (News - Alert) for the past few years for our market leadership in North America for our Hosted IVR platform and for Hosted Contact Center at large.
These same elements that have defined our recognition status are the result of our core strengths - what differentiates us in the marketplace. Our highly scalable and fully redundant Hosted IVR platform enables exceptional reliability, and rich feature/routing capabilities, comprehensive intelligent contact routing, and speech functionality that rides on it. Other differentiators include; the tenure and depth/breath of expertise of our professional services personnel. Also our agreements with best of breed solutions providers; and our pioneering role in the area of IP contact centers. Verizon offers IP Toll Free and IP IVR, SIP, as well as a wide of technology vendors, in support of the IP contact center. Verizon will continue to grow its hosted services, strengthen the IP and UC portfolio, plus explore expansion opportunities in global markets.
Q: Discuss the state of technology with IP solutions. Is it arriving, has it arrived, or does it have a ways to go and if so why and what is needed for it to get there? Also where are we at on SIP adoption? What are the benefits of SIP and are they being realized and if not what lies in the way?
A: The technology is definitely here, as evidenced by the multitude of new product offerings and the growing number of customer deployments. As with anything new, what is expected and inevitable is the time required for the full culture shift to occur, including knowledge transfer to the market on how to best utilize this technology, understand and reap its benefits. Some of the challenges that we as an industry need to work through stem from the fact that SIP standards allow for interpretation and this can result in RFC compliant solutions by carriers and CPE providers that lack interoperability or feature functionality. Verizon has made a significant investment in SIP starting in 1999 when we recognized it was the future of IP telephony. Evolution and maturation come with experience. By proactively working together to test existing code and products while jointly planning any future development we ensure interoperability right out of the gate.
SIP enables simplified integration of communications and applications. This integration allows for applications to initiate and control communications sessions, which delivers more-effective work processes and better use of collaborative and multimedia applications. The overall resulting benefits are cost control and improved flexibility. More specifically, benefits of SIP include:
--Replacement of Y2K infrastructure
--Enablement of IP telephony and presence-based communications
--Support of wide range of devices (‘multimodal’)
--Easier network management
--Improved performance and elimination of computer telephony Integration (CTI (News - Alert)) middleware, through CTI as part of the applications
--Improved enablement of remote or home-based agents
Regarding the state of SIP adoption, it is true that although IP-based contact centers were once hyped tremendously, they didn’t pick up quite when analysts forecasted that they would. However, as capabilities have improved, more and more contact centers are moving toward this infrastructure. In fact, IP technology upgrade has become the most important priority for enterprise contact centers. Customers and vendors alike are ‘taking the leap’ because it makes business sense in the short term. Also it ensures they will be ready for the much anticipated ‘killer app’ or to take advantage of other longer term benefits that will result from the assimilation of the technology into the operational environment and from increased vendor differentiation efforts.
Verizon has strategically designed its offering to ease the road to adoption. One element of our solution, hybrid terminations, allows for the ability to route to a combination of TDM and IP devices/locations. This allows customers to migrate to IP at their own pace. Another example is the parity that we maintain between our IP service and the legacy toll free network. This allows customers to maintain the functionality that they already enjoyed in the TDM world while adding the benefits of IP to it.
Q: Concerns have been raised about ensuring QoS especially to home agents and about whether there is sufficient hard ROI in making business case to migrate to IP from TDM in contact centers. What is your response and what do you recommend to customers and prospects facing these issues?
A: Verizon is continuing to see interest and activity from companies seeking to take advantage of VoIP solution benefits. To help their transformation from TDM to IP, companies need solutions that make the migration to VoIP easy and flexible. Verizon hosted contact center offerings, and especially the Hosted ACD Web Center, allow customers to utilize both TDM and IP infrastructures to handle contact center interactions. As a completely hosted offering agents simply need a PC, Internet connection of 56k, and telephone line to handle all interactions. There is not a requirement to deploy expensive premises based equipment or network to handle fluctuations in capacity. If there’s a problem at the primary contact facility, agents can simply work from home or move to another location, enter their new phone number and get back to work.
Q: There is also a debate between hard and soft IP phones, with issues such as desktop resource consumption being raised. Discuss. Which technology do you think is best for contact centers and why?
A: Verizon Business (News - Alert) contact center solutions have the ability to work in both environments. This allows individual customers to choose which environment, soft phone or hard phone, that best meets their individual needs. In general, we see customers hanging on to hard phones.
Q: What shape do you see contact centers and your industry going forward? Where are the growth markets? What do you see happening post-downturn?
A: Contact centers are moving toward adopting functionality that delivers significant impact to enterprises and callers; such as the ability to integrate applications and data from multiple sources into a seamless caller experience. This means that agents will automatically have access to customer profiles, prior transactions and issues, and any data that had been collected by a front-end IVR. It also means that automated self-service applications will support personalized interactions, basing everything from language and greetings to promotional offers on the caller's known preferences and history. And it means that applications will support location-based services for a variety of mobile end-user devices.
Q: As an industry, we’ve already made significant progress along these lines, but there's still a lot of work to do. Equipment vendors and network service providers are embracing standards and proving the ability to interoperate. SIP-based architectures are enabling multimodal services that efficiently share information from multiple resources, and intelligent applications are using this data to deliver such integrated services to end users. This is the industry's biggest challenge, but also represents a golden opportunity to enable enterprises to dramatically improve their customer care.
A: With respect to growth markets for contact center solutions, we see financial, healthcare and government continuing to have a strong impact on adoption of new or additional contact center technology. These industries in particular have specific challenges relevant to reduced staffing and cost containment coupled with heightened customer demand, that lend themselves perfectly to what contact center solutions can offer. Many of their customer contact needs can be easily handled in a self-service environment and offerings can be tailored with capabilities that deliver the personalization and security required in managing customer transactions.
Q: What best practices do you recommend in buying, installing, and getting the most value from your offerings?
A: Our overarching best practice theme is experience. With us, as with any other provider, the offering is only as good as the experience that is tapped into at every decision point of the discovery and implementation process.
From the onset, we solicit full collaboration with our customers to develop a complete understanding of their business environment and objectives. This helps determine functionality as well as integration needs, deployment strategy and more. Coming to the table with a clear understanding of where the customers are today and where they want to be tomorrow, their budgetary parameters, their internal resource.
Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Patrick Barnard
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