The contact center is undergoing significant social, technological and economic changes.
This past holiday season you may have experienced some frustrating time “on hold” while calling customer service. According to a survey commissioned by DHL and conducted by Roper Public Affairs and Media, more than 80 percent of consumers say bad customer service experiences would cause them to switch to a different business or service provider. Among consumers’ pet peeves are dealing with automated telephone systems and being kept on hold for long periods.
To keep pace with the increased volume of customer calls and make live agents available, many businesses have several call centers—some of them in remote locations—rather than being “boxed in” to a single call center.
“Homeshoring,” the handling of customer support calls by stay-at-home workers, has recently garnered attention, with companies as diverse as JetBlue, Office Depot and 1-800-Flowers embracing the trend.
“Outsourcing” to call centers in India, for example, has proven its advantages, allowing for 24×7 operations and lower-cost skilled agents. While the promise of using multiple call centers lowers costs and increases responsiveness, it also makes the management of customer support operations more challenging and expensive, limiting visibility, control and quality management. While conventional call centers are not only hard to manage, they also require costly equipment for each site to operate efficiently. What is the point of decentralizing call center operations if the upfront capital costs outweigh the benefits?
Confluence of communications and computing
Enter the global on-demand IP call center. The confluence of communications and computing changes everything. With the maturity of telecommunications networks and web-based software applications, phone calls can now be managed virtually to distributed agents anywhere in the world, as long as they have a phone, an Internet connection and a personal computer.
New standards like SIP, Web Services and XML eliminate complex deployment and integration requirements and significantly reduce maintenance overhead for call centers. The new standards allow software applications to be linked into global communication infrastructures and overlay them with value-added software services that can be bought “on-demand,” much as we buy electricity.
For example, Allegiant Air, a discount airline providing leisure travel services and charter flights, is the first business ever to use on-demand IP call center technology. Allegiant Air has a call center in Reno and customer service agents at airports, with executives located in Las Vegas. And it has paid no upfront costs for the new call center technology.
Since turning on the new system, the president and CEO, Maurice J. Gallagher, has had the ability to log on to the Internet from his home office to check hold times, handling times, call volumes and other metrics. He can even accept a customer call. Concurrently, he and his management team have the ability to direct incoming calls to remote agents working in both the corporate offices or at the airline ticket counters. The ability to bring on additional agents and modify call distribution strategies in real time is especially handy during busy times such as peak hours around the holiday season. Equally important, agents need only a phone and a web-based PC and to be linked into the customer service and reservation system empowered with caller ID, screen prompts and other service aids.
On-demand global IP call centers help organizations globalize, diversify and grow their call center operations to deliver exceptional customer care with no infrastructure investment required. They help enterprises and outsourcers connect, communicate and collaborate beyond the boundaries traditionally imposed by organizations, technologies and geographies. As companies seek new ways to improve the performance management of their call center, expect to see the adoption of the on-demand call center as a solution that will modernize the industry for years to come.
And for consumers, the prospect of being able to reach a well-qualified, culturally attuned agent without the tedium of waiting on hold for “the next available agent” is certainly a plus. While no one can promise that you will never again hear those all too familiar words, “All of our agents are currently handling other calls. Your call will be answered in the order that it was received,” companies using global on-demand call center software can minimize the frustrations and maximize the value of customer support.