Our AT&T consultants are seeing a growing trend of companies interpreting the recent stock market surge as a sign to focus on customer acquisition and thereby a call to upgrade their contact center technology.  With most contact centers still on obsolete TDM transport and antiquated integration technology, now is an opportune time for many companies to take advantage of the efficiency and customer experience enhancements that today’s IP- and SIP-based systems offer. However, as customer expectations increase, contact center systems are becoming more complex than ever to meet those expectations.  This makes the need for a comprehensive contact center strategy paramount to avoid overspending from planning oversights during the project or negative brand perception from strategic customer failures after the transformation. My post on developing a contact center strategy offers more detail.)

Getting a 360-degree perspective

But is your strategy covering everything you need to plan for to realize the upgraded contact center?  Contact centers, unlike most technologies, require a 360 degree perspective; that is while you must look outside your enterprise to satisfy the needs of your customers who are contacting you, fiscal responsibility requires a look inward as well to the efficiency and performance of your agents.

A comprehensive strategy should include defined customer contact and functional requirements, an end state technology plan, recommendations for optimized processes and procedures, a technology implementation roadmap, and lastly, a business case to justify the initiative. But if you haven’t included a plan for the foundation for the contact center agent interaction, and that is unified communications, you risk a costly e solution failure with.

A preference for voice

Fundamentally, a contact center relies on voice contact more than any other channel.  A recent Enghouse Interactive study showed 83 percent of customers prefer to access business by voice calls.  Therefore, comprehensive voice readiness planning, including infrastructure and resource planning, dial plan strategy, and adoption planning is just as necessary for the contact center as for an enterprise unified communications rollout. (Click here for more about developing a unified communications strategy.)

Unified communications enables other means of increasing customer satisfaction and contact handling efficiency.  For example, enabling knowledge workers with instant messaging integrated to the contact center agents gives the agents an added resource to answer customer contacts during the initial interaction, which increases first contact resolution (FCR) and thereby customer satisfaction. (For more reasons why this is helpful, please check out my prior post on how FCR improves customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Scores).

To upgrade or not to upgrade, that is the question

Some companies are delaying the decision to upgrade either their unified communications or contact center to treat them as separate projects, but this presents complications and risks as well.  For example, upgrading the unified communications first without the contact center forces support of two separate voice platforms, often requiring separate support teams. This approach significantly increases support costs.  Integration is also required between the separate platforms to allow contact center staff to communicate with enterprise workers, adding complexity and costs.  Analyzing a total cost of ownership for both projects, the added costs for separate projects are often substantial.

The network and data – the satisfaction backbone

Preparing for a converged contact center means not only that the underlying telephony to the contact center must be designed for voice quality support, but the network must also be designed for contact center data as well.  Specifically, there are two types of critical data that must be transmitted for contact centers; metadata and agent state data.

Metadata is the caller specific information about their choices or profile, and a failure to secure consistent delivery along with a voice call will require callers to repeat authentication data, such as account numbers (a cardinal sin to maintain high customer satisfaction).  The other relevant data communicates continually to the routing engine of the contact center about the agent’s availability to take a call.  If the stream of information is interrupted from the agent desktop to the routing engine, the agent will not get a call, resulting in your company paying for an expensive resource who cannot do their job.

Plan for additional planning

If your contact center includes home agent support, as is the case for 53 percent of current contact centers, then additional planning is needed for the infrastructure and resources used to send telephony and contact center to agents outside of the traditional brick and mortar contact centers.  For example, contact center platforms can either secure a pinned-up and constant circuit to route calls to the agent, or use resources on a call-by-call basis, depending on your requirements.  The telephony in your unified communications infrastructure will be impacted either way, but with significant utilization differences to port access and call session set-up and tear-down.

Do you have obsolete technology in your contact center?  How comprehensive is your contact center strategy?  Please let me know your comments here, and I encourage you to connect with me on Twitter (@lambrobert).