This year, inexpensive phone service made possible by voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) will become more of a reality, and for contact centers the biggest benefit is the promise of supporting remote agents, according to a recent report.
In its study, Reservoir Partners LP, Cambridge, Mass., found that "the VoIP revolution, long promised, may finally be upon us."
VoIP sends voice packets over public and private networks, particularly the Internet, cutting phone bills by eliminating the need for separate circuits.
Chris Selland, managing director at Reservoir Partners, identified three compelling reasons for VoIP in the contact center. The first, VoIP's lower cost, has actually become a less compelling argument as traditional telephone rates have plummeted.
The second motivator is that VoIP eliminates the need to integrate voice and data networks. With VoIP, companies don't have to run separate infrastructures for automatic call distribution, interactive voice response and predictive dialing, because each application can run on network-based services.
Yet the real benefit to call centers, Selland said, is VoIP's ability to support agents regardless of their physical locations.
"It's always made more sense to put everybody in one place and to have all the boxes in one place," Selland said. "With IP, that all goes away. If we can move [voice data] over the Internet, it's feasible to set up remote agents and create flexibility."
That capability lets companies better leverage outsourced call centers. The challenge has always been integrating internal and external operations, including handoffs for multi-stage services and data integration, Selland said. VoIP facilitates those exchanges, letting businesses slash costs by contracting with remote agents. The real estate savings -- money that might have been spent on a physical contact center -- offers a compelling reason for VoIP, he argued.
Thus far, VoIP has seen its greatest adoption in the consumer and small-business markets. Some larger businesses are wary of rolling out telecommunications technology from companies that that lack the cache of AT&T and Verizon Communications Inc. While glitches still exist in VoIP, the Reservoir Partners study found that technological development is eliminating many of the early problems. Additionally, the time may soon be right, because contact centers are running beyond their capacity, thanks in part to regulations such as "do not call" lists.
"Now, there's a lot more gear than requirements for agents," Selland said. "If you've already implemented [a traditional phone system] and it's running, there's no need to rip it out. Until that glut gets mothballed, you're not going to see heavy [VoIP] investment."
However, startups are beginning to make the VoIP investment, Selland said. For example, JetBlue Airways Corp., Forest Hills, N.Y., doesn't have a physical contact center.
Big telecommunications players are planning to roll out their own IP-based telephone services, Selland said. Doing so is a competitive imperative for them, and as the larger, more-trusted telecom businesses enter the market, they will likely foster more trust in VoIP.
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