Many call centers likely operate in a packet network environment (IP), as its cost savings and flexibility from combining voice and data into one network are compelling. But many of the call center operators I visit are asking, “Is there more to IP than just making calls?” The answer is an overwhelming “yes!”
Once call center operators better understand the growing list of features available in IP, they open the door to attractive new business models with value-added services.
To understand how call centers can benefit fully from IP, you first need to explore Centrex. The term “Centrex” comes from traditional telephony and means Central Exchange. In layman’s terms, it means your Public Switched Telephone Network provider has a number of Central Offices (COs) where they connect the last mile to your regular telephone. Running at the COs are switches that provide various PBX-like services, such as interactive voice response (“Hi, you have reached ABC Corporation, press 1 for sales, 2 for accounting …”), voicemail, call transfer or even three-way conference calling to your regular phones.
Many small to midsize enterprises use Centrex as a replacement to owning their own PBX, as ownership of a PBX is a costly investment, especially for the little guys. Traditional telephone carriers have offered Centrex since the 1960s and digital Centrex since the 1980s. It represents a mature set of business features suitable for enterprise use.
So what does a call center have to do with Centrex?
A call center and its functions and features are all part of the Centrex environment in that the centers use just a fraction of the available features in Centrex.
With features such as call park, group call pickup, do not disturb or even toll restriction, all available in a Centrex environment, a call center’s business model could include being an outsourced Centrex service provider.
Why not? The telcos have offered Centrex for decades, as this is a good revenue base from business customers.
Don’t forget, IP carries not just voice but also data and multimedia services. This means many more business models can be considered to include use, management or delivery of these applications. The call center also can evolve into an application service provider business model by building many of these applications.
Take content delivery. Call centers work as a contact center hub for their customers. The contact center is delivering something (a message, selling a product or service) to its customers. Through IP and content servers, you also can do the same thing, but to other mediums such as e-mail, SMS or instant messaging. By creating relationships between traditional call center services and those that can be supported by IP, new business models are born along with new revenue streams.
An IP call center also can help businesses organize everything from their customers, orders, supply chain or distribution. In other words, it can help the organization with complete CRM management. By helping organize, the IP call center has greater opportunities to create more business-enabling solutions to offer to customers or bundle various services as needed. Customers will be happy to focus on their core business and shuffle this off to some outside company. It will let them consolidate their efforts, making the organization more efficient.
Another advantageous aspect of IP is its ability to help manage a mobile or home-based work force and office resources.
I studied my office expenses to see what the “per seat” cost was of having office space for all staff members versus a certain number of staff rotating to come to work in the office at a shared workstation. The rotating staff will work from home. In my own office of just 32 people, it worked out to just under $7,300 per person in 2000. This meant that if I had just five fewer workstations, my general overhead expenses could be cut by about 28 percent. There was a tremendous result from this experiment, as staff productivity rose while all staff tried to get into a position to work from home. And I cut overall expenses, so everyone came out a winner.
This can be implemented easily in an IP network because IP allows the sharing of voice, video and data. You could have all your calls being answered by people working from home, providing enormous cost savings.
One last application available through IP is the security and disaster recovery features of IP networks. There are IP solutions that, by design, are truly a distributed architecture. If your entire network on the East Coast goes down, you still have your backup on the West Coast to support operations until the East Coast comes back online. Never say never. It happened a few years ago with the huge power outage on the East Coast and in Florida after a hurricane.
Call center operators must remember that when evaluating IP platforms, consider all these other business models and/or revenue streams to ensure that the platform can support the services. An enterprise that wants to do a slow migration to IP becomes an ideal customer for the call center, especially if the enterprise already outsources its call center applications. This lets the call center convert existing customers into new service subscribers, creating new revenue streams.
When choosing an IP platform, call center operators should ensure that what is chosen can be scalable and is designed to help people generate revenue rather than a cheap and dirty solution (you get what you pay for). Ensure the platform has a robust offering of services and features and can be both remotely managed and maintained. The smarter the platform, the better, and the less work you have to put into it to maintain it. Don’t lose sight of your core business – running a profitable call center.