Contact Centers on the Verge of an IP Telephony Revolution?

The advent of Internet Protocol (IP) telephony has been rumbling deep in the minds—and pocketbooks—of many companies' customer service organizations for several years now, particularly with the movement toward virtual contact centers. New research from United Kingdom–based research firm ContactBabel finds that, after years of talk, IP telephony continues to make inroads among American companies—but that the real growth may be right around the corner.

According to research in "The U.S. Contact Center Operational Review," this year 20 percent of respondents report having made the switch to some manner of IP, whether it be a hybrid model or pure form, up from 14 percent in 2007. Furthermore, in the next two years 43 percent of those surveyed said they planned on implementing IP for their contact centers.

Steve Morrell, the author of the report, writes that there are several reasons to consider changing from a traditional private branch exchange (PBX) telephony environment to IP, including:

  • enablement of virtual contact centers, home-working, and the remote-office model;
  • successful management of multimedia customer interactions;
  • cost-effective functionality for smaller contact centers;
  • additional flexibility to add and change agents;
  • reduced staff attrition through flexible networking; and
  • cheaper upgrade possibilities.

With that laundry list of benefits, why haven't more contact centers already adopted IP? Morrell explains in a subsequent interview with CRM magazine that making the switch is more of a long-term, strategic investment that will not necessarily show quick return on investment (ROI). "There is also a high upfront investment in networks and it's perceived as risky to rip out telephony [that] works," he says. "A common thing to hear asked by cynics was, ‘When was the last time your telephone crashed?' This draws a comparison between the stability of phones with the relative flakiness of older networks and [personal computers]."

Despite the ongoing economic recession, though, Morrell says that he believes IP adoption may accelerate. "Multisite operations can benefit from reduced call costs," he says. "This is a decision often made at a corporate level, with the contact center benefitting as a result rather than making that [choice]."

Not surprisingly, smaller contact centers have been quicker to adopt a pure IP model, with 35 percent of these reporting having made the switch, as opposed to only 7 percent of large contact centers. On the other hand, 36 percent of the large outlets report operating a hybrid model of both IP and time-division multiplexing (TDM). "For smaller operations, it's less of an expense and upheaval to implement," Morrell says of the findings. "Hybrid IP is more of the case in large [organizations], where a department or some remote agents can prove the concept first."

Morrell says that some of the benefits cited by respondents did come as a surprise. According to study findings, the top reason respondents said they implemented IP was to "reduce telecoms and network costs." However, the top-rated benefit after implementation is greater flexibility in adding and changing agents.

"Vendors and internal champions have to push IP's cost savings to senior management who perhaps are not totally au fait with either networking technology or the contact center world in general," Morrell says. "Major benefits are actually seen to be those which enable the contact center to run more efficiently and flexibly."

A free copy of the entire 300-page report can be accessed (after a short registration) here.

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