By Jim Kleckner
“I used to think that cyberspace was fifty years away. What I thought was fifty years away was only ten years away. And what I thought was ten years away… it was already here. I just wasn’t aware of it yet.”
That’s how author Bruce Sterling describes a fact of twenty-first century life – the ability of technology to permeate our world before we even realize that it has become an integral part of our daily lives. Technology drives what we all do in the call center world and, as innovation pushes technology forward, embracing the opportunities it creates allows us to take advantage of the practical and economic benefits that it presents.
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology has presented a vast sea of possibilities to the world of the call center. The utilization of intelligent SIP console agents is enabling unprecedented levels of integration with existing technology, unparalleled ease of access to data from an infinite range of sources, and full agent call flow control from start to finish through software-based, agent-level applications.
One of the major challenges of any agent console is seamlessly integrating with the existing telephony resources in the call center. In an industry with so many different vendors of so many communication tools, SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) technology provides a common standard. SIP-enabled PBXs and VoIP cards provide the hardware support for soft console agents to exist simply as SIP endpoints of this hardware, akin to a soft phone connection with the capability of performing all of the tasks that call center agents require from an agent console application.
The IP nature of SIP communication provides managers with a great degree of flexibility in creating the blend of agent locations best suited to the needs of their call centers. Once a soft agent console is connected as a SIP endpoint, it does not matter where that agent physically sits. This provides an even greater degree of flexibility than has previously existed for blending in-house and remote agents and opens new avenues for collocation and account hosting. There is great potential for growth in the call center industry by utilizing the resource sharing and hardware decentralization that SIP technology provides – and this is just starting to be explored.
Another critical component of any agent console application is the ability to interface with multiple data sources in order to obtain all of the information that is needed to handle the wide variety of calls that agents encounter over the course of a day. With critical information in so many different places, it is becoming increasingly important to be able to access this information in real time, bringing in data from Active Directories, hospital HL7 patient information feeds, and customer databases.
A lightweight SIP “soft client” is not bound to a single hardware source for these data needs and so provides an ideal vehicle for real-time, multisource data interactivity. In the same way that SIP technology decentralizes the voice connectivity requirements for soft console agents, data integration is decentralized as well. By interfacing with external databases, soft console agents have access to the most current information to pass on to callers. The flexibility that a soft client permits prevents restrictions on data access and opens up the call center to interfacing with customer information regardless of where it resides.
The software-oriented nature of a SIP-based console agent places an increased focus on the importance of applications and the ways that they can enable agents to quickly and effectively complete calls. Intelligent console applications can allow call centers to script call flows all the way from answer to successful dispatch. Combined with the previously described data connectivity to multiple, external data sources, this call scripting process can encompass all the information that is needed to guide call center agents through the wide variety of calls that they receive in a day.
Call center applications can take on many forms: on-call scheduling, appointment reminder tools, intelligent messaging, and dispatching, as well as database, directory, and contact management tools. The fundamental purpose of a successful SIP soft agent solution is to seamlessly integrate these applications into the course of the call, to streamline its flow, maximize agent efficiency, and take full advantage of the economies of scope that a distributed SIP environment creates.
SIP often has been perceived as the “technology of the future,” but many call centers are finding that, for them, the future is here. The challenge will be looking forward to the possibilities that this technology affords while still preserving the core competencies that have enabled the call center industry to flourish over the years.
The beauty of SIP-based soft agents lies in its ability to integrate with existing technology while still bringing their own distinct value to the call center. As SIP continues to permeate the industry, exploring new and unique ways to incorporate SIP and soft agent technology will stimulate the growth of call centers into the future.
That future is here, and we are aware of it.
Jim Kleckner is a product manager for Amtelco’s VoIP and SIP enabled products. He is a regular contributor to the Asterisk product forum on IP-based telecommunications technologies.
[From Connection Magazine – April 2010]