SIP: “The Right Stuff” for Contact Centers

By Al Baker

The challenging economy and its murky future have CEOs and senior-level executives planning new customer relationship management (CRM) strategies. Today, the contact center is the front line for customer satisfaction. As specific customer interaction (CI) solutions are being tested, refined, and implemented, questions are being asked about the strength of the call centers required to deliver on these strategies. Are they made of the “right stuff?”

The first place in the contact center where this question must be asked is at the technology solution underpinnings. Can the foundation of the proposed CRM solution fully support the proposed executive strategy? Strategies to retain customers and improve market and profit positions require strength in four key areas:

1. Contact Center Efficiency: Virtualized contact center driving first contact resolution

2. Consumer Personalization: Unified communications (UC) enabled contact center

3. Competitive Agility: Flexible contact center adjusting to market changes

4. Future-Proof: Open, nonproprietary contact center

A SIP-based CI solution delivers on all four areas. SIP (session initiation protocol) is a signaling protocol used for setting up and tearing down multimedia communication sessions such as voice and video calls over the Internet.

Virtualized Contact Center: Traditionally, a call center has been limited to the building, floor, and four walls supported by the company’s TDM (time-division multiplexed) voice-based PBX/ACD system. These technology limitations, based on a hardware model over PSTN, limit what the call center can accomplish. New software-based CI solutions built on SIP foundations are creating new, “virtualized” contact centers without technology walls, network limitations, or media boundaries.

With the power of SIP, contact center agents can work from different buildings, cities, and even countries while acting as one entity. A CI solution, with an SIP foundation, in conjunction with an IT application, can deliver functionality to home agents, remotely located centers, and outsourced agents. SIP CI solutions not only blend these elements back into the contact center but also bring all media options “online” to help drive CRM strategies.

This is made possible because SIP not only creates a virtual contact center, but it also enables presence and collaboration capabilities within a CI solution. With presence, agents can find experts anywhere in the system with the skills and availability to provide support to the “virtual” contact center. When this is done in real-time, while the consumer is engaging the center, a higher percentage of “first contact resolution” (FCR) can be reached. Meeting a caller’s requirements in their first contact versus in time-consuming multiple transfers, voicemail messages, or callbacks pays dividends in multiple areas. By making FCR a critical part of the CRM strategy, not only is customer satisfaction improved and operating costs reduced, but the contact center achieves new levels of effectiveness and efficiency.

Unified Communications (UC) Enabled Contact Center: Over the past decade, consumers have increased their demand for multimedia interaction options. Consumers expect companies and organizations to enable them to initialize contact whenever and wherever it is convenient for them, with the media option they prefer – telephone, mobile phone, PDA, email, IM, or Web. The consumer’s only requirement is that the services provided are uniform, consistent, convenient, and personalized, independent of which media is chosen. Also, online media such as email and Web collaboration can play an important role in maximizing accessibility, while helping to lower the cost per interaction.

Hardware-based ACD technologies were designed to distribute a single medium  (voice) at a time. This meant that agent/customer interactions were restricted, limiting communication richness, effectiveness, and most importantly, customer options and personalization. New software-based CI solutions, built on SIP foundations, can deliver multimedia interaction options based on a natural unified communication (UC) architecture.

SIP-based CI solutions provide fully integrated and modular voice, IVR, email, IM, and Web collaboration modules, allowing contact centers to create UC-enabled, virtualized contact centers. Now call centers can offer clients a choice of multimedia interactions and self-service options. With blended multimedia routing, queuing, and reporting engines, these UC-enabled SIP solutions ensure that customers are processed consistently apart from the media chosen and within personalized service level targets. Companies are able to maximize the accessibility of their offerings and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness in handling multimedia interactions. SIP-based CI solutions provide the right foundation across all media to build personalized consumer strategies.

Flexible Contact Center: Change and speed are becoming mandatory competencies for today’s contact centers. Markets are in constant motion, products are facing shorter life cycles, customer’s expectations are increasing, global low-cost resource skill pools are entering the labor market, and new nontraditional competitors are changing the rules. All of these factors require any CI solution strategy to have extreme flexibility as its foundation. Software-based CI solutions built on SIP foundations provide the highest level of agility.

Next generation SIP-based CI solutions provide new levels of scalability and customization. Sustaining hundreds or thousands of agents, these solutions support deploying IP-agents where needed, independent of physical location. As software solutions, they are designed for data center deployment with high levels of reliability, resiliency, and recovery. Built on global license models, users can be located (and relocated) anywhere with centralized modular applications for process consistency, cost savings, and customization. A SIP-based virtual contact center not only optimizes resources but also provides the right foundation for competitive agility.

Open Nonproprietary Contact Center: SIP-based virtualized contact center solutions provide one additional advantage for the long-term protection of future investments. SIP-based customer interaction solutions embrace open standards. Their open frameworks and architectures support the evolution of a contact center’s communications environment, simply and cost-effectively. By utilizing open interfaces and Internet standards, these SIP-based CI solutions converge seamlessly with existing PBX and IT infrastructures to maximize existing IT and communication infrastructure investments. In addition, open standards frameworks permit these CI solutions to be easily integrated into a wide variety of applications, enabling easier deployment and integration into business processes.

Contact centers can now implement strategies focused on CRM, knowing they have the “right stuff” – next generation communications solutions delivering unified communications with SIP as their foundation.

Al Baker is vice president of UC CI solutions at Siemens Enterprise Communications, Inc. He has specialized in telecommunications, enterprise applications, and customer relationship management for over twenty years and draws on global and U.S. experiences in engineering, product management, product marketing, strategic planning, sales management, marketing, and competitive analysis.

[From Connection Magazine November 2008]