VoIP in the Contact Center

By Sue Andersen

In a competitive marketplace, businesses are working hard to avoid any drop in profits, whether it is associated with losing customers or by incurring additional costs to recover lost customers. One way to increase both customer satisfaction and revenue is to offer the best possible experience, which often begins with the contact center.

In order to provide callers with the high-level experience they expect, contact centers are looking to deploy a range of new solutions to enhance that experience. These applications are based on new IP (Internet Protocol) technologies, an area in which many contact centers are investing today for a number of reasons. One reason is that the implementation of Voice over IP (VoIP) can greatly improve business processes because it provides the ability to add new applications, such as presence-based systems and unified communications (UC). Some additional ways to enhance caller experience utilizing IP technologies in the contact center include:

  • Creating virtual contact centers to reduce waiting times and route callers to the proper agent
  • Establishing access to an extended network of experts anywhere in the enterprise to address caller questions or problems
  • Providing for multichannel integration to ensure that callers receive consistent messages, regardless of their contact method

While the move to IP-centric contact centers provides many advantages, it also introduces new risks for infrastructure reliability, as well as additional questions about vendor equipment interoperability and the effect a multi-vendor environment can have on call or voice quality. Some of the interoperability issues that exist in VoIP situations frequently occur because of open-ended specifications that result in different implementations of the same protocol, such as Session Initiation Protocol (SIP).

Ensuring voice quality is the most frequently cited challenge by those deploying and managing enterprise IP environments. Latency, jitter, packet loss, and echo can cause significant quality issues in VoIP deployments. Additionally, quality depends on the characteristics of the phones, equipment, and incoming signals, since echo, distortion, and noise are as important as packet-level impairments. Not surprisingly, complaints about voice quality are dreaded by IT departments that have deployed VoIP because the causes are varied, the problems are intermittent, and the users’ perceptions are subjective. Often, the first notification of degradation in voice quality comes from agents who are talking with callers. Having objective measurement and troubleshooting tools for network and quality assurance will, therefore, benefit the contact center.

A critical aspect of ensuring successful IP deployment in the contact center focuses on life-cycle management. As you begin to plan for and develop new systems and applications, the following best practices should be embraced during the project life cycle:

Baseline Your Existing Environment: Baselining enables you to have a good understanding of how the applications and systems work. Combined with a network assessment, you have a good base from which to move forward. Network assessment lays the groundwork for the transformation process, and organizations should begin with quantifiable, objective data that describes the contact center, including baseline performance metrics. Assessment of the current environment should take into account not only the network assessment but load testing of the contact center and other telephony applications. The results from this effort can then be used to substantiate the new plan.

Pre-Deployment Testing: When new applications and systems are in late development or early pilot stages, testing will help flesh out a number of issues. Pre-deployment testing, for example, pinpoints problems in the network, helping to justify network upgrades and focus capital investment dollars. Voice quality is an important measurement in this testing period, so enterprises should invest in a testing solution or product that provides a standard voice quality measurement, such as Mean Opinion Score (MOS), which is a numerical indication of the perceived quality of a received transmission. Load testing is a second type of testing that is part of the pre-deployment testing phase. By load testing applications and using different transactions at various volume levels, it will emulate a worst-case scenario and ensure application objectives are met.

Evaluating Performance: During the rollout, implementing a monitoring system will help emulate and measure agent and caller experience. This system should incorporate simulated transactions as well as infrastructure monitoring. In addition to traditional back-end system metrics, transactions should also be tested through the new application. Monitoring solutions can evaluate the performance of the business to create a picture of the total Quality of Experience (QoE), a subjective measure of the connection quality.

Ongoing Testing and Monitoring: Ongoing testing and monitoring should be used to ensure the consistency and performance of the network, systems, and applications. For example, automated regression, feature/function, and performance load testing can be used in all phases of development and deployment to assess the availability, reliability, and voice quality of new contact center applications and systems while under load. In addition, as changes are made to the contact center applications, you can use these same tools to ensure consistency in application performance.

In conclusion, the move to IP contact centers means that ensuring the availability, reliability, and voice quality of the contact center – from the first prompt a caller hears to the screen pop an agent sees – is essential. However, evolving standards, “anywhere agents,” and multi-vendor technologies often complicate the situation. Ensuring that the contact center technology works smoothly, while supplying the means to make transactions flow without interruption or glitches and making sure that agents can complete a transaction without voice quality issues not only increases caller satisfaction, but also decreases client cancellations and paves the way for revenue growth.

[From Connection Magazine November 2009]