The way in which people communicate is becoming increasingly fragmented, due largely to the rise of social media and mobile technology.

This fact, along with a need for increased effi ciency, productivity and fl exibility, has driven the shift in the  customer communication strategies employed by contact centres, says , Business  Development Manager; Communication Services at . “Internal and outsourced contact centres are now required to interact with current and potential customers through several interaction  channels, such as voice calling via fi xed-line and mobile networks, email, SMS, Internet and instant  messaging (IM),” he explains.

“However, a number of contact centres in South Africa still operate using traditional time-division  multiplexing (TDM) technology, which makes adding and integrating new technology and functionality to  an already restrictive and capital intensive infrastructure, an expensive and complicated exercise.” However, as ageing contact centres look to improve productivity and effi - ciency, and reduce capital  and operating expenses, many are writing off legacy systems and turning to best of breed IPbased infrastructure. “The adoption of VoIP services as a reliable and cost effective voice-based customer  interaction channel has paved the way for the shift to IP-based infrastructure given its technology and  cost benefi ts,” says Speechly. “The majority of contact centres are choosing to build new infrastructure  around this IP infrastructure and VOIP functionality, as it offers a number of value adds and feature sets.”

A key feature set is the flexibility of the infrastructure, as it gives contact centres the ability to integrate  with other enterprise applications and resources, like customer relationship management, supply chain and service assurance applications. “It also offers more sophisticated ticketing and call routing  capabilities, which is a very attractive proposition for call centres now that the traditional least cost routing model is changing in South Africa,” he says. “This is all made possible by the ability to integrate multiple service providers on the back-end of the IP  infrastructure, making the constraints of vendor lock-in a thing of the past.”

Speechly explains that  migrating to an IP infrastructure also gives contact centres the option of moving into the ‘cloud’.  “Operating a contact centre in a virtualised environment enables the centralisation of services to a  location that benefi ts diversely situated businesses, which unshackles an operation from any geographical restraints and ensures that the functionality is best located to service all stakeholders. 

Business continuity is also ensured, as hosting a contact centre in the cloud offers suitable redundancy
and availability. The operation also becomes scalable, as seats or agents can be provisioned  on-demand to meet fl uctuating business requirements. With this in place, contact centres can  consolidate equipment and systems, thereby reducing spend on costly hardware and software. But most  importantly, running systems in the hosted environment removes the need for contact centres to  manage their own IT infrastructure, which allows them to focus on their core business of customer engagement and service delivery.”

However, when moving onto IP infrastructure, contact centres need to be very mindful of network and  data , as all their services, specifi cally voice, become susceptible to the same threats as packet data. “It is important that contact centresprotect themselves from threats and ensure the integrity of the  data carried across their own network and the networks connecting to them, by having Session Border Controllers - a firewall for IP based voice - on the edge of the network,” he continues. “Also, if a contact  centre is going to plug multiple providers into their IP infrastructure then they fi rst need to determine  what their access, usage and strategy is, to ensure that the network cannot be compromised in  any way.”

Once the IP network has been established, with adequate in place, then contact centres can  look to the next evolution in functionality. “IP infrastructure forms the foundation that enables convergence and unified communications,”explains Speechly. “Internationally, a number of contact centres are already  adopting a converged and unifi ed communications architecture, as it is enabling a number of new innovations, like the seamless addition of video as a customer interaction channel, as this  enhances real-time collaboration.”

The integration of video will deliver a richer and more personal experience for customers, while a unified communications model will enable contact centres to more effectively utilise communication mediums and experts within an organisation on a collaborative basis. These experts will be able to assist staff  with problem resolution and customer queries, via tools such as IM or conference-based video calling.  “This obviously has massive implications for the customer experience and the effectiveness and  productivity of the contact centre,” says Speechly.

“However, before a contact centre can consider any of this they fi rst need to adopt the IP-based  technology that will facilitate the future enhancement’s roadmap, then find a service provider who has the backing and expertise to effectively implement communication services and build out the IP infrastructure accordingly,” he concludes.