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Virtual contact centers - aka "customer service in the cloud"

Daniel Hong | Oct. 1, 2010
Enterprises should consider introducing elements of virtualization to their customer care practices

Traditionally, businesses seeking to expand their contact center capabilities without deploying additional costly premise-based technologies have had two options: enter into a hosted or managed services contract with a contact center outsourcer, or outsource their technological requirements to a service provider. Over the last decade, network, routing, and application improvements have helped introduce a new deployment paradigm that combines key elements of hosted contact center technology and home agents: the virtual contact center.

Enterprises should consider introducing elements of virtualization to their customer care practices

A virtual contact center is a group of contact center assets (agent and in-the-cloud technologies) that exist in different physical locations but function as a single, fully integrated, seamless contact center operation. Virtual contact centers combine home agents with hosted contact center technologies providing for the customer service in the cloud model.

Virtualization enables enterprises to re-engineer their network routing, queuing, and workforce management in their contact center operations, resulting in efficiency gains and cost reduction. The key advantage of virtual contact centers is that over time efficiency gains and cost reduction are amplified as enterprises are able to better predict shifting customer patterns and allocate resources quicker and manage campaigns more effectively.

Vast improvements in network performance, switching and routing, and workforce management technologies have created an ideal environment for virtual contact centers. But while the virtual contact center is the shiny object in todays contact center realm, it will take time for deployments to ramp up and for enterprises to get comfortable with this deployment model. Most enterprises that have a virtual contact center deployment use it in conjunction with their existing bricks-and-mortar contact centers and branch locations.

Quality assurance, business continuity, and agent motivation should be top of mind

Organizations interested in virtual contact centers have three primary concerns: quality assurance (agent monitoring and data protection); business continuity (dynamic inbound routing); and agent motivation (collaboration tools and performance-based incentives).

The contact center is a critical point for any enterprise concerned about business agility. A well-managed contact center should be a vital source of business intelligence, as well as an effective path to meeting customer needs. A virtual contact center should have a set of well-defined processes in place to ensure that agents are performing at the level of quality that enterprises expect. In addition, enterprises should make sure that information can travel upwards from the agent to the enterprise to extract business intelligence.

Contact center agents should be screened carefully before they are hired, and after hiring should have pre-determined limits on information access. Confidential customer data must be securely protected at all times. Innovative uses of interactive voice response (IVR) technology allow callers to provide and receive sensitive personal information (such as Social Security numbers) while restricting the contact center agent from hearing or accessing that data.


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